As we've discussed the various contract issues facing the Green Bay Packers in recent months, I've wondered when we would get to the elephant in the room. And no, I'm not talking about the presumably pending negotiations with tight end Jermichael Finley.
The reality is that quarterback Aaron Rodgers has far outperformed the contract he signed in November 2008. The deal, worth $65 million through the 2014 season, paid Rodgers $20 million in guarantees. It was fair market value for a player with seven NFL starts at the time, but after three years and one Super Bowl MVP, it doesn't place Rodgers among the top 10 highest-paid quarterbacks in the game.
Rodgers addressed the topic for the first time this week on his ESPN 540 radio show, saying "it's not something I think about" and noting that all parties agree that he should finish his career with the Packers. He noted that he might be "underpaid by league standards" but insisted "I don't look at it that way."
Here's the full transcript of his response to Jason Wilde's question on the topic, courtesy of ESPNMilwaukee.com:
"It's not something I think about. We were so blessed to be able to have that contract done in 2008. We knew at the time that was more money than I ever could have imagined signing for, and it was a no-brainer for me. But we knew if I performed the way I felt I was capable of performing, that by league standards that by the time I got into my third or fourth or fifth season, that I'd be underpaid by league standards.
"But I don't look at it that way. I look at it as I'm fortunate to make the kind of money I make and be in the situation I'm in and be with the Packers' organization. I want to retire as a Packer. They know that, the fans know that, my teammates know that, and this is where I want to be. I'm not worried about [a new contract.] We're still a few years away from me completing this deal, and whenever it comes time to make a new deal, I'm looking forward to maybe signing my last deal, playing it out, and retiring."
I can't imagine a scenario where this ends with anything other than the Packers and Rodgers agreeing to one of the largest contracts in NFL history. The only questions are when and how large.
The chart accompanying this post is an unofficial look at the 14 largest quarterback contracts in the NFL, organized by guaranteed money. (I know guaranteed money isn't the only way to judge contracts, but it's probably the simplest for our purposes.)
All but Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan signed after Rodgers' 2008 agreement. Three of the deals -- Ryan, Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions) and Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams) were the beneficiaries of getting done before the rookie pay scale was enacted. The rest hopped on to the steadily-rising ladder of NFL quarterback compensation. Most recently, the Indianapolis Colts guaranteed Peyton Manning $54.4 million. Soon, the New Orleans Saints will enter the mix with quarterback Drew Brees, whose contract expires after this season.
Rodgers' base salary this season is $7.25 million. He is due to earn $8 million in 2012, $9.25 million in 2013 and $10.5 million in 2014. Base salaries are not guaranteed until the start of a given season.
Some of you might wonder why it differs from the situation of Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, who wants out of his six-year contract after three seasons because it no longer includes guaranteed money. Briggs signed his deal in 2008, after he had already earned a pair of All-Pro honors. It's difficult to argue Briggs has outperformed a contract that rewarded him for being a two-time All-Pro.
Rodgers had exactly 13 career touchdown passes when he signed. Since then, he's started in the Pro Bowl, been a Super Bowl MVP and is the leading candidate for the regular season MVP award in 2011.
To be clear, there is no reason to believe this will be anything other than a peaceful process. It could take some time, perhaps a year or longer, but I think we can agree on how it will end up.