DENVER — Aaron Rodgers remains the center of the football universe for quarterback thirsty teams. The Broncos rank chief among those suitors.
The clock continues to tick on Rodgers' decision.
Does he want to stay in Green Bay, request a trade or a retire — the latter of which seems unthinkable given his back-to-back MVP seasons?
The possibility exists that Rodgers will make his feelings known on Tuesday, the deadline for teams to place the franchise tag on players. This situation applies to Rodgers' favorite target and friend Davante Adams. If the Packers do not plan on keeping Adams or getting tagged prompts the star receiver to seek a trade could that be the nudge Rodgers needs to explore a fresh start elsewhere?
Or is Rodgers' purposefully milking the attention rudder until its chapped and raw, exercising his leverage to force Green Bay to give him a new contract — making him the highest paid player in football — while also structuring the deal to leave room to pay Adams? He has earned the right to operate on his timetable, though to be fair to the Packers, it would make sense to let them know before legal tampering in free agency begins on March 14.
While it seems like there is momentum for him to return — Green Bay gives him the best chance to win and he played a "significant role," per coach Matt LaFleur, in bringing back quarterbacks coach Tom Clements — Rodgers is mercurial enough to make it difficult to predict his next move with confidence.
If he wants out, the Broncos remain the favorite to land him, per sources at the NFL combine. Some suggested to Denver7 that Denver, despite what it said publicly, hired Nathaniel Hackett for this scenario. Hackett's energy and innovation suggests otherwise, that he was the jolt the organization needed regardless of the quarterback. However, Rodgers' relationship with Hackett is well-known — he said no coach has made football more fun for him — and would make his transition to the Broncos seamless.
The NFL Network reported Friday that Rodgers is going back and forth, that he is torn. If he leaves, the Broncos will be waiting with open arms. Green Bay has done everything to make clear it wants him, and Rodgers appears to know what his options are if he pushes for a trade to Denver, Pittsburgh or Nashville.
Those teams without an elite quarterback are urgent, if not desperate. The league has shifted since the Broncos won Super Bowl 50. Every division winner last season featured the best quarterback. There are not multiple ways to win currently.
Without an elite quarterback, the playoffs become a stranger. The Broncos know this well. They have missed the postseason six straight years, joining only the Jets in this active drought. They have posted five straight losing seasons for the first time since 1963-72.
If Rodgers demands a trade, would would it look like? It would likely involve a first- and second-round pick in this year's draft, a first and second in 2023 and a player — possibly receiver Jerry Jeudy or tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. The Broncos have the draft capital to swing a deal — Denver added second and third round picks in the Von Miller trade — and $42 million in cap space.
While Rodgers seeks clarity on his future, the Broncos are also working on parallel tracks. If Rodgers is not on the table, the Broncos are expected to pivot and call the Seahawks to see if Russell Wilson is in play. After that the options become less appealing, like Minnesota's Kirk Cousins, the Colts' Carson Wentz, Cleveland's Baker Mayfield — if placed on the block — and San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo — the latter of whom is most likely to be dealt, but will not be healthy until mid summer because of shoulder surgery on his throwing arm.
If not a proven starter from last season, then what? Marcus Mariota and Mitchell Trubisky, both backups a year ago, become viable options, pairing them with a first- or second-round quarterback or possibly Drew Lock.
"Obviously, quarterback is huge. You need one to get where you need to go. It’s on our mind a lot," Broncos general manager George Paton said from the NFL Combine last week. "We know. We hear it, but we don't need to hear it. We know how important it is. I think it’s always a priority. We’re always looking. No stone unturned to find that guy. We know we need better play out of the quarterback position. So, we’re going to be aggressive.”