Lombardi: Decoding the Aaron Rodgers saga and NFL free agency


There was white smoke coming from the Aaron Rodgers chimney, signaling his intention to become a member of Gang Green for the 2023 season.  Finally, the Jets have their man.   And much like the people who gather near the Vatican anxiously waiting for their savior Jets fans await their newest liberator to arrive as the final transaction, which is delayed because of one minor issue—trade compensation.  


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How did Jets General Manager Joe Douglas get this lost?  It’s one thing to get sidetracked as Paulie and Christopher did in the Pine Barrens episode of The Sopranos. South Jersey isn’t easy to navigate, especially after not stopping at Roy Rogers, causing Paulie to ask Chrissy, “What’s your plan, eat ketchup packets?”  It’s another to not have a pre-visit agreement. Would you test-drive a car before knowing the price? I doubt car shoppers walk into a Rolls Royce dealership not understanding the financial commitment it would require before falling in love with the ride.  Now, Douglas is too far down the road to not buy his Rolls.   The Packers have all the leverage as they can work around the Rodgers cap number and go about their business until the Jets blink.  There is no deadline except for draft day, as the Packers surely want to use the Jets’ draft capital to help their team. 

With Rodgers taking subtle but clear and justified shots at Packers President Mark Murphy without ever mentioning his name on Pat McAfee’s show this week, the man who will ultimately control the trade might have a little grudge.  Murphy is the real power broker in Green Bay.  He hides behind General Manager Brain Gutekunst, pretending that “Gute” has the authority to make the deal. Yet in league circles, everyone knows all things Green Bay football-related must be signed off by Mr. Murphy.  He became the first Packer President since before Vince Lombardi arrived in 1959 to run the football operations.  Rodgers was strategic in voicing his displeasure at Murphy, never saying his name, but knowingly letting the world know who was driving him away.  The Rodgers soap opera can go on for years—and clearly, Rodgers isn’t easy to make happy.  However, something went wrong when Murphy took over for Ted Thompson, and we all might have to wait for the Rodgers book to learn the reasons.  The end is near—and the Jets will have to make the necessary trade payment.  No one said this was going to be easy. 

Two weeks ago on the GM Shuffle podcast, I said the Packers were looking for a first-round pick and another high pick depending on whether Rodgers played past 2023.   A reasonable request on their part, since Rodgers will make the Jets a legitimate playoff team.  It will get done—there is no turning back now for the Jets, and the Packers know it. 

Free agency came and went fast.  The talent pool was not great—and teams were reluctant to overspend, trying to maintain discipline.  There were some moves I loved.  Here are the top five. By next week, I should be able to recap how teams did in terms of their gains and losses.    

1. David Long to Miami 
I am a huge Long fan.  He is an explosive middle linebacker, who can play run and pass and gives Miami more speed when dealing with Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s movement.  Many will love the trade of Jalen Ramsey for the Fins, which can be a great move.  For me, Long makes them a better team as well. 

2. Javon Hargrave and Sam Darnold to San Francisco
Hargrave adds another Blue-Chip defensive lineman to the Niners front, and Darnold gives head coach Kyle Shanahan a player that fits his system perfectly.  The Niners paid handsomely for Hargrave which was expected.  Everyone felt the Niners might spend to retain right tackle Mike McGlinchey, which was never going to be the case.  McGlinchey is an average right tackle who was paid like an elite player, but Hargrave is an elite player who was rewarded.   Darnold was better last year. He made some mistakes with the ball, yet his playing skills and accuracy were outstanding.  Had Darnold been healthy at the start of the year, Matt Rhule might still be the coach in Carolina.  Darnold will play well for Shanahan.  Expect Darnold to get a ton of reps this summer with the Niners as Brock Purdy rehabs his elbow.  And don’t fall for the Trey Lance will be the starter crap that might come from General Manager John Lynch’s mouth.  That isn’t happening any time soon as Darnold is going to be the part-time starter or full-time back-up, not the carry-the-clipboard quarterback.  

3. Jamaal Williams to New Orleans
Williams is the perfect complement to Alvin Kamara and has the power to score touchdowns in short yardage.  He brings seventeen touchdowns with him, making the Saints’ offense more effective in short-yardage and goal-to-go situations. 

4. Stephon Gilmore to Dallas
I thought Gilmore played well for the Colts last season and joining the Boys with their pass rush will make him even better.  At under $10 million for the season, Gilmore gives the Cowboys a good corner tandem with Trevon Diggs. 

5. Las Vegas replaces Darren Waller with Jacobi Myers
Waller is a supremely talented player who displays great skills.  Having great skills and playing great are often confused.  Over the last two seasons, Waller has only played in 17 games, had five touchdowns, and he seems disinterested at times.  Many thought his lingering hamstring injury this past summer was related to a contract issue.  When the contract was finally resolved, the hamstring never got better.  By adding Myers, the Raiders get a slot receiver, who is dependable and productive.   I realize Myers and Waller play different positions, but their roles on third down will be similar.  The Raiders received a third-round pick for a 30-year-old, soon-to-be 31, tight end with a history of soft tissue injuries—the same price the Rams got for their pro bowl corner Jalen Ramsey. 

6. Dre’Mont Jones to Seattle
The Seahawks needed an inside rusher, and Jones fits the bill with his power and quickness, accumulating 6.5 sacks and 26 hurries.  He can create havoc and give Seattle’s defensive front a solid player.