Business of Football Mailbag: Aaron Rodgers, Julio Jones, Vaccines and More

Business of Football Mailbag: Aaron Rodgers, Julio Jones, Vaccines and More

We are approaching the quietest time on the NFL calendar, but superstars make headlines all year round.

As we enter the one-month dead period in the NFL, it’s mailbag time! Here is a sampling of questions I’ve been asked recently, with my answers.

What did you think of Aaron Rodgers’s boycotting mandatory minicamp last week?

This was no surprise. Financially, this subjected Aaron to a potential $90,000 fine, although my sense is the Packers will not levy that fine as they have the option to do so. Come training camp, however, the $50,000 fine for missing each day is not optional; the new CBA made it mandatory for teams like the Packers to levy that fine. I am not sure Aaron cares, as he has already thumbed his nose at a $500,000 offseason workout bonus.

Deadlines spur action and we seem far from a true deadline. I don’t think that deadline is even training camp; a truer one would be late August or early September. As I have been saying, the most concerning part of this to me is that the coach, the general manager and the team president have all had face-to-face meetings with Aaron, yet here we are.

Although the Packers would never admit it, my sense is they are secretly pleased that Rodgers stayed away from minicamp, giving them a quality evaluation period for future quarterback Jordan Love. This is déjà vu: When Brett Favre spent the 2006 and ’07 offseasons in Mississippi, we were able to evaluate Aaron and hear feedback from receivers like Donald Driver, James Jones and Greg Jennings about what a find he was.

This is an invaluable time for Love, the starting quarterback for the Packers … in 2022.

What did you think of Packers president Mark Murphy’s calling Rodgers “a complicated fella”?

Communication and trust seem to be at the root of the problem between Rodgers and the Packers, and while it may not have been harmful, it was certainly not helpful.

In making that comment, Murphy invoked the name of the Packers general manager for whom I worked for several years, the late Ted Thompson. Ted was an elite talent evaluator but admittedly deficient in communication skills, and relied on others (myself, John Schneider, Reggie McKenzie, etc.) for that. If Murphy is doing the communicating with Aaron, which it appears he has been, communicating to others about him in this way is certainly suboptimal.

Having said that, Aaron and the Packers are going to do what they are going to do regardless of these remarks. And beyond the noise, we are at the same place: The Packers aren’t trading Aaron and he can’t trade himself.

What did you think about Julio Jones’s going to the Titans for a second-round pick?

The fact that Jones said he “wanted out” of Atlanta in an interview that he did not know was being broadcast was a diversion; the Falcons had been shopping Jones all offseason, only waiting until after June 1 to spread out the cap impact (more on that below).

The initial reaction of many was that acquiring Jones for a second-round pick was a good deal for the Titans, but many react to trades by picturing the player in his prime. Jones had an injury-prone season last year at age 31 and history tells us that it is more likely than not that he will have an injury-prone season at age 32. Remember when the Titans acquired Jadeveon Clowney last year and the impact that was going to have? Let’s wait and see on Jones, a player whom the Falcons—whether for cap reasons or otherwise—wanted off their roster.

And as to the cap impact left behind, here are the cap charges for Jones for the next two years.

2021: Titans cap: $15.3 million; Falcons cap: $7.75 million

2022: Titans cap: $11.5 million; Falcons cap: $15.5 million

Note the dramatic impact on the Falcons for the next 18 months. The NFL cap does not forgive.

What do you think of NFL players’ choosing not to get vaccinated?

This is one of those situations, and there are many in the business of sports, where there is theory and there is reality. In theory, all players should be treated equally regardless of whether they choose to vaccinate. In reality, not being vaccinated gives NFL teams an easy excuse—one, of course, that they would never say out loud—to release a player. If a team is deciding between two players for one spot, with one vaccinated and the other not, you can figure out who is making the team.

Two players who recently spoke with hesitancy about the vaccine, Washington’s Josh Sweat and the Panther’s Sam Darnold, can do so without career repercussions at the moment; their roster spots are secure. For hundreds of other players, however, vaccine hesitancy puts the players at employment risk. It is the business of the NFL: So many players, so few jobs.

We haven’t heard anything for a while about Deshaun Watson; what will happen with him?

Before off-field issues arose with Watson this spring, the photoshopping of Watson into other teams’ uniforms was rampant, with breathless reporting about potential new landing spots. Now Watson is in a different space, with more than 20 women having filed civil claims and some criminal complaints as well. Absent a raft of settlements, or even with them, these allegations will be swirling around Watson beyond the 2021 season. The Texans have taken no disciplinary action, choosing, it appears, to leave it to Commissioner Goodell to handle, a common tactic teams use to avoid disciplining their players. They just “leave it to Roger.”

Goodell can, in my opinion, do one of three things.

1) Choose not to get involved and simply hope it goes away. Not happening.

2) Place Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list once the season begins. This list was brought out of mothballs in 2014 when the NFL needed to park Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy for domestic abuse allegations on the heels of the Ray Rice video. As an NFL senior executive told me at the time: “We’ll pay them, but there’s no way our fans can see them on the field.” This seems the same course for Watson, allowing the league to avoid the messy spectacle of a star player competing while dozens of women have accused him of sexual improprieties, at the least, or assault at the worst.

3) Suspend Watson, bypassing the list and heading straight to discipline. This move, although unlikely, would not be without precedent. Ben Roethlisberger and Ezekiel Elliott were both suspended six games (Roethlisberger’s discipline was later reduced to four games) for incidents with women where no criminal charges were filed. The arm of the law of Goodell reaches long.

The NFL has been investigating and interviewing some of Watson’s alleged victims, but my sense is witnesses aren’t saying much. Thus, the most likely status for Watson for at least the early part of the season is the commissioner’s exempt list, as the league will instruct the Texans to pay him while not letting him play. Stay tuned.

More NFL coverage:
Breer: Carson Wentz Enjoying His Transition to Indianapolis
Vrentas: What You Need to Know About the Deshaun Watson Lawsuits
Orr: Six Losing Teams in 2020 That’ll Make the Playoffs in 2021

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