For the second year in a row, Aaron Rodgers stole the spotlight from the rookies on the first day of the NFL draft. Last year, the Packers quarterback was an innocent bystander. This time, the reigning MVP seemed to instigate the drama.
The draft is about teams improving by adding young talent. Yet despite all the fist bumps, high fives and media hype, nothing that happened over three days and seven rounds moved Super Bowl odds or regular-season win totals.
The most significant news for bettors and bookmakers stemmed from rumors of a potential trade involving a 37-year-old quarterback. In the soap opera “As the NFL World Turns,” Rodgers is one of the lead actors in a familiar storyline. He’s unhappy, and the relationship has problems.
“I think Rodgers is a little bit of a diva,” VSiN’s Brent Musburger said Monday. “He’s a great talent.”
Those comments sum up Rodgers, who will get the benefit of the doubt from adoring fans and the media. He’s a quarterback you admire and love to bet on. But when things go wrong, as they did in late January when the Packers lost the NFC title game to the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers, he takes no blame and throws his coach under the bus.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for the conflict in Green Bay, and most of it falls on team President Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst, whose mysterious work in the draft has done more to antagonize Rodgers than support him.
It was reported Thursday that Rodgers wants out of Green Bay, but there’s no chance Murphy or Gutekunst leaked the report. The timing was strategic by Rodgers and his camp, with the goal of putting public pressure on the Packers to make a trade.
Rodgers’ wish list of new teams is topped by the Broncos, 49ers and Raiders. San Francisco reportedly made an inquiry and was immediately shut down. If Las Vegas is a serious suitor for Rodgers, no one is saying so. Bettors zeroed in on one team and triggered a shake-up on the Super Bowl board at BetMGM, where the Broncos’ odds were adjusted from 66-1 to 16-1.
But a Rodgers-to-Denver deal is far from done.
“I don’t think the Packers are going to trade him,” said VSiN analyst Michael Lombardi, a former NFL general manager. “I don’t know if they can repair the relationship. I think it’s going to be a stalemate. We’ve seen players from every era say enough is enough. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rodgers said that.”
The rift between Rodgers and Green Bay management has been brewing for at least a year, and the relationship might end with Rodgers’ early retirement and a hosting role on “Jeopardy!” Or it could end with a late-summer blockbuster trade to the Broncos. BetMGM is holding the Packers at 12-1 odds until an answer emerges.
Rodgers has become the top story of the offseason for now, trading places with the Deshaun Watson drama in Houston. There’s a chance two of the league’s top QBs will sit out the season.
DraftKings posted a prop Monday on where Rodgers will take his first snap this season, with odds on all 32 teams. The Packers are odds-on favorites (-125), followed by the Broncos (2-1), Raiders (5-1) and Saints (9-1).
The Packers are unlikely to win the personality clash with Rodgers, and they did not necessarily win in the draft with another dull class. Assessing draft classes is a subjective exercise, and I’ll leave it to ESPN professor Mel Kiper Jr. to assign grades for debate fodder and entertainment purposes. As handicappers, we analyze which teams filled needs and drafted wisely. Super Bowl contenders or not, these five teams are looking more attractive than a week ago:
Bears: General manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy, Chicago’s maligned management duo, boldly traded up nine spots in the first round to grab Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields at No. 11. In the second round, the Bears addressed a major need and found value by selecting 6-foot-6, 315-pound Oklahoma State offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, who was projected to go in the first round.
“If you go back two months, I think we all would have said Fields would go in the top five,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “The Bears needed a quarterback. Is Fields the right guy? I don’t know, but I think Fields works for the Bears.”
Because of Rodgers’ uncertain status, BetMGM took down win totals for all NFC North teams. DraftKings opened the Bears’ win total at 7. Assuming veteran Andy Dalton still will open the season as the starter, not much changes immediately. However, if Fields blossoms, Chicago might soon have a better quarterback than Green Bay.
Chargers: Sharp bettors were hitting the Chargers’ Super Bowl odds (40-1) and playing their win total Over 9 before the draft. The Chargers helped their cause in the first round by picking Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, who can protect second-year quarterback Justin Herbert’s blind side. Florida State cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. filled a need in the second round. The second-best team in Los Angeles is trending in the right direction.
Jets: A lot depends on the development of BYU gunslinger Zach Wilson as a rookie quarterback, but the Jets surrounded him with support by drafting USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, speedy slot receiver Elijah Moore from Mississippi and North Carolina running back Michael Carter in the early rounds.
After a 2-14 finish and an overhaul of the coaching staff, the Jets’ win total is 6.5 this season, and they could be the most improved team in the league.
Panthers: Carolina coach Matt Rhule started rebuilding the defense last year and attended to the offense this year. He earned high marks from most analysts for each of his five picks in the first four rounds — South Carolina corner Jaycee Horn, LSU receiver Terrace Marshall Jr., BYU offensive tackle Brady Christensen, Notre Dame tight end Tommy Tremble and Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard.
“I thought Carolina had a really good draft,” said Lombardi, who has been more positive than most about Jets castoff Sam Darnold, the Panthers’ new quarterback.
Patriots: Alabama quarterback Mac Jones did not go No. 3 overall to San Francisco, as expected, slipping all the way to New England at No. 15. Jones will likely sit behind Cam Newton this season, yet it appears Jones is the future, even if he’s not quite a Brady clone. The Patriots were fortunate to get Crimson Tide defensive tackle Christian Barmore, the top interior pass rusher in the draft, in the second round. From top to bottom, this is one of coach Bill Belichick’s better classes in recent years.
“I think Mac Jones is a tremendous pick for the Patriots,” Avello said.
The Broncos, Browns, Dolphins, Giants and Jaguars also appeared to draft especially well and improve their chances for 2021. Of course, almost every team got better in some way.
It’s a different story in Green Bay. If the relationship with Rodgers is in disrepair, the Packers will be the biggest losers of the offseason.