Will Aaron Rodgers play for Packers in 2023? These teammates could tip the scale

Stephen A. Smith tells Chris “Mad Dog” Russo why he thinks Aaron Rodgers could lead the Jets to the Super Bowl. (1:33)

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers have an easy out if they want to move on from Aaron Rodgers.

He gave it to them.

“This game is about relationships,” Rodgers said last week during an appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show.” “It’s about the players you play off and count on even if they don’t maybe show up huge in the stat book.”

He named five players: left tackle David Bakhtiari, receivers Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard, and tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan.

All but Bakhtiari are scheduled to be free agents in March, and even Bakhtiari could be asked to restructure his contract.

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“A guy like Marcedes Lewis, he’s an important cog in the wheel of the locker room and the momentum of the team,” Rodgers said. “That’s a guy I want to finish my career with. If I’m playing, I want that guy next to me. I want the Randall Cobbs of the world — if he wants to keep playing — in my locker room. Guys you can win it with. Allen Lazard, Bobby Tonyan, David Bakhtiari. There’s a lot of interesting names that we’ll see if there’s desire to re-sign certain guys that are glue guys in the locker room, will be an interesting conversation to be had.”

All general manager Brian Gutekunst has to tell Rodgers is that he’s not bringing back some or all of those players and it could end the quarterback’s career in Green Bay. If at that point Rodgers still wants to play, then they’d have to work out a trade.

The Rodgers factor, however, isn’t the only thing for Gutekunst to consider in the decision-making process on those five players, plus perhaps free-agent kicker Mason Crosby, another player who has been in Rodgers’ inner circle.

“You want to win, and every team’s going to say they want to win, but it’s the type of team you’re putting together,” Rodgers said Tuesday on another edition of McAfee’s show. “I don’t need all my guys to be there for that. I’m not standing on the table for these seven guys [who] need to be a part of that to come back; it’s just kinda the feel of the team.”

With that in mind, here is a look at the players Rodgers mentioned specifically whose futures could influence his decision to return to the Packers and the cases for letting them go and for bringing them back:

Why keep him? When healthy, he’s still one of the best left tackles in the league. He finished tied for first in ESPN’s pass block win rate among all tackles during the 2022 season and 11th in run block win rate. The Packers don’t have an obvious heir apparent at left tackle although Yosh Nijman (a restricted free agent) and Zach Tom could be possibilities.

Why move on? He seemed to find a way to manage his thrice surgically repaired left knee as the season went on, but there’s always the worry his knee issues could flare up again. Remember the Washington game back in October? He seemed fine all week but then on Saturday was added to the injury report and a day later was inactive.

Financial ramifications: He has the second-highest salary-cap number ($28,853,749) on the team for 2023 and is due a $9.5 million roster bonus on the third day of the league year (March 17). The Packers would create $3.597 million in cap space if they released him before June 1 and $16.225 million after June 1.

Most likely outcome: Bring him back, turn his March roster bonus and most of his $6.7 million base salary into a signing bonus, which would spread the cap charge over multiple seasons. The Packers also could ask Bakhtiari to add voidable years to his contract in order to further spread out cap charges.

Why keep him? He is Rodgers’ security blanket. Of Cobb’s 62 receptions since returning to Green Bay in 2021, 40 of them have resulted in a first down (including 21 of them on a third-down play). While the Packers like their young trio of receivers — Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure — they’d be without a veteran if neither Cobb nor Lazard returned.

Why move on? He will turn 33 in August and while he has not had a season-ending injury either of the last two years, he has missed a combined nine games in that time.

Financial ramifications: The Packers added a voidable year (2023) to his contract to save cap space for 2022, so that means he’ll count $1,391,668 on next season’s salary cap whether he’s on the roster or not.

Most likely outcome: Cobb retires, or if Rodgers returns to the Packers, then Cobb comes back for around the same $3 million he made last season.

Why keep him? Like Cobb, Rodgers trusts him. Lazard also does the little things (blocking, leadership) that the coaches love. If Watson and Doubs can progress to the point where they’re the top two receivers, then having Lazard as a reliable third option has value.

Why move on? Lazard is likely not viewed as a WR1 by the Packers (60 catches, 788 yards, 6 TDs in 2022) and he almost certainly wants to be paid like one.

Financial ramifications: Lazard played last season on the $3.986 million restricted free agent tender. It was the first time in his career he made more than the league minimum. This is his best chance to sign a high-priced contract.

Most likely outcome: Lazard tests the market when free agency opens and if he doesn’t find it to his liking, he could return to Green Bay.

Why keep him? Rodgers raves about Lewis’ leadership more than any other player on the team. Lewis never bemoans not getting the ball and is still an effective blocker.

Why move on? He will be 39 years old in May and has not been dynamic in the passing game for years. He caught only six passes for 66 yards with two touchdowns last season despite playing in every game.

Financial ramifications: Like with Cobb, the Packers added a voidable year in 2023 for cap purposes, meaning he will count $1.05 million whether he’s on the team or not.

Most likely outcome: Lewis has given no indication that he plans to return. The Packers may move on regardless, but if Rodgers isn’t back, then Lewis is surely done here.

Why keep him? He made it back from his 2021 torn ACL faster than most and by the end of the season looked a lot like his pre-injury form. He was a budding star before the injury and quietly set a personal career best with 53 catches this past season. The Packers don’t have anyone on the roster who could fill the TE1 spot.

Why move on? For some reason, Tonyan seemed to be an afterthought when it came to big-play and red zone opportunities. He caught only two touchdown passes last season, nowhere near his career best of 11 in 2020.

Financial ramifications: Had it not been for the ACL injury halfway through the 2021 season, he would’ve been a highly coveted free agent last offseason. Instead, he returned to the Packers on a one-year, $3.75 million deal ($500,000 of which will count on the 2023 cap as a voidable year). He’s certainly looking for more than that after he proved he’s back to his pre-injury form.

Most likely outcome: Like Lazard, Tonyan tests the market when free agency opens and if it’s not to his liking considers what the Packers have to offer. Other than Bakhtiari, he’s the player whose return seems least tied to Rodgers’ future. With or without Rodgers, the Packers need a guy like Tonyan.