As the NFL rolls toward arguably the only dead period in its 12-month calendar, the two biggest rifts in the league — Aaron Rodgers vs. the Green Bay Packers and Deshaun Watson vs. the Houston Texans — are about to cross an important threshold.
Come Wednesday, both Rodgers and Watson will officially become easier to trade, thanks to a provision that allows NFL teams to split salary cap hits over two seasons if a player is released or traded after June 1.
That doesn’t mean a deal for either player is imminent, but from a financial perspective, it would make life modestly easier for two franchises that would take a cap punch from a trade. Much like Atlanta Falcons wideout Julio Jones (who is certain to be dealt in the coming days), Rodgers and Watson have sizable cap ramifications tied to any trade. Now the Packers and Texans have the option to mitigate some of the damage if Rodgers or Watson is ultimately moved before the start of the 2021 NFL season.
Getting beyond the June 1 date is more beneficial for the Packers, who have steadfastly refused to trade Rodgers. If they ultimately relent, Green Bay will be able to break up a whopping $31.55 million in dead money between the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Had Rodgers been traded before Wednesday, his entire cap charge would have dropped onto the Packers’ 2021 books. Worse yet, it would have been combined with a $6.8 million roster bonus that Rodgers was already paid in March, meaning Rodgers’ total dead money hit for 2021 would have been $38.35 million.
Come Wednesday, the remaining $31.55 million can be split into two: one cap charge of $14.352 million in 2021, and a second cap charge of $17.198 million in 2022.
That latter scenario still wouldn’t be great for the Packers, given the team is roughly $5 million under the cap for 2021 and would need to restructure other deals to facilitate a Rodgers trade. But 2022 would represent a modest cap gain, with Rodgers’ $25 million base salary coming off the books and being replaced by the second cap charge of $17.198 million. That would be a net gain of $7.8 million on Green Bay’s cap in 2022 — which would be helpful, considering the franchise is currently staring at a tight cap for that season.
That’s a better layout than Watson’s cap hit, which would see the majority of his $21.6 million signing bonus pushed into 2022. As it stands, a Watson trade after June 1 would lock $5.4 million onto the 2021 salary cap, with the remaining $16.2 million pushing into 2022.
There is a silver lining, however, for the Texans too. Not only are they already in workable shape with their 2022 salary cap, Watson was due a $35 million base salary. Even with a $16.2 million cap acceleration in 2022, the Texans would come away with $18.8 million in additional space after his base salary and the acceleration cancel each other out.
What does all this mean for Rodgers and Watson? Well, it doesn’t necessarily grease the wheels for their trade markets, but it creates upside for the Packers and Texans if they ultimately move their quarterbacks. That’s something Green Bay has said it won’t do (despite Rodgers asking for a trade) and the Texans are challenged to do (given that Watson still has a swath of civil litigation over alleged sexual misconduct and a related Houston Police Department investigation underway).
In both situations, the clock will officially start ticking this month. Rodgers will face a mandatory minicamp reporting date on June 8, while Watson’s minicamp reporting date is June 15. As it stands, it’s anticipated that both will skip the mandatory camps and continue to be dug into their trade request positions. But with the NFL season just over three months away, the pressure to resolve the two situations is going to get only more difficult.
Even if the financial end of the problem got a little easier.