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Matthew Stafford looks like a genius for getting out first

Aaron Rodgers might want out now, but Stafford already took the best job that was available

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

One aspect of the Aaron Rodgers drama with the Green Bay Packers that I don’t think gets mentioned enough, if at all, is that the Packers don’t have a championship defense. Yes, the Packers could have used more day one and day two picks on receivers (the last one was Davante Adams in 2014). And yes, it is also true that Green Bay’s been a dominant offense with Rodgers anyway, so what’s the point of overspending draft capital on receivers and tackles when your quarterback makes everyone around him that much better?

But is Rodgers really mad that the Packers drafted a quarterback over a weapon or is the real issue that they took a quarterback over a player who could have improved their 15th-ranked defense from 2019?

Green Bay’s defense slipped to 17th on defense by DVOA last season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers — the team handpicked by Tom Brady last offseason and now the reigning Super Bowl champions — ranked fifth on defense, including first against the run. This was no surprise to Brady, as Tampa Bay ranked sixth in 2019 and they clearly had starting talent, depth, and a commitment to building a championship roster on that side of the ball going into last season.

What reasons out there should give Rodgers a belief that the Packers will have a top-five defense next season when we already know most of the players on that side of the ball and they haven’t been elite yet? Green Bay has some all-pro caliber stars on defense, including Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, and Kenny Clark, but there are some holes in between those players and there’s no comparison to the Bucs when it comes to depth.

The Packers did go as far as hiring a new defensive coordinator and they plucked directly from a team that has had a top-10 defense in three of the last four years: the Los Angeles Rams.

Ranked seventh by DVOA in 2017, the Rams have been 16th, ninth, and fourth in the last three seasons, respectively. Green Bay parted ways with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and hired Joe Barry, an assistant under Sean McVay since 2017 and one of the only coaches that Brandon Staley took with him to the LA Chargers ... ever so briefly.

But maybe Rodgers didn’t want the assistant to the head coach on a team that would not even have a top-15 defense if not for Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. Maybe what a true franchise quarterback really wants is to be on that team with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.

That’s the opportunity that Matthew Stafford somehow walked into in January and I think that’s going to be the best available job for any quarterback in the NFL this year.

Stafford got in immediately early and he landed with a team that has won 43 games in the last four years, made a Super Bowl, does have an offense that can elevate his game and support him, and also a top-ranked defense with a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and a first team all-pro cornerback.

Just imagine if Rodgers or Deshaun Watson had spoken up sooner, or if their teams hadn’t shut down the lines of trade communications immediately.

If and when those lines of communication do open up for Rodgers, I predict that first and foremost he will choose to go to a team that already has a championship caliber defense. Similar to the last time Rodgers played on a team that had one: Green Bay hasn’t been special on that side of the ball since going 15-1 in 2010.

And when they won the Super Bowl in 2009, the Packers were truly elite as a defense. They’ve hovered between “average” and “bad” in the 10 seasons since going 15-1.

I don’t believe there is a franchise that was open for QB business this year that has a better resume on defense than the LA Rams, but there would be some surprising contenders, especially if Rodgers or another quarterback went to an NFC team.

The Saints, Panthers, Giants, and Football Team might all be able to offer a better pitch to a quarterback than Green Bay would right now. In the AFC, the Broncos are the team that everyone is assuming will strike if the door is open, but the Dolphins also offer a competitive roster and an extra number of future first round picks.

But can a trade of this magnitude really be pulled off between now and next season? One thing that is very complicated to me about this is that the acquiring team will become an instant championship contender. After all, that’s why Rodgers would be motivated to leave. If we were talking about specific picks being traded, like “first overall” or “10th overall,” then it would be easy to diagnose the value of those deals.

“Aaron Rodgers is worth two first overall picks” might be fair.

“Aaron Rodgers is worth two 32nd overall picks” would not be fair.

To say that a team could simply “trade four future first round picks” ignores that we don’t know if those could be high draft picks or late draft picks, but we know that they are probably late draft picks. And is Aaron Rodgers worth four late first round picks? Or would Green Bay rather have a top-five pick, a top-16 pick, and any other first round pick? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we simply knew what picks were being dealt?

Well, that’s not a luxury we get between now and next season. It’s only something we can know for sure when the season is officially over. And it was when the 2020 season was officially over that Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions met and mutually said “Can we not?” and within days he was a member of the LA Rams.

That trade also saw Jared Goff forced into a life with the Lions, and since then we’ve seen Carson Wentz land in a decent situation with the Colts, Sam Darnold get unloaded to the Panthers, and Ryan Fitzpatrick cross his fingers that Washington is done looking for a QB. There might have only been a couple of situations that would look better than the Rams and both of those ended up being filled in the draft:

The 49ers latched on super hard to Chidi’s “I’m indecisive about everything” character trait from The Good Place, but eventually decided that without being able to deal for a veteran who could satisfy their wants (and a year after passing on Brady) that the draft would be the way to go. The Patriots are also not a bad pick if you’re a QB wanting to chase a Super Bowl, but New England stood back until they got Mac.

There has been so much craziness this offseason — even to the point where coaches and GMs almost seem to be intentionally ruining their relationship with the franchise quarterback — that it wouldn’t be fair to leave out a round of applause for Stafford and Rams getting this whole deal sorted out BEFORE FEBRUARY.

That’s when the Rams found their franchise quarterback. And when Stafford found his franchise.

Bonus thought: What does all of this drama say about Aaron Rodgers’ opinion of Jordan Love? If Rodgers knew that the Packers were extremely high on Love (similar to how excited the Chiefs were to trade Alex Smith so that they could get to Patrick Mahomes), then what leverage would he really have? If Rodgers believes he does have a lot of leverage, it doesn’t necessarily speak positively about what little we do know about his backup. Or does he know that Love is special and he wants to get out while Green Bay is still high on the replacement?