NFL offseason storylines: Aaron Rodgers, retirements and the No 1 overall pick | NFL

Kayvon Thibodeaux could be the first name called at this year’s draft

Aaron Rodgers’ future

The Rodgers Saga rolls into a third offseason. Prior to the Super Bowl, ESPN reported that the Green Bay Packers were now willing to go “all in” to keep the quarterback, pushing up to the limit of the salary cap for next season and beyond. The Packers are, the report suggested, looking to mirror the latter days of the Saints’ Drew Brees era, pushing cap pain down the line in order to squeeze extra juice out of the roster now.

It feels like 10 years too late. The Packers’ plan doesn’t hold much water, either. chronicles each team’s ‘effective’ salary cap, which looks at how much cap room a team is able to finagle by redistributing the money in the current contracts on its books. For instance: the Saints are currently $70m(!) over the cap. But New Orleans structure contracts in a way that they’re able to activate triggers that kick the money down the line. Their ‘effective’ cap, once they shuffle their options and renegotiate deals, will be closer to $30m under the cap by the time free-agency rolls around.

Things are different in Green Bay. The Packers don’t have the same flexibility. Even with the potential to rework contracts, their effective cap comes out right around dead even – and that’s before they work out deals with their upcoming free agents.

We should know Rodgers’ answer soon. He has set the upcoming franchise tag deadline as his limit for making a decision. By then, Rodgers and the Packers will know the future of Davante Adams, Rodgers’ top receiver and an impending free agent.

Coming off back-to-back MVPs, the Packers quarterback steps into the offseason with an unusual amount of power. He has teased that he could walk away from the game altogether. While, over in Denver, the Broncos have hired anyone and everyone with a connection to Rodgers – his former offensive coordinator, a former college coach, his gardener – in a bid to tempt the quarterback to request a trade.

The most likely outcome: Rodgers demands a move.

Are they retiring?

After 72 hours of will-he-won’t-he speculation, Tom Brady formally announced he was walking away from the game after his 22nd season … or is he? Speculation continues that Brady could return for one last dance. “I’m super content and happy [with the decision],” Brady said on the latest edition of his Let’s Go! podcast. “All you can do is take it day by day, nothing’s promised for us.”

Brady could return to the Bucs for one final season. But the team’s salary cap constraints mean they will have to retool the roster with or without Brady. If he does return, Brady may jump to another title contender. San Francisco – the team Brady tried to join during his lone round of free agency – have been rumored as a potential spot, or he could return to the AFC East with Miami, where he has set up his post-retirement home.

Brady isn’t the only future Hall of Famer who could be set to step away. Reports swirled prior to the Super Bowl that Aaron Donald would retire if the Rams won the title, something the team duly achieved.

Donald may have to hang around for an extra three or four years to compile the kind of numbers and hardware that puts him among the most accomplished players ever. But his peak years – which is all of his years – already put him among the best to ever play on his side of the ball.

Donald walked into the league with the potential to be its most dominant defender, and, if he walks away, he will leave at the height of his powers. In eight seasons, Donald:

  • Won defensive rookie of the year in 2014

  • Won three Defensive Player of the Year crowns

  • Made the 2010s all-decade team

  • Was named a first-team All-Pro seven times, and a Pro Bowler in all eight seasons

  • Missed only two games in eight years, neither of which were injury related

  • Forced 48 fumbles, and totaled 150 tackles for loss

  • Registered 98 sacks, a total that matches Von Miller.

  • Was the decisive force in swinging a Super Bowl with a two-play sequence for the ages.

    If you are carving the Mt Rushmore of defensive players alone, it starts with Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, and Donald. Feel free to argue over the fourth spot. What else is there left to achieve?

Players race to be the No 1 overall pick

Kayvon Thibodeaux could be the first name called at this year’s draft
Kayvon Thibodeaux could be the first name called at this year’s draft. Photograph: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

As one season closes, another begins: Draft season!

In a down year for quarterback prospects, the race to be the No 1 overall pick is wide open. Jacksonville could look at any number of options: selecting one of college football’s preeminent pass-rushers (Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan; Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon), adding an offensive lineman (Evan Neal, Alabama; Ikem Ekwonu, NC State; Charles Cross, Mississippi State), or trading the pick for extra assets.

There is no sure-fire top prospect. It’s a pick-your-flavor year. If the Jags do not fall in love with one of the top edge-rushers or linemen, then they will auction the pick to the highest bidder. The question is whether or not anyone else loves one of the iffy quarterback prospects enough to pay the price required to leap all the way to the top of the draft.

Ownership scandals

Nestled within the Super Bowl extravaganza was a report of mounting consequence: The league is investigating Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross after former head coach Brian Flores alleged in a lawsuit that Ross had offered him $100,000 a game to lose. If the NFL finds conclusive evidence that Ross did indeed offer Flores money to throw games, it’s expected that the other owners will force Ross to sell his team.

Ross has denied the allegations and his defense is expected to be that he was joking. You know the classic joke, right? The one about a multibillionaire owner who offered his employee $100,000 a game to throw them.

Speaking of incompetence and arrogance, over in the capital Daniel Snyder, the owner of the freshly-titled Washington Commanders, could finally be on his way out, too. The league has spent the better part of two years trying to shadow box allegations that Snyder presided over a corrosive workplace culture, one of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and other forms of workplace misconduct; an investigation that Snyder did his utmost to block and manipulate.

The league commissioned an ‘independent’ report on the allegations. The number of pages released from Robert Mueller’s report into Deflategate: 243. The number of pages released following the investigation into the Ray Rice scandal: 96. The number of pages of the Wilkinson report into Washington and Snyder: Zero. Zilch. Nada. Still: The recommendations from the report led to Snyder handing off day-to-day operation of the team to his wife and the team to pay a $10m fine.

New allegations in front of a congressional hearing have forced the league back into action. Initially, Snyder announced that he had launched a further investigation into himself. Roger Goodell and the league’s owners called Snyder’s bluff, squashing Snyder’s investigation and firing up another investigation of their own.

The league’s rumor mill has long believed that Snyder – the NFL’s great embarrassment in a crucial market – will, at some point, be ousted by the league’s other owners. But Snyder is infamously litigious and has deep enough pockets (and enough of a motive) to tie the league and its owners up in litigation for years, with the potential of embarrassing the league and its owners publicly.

Now, however, with the government involvement, the league may be able to force Snyder to sell. After years of stability in the ownership ranks, the Dolphins, Commanders, and Broncos could all change hands over the course of the next six months.