INDIANAPOLIS — Aaron Rodgers threw the final passes of his high school football career in the same year that Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson were born.
With Tom Brady retired, Rodgers, 39, is the dean of quarterbacks and will share the spotlight at the NFL Scouting Combine this week with three 21-year-old prospects.
Unlike the others, Rodgers isn’t here. But the combine isn’t just for testing scores. It’s the headquarters for free-agent and trade discussions as representatives from all 32 teams plus agents gather. Here are five storylines for the week:
1. Rodgers, Lamar Jackson trade talks
Are the Packers ready to end the annual drama and trade Rodgers? What has the four-time MVP shared with the team about his intentions — return, retire or play elsewhere — since returning from his darkness retreat? General manager Brian Gutekunst will field questions Tuesday at the same time as Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels, who seems to be battling the Jets as Rodgers’ most likely destination.
It feels like a Packers-Rodgers split is coming one way or another. Maybe the Ravens should follow suit, given the lack of progress in contract talks with Jackson.
General manager Eric DeCosta will be asked Wednesday if he is reversing course to make Jackson available. If not, Jackson, who reportedly is demanding a fully guaranteed contract in the neighborhood of $50 million per year, will eat $45.2 million of salary cap space on the exclusive franchise tag, to keep teams from giving up two first-round picks to sign him in a bargain “trade.”
2. How the Bears handle the No. 1 pick
There’s no way the Bears should stand pat.
If they keep third-year quarterback Justin Fields, as indicated, they should trade the No. 1 pick to a quarterback-needy team eyeing Young. If they are wowed by Young, they should trade Fields. Either way, they should receive a bounty and still land a premium prospect because the Texans, Colts, Seahawks, Raiders, Falcons and Panthers all are in the quarterback market, with top-10 picks to sell.
One subplot: With the No. 2 pick, will the Texans get jumped (possibly by the rival Colts)? Or are they willing to pay a premium to move up one spot and secure their top guy? General manager Nick Caserio will try not to tip his hand Wednesday when asked if there is much separation between the top quarterbacks.
3. Derek Carr free-agency sweepstakes
Released by the Raiders, Carr is available now, which makes his agent, Tim Younger, a sought-after contact.
In a rare move by a free agent, Carr is headed to Indianapolis, where he will meet with several teams at the combine, adding a circus-like feel.
Will a team doing its reconnaissance at the combine discover the trade prices for Rodgers, Jackson and the No. 1 pick are too high? If so, that team could go all-in on Carr now to avoid getting left out of musical chairs. Carr reportedly is fine waiting until free agency opens, but that seems like wasting leverage. The Jets need to keep an ear to the ground.
Three-time castoff Carson Wentz also is available to sign now, but likely no longer a starter.
4. Workout warriors climbing draft boards
Young is the only one of the top four quarterbacks not expected to throw at the combine, which opens a door for Stroud, Richardson and fellow projected first-rounder Will Levis to steal momentum in Saturday’s throwing session. Similar to 2019 No. 1 pick Kyler Murray’s big test being his height (5-foot-10), Young’s big test is his weight. There’s a big difference in scouting circles between durability at 185 and 200 pounds.
The raw Richardson could be one of the biggest gainers at any position when his athleticism is displayed. Edge rusher Lukas Van Ness and Keion White, cornerback Kelee Ringo, defensive tackle Mazi Smith, receiver Zay Flowers and running back Devon Achane are a few who could challenge speed, strength and leaping records. Some lean 325-pound offensive lineman or some chiseled cornerback will have a photo that goes viral.
5. Other free-agent markets begin to materialize
Franchise-tag season is open through March 7. Each player tagged has a ripple effect as the free-agent market thins.
Running backs Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders, and tight ends Mike Gesicki, Dalton Schultz and Evan Engram could be adversely impacted by the perceived strength of the draft class. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah called it a “deep” class of backs and “best in the last 10 years” for tight ends. On the flip side, veteran wide-receiver prices could rise because it’s not the typically strong receiver draft.
The hyperactive defending NFC champion Eagles are maybe the most interesting team to watch, with 10 starters in free agency, quarterback Jalen Hurts due big money and the No. 10 pick in the draft.