GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers gave Aaron Rodgers his opportunity when 23 other teams passed.
On another late April weekend with the NFL draft unfolding anew, there was Rodgers again, expressing his appreciation of the Packers for their latest sign of faith.
The Packers signed their franchise quarterback Friday to a five-year contract extension through the 2019 season, eight years after they stopped his slide down the draft board and took him with the 24th pick in the first round. The deal, according to a person with knowledge of the contract who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team has not released the details, is worth as much as $110 million, with $40 million guaranteed.
Rodgers had two seasons remaining on his current deal for a total of roughly $20 million. So this is essentially a seven-year contract, right there with the $120.6 million that the Baltimore Ravens gave quarterback Joe Flacco last month over six years. Judged by the new part of the deal, Rodgers will be the highest-paid player in NFL history, with an average annual salary of $22 million over those five seasons.
“I’m excited to know my future is here and I’ll be here for a lot longer,” Rodgers said inside the locker room at Lambeau Field.
Locking up Rodgers was a priority for the Packers, who also reached a long-term extension with linebacker Clay Matthews this month worth as much as $66 million over five years. The Packers are 53-27 in five years with Rodgers as the starter, and he led them to the Super Bowl title following the 2010 season.
President Mark Murphy said leaving enough space under the salary cap to consistently field a competitive team around Rodgers for the life of his deal was “crucial.” He also acknowledged that the Packers not only gave Rodgers a market-rate contract but set a new market in the process.
“But he’s a pretty good quarterback, too,” Murphy said, laughing.
Rodgers, the longest-tenured Packers player, the only one still on the roster from that 4-12 team in 2005, said he’s confident the front office will continue to be able to build a winner around him.
“I like where we’re at. Obviously, there were some discussions about not doing a lot in free agency,” Rodgers said. “Like I said, this seems to be the Packer way where you draft a guy in your system and you pay them.”
Rodgers has thrown for 21,661 yards and 171 touchdowns in his career, and he has had a quarterback rating of 101.2 or better in all but one season as a starter. His quarterback rating of 122.5 in 2011 is an NFL record.
The former standout at Cal was expected to be taken early in the first round in 2005, but he soon found himself alone in the green room. Rodgers acknowledged that prove-the-doubters-wrong attitude he’s used to his benefit throughout his career since that day he was ignored by so many in the draft.
“I have a good memory, and I’m driven to be the best,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, there’s a couple less critics out there now, but I still put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve the goals I set for myself here and enjoy trying to meet the challenge that those goals bring and also opposing teams bring.”
Draft day wasn’t the only rough spot for Rodgers in his career.
He arrived in Green Bay as the backup to Brett Favre, who wasn’t thrilled the team had found his heir apparent. Favre kept fans and the franchise on their toes every offseason from then on, flirting with the idea of retiring but always coming back. When the tension finally snapped in 2008 — Favre retired, changed his mind and asked for his job back — Rodgers found himself in the middle of the most-bitter divorce in Wisconsin history.
Favre was traded to the New York Jets during training camp, but many fans remained loyal to him. They took their anger at the organization out on Rodgers, even booing him at the team’s “Family Night” scrimmage. Rodgers kept his composure, never firing back at fans or even publicly criticizing Favre.
Despite a 6-10 record in his first year as a starter, he showed flashes of why general manager Ted Thompson had such faith in him, and fans began to come around. Any lingering animosity disappeared after Favre joined the rival Minnesota Vikings and Rodgers led the Packers to the playoffs following the 2009 season.
Now? He’s of the most beloved figures in the state’s rich sports history. The Wisconsin Legislature designated Dec. 12, 2012, as “Aaron Rodgers Day,” and students and workers throughout the state were encouraged to celebrate by wearing his jersey. When he was shown on the scoreboard at the Milwaukee Bucks’ playoff game against the Miami Heat on Thursday, he got one of the biggest cheers of the night.
Rodgers will be 36 when the deal ends. He said he thinks he has at least eight years left in his legs and his body, when asked if wondered if this would be his last contract.
“A lot of times you don’t see a deal all the way through if you’re playing well. It’s just the nature of some of these contracts. That’s a long way off. In order to even get to that conversation, it’s going to take many years in a row at a consistently high level of play for me, which I expect to do,” Rodgers said. “And I’m going to get myself in the best shape mentally and physically to do that, and hopefully we can have that conversation in seven years where I can still play and maybe we can keep this thing going.”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner in New York and AP National Writer Nancy Armour from Milwaukee contributed to this report.