Nathaniel Hackett Hire Sets Stage for Aaron Rodgers Reunion in DenverJanuary 28, 2022
The Denver Broncos agreed to terms with Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to become their new head coach Thursday. He's poised to elevate their floundering offense and could potentially lure a future Hall of Fame quarterback to the franchise.
Hackett has a solid resume. He was the offensive coordinator for the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars, who advanced to the AFC Championship Game with the fifth-ranked scoring offense despite starting quarterback Blake Bortles. He also fielded a top-two rushing attack with the Buffalo Bills and Jaguars in 2013 and 2017, respectively.
Hackett is a well-versed coach who's succeeded with various elements of an offense. With that said, we also can't ignore his connection to Aaron Rodgers.
Between 2019 and 2021, Hackett served as Green Bay's offensive coordinator under head coach and offensive play-caller Matt LaFleur. He made an impact on the players, specifically Rodgers, who could make a decision on his future in February:
This past offseason, Rodgers reworked his contract, which allowed him the "freedom to decide where he wants to play in 2022," per ESPN's Adam Schefter. Following a disappointing loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round, the 38-year-old signal-caller has a lot to think about in the coming weeks.
According to Over the Cap, Green Bay is projected to be $40.1 million over next year's salary-cap threshold. In addition to star wideout Davante Adams, the Packers have other key offensive players set to become free agents in wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling, tight end Robert Tonyan and interior offensive lineman Lucas Patrick. Meanwhile, wide receiver Allen Lazard is set to become a restricted free agent.
Rodgers understands the Packers will "look different" in 2022, and he may consider greener pastures elsewhere. That shifts the focus to his now-former offensive coordinator, who's had a profound influence on him in Green Bay.
Back in November 2020, Rodgers told reporters what Hackett brought to the organization and his life on a personal level.
"There's nobody in the building that brings me more joy or is more fun to be around than Nathaniel Hackett," Rodgers said. "He's become such a close confidant and friend besides a fantastic coach. I just really, really can't express enough how important he is to our team in so many ways."
With that co-sign from Rodgers, how can the Broncos not believe they have a chance to draw the star quarterback's interest? He could follow in the same path as 2021 Hall of Fame inductee Peyton Manning, who signed with Denver as a free agent in 2012 at the tail end of his career.
Like that 2012 Broncos team, Denver's current roster can win a lot of games now, even if general manager George Paton has to give up draft capital and a few players in a trade for Rodgers.
Last season, the Broncos gave up the third-fewest points leaguewide and ranked eighth in yards allowed. The unit features a ball-hawking safety in Justin Simmons, who's recorded 36 pass breakups and 14 interceptions since 2019. Cornerback Patrick Surtain II made an immediate impact in his rookie campaign, logging 14 pass breakups and four interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown.
Rodgers would also have several intriguing pass-catching targets in Denver.
At 6'4" and 216 pounds, Pro Bowl wideout Courtland Sutton is a big-bodied target for third-down and red-zone situations with a 1,112-yard receiving season on his resume. He signed a four-year, $60.8 million extension with the team in November.
Second-year wide receiver Jerry Jeudy has great upside primarily because of his speed and ability to separate at the top of his routes. The Alabama product missed seven games this past season, but he hauled in 52 passes for 856 yards and three touchdowns across 16 games as a rookie.
Through three seasons, tight end Noah Fant has racked up 170 receptions for 1,905 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Broncos just signed wide receiver Tim Patrick to a three-year extension in mid-November, and he finished the 2021 season with a career-high 53 catches for 734 yards and five touchdowns. KJ Hamler, a 2020 second-rounder, brings an explosive element to the receiving corps with his blazing speed.
Though running back Melvin Gordon III will likely hit the free-agent market, the Broncos have a dual-threat tailback in rookie second-rounder Javonte Williams, who accumulated 1,219 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns despite starting only one game.
The Broncos have the talent to make Rodgers at least consider them if he decides to leave Titletown.
From the Packers' perspective, barring a Super Bowl matchup, the franchise wouldn't have a worry about playing him for at least a year. Denver isn't on Green Bay's schedule for the 2022 season, so sending him to the AFC makes sense for an organization that would have to live with the decision of trading an MVP-caliber quarterback and pivoting to Jordan Love, who has started in only one NFL game.
Last year, NFL Network's James Palmer made a strong case for a Rodgers-to-Denver deal while the Packers went through a rocky offseason with their disgruntled quarterback:
Denver is projected to have $41.3 million in cap space this offseason. We can apply Palmer's thoughts a year later as Rodgers figures out what's next for his future, but this time, Hackett's new leadership role with the Broncos and bond with the Packers signal-caller adds another layer to the speculation.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Broncos also will request an interview with Adam Stenavich, the Packers' offensive line coach and run game coordinator, which would provide even more cushion for Rodgers if he lands in Denver. Stenavich guided an injury-riddled line that provided solid pass protection this season considering the circumstances.
This past offseason, Green Bay lost All-Pro center Corey Linsley in free agency. Versatile offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins (nine games), left tackle David Bakhtiari (16 games) and center Josh Myers (11 games) all missed several outings. Yet the Packers ranked 19th in quarterback pressures allowed (22.8 percent), and Rodgers took 30 sacks, which tied for 20th among qualifying passers.
During a rocky period between Rodgers and the Packers, he talked about the importance of philosophy, "doing things the right way" and team culture. His bond with Hackett could remove apprehension about playing for a new organization after spending 17 seasons in Green Bay.
The Broncos have a new head coach whom Rodgers respects in Hackett, a top-notch defense, a plethora of offensive playmakers, and they might add an assistant coach who did a good job shuffling the offensive line to protect Rodgers.
Regardless of what happens with Rodgers this offseason, Paton hired a good coach to lead his team in Hackett. But he's put the Broncos in a position to make a splashy trade for one of the league's best quarterbacks, one who happens to have a wandering eye that may lead him to the Mile High City.
Team cap space provided by Over the Cap.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.