What Aaron Rodgers’ return to Green Bay, Russell Wilson trade mean for Detroit Lions

Detroit Free Press

It was a whirlwind of a news day in the NFL on Tuesday, with two major quarterback happenings and more than a half-dozen franchise tag decisions that will have ramifications throughout the offseason.

Here’s a look at the biggest storylines of the day, and what they mean for the Detroit Lions:

Aaron Rodgers returns to Green Bay

After toying with the idea of retiring or demanding a trade, Rodgers, the two-time reigning MVP, has decided to stay with the only NFL team he’s ever known.

The Packers have won eight of the past 11 NFC North titles with Rodgers as starting quarterback and will remain the prohibitive favorites in the division for as long as they have No. 12 under center.

Rodgers reportedly got a four-year, $200 million contract, and that deal will no doubt be structured so the Packers can re-sign Davante Adams and surround Rodgers with the talent they need to remain a Super Bowl contender in 2022 and beyond.

With or without Rodgers in Green Bay, the Lions were going to be hard-pressed to win the division next season given where they are in their rebuild. But Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes will be expected to deliver wins in the not-so-distant future and Rodgers’ return makes that more difficult.

I can’t imagine anyone in the Lions organization was surprised by the news, and Campbell surely embraces the chance to beat the best. But if we’re being honest, Rodgers’ return does nothing to help the Lions’ chances of winning big in the coming years.

Russell Wilson traded to Denver

The Broncos were holding out hope they would land Rodgers in the event he wanted out of Green Bay. When Rodgers decided to stay, they moved quickly to trade for Seattle Seahawks star Russell Wilson.

Wilson’s arrival makes the Broncos an immediate contender in a loaded AFC West, the best division of quarterbacks in football. It also sends the Seahawks into rebuild mode, acquiring Denver’s first- and second-round picks this year and next (plus three players and a swap of Day 3 draft picks, according to reports).

On one hand, that’s good news for a Lions team that plays Seattle next year. At first glance, that looks like a game the Lions should win.

On the other, it weakens the NFC West, which helps the Los Angeles Rams’ chances of another Super Bowl run and in turn hurts the Lions’ chances of cashing in big on the Rams’ 2023 first-round pick (acquired in last year’s Matthew Stafford trade).

So far, the deal stands as Stafford for Jared Goff, Ifeatu Melifonwu, pick No. 32 this year and a first-rounder next.

Jags franchise LT Cam Robinson

Speaking of the draft … the Lions have the No. 2 pickt and the consensus at the NFL combine last week was they would take Michigan pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson if he is still on the board.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have the No. 1 pick, and many believe they want one of the draft’s top two offensive linemen, Evan Neal or Ickey Ekwonu, to help protect Trevor Lawrence.

Or, believed, at least.

On Tuesday, the Jaguars used the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson for the second straight year, lessening, in theory, their need for help on the offensive line.

NFL mock draft 1.0: Lions get help for defense, pass on QB in Rounds 1-2 ]

The Jaguars have two other young tackles under contract, Walker Little, a second-round pick last season who started three games in Robinson’s absence, and right tackle Jawaan Taylor, a second-round pick in 2019 who is entering the final year of his rookie deal.

I don’t know how content the Jags are with their line. Taylor has been mediocre and Little remains largely unproven. But if they go a different direction in the draft, it stands to reason they would take Hutchinson at No. 1 and leave the Lions to pick from a slew of less appealing choices.

Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux is a similar talent to Hutchinson, but does not seem like the same type of fit for Campbell’s system. One of Ekwonu or Neal is possible, though the Lions need much more help defensively. Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton is an option, but no safety has gone in the top two in 31 years. And the Lions could consider pass rushers Travon Walker and Jermaine Johnson, though picking either at No. 2 seems a bit rich.

Top WRs tagged

Robinson wasn’t the only player tagged Tuesday. The Packers franchised Adams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did the same to Chris Godwin.

Couple those moves with Mike Williams signing a long-term extension with the Los Angeles Chargers and the NFL suspending Calvin Ridley for one year and the once-rich receiver market now seems rather ordinary.

The Lions still need a No. 1 receiver and aren’t likely to find one in the draft. Allen Robinson is probably the best option in free agency, but he won’t come cheap.

With Williams and Godwin off the market, the Lions may need to get creative to fill their biggest need on offense or rethink the makeup of a unit that struggled much of last year.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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