Super Bowl LVI is already in the books, with the Los Angeles Rams winning the second championship in their lengthy history. This means the attention around the NFL now turns to the offseason, perhaps more specifically to the free-agency period. Drama has been ramping up, and one organization leads the pack in that regard – the regular-season NFC “champions”, the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers were amongst the most confident contenders of the bunch. However, they are standing before a plethora of challenges, including Aaron Rodgers’ future and an uncomfortable salary-cap spot. Here is what awaits the team in 2022 and beyond.
A Battle on Many Fronts
This past football season, the Packers were the most dominant team through the regular portion of the campaign. However, their season ended bitterly at the hands of San Francisco at Lambeau. Now, they have as tough a job as any organization to retain their position in the NFL hierarchy.
Free agency within the National Football League opens in around three weeks, and GM Brian Gutekunst’s staff is bound to be as busy as it gets. Of course, the situation around Aaron Rodgers has been a constant topic of discussion since at least September. In 2022, the 2005 first-round selection heads into the final year of the $150-million deal he signed in 2018. Even if Rodgers is traded after June 1st, he will leave about $20 million in dead cap, including $8 million from 2023, a voidable year. Meanwhile, Green Bay, as mentioned below, is short on cap space, to say the least.
At the same time, the two sides have been said to be in good spirits, as reported by Jordan Schultz. Moreover, a new deal with multiple void years could let the Packers not only bring back Rodgers without any significant pay cuts but also get rid of a portion of his cap burden.
Such a move could pay noticeable dividends for the Packers but it is far from the only challenge for the club coming up in March and April. Firstly, the former Cal Berkeley prospect’s favorite target, wide receiver Davante Adams, is also set to hit the FA market. Re-signing the ninth-year pass-catcher will most likely result in a higher price than his previous deal ($14.5 million in 2021). That is regardless of whether GB uses the franchise tag on him ($19.1 million) or directly offers Adams a contract (maybe even north of $20 million/year!).
Green Bay can, technically, use one or multiple voidable years on every expensive free agent. However, later in this article, you can read why that is hardly beneficial for the team.
Secondly, two more high-profile pieces of the Pack’s squad, which had a positive influence this past year, are also hitting the market. Those are linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and cornerback Rasul Douglas. The former is a 2021 All-Pro who finished with 102 solo tackles, tied for third-most in the NFL. In the meantime, Douglas allowed a spectacular 44.5 rating in coverage over 64 targets, primarily as a nickel back. Kevin King, who had a disappointing year on the boundary, is also on his way out, leaving yet another hole in need of response.
Finally, out of eighteen players whose contracts respectively had a total value of over $5 million, ten are set to leave after the conclusion of the 2023 season. Among those are crucial pieces such as Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, Billy Turner, Jaire Alexander, etc. Most of those are likely, on paper, to be more expensive on the other end of successful negotiations, if re-signed at all.
A Complicated Situation
The top reason why all of the departures are of concern to the Packers is their salary-cap situation. According to data by Spotrac, the salary-cap threshold for 2022 is estimated at $208,200,000. Green Bay, meanwhile, currently has 55 players under contract, with the top-51 cap hit amounting to $259,545,584. That means the Packers are almost $50 million over the cap. That is the second-lowest cap space, after the New Orleans Saints’ minus $76 million.
Going by these numbers, the reigning NFC North champions will be lucky to re-sign one high-profile asset without significant cuts or trades, let alone address all their needs.
One way this could be resolved is by trading away Aaron Rodgers and $27 million from his cap hit of approximately $46.6 million (if traded after June 1st). That would, per Spotrac’s figures, not help the Pack break even. Also, if they do that, two paths will be available to them, neither of which is impressive. On the one hand, they can elect to go with Jordan Love, but his mere one start on the pro level makes him unproven and a risky bet in the short term, regardless of any opinions on his collegiate abilities.
On the other hand, Gutekunst can opt to add a QB either through the FA market or the 2022 NFL Draft. The problem is that neither “event” offers intriguing candidates that could lead a pro offense from the get-go. Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, and Cam Newton highlight the free-agent class under center. The draft group at quarterback is a slight bit richer on talent, with the likes of Matt Corral, Kenny Pickett and Sam Howell making the draft a more attractive approach.
As mentioned above, the Packers could retain everyone by simply adding multiple void years while restructuring/extending existing deals in the same manner. That could put all assets’ collective cap within those $208 million. But…
Re-signing Assets Is Not Enough
…given the inevitable (but noteworthy) imperfection of the Packers squad, as well as the group of players that pose the threat of another big exodus next spring, having their current pieces intact for a few years might not be enough.
The Packers need more pieces to support Rodgers even if Adams comes back, their running faction is in the bottom half in production, and the defense against the run was amongst the weakest in the league. Unless Green Bay fills these glaring holes, their opponents in the chase for the NFC and Super Bowl crowns will not only catch up but overtake the 13-time NFL champions.
Shifting cap hit towards, say, 2024-2026, will help the Pack keep Rodgers and even Adams with a very thin cap burden. However, fixing the aforementioned issues would require Green Bay to either cut players, trade them, or include restructuring of 2022 financials in extensions.
Even if they go down that route, the Packers cannot carry on with the void practice forever, or at least other NFL teams have not displayed that yet. And even if they move some of the burden to void years on all high-profile assets, and opt to not keep them past their last “regular” campaign, they will suffer direly in the first year after the void as that is where the voided years’ dead cap goes once this mechanism activates. Therefore, at some point, the Packers will assume the remaining cost, which will restrict their ability to add upgrades en route to a balanced squad.
Instead, Green Bay can start off fresh by trading assets in exchange for draft capital and cap space. The former will ensure players at a cheap price with a high long-term ceiling while the latter will enable the club to replace the exiting pieces with underpriced, solid players and, at the same time, address its needs similarly.
As the new Super Bowl champions, the Los Angeles Rams, prove, a balanced roster is to be preferred in comparison with star power that puts limitations elsewhere.
When To Complete the Overhaul
On the one hand, the Pack could, with aggressive void strategy, become stronger contenders for the next two years, which could make retaining Rodgers, Adams, etc. worth it. On the other hand, whether or not quarterback prospects of similar caliber will be available in future drafts is not known. With many top QBs in the league (Mahomes, Allen, etc.) being locked away from the FA market for a long period of time, this could be the Pack’s best shot at replacing Rodgers, with less risk, in the long term. All in all, it seems wiser to begin the overhaul sooner rather than later, although a year of a “dream team” deserves to be considered too.
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