Two significant things happened this week for the Green Bay Packers and the 2021 season at large.
The cap dropped significantly from 2020. It was expected, as most NFL teams didn’t have full stadiums all season and lost lots of revenue. It dropped from 2020’s $198.2 million to $182.5 million.
That means the Green Bay Packers have a lot of work to do. They are currently almost $9.5 million over the cap.
It’s now time for Brian Gutekunst to work some magic. He will have to restructure player deals, most likely release players, sign affordable free agents, and will need ready-to-start players in this year’s draft.
Here is where the Packers stand:
Aaron Jones and Corey Linsley
It wasn’t too much of a surprise, but the Packers did not put a franchise tag on Jones or Linsley. Jones would have cost them around $9-9.5 million. Linsley probably in the $12-14 million range. There is a good chance both players will not be returning in green and gold. Both are basically the top free agent for their position.
Could one of them return on a back-ended deal with a big signing bonus? Sure, but it’s not likely. Lots of teams have cap space issues, but there are still plenty of teams who can afford both players. Early predictions: Aaron Jones goes to the Miami Dolphins, Corey Linsley to the Indianapolis Colts. But don’t lose all hope yet:
The other reason it wasn’t surprising is because the Packers usually don’t franchise tag their players. They are usually able to make a deal before free agency, or they let the player hit the market. It’s true:
Teams can be above the cap until St. Patrick’s Day. But on March 17th at 3 p.m. CST, all teams must remain under the $182.5M. There are plenty of players they can restructure.
David Bakhtiari already had his deal restructured to free up $8.3 million for the Packers. They can update roster bonuses, move money to signing bonuses, back-end contracts, and do lots of things with their current players. Other candidates you might see are Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, Preston Smith, and Jaire Alexander. When it comes to Smith, there is a chance he could be released. You hope for a restructure, but he is a $16 milion cap hit right now.
Za’Darius Smith’s restructuring is also possible, although he’s earned every penny he has made so far. He also tweeted this week he wants to be a Packer for life, so was he indicating he will restructure for a longer deal to help them out? One can only hope.
Lots of free agents Available
One thing is in the Packers’ favor. As of March 11th, a lot of teams also have issues with their team salary. The Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, and New Orleans Saints are all over the cap.
And if you think the Packers are in rough shape, you could be the Saints. They are $53M over the cap right now. Also, there are so many other teams, and good teams at that, who can only offer lower contracts than previous years. Just look at the wide receivers available this off-season:
This year’s draft will be important. The Packers have several picks. Will they move up in the draft? Most likely. Gute is not afraid to move up to get a player he wants. They need cornerbacks, linebackers, offensive linemen, running backs, and special teams help.
This might seem grim, but it isn’t. No NFL team is perfect. It’s about building the right team for that season. Just look at the stupid Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their stupid brilliant building of a winning team.
Green Bay is one wide receiver and one solid punt returner away from an elite squad. They are one linebacker away from getting to the quarterback more. One additional impact cornerback leads to both sidelines being covered.
The path won’t be easy, but Green Bay isn’t alone. Lots of teams will have to work magic this year. And with fans back in the stands this season, and most likely near 100%, revenue will return. What happens when revenue returns? A higher salary cap. This doesn’t mean the Packers will be able to go crazy next year. It does mean that it might be a little easier going into next off-season.
Does most likely losing Jones and Linsley hurt? Yup. But the Green Bay Packers will still be able to field a great team of players in 2021. As long as they don’t go to the Bears, Vikings, or Lions, we can all sleep well.