Green Bay Packers

It's Time For Rashan Gary To Establish Himself As An Elite Player

Photo credit: Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

A 12th-overall selection in 2019, Rashan Gary was the Green Bay Packers’ highest draft pick since 2009. After developing for two years in a limited role, the edge defender finally became a full-time starter last season because of Za’Darius Smith‘s injury.

The Gary selection was scrutinized because he was a project. He had extraordinary physical traits, but his college production didn’t match them. That was the theme of the beginning of his career because he only had seven sacks through his first two seasons in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers selected Brian Burns four picks later, and he had 16.5 sacks in the same period.

But Gary made a big leap last season and ended up as one of the most impactful edge defenders on a play-by-play basis. Even if his sack numbers weren’t astronomical (9.5 sacks, leading the team with a half-sack advantage over Preston Smith), the pressure rate was elite.

Gary’s development has been so good that the Packers decided to take his fully guaranteed $10.9 million fifth-year option for 2023, so he is under contract for two more seasons. Za’Darius Smith signed with the Minnesota Vikings in the offseason, so Gary enters training camp as a projected starter and Edge 1 for the first time in his career. It is time for him to grow even more, establish himself as an elite defender, and justify an extension.

PFF’s Brad Spielberger projects Gary to receive a $26 million per year contract extension, which would make him the highest-paid defender in Green Bay Packers’ history, surpassing recently extended cornerback Jaire Alexander. If that’s the case, and it’s a plausible projection, Gary will keep the development rhythm he established over his first three seasons in the league.

His 90.1 PFF pass-rush grade is the highest among Packers players since 2006 — he had an 89.3 all-around grade last year. He had 81 total pressures in 2021, indicating that his sack numbers might be higher in 2022. PFF listed the top 25 players under 25 years old, and Gary was the No. 11. He was second among edge defenders, behind 49ers’ Nick Bosa (first) and ahead of players like Maxx Crosby (12th), Chase Young (13th), and Brian Burns (15th).

“Gary hit multiple career-highs in 2021,” wrote PFF’s Trevor Sikkema. “With Za’Darius Smith out for most of the season, he recorded 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, 28 quarterback hits, eight tackles for loss, and 47 combined tackles. His 81 total pressures ranked third in the league among edge rushers. Smith has now departed from Green Bay, which means that role is now Gary’s and his alone. His 21% pass-rush win percentage is the best rate of any edge rusher from the 2019 class, including Nick Bosa. He was drafted to be a star on that defensive line, and it appears he has fully arrived.”

Gary’s role is divisive because he might be forced to play a high number of total snaps. The Packers don’t have an established Edge 3 behind him and Preston Smith, so the two starters are a big part of the plan. The other edges on the depth chart, such as Randy Ramsey, Kingsley Enagbare, Jonathan Garvin, and Tipa Galeai will fight for playing time. Still, we shouldn’t expect elevated productivity from any of them.

Considering Green Bay’s traditional contract structure, the Packers would give Gary a four-year extension next year, with no guarantees beyond the signing bonus.

Fifth-year option: one-year, $10.9 million
Extension: four years, $104 million ($26 million per year)
Total: five years, $114.9 million ($23 million per year)
Signing bonus (guarantees): $36 million

New contract structure

2023
Base salary: $1.2 million
Signing bonus proration: $7.2 million
Cap hit: $8.4 million ($2.5 million in cap savings from the current number)

2024
Base salary: $2 million
Signing bonus proration: $7.2 million
Roster bonus: $14 million (this part can be spread again before the new league year to lower the cap hit)
Cap hit: $23.2 million

2025
Base salary: $8 million
Signing bonus proration: $7.2 million
Roster bonus: $9 million (this part can be spread again before the new league year to lower the cap hit)
Cap hit: $24.2 million

2026
Base salary: $21 million
Signing bonus proration: $7.2 million
Cap hit: $28.2 million

2027
Base salary: $23.7 million
Signing bonus proration: $7.2 million
Cap hit: $30.9 million

If Rashan Gary can keep growing and making such an impact on every play, the Packers would happily give him the well-deserved, big-time extension. Considering the edge market is extremely expensive — the Pittsburgh Steelers’ TJ Watt is making over $ 28 million per year, and Nick Bosa could be the first defensive player ever to achieve $ 30 million annually — Gary could be a steal for Green Bay.

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