The beginning of the legal tampering period was a busy week of salary cap gymnastics for Brian Gutekunst and the Green Bay Packers front office. After securing a commitment from Aaron Rodgers, the team began reassembling a contender to take another crack at the obstinate barrier standing between the four-time MVP and a second Super Bowl appearance.
Star edge rusher Za’Darius Smith and OT Billy Turner were the first cap casualties in last Monday’s early hours, while key defenders De’Vondre Campbell and Preston Smith inked extensions. After Rodgers completed just one pass for six yards to receivers not named Davante Adams in the playoff loss to San Francisco, fans implored Gutekunst to deploy the team’s remaining cash on a big-ticket No. 2 like Jarvis Landry or Allen Robinson.
Then came a pair of the most devastating blows imaginable to Jason Vrable’s unit.
Christian Kirk is a great guy, and he and his family probably won’t ever forget Pi Day after signing a life-altering 4-year, $84 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, that number is flat-out absurd for a receiver who has spent his career as a second or third option in the Arizona Cardinals’ offense.
As NFL revenues soar and the salary cap climbs annually, market-altering deals have become the norm this time of year. But Doug Pederson and Trent Baalke took things to a new level, tipping the scales overwhelmingly in favor of wideouts around the league and ensuring that it would take an eye-popping number for Green Bay to merely reclaim what they did have at the position.
A few days later, ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke news of the knockout punch: About a week after franchise-tagging Davante Adams, the Packers were trading him to the Las Vegas Raiders for a first- and a second-round pick. After spending the offseason holding on for dear life amid Rodgers’ silence and then slogging through restructures and voidable years to bring back as many key contributors as possible, Green Bay took a massive, unthinkable step backward and brought a cloud of uncertainty over their offensive attack.
Kirk’s gargantuan contract figured to set the stage for a proportionally substantial payday for Adams. However, with Vegas footing that $141 million bill, Gutekunst is now forced to rebuild the receiver room – which currently consists of Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, and not much else – from the ground up in an inflated market. Adams’ departure vanquished 1,553 of Rodgers’ 4,115 passing yards, making it highly unlikely that Green Bay relies solely on the draft to recoup that production. Now, remaining free agents Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, and Landry (who all come with their own set of red flags) will undoubtedly leverage Kirk’s salary. The reality here is that this will get figured out, but Jacksonville has ensured that it will be at a much higher price.
San Francisco 49ers weapon Deebo Samuel responded to a tweet jokingly projecting a $567 million extension for the postseason hero with laughing emojis. Defensive backs Jalen Ramsey and Darius Slay were less enthused. Ramsey is currently the highest-paid DB with an average annual salary of $20 million. If Kirk is paid the maximum value of his contract, we would be looking at a situation where the league’s best corner makes less than a mid-tier receiver.
Perhaps the only good news for Packers fans is that Jaire Alexander‘s extension will be more manageable, as big deals for premier corners J.C. Jackson and Carlton Davis hardly approached the neighborhood of Ramsey’s salary. After the Adams trade, the Packers took advantage of the calm market, bringing back breakout CB Rasul Douglas on a 3-year, $21 million deal.
Despite lighting the NFL on fire, the Jags weren’t finished. They threw $30 million at Zay Jones, who will now be paid $10 million annually after barely cracking 500 yards in his sixth season. His contract is particularly relevant to the market for Marquez Valdes-Scantling, a secondary target for Green Bay last year. It’s hard to get too excited about MVS because, well, he’s already been on the team for the past four seasons. But CBS’ Josina Anderson rattled off a list of five teams interested in him. If he is able to get anywhere near Jones’ number – and, at this point, why wouldn’t he? – the Packers are going to be capped out just trying to keep the depth they had behind Adams. If they let him walk, their depth might be even more pathetic.
So the quagmire in Titletown gets even more perilous. As questions remain about who the hell Rodgers will be throwing to, Jacksonville has laid the groundwork for financial pain that ensures they will have at least some say over how the 2022 season plays out. The list of things that can get Green Bay out of this has pretty much been reduced to Jameson Williams and/or Chris Olave, a miraculous trade for D.K. Metcalf, and more surgical thrift shopping from Gutekunst, a la Campbell and Douglas last year. Buckle up.