GREEN BAY, Wis. – With Russ Ball forced to rob Peter to pay Paul to get in compliance with the COVID-impacted salary cap the past two years, it’s no surprise the Green Bay Packers face one of the most challenging cap situations in the NFL.
That picture was painted by Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus, who analyzed each team’s salary cap for the 2022, 2023 and 2024 seasons. Ranking 28th in available cap space and 30th in total prorated bonus money over those three years, the Packers’ cap forecast ranks 28th.
“Green Bay is a good example of a team that shouldn’t really care where it ranks when it comes to salary cap health in 2022,” Spielberger wrote. “The Packers have a 38-year-old quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, who is coming off back-to-back MVP seasons and only has one Lombardi Trophy to show for his Hall of Fame quarterback play.”
When COVID struck, meaning empty stadiums and drastic revenue reductions, the Packers – with a roster filled with high-quality, highly paid veteran players – were hit hard. Ball, the team’s executive vice president and director of football operations, was forced to take drastic measures.
With prudent salary structuring and few splash additions in free agency during the Ted Thompson era and continued under Brian Gutekunst, the Packers typically enjoyed a healthy cap. That meant they weren’t forced to restructure contracts or prematurely release players to get in compliance with the cap.
COVID changed all of that. In 2020, the cap was $198.2 million. After year upon year of steady growth, the cap in 2021 fell to $182.5 million – with borrowing against future caps limiting the damage to merely $15.7 million.
The team was faced with two options, none of them great. It could simply slash salary to get to the cap. That wasn’t a feasible approach with Rodgers nearing the end of the career. So, to keep a championship team together, one contract after another was restructured, pushing the cap impact into future years. The aggressive approach taken by Ball and Gutekunst, and no doubt agreed to by President Mark Murphy, has kept the Packers on the short list of championship contenders.
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On the surface, Green Bay’s salary cap looks rosy. According to the latest from the NFLPA, the Packers are $16.8 million under the $208.2 million cap. Only seven teams have more available cap space. A decent chunk of that will be needed to fund the practice squad and handle any in-season additions, such as Rasul Douglas last year. Whatever’s left could be spent on a contract extension or rolled into 2023.
Every penny will help in 2023 when, according to OverTheCap.com, the Packers are $7.3 million over a projected cap of $225 million. That’s the byproduct of those aforementioned prorated cap dollars from the kick-the-can-down-the-road approach to handling the cap. In 2023, Rodgers ($31.62 million), left tackle David Bakhtiari ($29.07 million), defensive tackle Kenny Clark ($23.97 million), running back Aaron Jones ($20.01 million) and cornerback Jaire Alexander ($20.00 million) will consume 55.4 percent of the projected cap.
To deal with what’s to come, the Packers figure to release Jones and restructure the contracts of Clark and Smith. Doing those, Spielberger said, would get the Packers to about $22 million below the cap. Potential contract extensions for outside linebacker Rashan Gary and safety Darnell Savage, both of whom are scheduled to play under their fifth-year options, will help.
However, restructuring Clark and Smith will only mean more money being kicked down the road.
Of course, the Packers don’t really care. So long as Rodgers is on the team, they’ll enter every season as a championship contender. That’s probably not true with Jordan Love or whoever the next quarterback of the future. When Rodgers is gone, the Packers can hit the financial reset.
“The credit card bill always comes due,” Spielberger wrote, “and Rodgers could leave Green Bay with an absurd dead cap charge down the road, but they’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.”
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How Packers View Roster Headed Into Training Camp
Danny Etling throws a pass during OTAs. (Photo by USA Today Sports)
Veteran locks: Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love.
Rookie locks: None.
Veterans fighting for a spot: Danny Etling.
Extra point: The idea that the release of Kurt Benkert ensures Love’s spot on the roster is ridiculous. Love’s spot on the roster was secure, anyway. Etling, who like Benkert entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2018, is the only other quarterback on the roster and, thus, is the front-runner for a spot on the practice squad. For what it’s worth, the Packers took four quarterbacks into training camp last year and there is one open spot on the roster.
Patrick Taylor rushed 11 times for 53 yards and one touchdown at Detroit. (Photo by USA Today Sports)
Veteran locks: Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon.
Rookie locks: None.
Veterans fighting for a spot: Kylin Hill (perhaps PUP following last year’s torn ACL), Patrick Taylor.
Extra point: Taylor’s excellent performance in Week 18 at Detroit could give him the upper hand in the race to be the No. 3 behind Jones and Dillon. When all three were absent for the final week of OTAs, undrafted rookie BJ Baylor ran with the “starters” and undrafted rookie Tyler Goodson worked with the backups. In college, Baylor was the better runner while Goodson was the better receiver.
Samori Toure at OTAs. (Photo by USA Today Sports)
Veteran locks: Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins, Amari Rodgers.
Rookie locks: Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs.
Veterans fighting for a spot: Juwann Winfree, Malik Taylor.
Extra point: This is going to be fun. There have been years in which it seemed possible the Packers would take seven receivers into the regular season but it hasn’t happened. Could it happen this year if, for instance, Watkins wins a starting job and the three draft picks (or undrafted rookie Danny Davis) show they’re worthy? And don’t forget Winfree, who is coming off another strong series of offseason practices.
Could Josiah Deguara (left) and Dominique Dafney (right) be vying for one spot? (Photo by USA Today Sports)
Veteran locks: Robert Tonyan (perhaps PUP following last year’s torn ACL), Marcedes Lewis, Tyler Davis (especially if Tonyan starts the season on PUP).
Rookie locks: None.
Veterans fighting for a spot: Josiah Deguara, Dominique Dafney, Alize Mack, Eli Wolf.
Extra point: It was interesting during the first week of OTAs to see Dafney working with the starters on one end of the field and Deguara, the former third-round pick, with the backups on the other end of the field. They are players with similar skill-sets. Do the Packers need both on the roster, or is that role so important that they need both on the roster? The coaches have raved about Davis, who took the first-team reps as Tonyan rehabbed on the side.
Jake Hanson has a shot for a roster spot at center. (Photo by USA Today Sports)
Veteran locks: LT David Bakhtiari, LG Jon Runyan, C Josh Myers, RG Royce Newman, OT Yosh Nijman, OL Elgton Jenkins (perhaps PUP following last year’s torn ACL).
Rookie locks: G/T Sean Rhyan, OL Zach Tom.
Veterans fighting for a spot: C/G Jake Hanson, T/G Cole Van Lanen, C/G Michal Menet.
Extra point: For years, Aaron Rodgers has correctly pointed out that being the backup center is a sure-fire ticket to the roster. So, that will make Hanson vs. Tom one of the key training camp battles for picking the final 53. Hanson, a sixth-round pick in 2020, has played six snaps from scrimmage in five games over two seasons. Tom was a fourth-round pick this year. Without many pure offensive tackles on the roster, the development of seventh-round pick Rasheed Walker will be worth watching, too.
Devonte Wyatt (left) and T.J. Slaton (right). (Photo by USA Today Sports)
Veteran locks: Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Jarran Reed, TJ Slaton.
Rookie locks: Devonte Wyatt.
Veterans fighting for a spot: Jack Heflin.
Extra point: In all the world, is there an easier 53-man projection than Clark, Lowry, Reed, Slaton and Wyatt being the top five entering the season, with Heflin and seventh-rounder Jonathan Ford being a potential sixth man? Then again, the Packers could release Lowry and create almost $6 million of additional cap space if any of the bottom-of-the-depth-chart prospects have strong camps.
Preston Smith signed a contract extension this offseason. (Photo by USA Today Sports)
Veteran locks: Rashan Gary, Preston Smith.
Rookie locks: None.
Veterans fighting for a spot: Randy Ramsey, Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai, La’Darius Hamilton.
Extra point: The Packers have a lot of options. Are any of them good? Ramsey might have been a key player last season had he not suffered a season-ending ankle injury during training camp. He expects to be ready for Day 1 of camp next month. Garvin and Galeai played a lot of snaps last year, and Hamilton played, too. During minicamp, Galeai and Hamilton were the No. 2 tandem. Fifth-rounder Kingsley Enagbare was the main addition to the group and is a good bet to make the 53.
Ray Wilborn will push for a roster spot at inside linebacker. (Photo by USA Today Sports)
Veteran locks: De’Vondre Campbell, Krys Barnes.
Rookie locks: Quay Walker.
Veterans fighting for a spot: Ray Wilborn, Ty Summers, Isaiah McDuffie.
Extra point: What was the inspiration for this story? The mandatory minicamp. For the most part, the No. 1 tandem all offseason was last year’s staring pair of Campbell and Barnes. At times, the Packers went with Campbell, the returning All-Pro, and Walker, the first-round pick. When they went that direction, the No. 2 tandem was Barnes and Wilborn. It was interesting to see Wilborn, an undrafted free agent in 2020 who spent all last season on the practice squad, working ahead of Summers, a three-year backup who was fourth in special-teams snaps last season, and McDuffie, a 2021 sixth-round pick who was seventh in special-teams snaps.
Rico Gafford played receiver for the Raiders the past few seasons. (Photo by USA Today Sports)
Veteran locks: Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas, Eric Stokes, Keisean Nixon.
Rookie locks: None.
Veterans fighting for a spot: Shemar Jean-Charles, Rico Gafford, Kabion Ento.
Extra point: Alexander, Douglas and Stokes will be as good a starting trio as there is in the NFL. But injuries happen and depth is a necessity. The Packers have the depth of an old-school “See Dick Run” book. Nixon spent the spring as the next man up. In three seasons with the Raiders, he played 273 snaps on defense and broke up one pass. Nixon, Jean-Charles, a fifth-round last year who barely played as a rookie, and Gafford, who was moved from receiver, are slot defenders. The door is open for Ento, who will be participating in his fourth training camp but still hasn’t played in a game.
Shawn Davis is poised to earn a roster spot. (Photo by USA Today Sports)
Veteran locks: Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Shawn Davis.
Rookie locks: None.
Veterans fighting for a spot: Innis Gaines, Vernon Scott.
Extra point: By comparison to safety, cornerback is loaded with depth. Scott (89 career defensive snaps, all in 2020), Gaines (zero), Davis (zero) and the seventh-rounder Tariq Carpenter (zero, obviously) have played 89 career snaps of defense in the NFL, including zero last year. The Packers signed Davis, a fifth-round pick by Indianapolis last year, to their practice squad in September. He played special teams in his only appearance. Davis spent the spring as the third safety. Lest you say, “Who cares about the No. 3 safety?” Henry Black played 262 snaps in that role last year. That’s 15.4 snaps per game.
Pat O’Donnell handles a low snap at practice. (Photo by USA Today Sports)
Veteran locks: K Mason Crosby, P Pat O’Donnell.
Rookie locks: None.
Veterans fighting for a spot: Steven Wirtel.
Extra point: Barring a late addition, the incumbent Wirtel will battle undrafted rookie Jack Coco. They were on equal footing throughout the offseason. Fun fact: Coco hasn’t snapped for a punt in a game since high school. The Packers are great at finding quality long snappers. They’re just bad at keeping them.
State of the Packers Following Offseason Practices
With the offseason practices complete, here is everything you need to know about the Green Bay Packers with training camp on the horizon. This includes keep departures and additions, changes on the coaching staff, rookie impact and much more.