So it’s training camp week. What a difference a year makes. Remember last summer? A long offseason drama starring Aaron Rodgers came to a dramatic conclusion when the MVP signal caller mended fences with the front office and reported to camp, surrounded by TV cameras and panting reporters.
After a cryptic Instagram post from both Rodgers and Davante Adams, which featured a photo of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen with the words “Last Dance”, there was the general perception that the team was pulling together all of its key players for one last run at the Super Bowl. Whatever the outcome, most observers expected a major rebuild in 2022, beginning the Jordan Love era at quarterback.
Funny thing though. Somebody forgot to tell the front office they were supposed to rebuild. Upon watching their quarterback play another season at an elite level, winning his second straight MVP award in the process, the team decided he was simply too good to trade. They broke the bank, making him the highest paid player in NFL history for the second time. After signing the four year extension, Rodgers pronounced he would be a Green Bay Packer for the remainder of his career.
However, much to the shock of Packer fans, myself included, that sentiment was not shared by Adams. Most of us assumed that Rodgers and Adams were connected at the hip. A package deal. The All Pro receiver would either be extended or franchised, and their incredibly productive relationship would continue. We were stunned to learn that Adams wanted out of Green Bay, and General Manager Brian Gutekunst, convinced Adams would hold out if franchised, accommodated his wishes by dealing him to the Raiders.
Undaunted, Gutekunst refused to put the team in any phase that might be considered “rebuilding”. He used the money budgeted for Adams to help bring back All Pro inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, and corner Rasul Douglas. Then he tapped the free agent market, bolstering his defensive line with veteran Jarran Reed, and at least partially replenishing the receiver room by bringing in Sammy Watkins.
When you look at the roster that will take the field for camp this week, Packer fans can safely say the team has erased any trace of a “Last Dance” mentality. This team is built to contend not just this year, but for the foreseeable future. Elite tackle David Bakhtiari is under contract through 2024. He was expected to be available to start training camp, with the hope he was fully recovered from the knee surgery of a year and a half ago. However, Bakh will start camp on the PUP list. He is eligible to be activated at any time. Elite corner Jaire Alexander has been extended through 2026. Fellow defensive back Eric Stokes is in the second year of a four year rookie deal, with a team option for a fifth season. The Rasul Douglas re-signing keeps him in town through 2024. The Packers have exercised a fifth year option on safety Darnell Savage, so he’s in green and gold through 2023.
At running back, Aaron Jones is under contract through 2024, although his $20 million cap hit in 2023 will need some massaging. His running buddy AJ Dillon is in year three of a four year rookie pact. Defensive line standout Kenny Clark is signed through 2024, but as with Jones, Clark’s current deal calls for monstrous cap hits over the next two seasons and will likely have to be pushed further out.
Then there is the infusion of young, exciting talent like rookies Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt, Christian Watson, and young veterans such as Jon Runyan, Royce Newman, Josh Myers, TJ Slaton and Josiah Deguara.
Which is not to say there isn’t work still to be done. Elgton Jenkins is entering his final year. The front office is likely to slow play his extension until they see how well he returns from knee surgery around midseason. Ditto for tight end Robert Tonyan. Safety Adrian Amos will be a free agent after the season. When the curtain comes down on 2022, the Packers will also have decisions to make on Mason Crosby, Allen Lazard, Dean Lowry, Marcedes Lewis and Yosh Nijman.
But those calls are several months away. It’s training camp week. This team is a Super Bowl contender, and is set up to be so for at least the next three years. The wild card, of course, is how long and how well Aaron Rodgers will play.
Oh, and if Jordan Love turns out to be the real deal, the fun may never end.
Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.