Sometime between now and the end of training camp, the Green Bay Packers will hopefully announce the extension of Davante Adams’ contract. It figures to be huge, at least approaching, if not equaling, the DeAndre Hopkins deal, which averages around $27 million per year. Adams would join David Bakhtiari, Aaron Jones, Kenny Clark and Za’darius Smith as players with contracts at or near the costliest in the NFL at their positions.
As you might expect, the large pacts have Green Bay’s salary cap bulging at the seams. But the financial challenges are just beginning. In order to bring quarterback Aaron Rodgers back, the team may have to increase his pay to make him the top at the position. That would mean his number would have to exceed the average of $45 million per year being paid to Patrick Mahomes. The Packers may also need to guarantee a major portion of the deal.
But there’s more. There is a drumbeat among Packer fans to extend Jaire Alexander. The Pro Bowl cornerback has a year left on his rookie agreement, and the Packers have already committed to a fifth year option to keep him. However, many believe he will only get more expensive in the next two years, as his reputation of being one of the best shutdown corners in the game becomes more prevalent. Better to lock him up now, the thinking goes, to hold down the expense. As it currently stands, Alexander would be in line to get something resembling the league-leading $21 million per year deal being enjoyed by the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey.
Za’darius Smith has already indicated he wants a new arrangement. Presumably, he wants more than his current $16.5 Million per year average. The Packers tweaked his deal to save over $7 million in cap space this year, but the restructure pushed $28 million into the 2022 cap. No way the team will be good with that, so Z will most surely be extended either during or after the season.
Tight end Robert Tonyan will be up again after this season. If he continues to emerge as a top talent, he will be expensive to retain. Marquez Valdes Scantling is in his final year. Though I personally don’t see it, many Packer fans seem to think MVS should be a re-signing priority. And looking forward, the front office has to begin preparing to deal with the contracts of players like Elgton Jenkins, Billy Turner, Adrian Amos, and Allen Lazard. All may be expensive if they continue to play key roles on the team.
The franchise tag is an alternative for one of these situations, but the Packers are loathe to utilize it, and rightfully so, as it locks them in to an expensive outlay, and generally makes the player unhappy.
So the question over the next two or three seasons becomes: Where in the world is the salary cap space going to come from? Yes, I understand how re-signing these guys actually reduces their cap number in the short term. But that deferred money has to land somewhere. Yes, the cap is expected to show a healthy expansion when the new TV network contracts kick in in 2023, but that doesn’t mean it will be able to accommodate one big hit after another. There is a limit.
Overthecap.com currently lists the Packers as already being more than $34 million over the projected cap for 2022. That does not include any cap hit for Davante Adams because he is not presently under contract for 2022. No doubt his deal, and any adjustment for Aaron Rodgers, will be friendly to 2022, but that will just shove more burden into 2023.
It becomes painfully obvious the cap space simply isn’t going to be there for Green Bay to retain all of the key players they have now, let alone be active in the free agent market. Some will have to go. But who?
Well, the elephant in the room is the Rodgers deal. Trading him this year will save around $16 million off the cap. Trading him after June 1, 2022 would save over $25 million, per Overthecap. That would solve a lot of problems. But if you are among those who believe dealing away the three time MVP is unthinkable, where do you go from there? To stay viable, you pretty much have to bring back Adams, Alexander and Smith. Jenkins and Amos have to be planned for as well. I have trouble seeing a long term future with the Green and Gold for guys like Tonyan, Lazard, MVS and Turner, as well as somewhat overpaid performers like Preston Smith, Kevin King and Dean Lowry. The Packers seem to be anticipating these departures with the drafting of folks like Josiah Deguara, Amari Rodgers and a slew of young offensive linemen.
The irony of it all is not lost. The salary cap, which for decades has been the helper and protector of the Green Bay Packers’ viability amongst the big city bullies, is now the same vehicle that seems destined to pry the boards of their near-championship caliber team apart. It seems likely that the team we will watch this fall will be significantly different from the one that takes the field a couple of years from now.
Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.