As the Packers go about the business of crafting their roster for the 2021 season, they must do so with at least a cautious eye on 2022 and beyond. Yes, I’m just going to enjoy this season and not lose sleep over what may happen afterward. But I do have a sort of morbid curiosity about how the team will go about keeping some sort of nucleus together for the future.
Green Bay is certainly off to a solid start by locking up Kenny Clark, David Bakhtiari and Aaron Jones. I am going to presume that Aaron Rodgers is gone after this season. That would leave several other major deals looming ahead in the next year. You have read, and will no doubt continue to read, about the cost of retaining star players such as Davante Adams, Jaire Alexander and Zadarius Smith. They will all want top dollar and will likely get it. But I seriously doubt all three will get it from the Packers.
More intriguing to me are the rising stars of this team, the kind of players that don’t make the opening montages of Sunday Night Football, but who collectively keep you from falling off the cliff when the elites wave goodbye because you’re out of salary cap room. The Packers have several of them. That’s why they are one of the best teams in the league. Many of those will also be up for re-signing, and what they will be able to demand is decidedly unclear.
Let’s focus on two of them, tight end Robert Tonyan and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. They are perfect examples of improving players whom Green Bay will need desperately if they find they can’t write big enough checks for the likes of Adams. They are the type of player Jordan Love must have around him to have a chance to be successful in 2022.
To get an idea what they might cost, let’s look at some free agent signings at their positions this offseason. We’ll start with tight ends. The two richest deals were both made by the spend-happy New England Patriots, who inked both Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry to contracts averaging $12.5 million. Comparing their 2020 numbers, Tonyan had 52 catches for 586 yards, and led all TE’s with 11 touchdowns. By comparison, Smith had 41/448/8, while Henry posted a line of 60/613/4. I would call that comparable, granting a big edge to Big Bob in touchdown receptions.
Does that mean Tonyan will command a $12.5 million average next season? It’s possible if he balls out and has an All Pro year. But with the diversity of weapons at Aaron Rodgers’ disposal, it’s unlikely Tonyan will get enough targets to achieve that kind of preeminence. Oh, for sure he’ll have a good year, but I doubt it will be THAT kind of year.
A more realistic comparison might be the two year deal the New York Giants gave to Kyle Rudolph, which works out to $6 million per year. Or maybe the one year, $8 million pact paid by the Tampa Bay Bucs to re-up Rob Gronkowski. Still, a six to eight million dollar chunk out of next year’s cap is considerable, especially since that cap is already a mess. No doubt any deal with Bobby will have to be heavily back loaded into 2023, when new TV contracts kick in.
Then there is MVS. Last season he put up a line of 33/690/6. Looking at receiver free agent signings this offseason, MVS certainly won’t be in Kenny Golladay country, who got $18 million per year from the Giants. Nor will he likely approach the Corey Davis deal with the Jets, which is $12.5 million. Heck, even Nelson Agholor got two years at $11 million per from the Patriots.
However, If his excellent training camp is any indication, the 4th year wideout from South Florida may well be looking at something like the one year deals signed by T. Y. Hilton and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Both resigned with their current teams for $8 million. Or maybe the Marvin Jones contract with the Jaguars, which is two years at $6.25 per.
So there you have two key players who, if they continue to rise, are going to be in that 6 to 8 million range at least. There are more who will likely fall into the next tier down. Guys like Allen Lazard, Chandon Sullivan, Krys Barnes and Kevin King. The Packers will lose a couple of their elites because the boatload of money required to keep them all is simply not there. But if they make wise decisions, they can retain enough of the Tonyan and MVS type players that will keep them in the playoff picture.
Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.