All season long Packers fans have voiced differing levels of concern over the impending free agency of wide receiver Randall Cobb. There are certainly fans that are freaking out, and then there are fans that are convinced a deal is going to get done. I’m kind of a cross between the two. There isn’t really a part of me that thinks Cobb is going to be a member of a different team. I don’t even think his negotiations are going to make it to free agency. I believe he’ll be signed during the time that Green Bay has exclusive negotiating rights.
My level of concern is strictly based on what could have been done. Cobb could have been locked into a team friendly deal in the off season. Something along the lines of 5 years $30 million with most of the money guaranteed would have made everyone happy. Cobb was coming off of an injury and a 5 year contract would give him another crack and free agency at the prime age of 29. After the season that Cobb has had, it’s possible he could command as much money as Jordy Nelson (4/$39) , or a contract similar to that of Victor Cruz (5/$43) to get Cobb signed. He could have been signed at a lower cap number and those funds could have been used to improve the team elsewhere.
Randall Cobb is not the only 2015 free agent. In fact, the Packers have 16 players that are no longer under contract after this season, which our friends at the Acme Packing company illustrate very well here. It has long been said that the Packers will have to decide between Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga this offseason. The team will have enough money to sign one, but not both. Other free agents BJ Raji, Letroy Guion (reportedly already negotiating), Tramon Williams, Davon House and John Kuhn could all bring something to the team. The question of course his how to fit them all under the cap, have flexibility to have a chance at a Woodson/Pickett/Peppers type signing and also sign the draft class.
It’s actually not going to be that hard. The Green Bay Packers currently have $122.2 million in commitments for 2015. They have $7.5 million from this year’s cap that they didn’t use and are allowed to roll over. The NFL has projected the 2015 cap as high as $141.8 million, though the NFLPA thinks that’s too low and I agree. The numbers I’ve read that I believe are $150 million in 2015 and $160 million in 2016. The NFL’s salary cap is directly linked to the league’s revenue and right now the NFL is a revenue monster with no slow-down in sight. For our purposes I’m going to compromise and call the 2015 NFL salary cap an even $145 million. At that number, with the $7.5 million in carryover the Packers would have $30.3 million in room.
It’s almost a certainty that inside linebackers Brad Jones and AJ Hawk are going to be released after the season. Both players have largely been replaced in what they do on the field and are in no real danger of being signed by another team if they are released. I would imagine Hawk could be brought back at the vet minimum if the team really saw that necessary. Their releases push the Packers over $37.5 million in cap room. The elephant in the room of course is Julius Peppers. His $12 million cap hit in 2015 ranks third on the team and releasing him would add another $7 milion of breathing room, which could potentially push the team to $44 million in room under the new salary cap. That kind of room is a little unnecessary so again I’m going to compromise. Let’s say Peppers re-structures or takes a pay cut to stay playing and stay in Green Bay and shaves his cap hit the $2.5 million it would require to give Green Bay an even $40 million in room.
Now let’s say everyone gets flat contracts at market value. No frontloading, no backloading, just flat contracts at what they are worth. Pay Randall Cobb his $8.5 million per over 4 years. Cap room is now at $31.5. Give Bulaga his $5 million per. That’s a little less than Andre Smith and a little more than Sebastian Vollmer. Cap room is now at $26.5 million. You can also sign Tramon ($3), Guion ($3) and Raji ($3) for $9 million. Cap room is now at $17.5 million and you can make a decision on John Kuhn, Davon House and the rest of the NFL’s free agents, both Green Bay’s and not.
All of that configuration is not taking into account that the 2016 class of Packers free agents is not an expensive one at all. Mike Daniels and Casey Hayward are the only two good young players of consequence that will require contracts, neither at a position that requires a whole lot of money. Nick Perry is coming on but the Packers own a $1.8 million option on him and could easily exercise that. Money from all of the 2015 free agents could be dumped into the cheaper 2016 class AND the cap will go up again in 2016 because of the new TV deal.
Packers fans that have gotten used to having to say goodbye to a star because of the team’s continued success might be pleasantly surprised this offseason. The careful stewardship of the cap by General Manager Ted Thompson and the frontloading of Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews’ deals has put the Green Bay Packers in an excellent position to keep this group together. If this group stays together and continues to grow, when healthy I don’t see a season in which they lose more than 5 games any time during Aaron Rodgers prime. The Packers are looking at a Brady/Belicheck era of dominance as Rodgers’ contemporaries Brees, Brady, and Manning fade into retirement. The Seahawks will be financially forced to break up once Russell Wilson gets a new deal and there really are no other NFC QBs to challenge him. If this is not the Packers year (and I still think it is) it’s coming soon. We can thank Theodore Cornelius (his middle name isn’t really available on the google search) Thompson for that.