This offseason figures to be one of the most exciting in quite some time. With a new GM at the helm and the most draft capital the Packers have had in quite some time, there are many directions and approaches that Gutekunst can take. Andrew Mertig brings the heat right here , with a great article surmising as to what the Packers could do.
One hears about the Packers and specifically that of Russ Ball’s cap management. I have seen him called a “Cap Wizard.” It’s important to note, that no matter what salaries and bonuses that are paid to players have to be counted against the cap in some way shape or form. For as much competency in managing the cap that Ball and the Packers’ may have, the rules governing the cap aren’t some complex opaque system where a team can pull of an Enron style cooking of the books.
But there are simple things that teams can do for cap management. A great recent example of this is that of Jimmy Garrapolo. His contract’s overall value is staggering; 5 years $137.5M. That equates to an average of $27.5M per year. To lessen the long-term salary cap implications, the 49ers included a $29M roster bonus in 2018, instead of a signing bonus. This allows them to take the cap hit for that $29M this year as opposed to over the life of the contract. His cap hit this year is $37M (includes his base salary and 1/5 of the signing bonus) but drops to $20M next year. The Packers aren’t in such position and likely will look to lessen cap hits in the next two years for any new contracts as they did for Adams and Perry.
In general, it comes down to discipline and smart decisions on what players to pay long-term. As of today, the Packers’ have well below the league average in Cap space with $19.3M. After this year, based on current contracts their cap space would be at or around the league average and overall, long-term.
Here are a look a few contracts that are key to the Packers’ situation the next few years.
Kenny Clark – Drafting an impact player at the end of the first round is one of the best things that can happen to a team’s salary cap. While you have to pay salary to commiserate with that of a first-round pick, it is reasonable as compared to earlier in the round. The bigger advantage is that unlike a second-round pick, the team has a fifth-year option which allows a team to add a year on the contract with a salary that is formula driven based on the salaries of top veterans of that position. The next two years Clark has cap hits of $2.5M and $3M, which is a bargain for an interior defensive lineman of his caliber. The cost of the 5th option is unknown at this time but based on recent examples it will likely be $8-9M. Regardless, having Clark locked up for three years with a cap hit of around $15M total is very helpful for the cap.
Clay Matthews – At this point, Matthews is called overrated so much on Packers’ Twitter that he is underrated. Matthews is one of the most polarizing figures mainly because the expectation of him was to be one of the very best pass rushers in the league for many years when he signed his last contract. It’s fair to say he has fallen somewhat short. Nevertheless, he is effectively on a one year, $11.3M contract. While the cap hit is significant it is well below what a franchise tag for a player would be, which would be around $15M. The key is that his contract is expiring. If he doesn’t play well, they can just let him walk, no harm no foul. If he flourishes in the Pettine system, they can look to extend or re-sign him.
Cobb and Nelson – The veteran wide receiver duo have are also two that have had their futures much discuss in Packershvere; It’s somewhat a non-issue because both Cobb and Nelson are in the last year of their contracts. Nelson has a cap hit this year of $12.5M and Cobbs in $12.7M. Those are both huge numbers, but as of now they only apply to 2018 and that is if they keep both of them as is, which seems unlikely. Even if they do, the expiration of those allows them to structure contracts knowing those contracts are off the books in 2019, and based on their 2017 play, a player of equal production would likely be much cheaper.
The Bad –
Davante Adams – First off, this isn’t necessarily bad. The Packers’ were right to pay Adams what they did and considering his age and skill, he may end up being a bargain. His contract does however present the biggest risk on the team at this point. Adams had three concussions in the past two seasons, two of which he was able to play the next week and the last of which his recovery was unknown as the Packers were eliminated from contention at that point. His cap number this year and next is a bearable $10.5M. In 2020 and 2021, however, it jumps significantly to $16.6M. It was likely structured that way to allow the Packers the option to cut him and take a cap hit of $7.2M in dead money or possibly extend him at that point. No matter what, Adams situation is somewhat unique because a concussion history can be career threatening, unlike a bone injury such as that of Aaron Rodgers.
Nick Perry – Similar to Adams, Perry has an injury history. Unlike Adams, he doesn’t have a history that makes anything career threating. His history is that of smaller injuries that affect his performance. Perry’s cap hit this year was modest at $5.925M, then jumps to $10.75M in 2018 and an absurd $14.7M in 2019. The issue with such a cap hit, in this case, is that the Packers would have a Cap hit of $11.1M in dead money if they cut him after next season and $7.4M after the 2019 season. That is a tough pill to swallow but one they would be forced to if he doesn’t produce.
All of this is for not if Perry flourishes in the Pettine defense and he is a candidate for an improvement. As it was documented when he was drafting he preferred to play with his hand down as a defensive end, but has played standing up during his time in the Capers defense which seemingly did not put players in position to play up to their potential. Pettine seems more eager to tailor his defense around what skills his players bring.
Now, let’s hope there are a few more contracts to analyze in the next month once free agency begins.
Note: All salary information included in the article are based on information from sportrac.com.Originally from Glidden Wisconsin, Jason Straetz is a lifelong Packers\' fan, who has lived in Maine for over 30 years. He is a writer for packerstalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @jsnstz