While the 2021 NFL season is still a few months away, it’s never too early to take a look beyond. The Green Bay Packers had to cut costs and restructure many contracts to keep the Super Bowl-caliber team they had in 2020 intact. 2022 will be no different, as the Packers have a loaded free agency group and not a lot of cap space to work with.
2022 will be a big year for contract negotiations and a sign of how much longer the Packers’ current Super Bowl window can remain open. Let’s look at the Packers’ most important 2022 impending free agents, starting with the offense.
Before we begin, two important factors come to mind. The first is that while the Packers employed Jaire Alexander’s fifth-year option, keeping him in Green and Gold through the 2022 season, he will almost certainly sign a long-term extension in the next year. The Packers will want to lock up their best defender, and Alexander won’t want to play on a lame-duck contract. So while Alexander is not a “2022 free agent” his impending contract must be considered when thinking about the team’s overall cap and roster situation.
Secondly, Aaron Rodgers’ status is currently still up in the air. Whether Rodgers comes back to the Packers, retires, or is traded, his next moves will have a drastic effect on next year’s personnel signings.
Speaking of Aaron Rodgers status, there is no player whose fate will depend on Rodgers than his best wide receiver. The most impactful free agent on the Packers, Adams won’t be cheap after playing his way into an All-Pro weapon. Adams proved in 2017 his skills weren’t dependent on Rodgers, and he may have to show that again this season.
If Rodgers returns, it might be an easy sell to retain Adams, who may even shave a few million off to continue playing with Rodgers. But should Rodgers depart, Adams might look to reconnect with his quarterback in a new city or even test the market.
Like Adams, MVS, and most of the Packers wide receiving corp, is on an expiring deal. While the team needs to make major decisions at the position, maintaining MVS should be one of the easier calls the Packers make.
MVS has moments of inconsistency, but his speed, mental fortitude, and lack of replacement on the team give him an important role in Matt LaFleur’s offense. His speed and deep-threat ability force defensive coordinators to react, and that alone should earn him an extension.
Lazard, a 2022 restricted free agent, made his splash in a game against the Lions and never looked back, becoming one of the best blocking and third-down pass-catchers on the team. Lazard’s place on the team after 2021 is hard to predict; he’ll need to show he can possibly produce without Rodgers, yet if he plays too well another team might be willing to pay more than the Packers can.
Equanimeous St. Brown
MVS’s draftmate hasn’t found the same level of success so far. After promising returns as a rookie, injuries stole a lot of time from the former Notre Dame wideout. EQ has the physical tools to be a star receiver, but he hasn’t had the playtime or consistency to be a focus on this offense. Further complicating matters is third-round pick Amari Rodgers, who brings a unique skill set to the team and will have one of the few wide receiver spots in 2022. While it’s a safe bet he makes the team, in 2021, this is a prove-it year for beyond.
Big Bob Tonyan exploded onto the scene in 2020, becoming one of the best tight ends in the NFC. Tonyan was the most reliable pass-catcher for the Packers in 2020, catching a whopping 88.1% of passes. In fact, it’s amazing no team made an attempt to obtain Tonyan this offseason, or at least force the Packers to make an expensive deal.
With Jace Sternberger suspended for the first two games and Josiah Deguara still recovering from his torn ACL, Tonyan will have the spotlight as the featured tight end once again. If he replicates his 2020 season, the Packers will have to take a long look at the future of their tight end room. Tonyan won’t be cheap after another season like last year’s.
Patrick’s two-year contract aged beautifully, as he started 15 games in 2020. Patrick filled in well at multiple positions. But the Packers just drafted a long-term center in Josh Myers, and the team has spent a significant amount of draft picks on interior offensive linemen in the past two drafts. While Patrick kept the Packers’ interior offensive line running smoothly in 2020, there is so much competition now that he may not even be a guarantee to make the 2021 team.