“So, how’s that ‘purgey-changey’ thing working out for you?”
The release of newly-minted Packer legend Charles Woodson was especially difficult this past week for fans of the team. In many ways, the impact Woodson had on the team was similar to that of Reggie White: a veteran free agent who brought not only gold-standard impact, but incomparable and needed leadership to cross the chasm between contender and Super Bowl Champion.
But, as Tom Oates wrote yesterday, the decision to let Woodson–along with other beloved veterans Donald Driver and Greg Jennings–fall off the 2013 roster was a wise one. With the Super Bowl salary cap hangover now hitting full force, the Packers can no longer afford to keep big contracts that, simply put, aren’t worth the money.
The departure of Woodson’s $9.4M salary cap hit for 2013 now puts the Packers about $16M under the cap, and will gain another $3.8M when Jeff Saturday formally retires and leaves the team. While that may sound like the Packers are in great shape, they now must try and extend the contracts of three players, with Aaron Rodgers’ likely league-leading quarterback deal starting us out. With speculation putting Rodgers in the $20M-a-year category, its pretty clear that the Packers may need to clear even more cap room before being able to sign the Big Trio of AR, Clay Matthews III, and BJ Raji.
Which means the veteran purge may not be over yet, and more of our favorite players may soon be suiting up in other team colors in 2013. Who are the more likely (and less likely) cuts that may still be made by General Manager Ted Thompson before training camp opens? Let’s take a look.
DISCLAIMER: The contract/cap information is as good as I have. If you have better information, please let me know and I will adjust the article accordingly. I also don’t claim to have any insider information or evaluation acumen. I know that I am not Ted Thompson. Thanks for reading.
Note: all contract information derived from RotoWorld.com.
AJ Hawk (ILB) #50
Contract: In the second year of a five-year, $33.75 million contract. The deal included an $8 million signing bonus and a $1.8 million roster bonus in the first season.
2013: $4.9 million (+ $300,000 roster bonus),
2014: $4.9 million (+ $800,000 roster bonus)
2015: $5.4 million (+ $800,000 roster bonus),
2016: Free Agent
Salary Cap Hit for 2013: $7.05M
Money saved with a trade/release: $2.5M
Assessment: There’s few players as close to my heart as AJ Hawk. No one petitioned harder for Ted Thompson to draft him in 2006 than me, mostly because I believed he had the highest floor of any of the top picks that year. Unfortunately, he’s also had a relatively low ceiling. Some of this isn't all his fault: the switch to the 3-4 effectively minimizes his role as an inside linebacker, calling for him to spend more time invisibly occupying blockers so that Matthews can make his plays. Despite that, he matched his highest tackle total of his career last season (120). But every dollar is precious, and Hawk has suffered over the years from the expectations of fans who believe he should be playing like a fifth-overall pick. Thompson doesn't care about that, but he does care about production-per-dollar, and that will be the measuring stick.
Ability to replace: The Packers have two players coming off injury that are both more athletic than Hawk, Desmond Bishop and DJ Smith. The question might be if they are both as assignment-sure as Hawk, but the Packers still have depth to develop behind those two and can always keep adding talent in the draft.
What Ted might do: I think Ted’s going to look long and hard at Hawk. I know he loves his draft picks and has stuck with him for a long time, but at age 29 and a need to put salary cap dollars elsewhere, Hawk may have played his last down as a Packer.
What I would do: I’d see what’s out there in trade, maybe bundle him up on draft day to move up, but otherwise, I’d release him before his roster bonus is due and let him latch on with another team.
Roster chances for 2013: 20%
Jermichael Finley, TE (#88)
Contract: In the final year of a two-year, $14 million contract. The deal included a $1 million signing bonus. Another $1 million is available through incentives. Finley is eligible for $300,000 offseason workout bonuses in each season.
2013: $4.45 million (+ $3.5 million roster bonus due in March)
2014: Free Agent
Salary Cap Hit for 2013: $8.75M
Money saved with a trade/release: $8.25M
Assessment: Oh, Jermichael. If there’s a player you could describe as being The Tempest, it would be the free-talking, ball-dropping tight end with a seemingly unlimited potential to draw from. A few months ago, it appeared that Finley’s book was closed in Green Bay when Bob McGinn reported sources inside the organization were through with him. Finley, true to his nature, then decided to turn his season around and prove everyone wrong, setting a Packer record for most catches by a tight end in a season. His future, to be decided rather quickly with a hefty roster bonus due in a few weeks, will likely come down to two issues: 1) Is Finley’s inconsistency/reward ratio worth $8.75M this season, and 2) do the Packers really have any plans to bring him back after this season?
Ability to replace: The Packers really, really wish Andrew Quarless, the Penn State tight end drafted as Finley’s likely heir apparent, was healthy. How the Packers feel about his recovery after tearing everything in his knee that ended in the letters “-CL” will likely weigh heavily on the decision they make with Finley. RFA Tom Crabtree will likely be tendered, and Ryan Taylor and DJ Williams give Thompson some confidence that, while Finley’s talent might not be replaced, his production can be.
What Ted might do: Interesting enough, Rodgers has been more vocal in what he’d like to see coaches and GMs do lately, and it's doubtful he’s going to make a case for Finley behind closed doors, given the somewhat tumultuous relationship they've had. What it really comes down to is if the Packers are done with Finley after this contract expires, and if so, look for Thompson to take advantage of Finley’s strong finish to the 2012 season to get something for him in return in trade. Interestingly enough, Quarless received a “healthy” bump-up in salary from $500K to $1.3M for being on the roster at the end of the season. That’s $700K more than Thompson has to account for under the cap this year.
What I would do: Is Jermichael Finley “Packer People”? That is one of my questions. Simply put, I have a hard time stomaching Finley’s tirades. The fact that he’s announcing to the media that he has a 50/50 shot of being back with the Packers next year is yet another sign of a lack of professionalism. He should know by now that you have your sister tweet it for you. I would trade him or cut him.
Roster chances for 2013: 40%
John Kuhn, FB (#30)
Contract: In the final year of a three-year, $7.5 million contract. The deal included a $750,000 signing bonus and a first-year roster bonus of $1.45 million.
2013: $1.8 million (+ $450,000 roster bonus)
2014: Free Agent
Salary Cap Hit for 2013: $2.5M
Money saved with a trade/release: $2M (estimated)
Assessment: Personally, I love John Kuhn. But anyone who thinks he’s playing at his 2010 levels is fooling themselves. While still valuable in the backfield blocking game, his production as a rusher has really fallen, with those infamous third- and fourth-down-and-short dives coming up too short repeatedly this past season. After rushing for 26 first downs in 2010, he has moved the chains only 13 times since. He is still valuable as a receiver out of the backfield, with career highs in receptions, yards, and receiving first downs, but this isn't the John Kuhn we remember from the Super Bowl.
Ability to replace: This, of course, depends on how the Packers would approach life without John Kuhn. Would they bring in another true fullback or start adjusting their deep tight end depth into H-backs? Would they bring in Alex Green as a third-down receiving/blocking specialist? It’s a lot of questions that would significantly alter the offense.
What Ted might do: Ted isn’t likely to make a move on Kuhn this year, but that doesn’t mean he’s on the list of contract extensions. Kuhn is in his final year of his contract and has motivation at age 30 to play his heart out for a new contract here or somewhere else. He still contributes as a blocker and a receiver, but I would imagine Mike McCarthy is erasing the fullback dive from his play chart.
What I would do: $2M doesn’t seem like a lot of money to be saved, and he’s still a bargain for what he’s contributing. While I think the Packers have the bodies to replace him, it would change how the offense functions, and I’m not sure that’s something that McCarthy wants to tinker with right now. I’d keep him and let him impress me for a contract extension.
Roster chances for 2013: 90%
Ryan Pickett, DL (#79)
Contract: In the final year of a four-year, $24.925 million contract. The deal contains $10 million guaranteed, including a $2 million signing bonus and a first-year roster bonus of $6.4 million.
2013: $5.4 million (+ $500,000 roster bonus due in March),
2014: Free Agent
Salary Cap Hit for 2013: $6.7M
Money saved with a trade/release: $6M (estimated)
Assessment: At age 33, Pickett is certainly on the downswing on his career. The Packers are unlikely to get anything in trade for an aging, expensive veteran, so it would come down to whether the Packers believe they can live without him. It’s hard to evaluate Pickett statistically as, like Hawk, his primary role is swallowing up blockers in both the run and passing game and allowing playmakers like Matthews to do his job. However, no one will deny that Pickett is value-neutral in the pass defense game, with no sacks and precious few quarterback hurries the past few seasons. Pickett hangs his hat on his run-stuffing ability, but it is hard to reward that when Adrian Peterson rushed for 200 yards (twice) and Colin Kaepernick rushed for 180 over the Packers’ last three games of 2012. With Raji about to get the lion’s share of cap space along the defensive line, can the Packers afford Pickett’s salary matched with his production on the field?
Ability to replace: The Packers are already precariously thin at defensive line. They still don’t even have a solid third starter, much less someone to step in immediately for Pickett. Jerel Worthy may miss the start of the season, and the rest of the gang (Mike Neal, CJ Wilson, and Mike Daniels) have all shown flashes of ability, but nothing like what the Packers need to turn around the defensive pass rushing and run stopping woes they've suffered through the past two seasons.
What Ted might do: There’s an unwritten rule in football, and that is you give defensive linemen more time and patience than you might at other positions. Frankly, the position is so hit-and-miss, you usually draft someone every year whether you think you need one or not. There’s a reason the Packers waited so long for guys like Jamal Reynolds, Justin Harrell, and Mike Neal to develop, and why characters like Cletidus Hunt, Johnny Jolly, and Corey Williams get more chances than they should. Thompson might approach Pickett for a contract extension that keeps him around a few more years at a discount, but chances are Pickett will collect his paycheck in 2013 as is.
What I would do: Well, there’s a reason I’m not an NFL GM. I would be tempted to look at that $6M and draft two early-round defensive linemen, or even pursue a younger lineman in free agency. There’s plenty of big names out there. But even I know you don’t willingly send away a productive defensive end. You’re probably going to swallow that $6M, hope Pickett has another year in the tank, and look at drafting his successor in April.
Roster chances for 2013: 80%
Mason Crosby, K (#2)
Contract: In the third year of a five-year, $14.75 million contract. The deal included a $3 million signing bonus.
2013: $2.4 million
2014: $2.65 million
2015: $2.8 million
2016: Free Agent
Salary Cap Hit for 2013: $3.1M
Money saved with a trade/release: $600K (estimated)
Assessment: If there is any player on the team whose salary is totally out of whack with what he's getting paid, its Mason Crosby. Trouble is, with the acceleration of the signing bonus he received in 2011, he’s almost a wash to cut this season. While we can question that contract extension, the fact remains that Crosby has become so unreliable at kicking field goals, we are on pins and needles when he attempts a 30-yarder. Any kicker worth an NFL contract should make a minimum of 75% of his field goals and should be above 80%. Crosby kicked only 63.6% of his kicks this past season, and only broke the 80% benchmark once in his career, last season. That stated, replacing a kicker is a precarious undertaking, as many teams found out when they had open tryouts mid-season. The mishandling of Crosby over the years by special teams coach Shawn Slocum has been well documented (mainly by me), but the question comes down to this: why does McCarthy remain so steadfastly that not only is Crosby the kicker, they won’t even bring in competition for him?
Ability to replace: That’s the key, but there are many (not on the Packers’ coaching staff) that would argue improving on a 63% field goal average shouldn't be that hard. While there are plenty of veteran legs out there on the market, any number of UDFA’s will be available after the draft. However, I’d be giving Florida’s Caleb Surgis a good look if he’s still available in the late rounds.
What Ted might do: It all depends on what he’s hearing from McCarthy and Slocum. After McCarthy again publicly defended Crosby, Thompson has to tread carefully as not to undermine either Crosby or his coaches. But I don’t think anyone is going to be upset if Thompson brings in a camp leg, as long as he doesn't draft one high enough to be a threat and a PR nightmare for McCarthy. If McCarthy lets Thompson know he doesn't have faith in Crosby and is willing to “go a different direction”, I don’t think Thompson hesitates to follow through.
What I would do: You’re only here as long as it takes us to find someone better to replace you. So saith Ron Wolf, and so saith me. The $600K saved in letting Crosby go this year is probably exactly what you’d pay to draft a late-rounder to kick for you this year. Simply put, I can’t imagine many of Crosby’s teammates have much faith in him anymore, and you have to get better. Tolerating mediocrity (or failure) is contagious and can bring down the whole team.
Roster chances for 2013: 50%
Tramon Williams, CB (#38)
Contract: In the fourth year of a five-year, $38.148 million contract. The deal contains $11.074 million guaranteed, including a $6 million signing bonus.
2013: $5.9 million (+ $300,000 roster bonus)
2014: $6.9 million (+ $300,000 roster bonus)
2015: Free Agent
Salary Cap Hit for 2013: $8.5M
Money saved with a trade/release: $6.1M (estimated)
Assessment: The elephant in the room, Tramon Williams is beloved by many Packer fans, but simply hasn't played anywhere near his 2010 form. Pro Football Focus ranked 113 defensive backs and put Williams at #60, behind Casey Hayward, Sam Shields, and Davon House. No, he’s not terrible, but he’s not playing up to a $8.5M salary cap hit, either. Williams’ play down the stretch hurt the team repeatedly, and the nerve damage taken from a collision with Nick Collins at the beginning of the 2011 season can’t be totally written off yet. Joe Whitt, the defensive backs coach, asserted publicly that Williams wasn't guaranteed a starting spot in 2013, a huge statement to make. Maybe it was done to light a fire under Tramon, but the message has been sent: Tramon is no longer the best cornerback the Packers have.
Ability to replace: The Packers actually aren't in terrible shape at cornerback, especially if they address the free safety position in the draft or free agency. The Packers felt confident enough to send Woodson packing, and might have enough to do the same with Tramon. Shields and Hayward both outplayed Williams this year, with Hayward looking like a rising superstar. Davon House, Jarrod McMillian, and MD Jennings certainly can round out a dime package, and there’s no reason Thompson can’t add to the mix in the draft.
What Ted might do: Williams is a tricky one. A superstar two seasons ago, he’s exceedingly popular and at age 29, in his prime and under contract for two more seasons. The question comes down to what the Packers know that we do not: why is Tramon’s play slipping? If it is because of coaching and lack of adjustments and putting Williams in too tough of a position without safety support, its hard to blame Williams for his downturn in production. However, the Packers feel he’s not going to get any better, whether due to injury or physical decline, its hard to pay someone that kind of coin to be only as good (or worse) as the cheaper, younger guys playing ahead of you. Thompson might make the bold move if he’s looking to clear cap room and if he really has confidence in his young players.
What I would do: I would definitely see what’s out there in trade, particularly on draft day. I think you can bundle Williams with a second rounder and move into the first round, based on his past history alone. Again, the Packers have to avoid the post-Super Bowl trap of rewarding mediocrity among veterans based on what they contributed years ago. You have the talent at the position. I would look to get what I can for him in trade.
Roster chances for 2013: 70%
C.D. Angeli is a longtime Packer fan and feature writer for CheeseheadTV. He is also the co-host of Cheesehead Radio and good cop over at PackersTalk.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision. DM him for a Cliff's Notes version of this article.
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