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If Salary Cap Returns, Packers May Have To Slash Payroll

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If Salary Cap Returns, Packers May Have To Slash Payroll

This is the second of a two-part series looking into the front offices practices of the Packers. Yesterday we looked how some creative book-keeping techniques spearheaded by Russ Ball helped the Packers acquire and keep a lot of talent on their roster last season. Today we look at some troubles that may lie ahead.

As we saw yesterday, the Packers had one of the highest payrolls in the entire NFL last season, which I think would surprise a lot of fans knowing the Packers don't have a single deep-pocketed owner to pay those salaries.

The investment turned into a Super Bowl victory for Green Bay, however. Probably 99% of fans, season-ticket holders, shareholders and anyone else associated with the Packers don't mind spending so much money if the end result is the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Some concerns lie ahead, though.

There's a veritable ton of issues to be ironed out with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, whenever it happens. But when it does, there's a decent chance it will include a salary cap, which was absent as part of the old CBA's clause regarding the "Final League Year" in 2010.

The owners want a salary cap to put a ceiling on the amount of money they'll be required to pay player salaries. The players, meanwhile, don't necessarily want a cap, but they do want the salary floor that comes with it.

Consider right now that teams like Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Carolina currently have payrolls that are far below what would have been the salary floor had it been in place last season.

"Carolina right now has less than $60 million in cash committed to next year," said Brian McIntyre of Football Outsiders. "That's ridiculous. The salary cap floor in 2009 was $107 million. Two years later the Panthers have a payroll of less than $60."

At the other end of the spectrum sit the Packers, whose high payroll allowed them to be competitive at the highest level of the sport. But it has come with a price.

If and when the salary cap returns, Ted Thompson will again be turning the Russ Ball and the rest of the finance department to figure out ways to get them under the ceiling.

"They still have some issues going forward," said McIntyre. "According to my figures, their cap number in 2011 is just under $126 million."

What the salary cap will be when a new CBA is hammered out is still speculation, but there are some figures that can give us a ballpark estimate.

"The players were looking for about $141 million," said McIntyre of the last round of negotiations back in April before any court-ordered mediation occurred. "One of the owners' proposals was about $114, $115."

When forced to guess what it will be, McInytre predicted that the salary cap would skew in the players' favor, anywhere from $130 to $140 million. But that's far from being set in stone.

Had the players agreed to the owners' proposal of $115 million, the Packers would already be about $11 million over the salary cap requiring some serious pay cuts to get under the ceiling.

On the other hand, if it the cap ends up being somewhere near the players' proposal of $140, the Packers will have a little more wiggle room. But even then, they're still not in the clear.

"If... there was a $140 million cap in 2011, the Packers would have to scramble," said McIntyre. "And that doesn't include guys, the restricted free agents like Mason Crosby, John Kuhn, [Atari] Bigby and [Daryn] Colledge."

The number of years of service required for unrestricted free agency, whether it's four or six, or even a different figure altogether, is another monkey wrench in the CBA equation.

Just in case it takes six years or more to become an unrestricted free agent, the Packers reportedly offered restricted free agent tenders to players like Crosby, Kuhn, Colledge, James Jones and Brandon Jackson. In essence, the Packers are committed to paying those salaries  of an amount based upon the tenders they offered.

Also not taken into account is the amount of money the Packers will pay their incoming rookies, both drafted and undrafted.

Taken together, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the Packers will need to cut back on player salaries someway, somehow even if the cap does end up being near the high end of $140 million.

The Packers already took the first step in this direction shortly after the Super Bowl by cutting tight end Donald Lee and safety Derrick Martin. Another possible casualty at some future point in time could be defensive lineman Justin Harrell. Veteran tackle Mark Tauscher is another option, but retirement could be in the cards too.

Even more unforeseen cuts are possible as well as getting players to restructure their current deals. At this point, almost no money-saving techniques can be ruled out.

When armed with all this information, it also appears the Packers simply don't have the money necessary to sign an unrestricted free agent like defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins. And if players like Jones and Jackson become free agents and command high salaries on the open market, there's a decent chance the Packers won't be able to afford them either. The decision won't be whether the Packers want them or not; it will simply be because they can't afford to be among the highest bidders.

Again, there's a lot of unknowns with the labor negotiations being carried out by the NFL. It's not out of the realm that both sides agree to play one more year with the 2010 rules in place (including no salary cap) as a temporary measure.

But when they finally do agree to a new CBA, whether it's soon or years down the road, the salary cap is likely to return. And the Packers going to have to take some cost-saving measures as a result.

Brian Carriveau is the editor of the Maple Street Press Packers Annual. To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (25) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

BubbaOne's picture

1) Another good reason to have drafted 10 players.
2) There may be a rookie salary cap in place which would help.
3) If TT has to cut for salary cap reasons the veterans at risk are: Barnett, Hall, Johnson, Poppinga, Chillar, Lee, Havner, Tauscher, and Harrell. Would want to keep a few of these guys but still keeps the core intact if we lose them all.

jeremy's picture

I don't see a single guy on that list who would be sorely missed. I would say let them all go if it means having money to sign Finley, and Matthews long term.

WoodyG's picture

I think you're right ..... Most of those names are gone no matter what transpires with a new CBA ..... None are starters & almost all are coming off the IR ....

No doubt if GB somehow resigns B. Jackson, Grant needs to start wondering about his new team .... If J. Starks looks good & stays healthy in TC & preseason, GB can't pay Grant 5.5 mil as a back-up .......

MarkinMadison's picture

Sounds like you won't want to hold your breath waiting for them to sign Finley to a long-term deal this season either.

Idiot Fan's picture

With the drafting of a couple more TEs this year, one wonders if they are preparing themselves for Finley being out of their price range next year.

jeremy's picture

That's a good possibility. Finley is hardly a shining beacon of availability and accountability.

BubbaOne's picture

Add Grant to the list esp if Jackson returns.

BrianD's picture

Have fun in Carolina James Jones!

DaveK's picture

The last year a cap was in place was 2009 and the amount was $128 million. Per McIntyre, the Packers are currently just under $126. No way is the cap going back under what it was in 2009 unless they put in a new lower rookie wage scale which would offset cap implications.

Also, the rookie and possible tenders (Jones, Jackson, Kuhn, etc...) will be offset by cutting players who will not make the roster because of the rookies or tenders. They can only keep 53. For example, if they get to keep Jones then Swain gets cut. If they keep Kuhn then a FB/RB/TE gets cut. If 7th round pick Lawrence Guy makes the team then Harrell and/or another DE gets cut. If any of the rookie OLB's makes the team then Wilhelm or Francois get cut. It may not completely offset depending on who gets pushed off the roster but the rookies and tenders won't cause a big increase in the cap limit.

Regardless, that $126 figure cited by McIntyre is going to shrink right from the get-go. Tauscher ($4.1)and Poppinga($2.05) certainly won't be back. Chillar ($2.0) or Barnett ($5.5) both won't be back. That is $8.15-$11.65 million in cap room right there. And, there are others that won't make the roster: Lee or Underwood, Havner or Crabtree, etc...

Honestly, I don't see it being a problem.

DaveK's picture

As far as extending players I also don't see it being an issue. TT has done a great job of front-loading contracts for the core players. Each year the cap will go up but the Packer's core players salary won't rise as fast making more cap room. And, over the next few years higher priced vets will move off the roster making room for extending guys like Finley or Sitton. (Clifton, Driver, Barnett, Pickett, etc...)

redlights's picture

Completely agree.

Similarly, Carolina's cap number doesn't include its new rookies (incl. Newton); so the $60M isn't truly accurate, either.

If there's one thing that we should know, it's that TT will do fine.

Nerd's Laptop's picture

Yeah, the roster currently consists of 80 players, does it not?
Here's another thing. Look at what we did with all those players on IR. By which I mean, we won the SB withOUT a whole bunch of those guys. If cuts need to be made, they need to be made. We can still get it done.
But I think we'll be fine. It'll be interesting to see how the talent pool turns over as these players age and mature.

DaveK's picture

Yeah, the roster is 80 until after camp but most contracts are not earned or guaranteed until game 1 when the roster limit is 53.

Chad Toporski's picture

Brian,

What are your thoughts on Ryan Pickett's future? I'm seeing his cost becoming more than his value after this season.

2011: $2.7 million
2012: $4.5 million
2013: $5.4 million
2014: Free Agent

( from http://www.rotoworld.com/player/nfl/374/ryan-pickett )

Norman's picture

"Probably 99% of fans, season-ticket holders, shareholders and anyone else associated with the Packers don't mind spending so much money if the end result is the Vince Lombardi Trophy."

Only 99%? So who is the hold-out, that same 1 out of 5 dentists who doesn't recommend sugarless gum for his patients who chew gum? I've always been suspicious of that guy, probably just needs the extra business filling cavities.

Mojo's picture

Could we see names such as Driver, Clifton or Grant get cut in 2011 instead of down the road? The Pack might have suitable replacements in Cobb, Sherrod/Bulaga and Starks/Green.

Fans might have to get used to the idea of "the dagger" being applied by the Turk on cut-down day to some of our old-time favorites.

aussiepacker's picture

no way driver gets cut!

WoodyG's picture

DD will never be cut (released) by the Pack ..... This year or any year in the future ..... At some point, GB may ask DD to retire but we'll never know this as it will be a behind the scenes move ....

Pick all the best traits you would like to see in a Packer player & what you end up with is DD ..... Personally, I'd retire jersey #80 before #4 .....

MarkinMadison's picture

Two words for you: Al Harris.

WoodyG's picture

DD has played his entire career (12 years) with GB & is the all-time leading Packer receiver ....

Al Harris played for Philly for 5 years & is not the all-time leader in GB at anything ....

Big difference ....

Chad Toporski's picture

DD won't get cut for the reasons Woody stated.

Clifton won't get cut, because he's too valuable. Sherrod is more valuable if he has a year to learn behind Clifton instead of getting thrown into the fire.

Grant won't get cut, because he's still valuable and he provides some competition for Starks.

Nerd's Laptop's picture

After releasing all of the "Favre Loyalists" such as William Henderson and others, there began to be talk that the Packers didn't show enough respect to aging players, so I think they've been going out of their way to do that. They've kept Tauscher around, even asked him to travel with the team last year. They offered Al Harris a SB ring. I think DD will be around for the next year or two, until he really starts to lose a step or two.

aussiepacker's picture

do you think tauscher was a good enough olineman to warrant a spot on the coaching staff? he seems like a really cool and popular guy.

Oppy's picture

I don't think being cool and popular, or even being a good o lineman, necessarily makes for being a viable coach.

The world is full of people who excel at their vocation, but are horrible teachers.

Conversely, the NFL has its fair share of coaches that were career back ups or didn't even play the game at the professional level who are great teachers of the game and motivators of men.

As far as Tauscher goes, I'll give him this: He did perform at a level much higher than his athletic ability and build would suggest he should have, and that's a testament to technique and hard work. He's also an extremely bright man- he has never had an agent in all his years in the pros, he's always represented himself, and there's a reason he has been elected by his peers over the years to represent the Packers players as a union rep..

He's got the tools, but it would really come down to if he has the desire to coach and the intangibles that make for a good teacher.

Oppy's picture

I don't know that the Packers are in the business of making moves (or not making moves) because they care what the public thinks.

If anything, this particular administration has proven that they are going to do what they think is in the best interests of the Packers, regardless of public opinion.

Yes, they are giving Al Harris a ring, but I don't think for a second it's a PR ploy. If it was all about PR, they wouldn't have released him in the first place.

I think it's more a case of when the Packers make a tough move, like releasing a loyal, hard working guy like Al Harris, and they say "He's done everything we've ever asked of him and we appreciate his contributions, he'll always be a Packer",etc and so forth, it's not just the usual lip service you find across much of the league. I think they actually MEAN it.

In the end, keeping Tauscher and Clifton was in the best interests of the Packers at that particular point. We'll see what unfurls as the Packers move forward. Who knows? But I'd wager it won't be motivated by public opinion.

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