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Packers Outlook: Creating Salary-Cap Space for 2014 and Beyond

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Packers Outlook: Creating Salary-Cap Space for 2014 and Beyond

The number of Green Bay Packers with contracts expiring after the current season is staggering.

No less than 18 players are entering a year that will help determine their future earning power.

At the top of the list are high profile players such defensive lineman B.J. Raji (a former Pro Bowler), wide receiver James Jones (who led the NFL in receiving touchdowns last year) and tight end Jermichael Finley (who already has a cap figure in excess of $8 million in 2013).

After them are starters like cornerback Sam Shields, center Evan Dietrich-Smith and fullback John Kuhn.

The defensive line is well represented with Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson and Johnny Jolly.

And role players like Marshall Newhouse, Andrew Quarless, M.D. Jennings and James Starks also populate the list that's rounded out by Graham Harrell, Jamari Lattimore, Matthew Mulligan and Rob Francois.

If you think it's going to be difficult to keep all these players under contract beyond 2013, you're probably right. The type of money it will take to retain these Packers will be a significant chunk of cash, and money is in short supply following the recent contract extensions signed by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Morgan Burnett.

But the ability to keep a majority of the above-listed players shouldn't be impossible.

According to Bill Huber of Packer Report, the Packers are roughly $14.7 million under the salary cap this season. Of the remaining cap space, approximately $1.4 million will be taken up when the Packers officially sign first round pick Datone Jones, the team's only draft choice that remains unsigned.

There's no hurry for the Packers to use the leftover cap space, because as part of the NFL's most recent collective bargaining agreement, they can rollover the unused portion to the following year.

The NFL's salary cap is set at $123 million in 2013, will probably rise somewhere in the neighborhood of $125 to $126 million in 2014, and the rollover amount should increase their spending limit another $10-plus million, assuming they don't sign any more players to contract extensions during the 2013 season (not a given).

A big source of salary cap relief in 2014 will come in the form of Ryan Pickett's salary being wiped off the books. Pickett has a base salary of $5.4 million and a cap figure of $6.7 million in 2013.

While Pickett will become a free agent and it's possible the Packers may re-sign him, there's no way at 33 years old he'll command anywhere near the same amount of money in the future.

In theory, one could imagine the money set aside for Pickett going to fellow defensive lineman Raji. At 27 years old, Raji is sure to pull in a sizable next contract, and the Packers could use the franchise tag as a fallback option to ensure he doesn't sign with another team.

Kuhn's salary cap figure of over $2.5 million also goes away after 2013, and it's questionable whether the fullback will be back in a Packers uniform beyond 2013.

The player with the most uncertain future is probably Finley. He's already the fourth-highest paid player on the team in terms of average salary per season, and the Packers may not be able to afford to give Finley a hefty raise.

There's no doubt that this is an exercise in crystal ball gazing, and a lot will depend up how each individual player performs in 2013.

It's also worth keeping an eye on two more players who have large contracts and have underperformed compared to the money they've earned in recent seasons, namely cornerback Tramon Williams and linebacker A.J. Hawk.

However, Williams' contract doesn't expire until after the 2014 season and following 2015 for Hawk. If the Packers were to cut ties with either of them prematurely, they'd be on the hook for the dead money that would still count against the salary cap regardless.

Finally, don't forget about Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga. They're two young, ascending players who could be deserving of extensions before their current contracts expire. It's possible they'll become among the highest paid players at their respective positions if they play at a high level this upcoming season.

Note: Much of the salary data comes courtesy of Spotrac.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (30) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

ohenry78's picture

Nice article! I had no idea that so many people were at the end of their contracts.

One thing -- John Kuhn is listed as "...and center John Kuhn" in the article :)

Evan's picture

"In theory, one could imagine the money set aside for Pickett going to fellow defensive lineman Raji."

100%.

And one thing you left out is that while Raji will get a raise, it won't be a huge one. He's already making a good chunk of money.

JakeK's picture

Could you possibly elaborate on your theory. ... Just because the media keeps saying that Pickett is done after this year, he has not said this anywhere. ... In fact, neither have the Packers. ... Why retire someone before his time?

Evan's picture

I'm totally with ya, buddy (isn't it funny how much we agree lately?). I never bought into the retirement talk either. I don't see any reason he can't play another year or two. But he will be a free agent and if he continues to play for the Packers, a pay cut could be expected. If so, that savings could be used to extend Raji, if the Packers were so inclined.

Stroh's picture

Same is true of Finley. He's already on the books for 8+M, so even if he performs like an elite TE, his cap number isn't going to take a substantial jump. Its even conceivable that Finley plays very well and gets a long term extention that actually lowers his cap number. Remember that the major reason he has such a high salary/cap number is the short term contract. Extending him and giving him security will take a big bite out of his cap number. Even as an elite TE, I can't see him getting anything more than 9 or 9.5M. While every million counts that's not a substantial jump in pay if he plays at an elite level.

Evan's picture

Also, on Finely, you say: "He’s already the fourth-highest paid player on the team in terms of average salary per season, and the Packers may not be able to afford to give Finley a hefty raise."

Why would any extension for him automatically include a raise? He's already making a huge chunk of money. Couldn't that figure stay static, or even be reduced with additional years/guaranteed money?

MarkinMadison's picture

Totally agree. I think the last time I looked he was the second highest paid TE in the NFL for next year. It's all well and good to talk about him having "WR" ability, but the fact is he statistically he was #10 among TEs last year. No reason why, IF the Packers choose to keep him, they could not do so for a lower average cap hit/salary than he is pulling in this year. I just wonder if he'll throw and tantrum over it and go test the market.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Yep, I thought the same thing.

jmac34's picture

This really isn't as daunting to look at when you realize that guys like Mulligan, Wilson, MD Jennings, Lattimore and Graham Harrel's of the world are relatively easy to replace

The TKstinator's picture

Agreed. Every team has a number of "just a guy" types on its roster. This is the reality in the salary cap NFL. I think sometimes as fans we overestimate how good "our" "jags" are, because they're "ours" and we are fans. I try to avoid looking at the Packers through green and gold glasses. But to be OVERLY pessimistic isn't fun, either.

Fish . Crane's picture

+1

JakeK's picture

Although I may agree with you, replace with who? ... Thompson doesn't sign free agents. ... So you feel comfortable with replacing experienced players with more 5th, 6th and 7th round draft choices? ... Seems eventually this strategy will bite you.

Stroh's picture

Whats wrong w/ replacing them w/ 1st, 2nd or 3rd round picks? Some positions just aren't valued highly. OG/C is a positon that comes to mind. Unless your getting a supreme blue chip OG/C those guys are found in the mid/late rounds all the time. Not every position needs to be filled w/ a playmakers. A couple on each side of the LOS is more than enough. Then fill the roster w/ good role players and your ready to contend as long as you have playmakers at the important positions.

Spend high draft picks on Pass rushers, QB, LT, CB. Spend mid round on ILB, OG/C, Safety, WR.

Always exceptions to this general line of thinking if a special player falls even at a non-premium position.

Its all about identifying the Playmaking positions in your scheme.

Not every player at every position even needs to be a playmaker!

JakeK's picture

"Not every player at every position even needs to be a playmaker!"

At the same time, elite teams just happen to have the most playmakers. ... Incredible.

Draft & develope has one major flaw. You can't miss on your high draft picks year after year. ... Neal, A. Green, Sherrod, Worthy & even Perry (at this point) are all misses. Now we'll find out about D. Jones & Lacy.

Stroh's picture

Your calling young players already as misses, even tho all of them had injuries. Neal played very well after returning last year, was #2 in sacks and was a disruptive presence on the DL. Alex Green had a ACL, and he was about to take a much larger role on offense when he injured it. And last year he was still bothered by it. Sherrod, Worthy, Perry all had season ending injuries! How you somehow consider them "misses" is baffling. Like you just CHOOSE to ignore the obvious. Lets see what we get from them this year! All of them could come back strong this year and make a sizeable contribution this year. Way, WAY too early to dismiss them!

zeke's picture

Define "elite team."

JakeK's picture

@Stroh (and all his aliases)

You use injuries as an excuse for all mediocre play. ... All teams have injuries ..

Stroh's picture

@ Jake

How many other teams have had high draft picks on IR for large parts of seasons? Has another team had 3 1st rd picks (Perry, Sherrod, and Bulaga) on IR last year? Has another team lost 2 other 2nd rd picks (Neal and Worthy) had seasons end on IR? What about Green a 3rd rd pick? Hell if you want you can toss Burnett, House, Manning in the mix too.

DId you even realize our last 3 1st rd picks ended the season on IR last year? That's a lot of talent taken off the field. Yeah all teams have injuries, but certainly not to the extent the Packers did w/ recent high draft picks! And we still make the playoffs and are SB contenders. This team this year is gonna have ALOT of damn good football players back and helping us win EVEN MORE!

Lars's picture

Raji already makes $6.5 million a year and hasn't done much since the 2011 SB. Just how much do you think Raji should make? It's even possible that Raji (who had zero sacks in 2012) is allowed to walk if he doesn't show more consistent effort and production. They certainly aren't going to franchise him.

Shields, on the other hand, could very well get Pickett's $$$.
Finley could get tagged and I look for Bulaga and Cobb to be signed next year before their rookie contracts expire.

Hawk? He's Ted Thompson's boy, and everybody knows AJ isn't going anywhere in 2014. Maybe in 2015, (when that awful re-sign finally expires) TT will relent. Williams is 50/50 to play out the final year of his contract since House is so injury prone. Both of those guys could also just as well finish their contracts. Shoot, I wouldn't even put it past Ted to give Hawk another $20 M or so in 2016.

JakeK's picture

If Finley can stay healthy, he has 16 games left as a Packer (maybe more if GB makes the playoffs). ... Otherwise, it's adios, hasta la vista, baby!! ... I won't miss the diva.

Stroh's picture

I wouldn't be so sure. I can easily see Finley getting another contract in GB. Even if he plays like an Elite TE, his cap number salary isn't going to go up much if at all. And no matter if you like him, DC's do have to account for his presence. That's worth a lot to the playcaller/HC. Not all salaries are tied strictly to stats.

Cow42's picture

I'd like to see them find a way to keep Raji, Shields, Jones, Finley (unless Quarless pans out), and Neal (not necessarily in that order).

As for the rest... Hell, if you can't replace those guys with future draft picks and players already in the system then the whole "draft and develop" thing just ain't workin'.

Evan's picture

100%

The TKstinator's picture

Agreed.
Not hard to replace jags with younger cheaper jags.

packsmack25's picture

I think Shields should be at the top of the list.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

A case could certainly be made.

Cole's picture

I would do the following:

Let Finley walk. Cut Hawk (I remember reading his cap-hit is way lower after this season). Let Pickett go unless he is willing to play for much less. Cut Kuhn. Let Starks walk. Bargain with Francois.

Resign Shields and Neal first. Then James Jones. Then Raji if he's willing to take a slight pay reduction. Then EDS.

I would also make sure to resign MD Jennings as he could develop into a 'good' safety (no telling how he does this year), Quarless (Assuming his knee holds up), and Mulligan.

If Tramon plays like last year, you release him. If he plays closer to 2010, you keep him.

MarkinMadison's picture

Acme Packing Company reported that Hawk has three years and a totlal of $10.3 M left on his re-structured deal. His signing bonus counts $1.6 M against the cap per remaining year, so it is a $3.2 M cap hit to release him in 2014. In other words, cutting him will count roughly the same against the cap next year as keeping him. So the question is, will the Packers have a better option at ILB in June of 2014 than AJ Hawk?

Let's start by looking at what Hawk gave the Packers in 2012. 120 tackles, #2 on the team, #21 in the NFL. 3.0 sacks, about average on the team, #111 in the NFL, along with several other recognizable ILBs. 6.0 tackles-for-loss, #1 on the team. No turn-overs or forced fumbles at all. In other words, the stats tell us he is what he looks like on TV: solid, productive, but not a play-maker.

Will he be replaced by a free agent? OK, let's move on. Will he be replaced by someone on the roster? There is some potential on the roster but no certainty. Can the Packers afford to spend a high draft pick at ILB when they have Hawk under contract? I don't think so.

Ed S's picture

Terrell Manning, if he works out.

Hawk will be 30+, so if he isn't gone in 2014, he probably will be in 2015.

Manning's role as a backup will be replaced by a late round draft choice, which will provide a value pick at ILB.

That, and a few priority undrafted free agents, is how they will replace the other jag's too. Been working pretty well that way for a while now.

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