The Lass Word: Did Packers Get Their Priorities Right?

Choosing whom to keep may decide if their Super Bowl window stays open.

Going into the 2020 season, the Green Bay Packers knew they had five key players in the final year of their deals.  The five were running back Aaron Jones, cornerback Kevin King, center Corey Linsley, tackle David Bakhtiari and defensive lineman Kenny Clark. 

 

They knew at least four of them would be in line for big money (King being the probable exception).  They also knew that their salary cap situation would be very tight and, in all likelihood, they would only be able to extend two of them, maybe three with some major reshuffling. 

 

So Brian Gutekunst, Matt LaFleur and Russ Ball, the Packers’ three headed brain trust in charge of assembling this team, got together and set a priority list.  Who was most important?  Who was easiest to replace?  Their decision would have a profound impact on Green Bay’s chances of remaining a viable Super Bowl competitor through the remainder of the Aaron Rodgers window. 

 

In the end, they reached the conclusion that the trenches are more important than the backfield, or at least not as easily replaced.  The fact that they were soundly outplayed in the trenches in the NFC championship game seems to validate their conclusion.  So they signed defensive lineman Clark and offensive lineman Bakhtiari to huge deals.  Clark got four years averaging $17.5 million per year.  He became the 4th highest paid player in the league at his position.  Bakhtiari extended for a bank-breaking $23 million per year for four years, making him the highest paid at his position in the business. 

 

Combined with already existing big deals for Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and Za’darius Smith, the Packers knew full well they would be well over the projected 2021 cap.  They knew it was probably the end of the line in Green Bay for Jones and Linsley.  King had pretty much played his way off the priority list, especially after missing five games due to injury, and then having a terrible NFC championship game. 

 

To make matters even more clear, Jones and Linsley responded with All Pro seasons, making them extra attractive on the free agent market.   No doubt Ball and Gutekunst have been pouring through an array of salary reduction strategies to see if there is any way they can offer either of the two something close enough to market value to entice them to stay, but its hard to see a path to that goal.   

 

Clearly, they are going to have to live with their priority list.  The question is, did they get it right?  Did they keep the right two players?  It must keep them up at night.  Of course, they could not have foreseen that Bakhtiari would blow out his knee in a freak situation in practice.  Not only did he miss the playoffs, but Green Bay will get no return on their investment in him for a good chunk of the 2021 campaign, and even then there will be a question as to whether he can resume his elite level of play. 

 

The front office could anticipate the departure of Linsley, but the loss of Bakhtiari must have stunned them.  Still, they are showing unwavering confidence in the versatility and skill of what they have left, as evidenced by the release of tackle Rick Wagner. 

 

Then there is the departure of Jones, their home run threat.  He takes over 1,100 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns with him.  He makes the play action game work.  He’s made himself an above average receiver.  He’s headed for a big payday.....somewhere else.  In their master plan, Gutekunst and Ball must have figured it would be easier to find another explosive, slashing back in the draft, than it would be to find a Clark or a Bakhtiari, or a rookie even close to them. 

 

Perhaps this article is premature.  Free agency doesn’t begin until legal tampering on March 17.  Maybe somehow, somewhere, there are enough restructures, enough veteran cuts, enough faith in the inflation of future salary caps, to find a way to keep Linsley and/or Jones without destroying the viability of the overall team.  Or at least a way to adequately plug the gaps with reasonably priced free agents.  

 

If not, we’ll just have to find out the hard way if the Packers got their priorities right. 

 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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Comments (32)

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ricky's picture

February 25, 2021 at 04:22 pm

So far, I think they've gotten it right. And if they have the choice of Jones or Linsley, I vote for Linsley. Jones was a fifth round draft pick with minimal expectations who became really good. Linsley has improved every year. But it's the guys on the OL who open the holes for Jones et. al., and it's them who keep Rodgers upright and effective. Jones is replaceable. King? I think he re-signs on a one year "prove it" deal and plays at a very high level. You then let him go, and another team can overpay him.

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NorCalPacker685's picture

February 25, 2021 at 06:22 pm

I honestly don’t want to see Kevin King within 100 miles of Green Bay for the rest of my life. Unless he’s suiting up for the other team.

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NickPerry's picture

February 26, 2021 at 06:30 am

"I think he re-signs on a one year "prove it" deal and plays at a very high level."

Hey ricky, no offense, BUT Kevin King has had 4 years to "prove it" and I can count on my fingers and one set of toes the games in Green Bay where his play warranted an extension the last 4 years. If King is offered even the veteran minimum after that last game he played in GB, I WILL have heart failure!

Just...HELL NO!!!

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dobber's picture

February 26, 2021 at 09:27 am

I find it funny in that the expiring year of a contract is usually a "prove-it" year for the next deal. If he couldn't turn it on for 2020, why would he do it for a one-year deal in 2021?

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croatpackfan's picture

February 26, 2021 at 07:58 am

I beleive Vorey was also 5th round pick, isn't he?

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jclombardi's picture

February 25, 2021 at 05:01 pm

I agree. The likelihood of losing Linsley is disturbing. considering how good that offensive line is with him at the head compared to anybody else including Jenkins. What happened to Bakhtiari Glassman 2 is no surprise, but he should be back at the beginning of the season. As many commentators say, the Packers only need 2 or 3 good players for the super bowl run beyond winning the NFC. Losing the NFC title game for two years in a row is simply unacceptable according the Lombardi legacy. Disgusting. Meanwhile, landing J J Watt? Doubtful. Let the offseason play out for fans. Good luc.

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dblbogey's picture

February 25, 2021 at 05:11 pm

We'll be very fortunate if Bakh is back by October. That's a 10-12 month recovery for that injury under the best circumstances. Then there's the question of if he'll be the same player. Calling Bakh Glassman is ridiculous though.

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albert999's picture

February 25, 2021 at 05:48 pm

Titans just cut Adam humphries WR he’d be a great slot guy for the pack....cheap price and shiftiness and speed we lack?

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PhantomII's picture

February 25, 2021 at 05:54 pm

A couple of things. If Gute had not signed BAK until this off season....does he do it after this injury and most of a season wiped out paying large coin for nothing? Linsley is 30 and has had back issues. Fortunately he has not missed more than 3-4 games. Poor drafting on the OL in the past has resulted in the dicey position we are now in. Bak is pretty agile still for a big guy and should recover well. He wanted to be paid highest salary as a OT in the league. I don't think that should have been made and he should have left some money on the table for others especially since stadiums were not full. Our OL was pretty much man handled w/ a 4 man rush by the bucs which resulted in broken ribs to BAK earlier last season and missed several games. If we are to be a run team should we not get bigger on the OL instead of renewing contracts. I think we will be okay standing pat with what we drafted last year until BAK gets back. But if we draft a OL it should be a big fella 320 pounder.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 26, 2021 at 10:43 am

Not a run first team with an HOF slinging the melon. Wide-zone running requires O linemen with movement skills.

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PhantomII's picture

February 26, 2021 at 01:24 pm

Well, let's get Rodgers faster WR's with better hands then. We should not have to use 5-OL and 2 TE's to move the rock against 4 man fronts.

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Packer_Fan's picture

February 25, 2021 at 05:59 pm

We won't know until the end of next year. I think your article suggests that they made the right decision. They have more quality depth in the middle of the oline than just about anywhere else on the team. And they have an ascending 2nd year running back. So yes, that's about the best that can be done.

The Packers have quality talent on defense. But there are holes that teams exploited. I feel they have to try and fill them in the preseason. And Gute, don't wait until week 16 to start filling holes that surface during the year. Tramon Williams and Snacks Harrison should have been brought much earlier.

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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2021 at 08:35 am

I think we need to bear in mind that no one expected the cap to diminish to this extent at the time when draft decisions were made for the then future.

Looking back, was Jones in fact given first bite at returning? Or was it thought both Jones and Bakh could be accommodated, before Covid hit at least, but Jones went above what Ball would accept (possibly wisely)?

As good as Linsley is, ten million a year is a hell of a lot to pay a center. Historically that’s not been a premier position from an earning perspective or athleticism. Good though Linsley is, he is replaceable at C with limited drop off, it at least more so than losing Bakh. Ignoring recurring back issues is unwise as well. We are paying for next year and beyond, not this past one.

It looks like Gute made some plans at T. Difficult because good ones are rare indeed, and had back up plans at RB and C. Seems the right strategy to me. Next year their will be needs such as Adams and Alexander. Pushing everything forward can catch up sooner than later in terms of overall talent not just cap. Gute, Ball and co. have to plan to keep other, in my mind, even more critical talent, unless one sees next season as Rodgers’ last year. I don’t.

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flackcatcher's picture

February 26, 2021 at 03:37 pm

I would only add that if the Packers did sign Lindsay, it would to a third contract. Packers rarely sign OL to third and then usually OT, and even then under Wolf and Thompson that was unusual.

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stockholder's picture

February 25, 2021 at 06:22 pm

Clark yes. Bahk No. - The 23 mil. a year, should have waited. I don't like All-pros leaving. And now 2 will leave. "If" the word "Team" is used here. Since when; is two better then one? Not to mention a new CB. Extra RB. And replacements. Bahk isn't a franchise player. But- He should have been TAGGED. And what comes into question, is the costs to replace those who have left, and will be leaving. Would it have been better if Bahk left? If this was the Lombardi's team. Yes! But since this is a money making machine. No. It's about ME! Not about Win Now. We are 1 season away from Disaster. The priority was to secure Gute's place in Packer History. And Gute played the numbers game to perfection. The Talk of Cuts Happened!! The Financial reckoning has changed the odds to win a Super-bowl. I don't believe I'm over Exaggerating this at all. The Blind are leading the blind in Title-town. And I surly won't blame those who want theirs.

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jhtobias's picture

February 25, 2021 at 07:39 pm

I'm really confued about what you mean that bak is not a franchise plyer ,, He is exactley the definition of a franchise plyer best left tackle in football. Now I also agree with you no matter how great he is was he worth that price ? Fair question managment felt so. As for theteam issue I do hve a problem with your theory since it involves people's money . Truth is this is not 1967 it is 2021 every man including coaches on this or any team should never be judged for earning as much as possible as a team would let them go in a blink of an eye if they could. We all would put ourselves in the best financial situations in life to take care of our families . Remeber football is big buisness in 2021 while i wasnt born in 1967 I'm usre it was different and do respect your view point .

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stockholder's picture

February 25, 2021 at 08:06 pm

This should HELP.=. the best player on their team!!! // and one that the team can build their "franchise" around !!!! Rodgers won the MVP! He is their Franchise player. I understood Gute wanting to reward Bahk. But the Timing didn't fit the future.....

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Johnblood27's picture

February 26, 2021 at 09:42 am

The timing was STOOPID for Rodgers extension as well.

Gutey seems to be in over his head at times. Then not so much at others... I guess that is the new NFL, you just never know for sure and have to toss darts blindfolded.

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MarkinMadison's picture

February 25, 2021 at 08:21 pm

Clark is a no-brainer. If you do not have Clark on that DL then that is a mediocre DL at best.

I think signing Bakh was the right choice but I had some butterflies over it because he is coming up on 30 - and now he may not be playing at full strength again before he is within spitting distance of 31. It was the correct choice, but it may be the one that sinks this team's chances at getting another Super Bowl before Rodgers moves on. Linsley has missed far more games than Bakh over the years, so, no, I'm not going to debate the choice between those two players. Sorry to those who disagree, but I think that the NFCCG showed how much more a tackle matters than a center. And as much as I love Jones and Williams it is really difficult to justify throwing big money at either of them to me.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 26, 2021 at 12:23 am

Legal tampering begins on March 15.
The new league year begins on March 17.

Many moves will be announced in the next 2.5 weeks.

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flackcatcher's picture

February 26, 2021 at 12:31 am

Let the leaks begin...

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flackcatcher's picture

February 26, 2021 at 12:29 am

Gutekunst, in his last years presser laid out the Packer priorities in player personnel resigning last year. The Clarke and Bakh signings was clearly stated by the Packers as No.1 and No.2 for the organization. If anything, Gute has been very upfront to the fan base over the team's direction since he was named GM of the Packers three years ago. In his last presser this season, Gutekunst was strangely optimistic in the face of a reduced Cap, and core player contracts up within this and the next season. The one thing we should never forget about this man, is he has a plan, and he will execute his plan. Two back to back NFC championship games with the team he built. One of the best GM in all of pro football. He's earned the benefit of the doubt.

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edp1959's picture

February 26, 2021 at 06:09 am

Absolutely not!!! If they had done it right they would have been in the Superbowl. Instead they chose to waste two picks; one being the first round pick, on a QB that can't even win the backup position and stood on the side line all season.

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MarkinMadison's picture

February 26, 2021 at 07:33 am

Jordan Love got very few reps last summer, and no time in pre-season games. So I think it is really impossible to judge him at this point. I get that there have been some negative reports from folks who have attended practices. This is marathon, not a sprint.

I also get why people were down on the pick. But #12 has suffered two collar bone fractures, one of which ended a season, and the other one almost cost the Packers a trip to the playoffs. He has also had some substantial leg injuries that impacted his ability in the playoffs. So to me, I can understand why Gute would spend a premium pick on a QB.

I shouldn't have to say it, but spending a pick is no guarantee that a guy will pan out. Especially at QB. But take a good look at some college film and you may find that Jordan Love has a lot of tools. A lot of tools that look like #12. Does he have the analytical ability and drive? Who knows. Was anybody crowing about how great #12 was when he was sitting on the bench behind Farve for three years? Not that I remember.

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edp1959's picture

February 26, 2021 at 11:10 am

I seem to remember #12 being able to win the backup position.

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Bure9620's picture

February 26, 2021 at 07:56 am

So far yes. Most games are won or lost in the trenches, extending Clark was the top priority.....The next contract priority will be extending Jaire...The Packers need to get this done soon. Jaire is getting PAID

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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2021 at 08:43 am

I think I’d add Adams as a pretty close second. He is 28 now so maybe by extension. We are going to see the likes of Savage adding themselves to that list too.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

February 26, 2021 at 09:14 am

I'm curious how GB will do this. Between 2018-19 you have three 1st round picks that all look like they have a bright future with the team. Alexander gets extended this year. Sternberger should be cheap to retain if they want to but he may be easier to replace if Deguara shows up this year and Tonyan comes back. If they can lock Alexander up early that would be good as Gary and Savage both look like mainstays, and they can tier all these contracts by optioning 1 of the two (and then of course Jenkins will need to be extended next year, and possibly Dillon/Deguara the following plus either Gary or Savage depending on who gets 1st round optioned).

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dobber's picture

February 26, 2021 at 09:33 am

I think it would be foolish for the Packers to waste Alexander's 5th year option by resigning him early, unless Alexander approaches the team and lowballs himself. Resigning him early might make him happier--and maybe cheaper in the long-run--but the bonus structure likely adversely impacts caps that will already be tight in 2021-22. As it stands, he's a very valuable and cost-controlled commodity.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

February 26, 2021 at 10:51 am

It could make sense if the team wants to retain Gary and Savage as well. Savage is not likely to command the same value as Gary or Alexander but by extending Alexander this year, and then next year extending Savage and optioning Gary, it helps spread out cap hits of the contracts are more back loaded.

Savage started slow but has really come on, and unless the team plans on extending Amos they're probably going to target a safety in 2022 to give him a year to develop before Amos leaves.

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Johnblood27's picture

February 26, 2021 at 09:50 am

Ken, I believe that your premise that Bakh and Clark were priorities 1 and 2 is incorrect.

It is widely known that the packers offered Jones top 5 RB money before they handed Bakh his mega deal.

That would make Clark #1 and Jones #2 with Bakh #3 with a bullet when Jones balked and went Rosenhaus instead of giving the Packers a reasonable deal with top 5 $$$.

I feel for Linsley in all of this, timing could not be worse for him with the contract situations across the GB roster and cap situation what it is in GB and him having an all-pro year. Wish he could stay, but it just will not fit together.

King, I could not care less about, the sooner we move on from that dude the better off both sides will be.

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flackcatcher's picture

February 26, 2021 at 03:55 pm

Gute made it clear that Clarke was no.1 Bakh was a close no.2 and King depending on his performance on the field was no.3 in resigning from last year. Jones replaced King, and Gutekunst made that clear in his interviews and pressers during this post season run. Heck, every one of the Packer needs, Gutekunst put it out there in his end of the year presser. The Packers stream it, and most TV stations carried his end of the season presser live. He told us his roadmap, then he carried it out in last year's draft. I don't know what more the man can do.

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