The Lass Word: Letting Players Walk, An Inexact Science

Packers allow departures every year but Jones and Linsley situations feel different.

As NFL free agency approaches, time is running out for the Green Bay Packers to find a way to keep running back Aaron Jones and center Corey Linsley.  With each day that goes by, it appears more likely they will join the list of notable Packers that are allowed to walk away. 

 

General Manager Brian Gutekunst gets paid to make these decisions.  Along with the draft, they determine whether he keeps his job.  Letting players walk is an inexact science to be sure.  It is easy to second guess using hindsight.  Gutey and his predecessor Ted Thompson didn’t have that luxury. 

 

After the 2015 season, Thompson made the call to allow cornerback Casey Hayward to walk.  Hayward had played all 16 games that year, but with no interceptions and just seven passes defensed.  After using his first two draft picks on defensive backs, Thompson chose to part ways with Hayward.  I remember agreeing with the decision at the time.  As it turned out, Hayward went on to back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons with the Chargers, while both of Thompson’s draft picks, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins didn’t work out. 

 

One year later, Thompson made a similar decision on safety Micah Hyde.  With Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix set to start at the safety positions, Hyde was let go.  He landed in Buffalo where he, too, had a Pro Bowl year and has been a mainstay for the Bills for the past four seasons. 

 

While there wasn’t much immediate controversy over the departure of Hayward and Hyde, it was a much different story after the 2017 campaign.  That’s when Thompson decided it was time to move on from Jordy Nelson, one of the most popular and productive receivers in franchise history.  Nelson was judged to have lost his speed and ability to consistently get open, despite an almost mystical connection with Aaron Rodgers.  Few of us supported that move, but history proved it prudent.  Nelson went on to one so-so year with the Raiders and then called it quits. 

 

More gnashing of teeth after the 2018 season, when Gutekunst made the call to say good-bye to the incredibly popular Clay Matthews.  His long blonde locks and record QB sack totals made him a fan institution.  I still see fans clamoring for the Packers to bring him back.  Yet this, too, seems to have been the correct decision.  The Claymaker went on to a fairly good year with the Rams, totaling 8 sacks, but the Rams let him go and no one came calling.  He spent 2020 out of football. 

 

The finish of the 2019 season saw two more established Packers allowed to head out of town.  Gutekunst judged that it would take too much money to commit to right tackle Brian Bulaga, and felt the team could do better than Blake Martinez for less money at inside linebacker.  The oft-injured Bulaga missed six more games in 2020 for the Chargers, while Martinez had another typical year for him, piling up tackles but making few impact plays for the Giants. 

 

In each of those cases, Hayward, Hyde, Nelson, Matthews, Bulaga and Martinez, the Packers had the money to re-sign them, but chose to let them walk because they were thought to be either past their prime, or simply not playing well enough.   

 

This year’s situation with Jones and Linsley feels different.  The team has openly expressed its desire to have both of them back.   Both are in their prime, both are productive, and, making it all the more painful, both want to stay here. 

 

But in this case the Packers stand to lose them because they just flat out don’t have the money, or at least find it prohibitive to do what is necessary to procure the money.   The salary cap drop to $182.5 million is the villain.   It is ironic that the cap, which has been so critical to keeping Green Bay a viable professional sports business in the past, is killing them now.   

 

I suppose this is why you pay your future Hall of Fame quarterback in excess of $33 million per year.  You rely on him carrying your team and keeping you competitive as you groom replacements for losses such as this.  The Packers will be okay.  But it’s still hard to watch your favorites move on.  Even harder when they go on to excel for somebody else. 

 

 

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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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4 points

Comments (32)

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Coldworld's picture

March 11, 2021 at 03:18 pm

Linsley is just as easily equated to Bulaga and other 30ish players we have allowed to depart as he is to a pure cap cut. Jones wants a lot of guaranteed money. That’s always a thorny issue for a 2nd contract RB. Yes, there is additional cap pressure this year, but there are also more conventional explanations around.

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Big_Mel_75's picture

March 12, 2021 at 08:38 am

Linsley and Bulaga are polar opposites, Bulaga was hurt all the time and Linsley has been healthy.. Linsley is worth the money he will get in free agency. Bulaga was over paid..

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Coldworld's picture

March 12, 2021 at 01:55 pm

Linsley has a persisting back issue ... not so different.

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Bearmeat's picture

March 11, 2021 at 03:19 pm

I agreed with the decision to let Heyward and Hyde walk. That didn't turn out. I was sad, but agreed with the decisions to let Jordy, Randall and CM3 walk. All were the right choices. Daniels and Perry and Sitton and Lang: Also it was time. Linsley: It is time. Chronic back problems, up for a 3rd contract, and there are viable replacements on the roster.

Jones: It is time, although it hurts. Hasn't stayed really healthy. Is already 27, and there are viable replacements on the roster.

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Cheesey51's picture

March 11, 2021 at 06:58 pm

I understand you do not pay running backs. I get it. I also get the window closing on Aaron Rodgers. Jones was barely use in his first year under MM. Has anyone asked Aaron Rodgers to take a pay cut? I never see it in the tabloids. All that is ever mentioned is the current contract and the amount he is compensated. Maybe, he's the new Tom Brady, only he's waiting to be asked. Maybe someone at CheeseheadTV could ask Aaron

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Guam's picture

March 12, 2021 at 07:41 am

I think the Packers have generally done a very good job estimating when it is time to part company with free agents. The more painful part is going to be when they have to cut players under contract to deal with the cap problem.

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Razer's picture

March 11, 2021 at 03:32 pm

The main difference with Linsley and Jones entering free agency is that both these guys had pro bowl seasons. The simple fact that both players are in line for big paydays makes them all but out of reach. If we hadn't set up the big contracts with Bak and Clark and hadn't signed the big ticket free agents, there might have been a better effort.

The Packers are faced with a mature roster (contracts-wise) which means a ton of money is tied up in a small subset of players. And, it will only get worse next year when Jaire and Davante need new money. We have to let many of these good players test the FA waters. I have no problem with both these guys getting a big payout somewhere else. Linsley has battled back issues and Aaron Jones takes a hell of a beating. They would be risky signings from an injury standpoint.

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Cheesey51's picture

March 11, 2021 at 07:08 pm

This is a bad year to sign any free agent players on the packers or off. But as Andrew Brandt always said(and I am paraphrasing)" If the Packer want to sign someone there is always money available. ExtendingD. Adams & Zadarius Smith and Rodgers may gives us new $life know and not later. And gambling on the new media deals coming down the line
is a real probability,
So go all in, Go purchase the IDL from the NY Giants Tomlianson and a veteran corner back and get a couple of RB's & CB in the draft,
We are competing against the Los Angeles Dodgers of football, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
and personally i do not like looking at SB from the outside anymore
Go Pack Go!

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Irish_Cheesehead's picture

March 11, 2021 at 03:36 pm

A running back is only as good as his offensive line. With Linsley on the way out, David Bakhtiari most likely out for most of the season, Lane Taylor unsigned and coming off a season-ending injury, and Rick Wagoner released, what kind of season might Jones have next year if he re-signs? I'm hopeful the Packers can put together another stellar OL, but that's not a given. It's hard to pay a RB the kind of money Jones is looking for with so many other needs.

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Lphill's picture

March 11, 2021 at 04:36 pm

Losing Jones will come back to haunt the Packers , keeping P Smith and his 5 sacks is a mistake , the Packers can trade him to the Pats who need pass rush help for Steven Gilmore who wants out , similar contracts won't hurt the cap.

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13TimeChamps's picture

March 11, 2021 at 05:19 pm

First you suggest Smith isn't much of a pass rusher....then say they should trade him to a team that needs "pass rush help".

By the way....'Stephon' Gilmore is 31 and coming off a season ending injury. But he's a 'name' free agent, so of course you want him on the Packers. Belichick is a genius at getting rid of players as they are entering decline. Be careful what you wish for.

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Cheesey51's picture

March 11, 2021 at 07:10 pm

I'm good with the injured Stephon Gilmore for Preston Smith and cap contract works

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dobber's picture

March 11, 2021 at 08:18 pm

Preston Smith is the ticket to significant cap relief. They can do a lot with extensions, but they get a big boost from Smith. Trading him for an injured 31-year-old CB who wants a new contract (and wasn't good in 2020) doesn't spell relief. They want a draft pick (or maybe a cheap player with potential) in return.

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Cheesey51's picture

March 11, 2021 at 10:55 pm

They took a chance on injured Charles woodson

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dobber's picture

March 12, 2021 at 07:37 am

Can't deny it was one of the smarter moves in team history.

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13TimeChamps's picture

March 12, 2021 at 08:44 am

An interesting side note to that transaction. Woodson wanted no part of coming to Green Bay, but no other teams were interested because of a perceived attitude problem. He came to love his time in Green Bay and vice versa. I still wish they would have kept him for a couple more years and moved him to safety. Great college and pro player!

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Coldworld's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:03 pm

Spot on: the issue wasn’t health but perceived mindset with Woodson.

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Fabio's picture

March 12, 2021 at 01:41 am

The alternative to CB is to go up to the draft to get Greg Newsome II ..... but I would rather take Gilmoure and not sacrifice draft picks, while still acquiring a CB to develop behind Him and Jaire
Greetings from Italy
GPG

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stockholder's picture

March 11, 2021 at 04:50 pm

I hate losing All-pros. I hate losing King. Regardless why! It now takes Draft capitol. And thats the needle in the haystack approach. I'd leave for more money too. But the hole has been dug. And I only have to remember Dan Morino. Not to Blame Rodgers. Wish them luck and lets move on.

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MarkinMadison's picture

March 11, 2021 at 08:35 pm

Tom Brady took up less than 14% of Tampa's cap space last year. Rodgers took up less than 11% of the Packers' cap in 2020. True, his cap number is going to skyrocket now to 20%, but Brady will breach 15%. Same two-year span. Pretty much equal money. 2022? Rodgers goes to 19%, and Brady has no contract. In fact, when you look at the history of his salary, Rodgers has only had one year when he exceeded the percentage that Brady took from Tampa last year, and that was in 2019 when he ate up 14.9% of the cap. Really, he has been pretty cap friendly over the years, and we may very well see his 2021 cap number come down in the next week. Personally, I've written about the problems of having too much money tied up at the QB position several times. And there is data that validates that claim. https://www.reddit.com/r/washingtonNFL/comments/6plrar/sb_winning_qbs_sa... But if you are looking at what Brady did last year, no, not the right argument. What is the "right" percentage? I think when you look at the data, you can probably go up to about 10% and be o.k. +/- one percent. Generally, Rodgers has been at 11% over the last decade. Things would certainly be easier if he took a little pay cut, but I don't think the difference between what he has been taking and "right" number is enough to explain the Super Bowl drought.

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Cheesey51's picture

March 11, 2021 at 10:59 pm

I cannot doubt the percentage quoted. The facts I heard were 33 million rodgersvand 20 million Brady . And Brady is taking another salary cut in 2021 to afford another mercenary all star . Maybe OBJ is headed there

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MarkinMadison's picture

March 12, 2021 at 07:55 am

Overthecap.com Cap number for Rodgers $21M, 10.6% of the cap. Tom Brady $25M, 12.2% of cap. Numbers will vary a little site to site. Final numbers for Brady, with earned incentives, were $28M. Also, cash doesn't always = cap hit in a given year, but you knew that already.

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Since'61's picture

March 12, 2021 at 10:12 am

Yes, and let's not forget that while Brady was in New England Bob Kraft moved $millions to his off shore shell company which moved money to an unregulated account in the Cayman's, which moved money to an offshore account for a Brazilian corporation which then moved money to a bank in Sao Paolo, Brazil where a certain Mrs. Brady has an account. Not only avoiding the NFL salary cap but also Brazilian income tax is less than US income tax for the same amounts. Follow the money, if you can. Corporations do this all the time all over the world. It's a big shell game of tax avoidance by keeping $$$ offshore and often untraceable.

Thanks, Since '61

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flackcatcher's picture

March 12, 2021 at 08:44 pm

And the NFL 'shield' its collective eye...

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Titletown222's picture

March 11, 2021 at 09:05 pm

You have to let certain players walk. If you resign Lindsey to a 5 year deal, he probably doesn’t make it to the end. You probably cut him after year 3. If you cut him, he doesn’t factor in to the compensatory picks. You never receive any compensation. You also strain your cap for more important players coming due ( Jaire , Adams, Jenkins). Let him go and take the 3rd or 4th next year

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Fabio's picture

March 12, 2021 at 06:30 am

I think for better or for worse it all revolves around Rodgers. If BG believes in him, he extends the contract, and lets Adams go in the next few years for draft picks. mediocre - this would help Rodgers himself not to look too much at a single WR, but to act more on the basis of the game plan).
If BG doesn't believe in him, next year trade Rodgers (hoping he had another great season) for lots of draft picks, go with Love or acquire another Q (Wilson + picks ??).
Personally, given Brady's performance at the age of 40, I would still go with Rodgers for a long time and perhaps having a WR other than Adams (given the performance of AR in Adams' absence) could paradoxically help AR to raise the AR even more. its performance. In either case, the thing that Green Bay absolutely has to do is build an elite D because ..... "offensive players sell tickets, but D win championships !!"
Greetings from Italy
GPG

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Leatherhead's picture

March 12, 2021 at 09:08 am

Why would you extend his deal when you’ve already drafted his replacement?

The Packers won games before Rodgers, and they will win games after him. He’s got another chance to get us to the Super Bowl this year......let’s see how that works out, and let’s see if Love makes some progress.

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Razer's picture

March 12, 2021 at 10:49 am

I agree. BG has set this in motion and it needs to play out to some extent. Give Rodgers another kick at the cat - then make the call.

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Fabio's picture

March 12, 2021 at 12:12 pm

Personally I believe that Rodgers still has at least 4 years of absolute value. I also believe that we have become accustomed to such a high standard from Rodgers that perhaps we are confused by his overall assessment. However, if BG wants to capitalize on the value of AR with draft picks and free up some space on the cap, he has to let it go next season (let's remember though that drafting a Q is the hardest thing ..... we've been too used to it in the last 20 years .. ...)
Regardless of all this, if BG doesn't build a high-level D it will always be a waste of time .....
Greetings from Italy
GPG

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hobowilly's picture

March 12, 2021 at 02:17 pm

Tell you what, i sure feel so much more secure with BG and MLF over their predecessors! And, i'd agree overall GB has done better than avg in letting players go when they were mostly "used up"; With Jones having such a great year in 2019, perhaps GB should have moved quicker to wrap him up.....it's arguable I understand. Moreover, the 2020 draft had GB picking 3 O linemen back to back to back and perhaps all three will make the field. Runyan has, Hanson & Stepanik remain to be seen for sure until "they do it" under live fire

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Savage57's picture

March 12, 2021 at 07:18 am

Always enjoyable to be able to read an increasingly rare well-written article here, instead of someone just turning on the camera on their laptop and gobbing off randomly for fifteen minutes.

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Archie's picture

March 12, 2021 at 07:30 am

Excellent article.

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