There is Plenty of Value in Keeping Rick Wagner for 2021

As the Green Bay Packers try to get under the reduced salary cap, moving on from Rick Wagner has been one of the moves discussed by the masses. However, there is plenty of value in keeping him for 2021. 

In what is going to be an unprecedented offseason, many -- including myself -- are fixated on the salary cap and how the Green Bay Packers can get under the projected $180 million mark.
 
For a quick refresher, without fans in the stands this past season, or very few, the league, according to Adam Schefter, is expecting the salary cap to fall from the $198.2 million that it was at in 2020 to around $180 million in 2021--this figure is still unofficial. 
 
This puts the Green Bay Packers roughly $20 million over the salary cap, even after restructuring David Bakhtiari's deal. On top of that, the $20 million amount doesn't take into account the draft class, any potential free-agent addition(s), in-season spending, or the practice squad. 
 
To put it simply, there is still plenty of work to be done by Brian Gutekunst and Russ Ball. 
 
Now, the good news, I guess, is that there are several ways for the Green Bay Packers to create this additional cap space. Some of which include extending Davante Adams, restructuring Aaron Rodgers' deal, extending or restructuring Za'Darius Smith, along with cutting Preston Smith and Christian Kirksey. 
 
Another move that I've seen discussed quite a bit is cutting Rick Wagner. And admittedly, I was in this group as well, but now I'm not so sure.
 
If on the team in 2021, Wagner comes with a cap hit of $6 million; however, Green Bay saves $4.25 million if they cut him. Not an exorbitant amount by any means, but in an unusual offseason, every little bit helps. 
 
So now the big question when it comes to Wagner is, are those savings worth it? And I'm not so sure that they are.
 
Yeah, I know, the NFC Championship was a rough one for Wagner, but he certainly wasn't the only one who struggled. Although that game may be the lasting memory of him for some, it shouldn't overshadow his entire body of work from the 2020 season.
 
Wagner began the season as a backup, but as the injuries along the offensive line piled up, he provided the Packers with some much-needed stability at right tackle. When it was all said and done, he allowed only one sack, 16 pressures, and was called for just one penalty in 352 pass-blocking snaps during the regular season. 
 
Wagner also ranked eighth among all tackles in ESPN's pass-blocking win rate metric, which measures how often a lineman can hold his block for at least 2.5 seconds. And in run-blocking, he finished with the 32nd highest grade among 93 eligible tackles, according to Pro Football Focus
 
On top of that, he knows the Matt LaFleur offense and presumably could improve in Year 2 of the system. It's also worth mentioning that most teams don't have the luxury of having a third tackle with Wagner's ability.  
 
In making this decision, we also have to take into account Bakhtiari's status for next season. Still recovering from his ACL injury, in all likelihood, he is going to miss some time in 2021, how much we still don't know. 
 
So along with Wagner's performance in 2020 and the stability that he provides off the bench, the Packers are also going to need a third tackle right away next season with Bakhtiari sidelined. Billy Turner will likely be the left tackle in Bakhtiari's absence, making Wagner the right tackle once again. 
 
As far as alternatives that the Packers have if they were to release Wagner, there really isn't an option on the roster at the moment, that is unless they want to move Elgton Jenkins to right tackle. However, they already likely have to replace Linsely at center, so this would create another hole to fill along the interior and doing so with an unproven player such as Simon Stepaniak. 
 
Green Bay could try to dabble in free agency once they get under the cap, but how much sense does that make? Would they cut Wagner to save some money only to go spend it on another tackle? I mean, if that player is an upgrade and costs less, sure, but I'm not going to bank on that. 
 
Then there is the draft, which regardless of what they do with Wagner, selecting a tackle early on should absolutely be on the to-do list. But cutting Wagner and then trying to fill that need in the draft comes with some risks. 
 
Going into the draft with the mindset of "we have to draft this position" can lead to overdrafting and a potential bust. And While this is a deep tackle class, we don't know how the board is going to fall, and instead of addressing the need in Rounds 1 or 2, maybe it doesn't happen until Day 3. Now, Green Bay is relying on a fourth or fifth-round pick to start right away. 
 
As we've seen, offensive line play is still key to any team's success. It's a big reason why the Green Bay Packers were so successful in 2020, and it played a big role in their NFC Championship loss as well. Although difficult decisions have to be made this offseason in order to get under the cap, I'd look elsewhere before removing Rick Wagner from the offensive line. 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (49)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Leatherhead's picture

February 15, 2021 at 11:16 am

The object is to keep solid, dependable, proven players between Rodgers and the people who want to mangle him. Wagner helps.

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Bearmeat's picture

February 15, 2021 at 11:28 am

No doubt. Wagner is a serviceable RT. You don't discard those unless you have a ton of depth. With Bakh healthy and Linsley in the lineup we did. Now though? No. We need him and he's worth the price.

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dobber's picture

February 15, 2021 at 11:35 am

The linchpin piece in this discussion, of course, is Bakhtiari. Bulaga made rapid recoveries from ACL tears, but his were mostly early-mid season. Bakhtiari was so late that they will really have no clue in March-April when he'll be ready. Either way, I think they draft a RT candidate fairly early and give him a chance to be a depth piece behind the starting OTs, or perhaps play a more expensive vet off the roster in camp.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 15, 2021 at 07:00 pm

No later than the 3rd round.

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frankthefork's picture

February 15, 2021 at 11:28 am

No, I refuse to agree to keeping Wags for 5 Mil. Did you see him get rag-dolled in the NFCCG?

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

February 15, 2021 at 12:31 pm

The question in a cap stricken year is can you do better than Wagner will his replacement be affordable? I don’t think there’s a yes answer to that question.

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SwedeBayPacker's picture

February 15, 2021 at 04:41 pm

I don't know why people are negging you, because he played like pure trash in the NFCCG. It felt like every other play he was unable to stop the Bucs from getting to Rodgers. He looked slow and stiff. Not worth 5 mil by a longshot.

I was watching the game with Swedish commentators (since I'm Swedish) and they were baffled over how subpar his performance was.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 15, 2021 at 05:06 pm

I remember Bulaga having a terrible day years ago against Seattle. Just a bad matchup for him that day, I guess. Bulaga went on to have a long and productive career in GB as one of the best RTs in the NFL

Wagner was easily a good NFL RT. He can't be replaced for $4.2M. Keeping Wagner would seem to be a no brainer. Only the Packers having some shocking plan to find a quality OT would explain Wagner's release.

Those Swedish commentators - do they understand how many teams would be happy to have Wagner as their starting RT?

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 15, 2021 at 07:11 pm

Wagner was playing with a banged up knee. LaFleur again failed to play some power ball and chip Barrett and JPP.
and go with Dillon and Dafney a bit to soften the Edge. Devin White is exceptional ,but David could be handled.
Whitehead made a difference in the box. The Packers need a SS with his temperament. Wagner @ 5 M is workable if he passes his physical.

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SwedeBayPacker's picture

February 15, 2021 at 07:11 pm

I reckon so, one is a retired NFL player, the other is arguably the most accomplished coach in Sweden. Still, they're pretty good at pointing out the mistakes players make on different plays. Like, why someone is getting around the o-line and how players need to adapt to stop them.

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Coldworld's picture

February 15, 2021 at 07:53 pm

Well I think you will find that opinions here differ, perhaps more so after the Super Bowl. You might also look at his metrics over the season.

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HankScorpio's picture

February 15, 2021 at 09:46 pm

"do they understand how many teams would be happy to have Wagner as their starting RT?"

The Packers are not among them. They picked Turner for the job over Wagner. They also signed him to what was high end backup/low end starter money, especially for an OT. So it is not just our Swedish friends that missed him being a quality OT. Lots of NFL teams obviously don't see that either. Or they would have paid him like that last year.

So is $4.25 mil a fair price for a 6th OL that looked like a turn-style against the best a fair price? Probably. But it's not quite the no brainer you say, at least not to the way my brain works. Given that Wagner is very unlikely to improve and much more likely to move the other direction, I'd be inclined to side with the Swedes on this one.

But it's a close enough call that I won't have a big problem if the Packers see it differently. As long as they don't blow smoke up my rear end by calling him a quality NFL OT. He's not. He's a journeyman, at or nearing the end of a nice career.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 18, 2021 at 05:50 am

Still a short-sighted view. It isn't like Wagner didn't play RT very well against some mighty fine OLBs this year. Folks like Khalil Mack (quite a bit of mocking the Bears after paying Mack so much to do so little against the Packers), NO's Cam Jordan/Davenport and others. Shaquil Barrett had zero tackles, zero QB hits, zero sacks, in 55 snaps (87%) against Wagner (62 snaps = 100%) in the week 6 game and then had a great game in the conf. championship game against Wagner while JPP was destroying Turner as well.

Wagner had a bad game. If the playoff game was the only game upon which to assess Wagner, then you and those Swedish commentators would be right.

As for his salary, the guy is injury prone, was coming off his worst pro season, and he was going into his age 31 season. That depressed his value. His PFF grades 2020 - 2016: 77.0 (608 snaps), 58.3 (753 snaps), 71.3 (985 snaps), 75.2 (792 snaps), 74.0 (926 snaps). Those grades are slightly better than Bulaga's.

This should not be a close call. No way can GB find a better RT for $4.25M unless they use a first or even a second round pick.

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Leatherhead's picture

February 15, 2021 at 06:05 pm

The Packers personnel department watched every snap Wagner had taken over the last several years, broke down the film, and offered him this contract.

I’m not smarter, or more knowledgable, than the pros who work 70 hour weeks on stuff like this for years and years.

People have bad games. Sometimes they get hurt early in the game and gut it out the best they can and it shouldn’t be held against them. Aaron Jones had a bad game......I guess he’s worthless, too?

Come on, man. Fair is fair and Wagner is a solid vet who is well worth the deal we offered him. He’s our starting RT going into the 2021 season.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 15, 2021 at 07:10 pm

The Pros drafted guys like Kyrie Thornton, J Jones, Jackson, J'mon, Burks etc...These misses keep a team from getting over the top and into the Big Game. He brought in his buddy from the Crows to help out on the O line selections. Jenkins is gold; we don't know about the other selections until next season.

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Leatherhead's picture

February 15, 2021 at 11:23 pm

Wagner wasn’t drafted. He was already a known commodity in the nfl when we signed him.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

February 15, 2021 at 06:09 pm

Who would you sign with the Cap savings that is better?

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frankthefork's picture

February 17, 2021 at 10:34 am

It's called drafting. Jenkins started day one! You expect your 1-3 rd. picks to play if not start. Did you see Tampa's draft? How about Alexander Savage and Gary? Wake up dolts!
I know GBP's may have great loyal stubborn fans, but they are not football smart as the great Vince Lombardi used to say to friends...sorry but true...your fanatics ie nuts. Do you run a business, I bet not!
My old man knew VL and was in the NFL. Just the facts.

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dobber's picture

February 15, 2021 at 11:31 am

"If on the team in 2021, Wagner comes with a cap hit of $6 million; however, Green Bay saves $4.25 million if they cut him. Not an absorbent amount by any means,"

I think $4.25M dollar bills would soak up a lot of stuff...

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x24's picture

February 15, 2021 at 11:42 am

Now THAT would be an exorbitant absorbent

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

February 16, 2021 at 09:08 am

"...saves $4.25 million if they cut him. Not an absorbent amount by any means,"
Hey Dobbs, I just checked my bank account and I disagree...$4.25 million is exorbitant.:)

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dobber's picture

February 15, 2021 at 01:27 pm

Schlep it on over here and I'll do the analysis for ya! ;)

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stockholder's picture

February 15, 2021 at 12:12 pm

Wagner's heart is still a lion. Why did Gute hurry and sign Veldheer? Why keep 6 mil on the bench? Why can't Wagner play good in big time games? Why didn't Wagner beat out Turner? Why not resign Linsley and cut Wagner? Why transform the Ol, when were going to lose Jones and Williams.? Why keep guys that keep getting injured? Why can't we be loyal to are draft picks first? Why draft any OL when we have depth? Problem: Why won't Gute fix any position he cuts? Yes I'm referring to losing FAs and not filling the void. (And filling that position with lesser talent. ) FA Bulaga ,was it really to save money? Wasn't Turner suppose to take over at RT? And what happens to Patrick. Do this for Arron Rodgers. Cut Wagner. Sign Linsley then. Linsley is the better player if we have to compare apples to apples.

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dobber's picture

February 15, 2021 at 11:36 am

" Cutting Bulaga ,was it really to save money?"

They didn't cut Bulaga. His contract expired.

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stockholder's picture

February 15, 2021 at 12:11 pm

technical.// yes you are correct

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Leatherhead's picture

February 15, 2021 at 06:07 pm

His contract expired and a replacement was signed for less money.

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splitpea1's picture

February 15, 2021 at 11:36 am

Don't cut him unless they're planning to select a tackle with their first pick; and that pick would have to be good enough to start pretty much right away. Still a risky move....I imagine a lot of tackles have had their struggles with the TB defense, anyway.

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dobber's picture

February 15, 2021 at 11:41 am

My understanding is that if they wait until early in camp to see what everyone can do, Wagner is a June 1 cut (if he doesn't make it) and they get additional cap relief by spreading his hit over two seasons. TGR?

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 15, 2021 at 05:13 pm

Would make sense but Wagner is only under contract for 2021, so GB can't spread the dead money into 2022. They get $4.2M in cap saving regardless of when he is cut.

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dobber's picture

February 15, 2021 at 10:08 pm

Got it. Thanks, man.

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Lare's picture

February 15, 2021 at 11:46 am

Who is better and cheaper, Wagner or Veldheer?

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dobber's picture

February 15, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Who hasn't retired once and spent the last two seasons mostly off NFL rosters?

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Coldworld's picture

February 15, 2021 at 03:11 pm

Wagner’s statistical ratings this year were pretty impressive, particularly if you remove the game at LT. I’d go with Wagner at this point. Dobber already pointed out the other reason.

Even if we draft an OT early I’d like to see Wagner back not rely on a rookie out of the gate with Rodgers behind him.

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nostradanus's picture

February 15, 2021 at 02:17 pm

With Bakhtari most likely out until mid-season they need to keep as many vets as they can at tackle.
Also draft one in the 1st or 2nd.
That is all...

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blacke00's picture

February 15, 2021 at 04:05 pm

At least until mid year and then he'll need a the rest of the season to maybe approach his former self.

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Guam's picture

February 15, 2021 at 02:22 pm

Unless the doctors are certain Bahk will be ready for the season opener and you draft an OT high for depth purposes, Wagner is a must keep. There are other players to cut who significantly underperformed their contracts - Wagner didn't.

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PatrickGB's picture

February 16, 2021 at 07:16 am

I really doubt that Bahk will be ready by the start of the season. It’s an ACL injury and the recovery time is often a full year. Now with modern medicine and superior PT, that time for elite athletes the recovery has been faster but we are talking about a tall 300lb man playing a position that requires great footwork. It’s going to take time to get that all back. I don’t think that you skimp on good linemen. And tackle is a tough position.

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Lphill's picture

February 15, 2021 at 02:29 pm

Gary, Watt , Clarke and Z Smith rushing the QB in 2021 .

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TarynsEyes's picture

February 15, 2021 at 02:38 pm

Is Wagner a real need value?
Is Wagner a forced choice value?
Is Wagner a want value?
Is Wagner an anytime disposable value?
Is Wagner a multiple game changer value?
Is Wagner a locker room value?

NO
Yes
NO
Yes
NO
Doesn't matter based on prior answers.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

February 15, 2021 at 06:10 pm

Just when I thought you'd already found every way to author a confusing post...

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TarynsEyes's picture

February 15, 2021 at 07:18 pm

What's so confusing?

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Stroh's picture

February 15, 2021 at 07:50 pm

This might be a decision Wagner makes, not so much the Packers. Does he want to continue playing? I suspect he does. On the Packers side, it's a no-brainer. They NEED him! Bahktiari won't be back until at least November. There is even an outside chance he misses all of '21, tho that would seem unlikely. Even if they draft OT at 29, that player is not likely going to have a 1st rd grade, most drafts have at most 25 true 1st round talents, and OT tend to go in the top 15 if they have a 1st rd grade.

Bahktiari injury make Wagner essential.

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HankScorpio's picture

February 15, 2021 at 09:53 pm

Grabbing an OT by the end of day 2 and hoping Bakh is ready to go to start the season would be my preferred course of action.. Of course, I'm a big fan of Runyan, who I expect will be a capable 6th OL in 2021, Even if Runayn can't play RT, I think Jenkins can.

OTOH, I don't have high hopes that they can do so much better with $4.25 mil than Wagner. So I won't throw a fit if they keep him.

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canadapacker's picture

February 15, 2021 at 10:02 pm

Jenkins will be our center. Who else Hanson?

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dobber's picture

February 15, 2021 at 10:13 pm

Patrick could play there, but agree with the sentiment that Jenkins was likely drafted to take over for Linsley when he moved on.

With a little luck, there will be just enough FA dollars out there for the Packers to turn a nice comp pick out of Linsley.

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Coldworld's picture

February 15, 2021 at 11:31 pm

It’s interesting. Intentionally centers are often the least physically talented member of the line. Is that the optimal use for Jenkins? Patrick has also played Center before. Jenkins can clearly play there but I’m not sure that’s the ideal use for his talent, particularly with Bakh likely out early.

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canadapacker's picture

February 15, 2021 at 10:01 pm

I think that people need to realize that we are drafting at 29 again. Some supposed experts have us taking a tackle there. Others say that we are going to take 2 corners and a WR with our first 3 picks. I am of the opinion still - if it aint broke dont fix it. We need help at linebacker and maybe a corner first. Our money is with Bak and even though he might not be ready at the start he still is there.Now we didnt handle the pressure against Tampa - but KC was even worse and are we going to get a starter right off the bat. So we need to use what we have and what we have coming along but without Bak we handled the Rams - unless a no brainer Olineman drops to us - we go defense. But maybe we pick up some insurance in a cut player like we did with Valdheer. Besides corners, linebackers and maybe a big run stopper on D we also need a running back because we will not be able to afford Jones or Williams. Leave the Oline alone unless somebody really really good falls - which will be dependent on how many QBs are going to be drafted early and that might not just happen because too many good vets are changing teams.

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albert999's picture

February 15, 2021 at 10:58 pm

Pack should draft this guy Zaven Collins
For the season, Collins had four sacks, four interceptions (including two pick-sixes) and two forced fumbles. At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, he looks more like a defensive end but moves with the fluidity of the modern day inside linebackers that have become so prevalent around the league.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 16, 2021 at 10:22 am

If Collins falls he would be the guy to replace P.Smith who will likely be cut to save some cash. He covers well and has the same speed as Gary.

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