Sam Shields

On the surface, the Green Bay Packers begin the offseason in pretty good shape. Sportrac estimates they currently have more than $27 million in cap space to work with.

That’s the sixth-largest total in the league.

We say “on the surface” because the Packers also have 20 free agents, 16 of which are unrestricted.

Among those are starters B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly, Sam Shields, Evan Dietrich-Smith, John Kuhn, James Jones and Jermichael Finley. Part-time starter Mike Neal is also unrestricted.

So let’s break down some numbers.

First, we’ll assume B.J. Raji and his fat ass are going to get big money and sign elsewhere. We’re also going to assume the Packers won’t clear Finley medically, which means he’ll either be forced to retire or sign elsewhere.

James Jones also seems destined to move on. With Jones the issue isn’t lack of production, like it is with Raji, or injury, like it is with Finley. The elephant in the room is that both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are entering the final year of their contracts. The Packers simply can’t pay all three of those guys top dollar.

As for the rest of the pack, Shields is the top priority. We see him getting somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million per season.

He’s followed by Dietrich-Smith. If the Packers pay him $3 million per season, that would make Dietrich-Smith the 11th highest-paid center in the league and that seems about right to us.

The remaining four guys on the list should come fairly cheap.

Pickett is nearing the end of the line. His last contract averaged over $6 million per season. At this point, he’ll probably be lucky to get a deal worth $2 million per season.

The same goes for Kuhn, who isn’t likely to draw a lot of interest from a league that rarely employs fullbacks anymore.

Finally, these are just educated guesses, but we’ll say Jolly and Neal both get $3 million per season.

Here’s where that leaves us.

  • Shields: $7 million
  • Dietrich-Smith: $3 million
  • Jolly: $3 million
  • Neal: $3 million
  • Pickett: $2 million
  • Kuhn: $2 million

Total: $20 million

That would leave the Packers with just over $7 million to sign their draft picks, restricted free agents and (hahaha!) any outside free agents.

If the Packers want more cap room to work with, they could either release Tramon Williams or restructure his deal. Williams will account for a $9.5 million cap hit in 2014. That number would decrease to $2 million (dead money) if he was released.

That being said, the Packers would be wise to restructure Williams’ deal and add a couple years. He was one of their best defenders, if not the best, down the stretch in 2013.

Obviously, there are plenty of decisions to be made this offseason.

Free agency begins March 11.