Packers’ Structuring of Contracts Needs to Change
As stingy as Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thomson has the reputation of being, he sure hands out a lot of money to the team’s stars. The salary amounts, however, don’t bother me as much as the way the team tends to allocate its cap money.
A player’s cap hit is the amount the league counts in computing the cumulative salary paid out to players in any given year. For 2017, all NFL teams have $167 million of available cap space for player salaries.
As I wrote about previously, 40 percent of Green Bay’s 2017 cap is assigned to just five players: Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Mike Daniels. It’s a problem. Below is a look at how some of the team’s top players have had their contracts structured.
The top four players are highlighted below. Numbers 5-10 are Mike Daniels ($10.4M cap hit), Bryan Bulaga ($7.85), Morgan Burnett ($7.0), David Bakhtiari ($6.0), Nick Perry ($5.9), and Martellus Bennett ($3.85).
His 2017 cap hit is $20.3 million, which is 11.6 percent of the cap. These numbers stem from the five-year $110 million deal Rodgers signed in 2015. His average salary over that period is $22 million. Despite now being 33 years old, Rodgers’ skills show no signs of being in decline, so this has proven to be an excellent deal for the team. In contrast, the Cowboys are about to release Tony Romo because Jerry Jones structured his contract with a cap hit of $24.7 million this year!
Matthews’ cap hit in 2017 is $15.1 million, 8.62 percent of the cap allotment. He’ll be 31 in May. Matthews signed a five-year deal in 2014 that averaged $13.2 million annually. Here are the approximate cap hits (in millions) for this contract, from 2014 through 2018: $11.0, $12.7, $13.75, $15.1, and $11.4. Few would argue that Matthews was worth $14 million in 2016 or that he’ll be worth more than $15 million this year.
This puts the team in the undesirable position of keeping Matthews and using over $15 million of cap space, or releasing or trading him. When salaries are this high, few teams would consider a trade. At the moment, there’s little talk of releasing Matthews. I really can’t tell you why the team structured his deal with such a high cap hit at the very time his performance would likely be eroding. Perhaps they expected him to have his last great year this year, which would explain why his cap hit drops almost $4 million next year. Bottom line: in 2017, this is one bad arrangement.
Cobb inked a four-year, $40 million deal in 2015, at an average salary of $10 million. This year’s cap hit is $12.7 million, 7.23 percent of cap. While Cobb in not in a decline due to age, he’s gone two consecutive years performing at the level of a $5 million receiver – not all of which is explained by injuries. His very high cap hit is certainly hindering the team’s ability to add high-quality players to the roster.
With a cap hit of $11.55 million (6.6 percent of the cap), and an average salary of $9.8 million, Jordy’s four-year deal signed in 2015 is not excessive and isn’t hurting the overall roster situation at all. The NFL’s comeback player of the year is playing as well as ever.
In 2016, Peppers’ cap hit was $10.5 million, 6.82 percent of the cap. In the two years before that, it was $3.5 million and $12 million. Given these odd numbers, I don’t think the Packers originally had any intention of Peppers playing all three of his contracted years. Peppers lost his starting job to Nick Perry in 2016 and for the year he took only 57 percent of the defensive snaps. His 2016 cap hit was way out of proportion to his on-field production.
In 2015, as part of a six-year deal signed at the start of the 2011 season, Sitton’s cap hit was $7 million, about the same amount as his salary. In the case of both Sitton and T.J. Lang, I think Green Bay, sometime after contracting the two, radically re-evaluated the guard position and decided guards are worth about $5 million per year (salary or cap hit). Sitton is now making $7 million per year and has a cap hit of $6.8 million for the Bears.
Adams’ cap hit in 2017 is $1.25 million. So why is he on this list? His rookie contract is up at the end of the year. The Packers like to get key players extended before their existing contracts run out and they’re able to test their marketability as free agents. They got this done regarding Mike Daniels and Jordy Nelson, but were not able to pull it off with Cobb.
It’s very likely the Packers intend to use some of the money they have left under the cap on extending Adams’ contract. Currently, Adams is making $983,000 per year. That number is bound to increase fivefold and the Packers are so infatuated with the guy, it could approach tenfold – which would put him in the vicinity of what Cobb is getting.
Given the way Packers leadership (including Aaron Rodgers) drools over Adams, I’d actually enjoy seeing Adams test the market. Opinions on Adams’ value vary so widely. I fear that the Packers will overpay Adams, otherwise. Of course, Adams also has to weigh his options carefully. If he has a mediocre year in 2017, that would mean he’s had one decent year out of four. If he has a better year than last year, it would mean two good years in a row, a player still on the ascendency, and those first two years would be all but forgotten.
I’m predicting Adams will either test out the free agent waters in 2018 or he’ll accept a very generous offer from the Packers. If the latter, Ted Thompson usually does these deals either just prior to the upcoming season (early September) or in December – when his fourth-year performance is largely on record.