A decade ago, the Green Bay Packers had a well-deserved reputation for being frugal when it came to player contracts. When the roster was finalized, they usually had a little money left over – whereas many teams go into the hole and have to make up for it in the following year. Green Bay’s stingy ways seem to be changing, however, with each passing year.
The matter of player contracts is much less complex than it might seem. The majority of roster players are under contracts, usually for four years, they entered into in their rookie years. Furthermore, the amounts of those contracts are pretty much predetermined according to where players were selected in the draft.
At any given time there are maybe a dozen players on the roster who get new contracts when their rookie deals run out. Of these guys, only about three such contracts have to be worked out in a given year.
Few undrafted players get contracts anywhere near the million dollar per year range, so those negotiations are pretty basic.
That leaves contracts for players acquired through free agency. For many teams this is a sizable group, though not typically for the Packers. New GM Brian Gutekunst has strongly hinted, however, that he’ll be making more free agent hires.
Here are Green Bay’s 12 top current non-rookie contracts, arranged by the first year of the deal.
- Clay Matthews – 5-year, $66M
- Aaron Rodgers – 5-year, $110M
- Jory Nelson – 4-year, $39M
- Bryan Bulaga – 5-year, $33.75M
- Randall Cobb – 4-year, $40M
- Mike Daniels – 4-year, $41M
- Mason Crosby – 4-year, $16.1M
- Nick Perry – 5-year, $59M
- David Bakhtiari – 4-year, $48M
- Lane Taylor – 3-year, $16.5M
- Davante Adams – 4-year, $58.5M
- Corey Linsley – 3-year, $25.5M
With the contract renewals of Adams and Linsley, none on the list are up for renewal before 2019. Those who are on their final years in 2018 are Matthews, Nelson, and Cobb. The biggest personnel decisions of 2018 will be whether any or all three should be given the choice of renegotiating those deals downward or being released outright by the team.
Looking at the list of 12, I doubt that there’s much disagreement. Of the first seven players, the two deals that in retrospect might be viewed as dubious are so only because the productivity of Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb has fallen off unexpectedly.
Of the five most recent renewals, many would probably question whether Nick Perry, Davante Adams, and Corey Linsley got extravagant deals. Let’s see if salary comparisons support these impressions.
David Bakhtiari is acknowledged to be one of the three or so finest left tackles in the league. His $12 million average salary puts him in a three-way tie for fifth among left tackles. The Redskins’ Trent Williams is first ($13.6M) and the Chargers’ Russell Okung is next ($13.250M).
Bakhtiari fully proved himself in four years prior to getting his new contract.
Among outside linebackers, Nick Perry’s $11.8 million ranks him eighth in the league. Von Miller is tops with just over $19 million. Clay Matthews, by the way, ranks sixth. Nick Perry only had one strong season out of five when he got his big contract.
Perry is nowhere near the eighth best OLB in the NFL.
Lane Taylor’s $5.5 million average ranks him 20th among NFL guards. The four highest paid guards make from $11 million to $12 million. By the way, Detroit’s T.J. Lang is seventh and the Bears’ Josh Sitton is tied for 17th. Lane Taylor had a steady, if not great, year in 2016 as Josh Sitton’s replacement – which led to his contract extension just prior to the start of the 2017 regular season.
I should caution you that around half of the league’s guards are still under their rookie contracts, so many of the top guys are not going to be high up on the highest-paid list. For example, Dallas All-Pro guard Zack Martin averages $2.24 million per year under his existing rookie contract.
Davante Adams’ new contract has been much talked about. He was coming off two good, but not great, years in which he averaged 119 targets, 74.5 catches, 941 yards, an average of 12.65 yards per catch, and 13 touchdowns.
Ready for comparisons? Adams’ brand new $14.5 million average salary ranks him fourth among wide receivers, ahead of the likes of Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Alshon Jeffery, T.Y. Hilton, Doug Baldwin, Keenan Allen, DeSean Jackson, and Larry Fitzgerald.
Davante’s teammates, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson have the 17th and 18th highest average contracts. How many other teams have at least two receivers in the top-20 pay group? Just Denver, with Demaryius Thomas (T 6th) and Emmanuel Sanders (T 13th).
Linsley’s big new contract ($8.5 million average) puts him eighth highest among NFL centers, but there are only about 15 or so starting centers who are no longer being paid under their rookie deals.
Linsley turned his fine year in 2017 into gold – he didn’t miss an offensive snap all season.
From these comparisons, it appears that Bakhtiari got a fair deal. If anything, he was somewhat underpaid.
Perry, Taylor, Adams, and Linsley got very generous, and I think unjustifiable, deals. As I suggested previously. The Davante Adams deal was highway robbery.
The Packers have shown a great affinity for extending existing contracts rather than letting contracts expire and having players test out their value as free agents. The notable exception is Cobb, who I believe received a best offer of $1 million a year more than what the Packers offered, but he chose to stay with his team – and with QB Aaron Rodgers.
I believe Ted Thompson’s extreme reluctance to make trades or go after top free agents contributed to the Packers’ sense of urgency in re-signing players whose rookie deals were about to expire. This in turn has resulted in several veteran players being overpaid – especially in the last few years.
Russ Ball has been the acknowledged chief negotiator for the Packers – and now he’s been promoted. The recent makeover further blurs who is accountable for what in the Packers front office. I’d sure like to ask Ball if he takes responsibility for these five most recent big contracts, if he feels any of them were extravagant, and whether he was told or pressured by Ted Thompson, Mark Murphy, or Mike McCarthy to re-sign these players at any cost.