It wasn’t that long ago the Green Bay Packers were considered about the most frugal and cost-conscious team in the NFL. The Packers almost always were near the top of the league in available cap space heading into free agency and the draft. In most years they still hoarded the money rather than using it.
That seems like a distant memory now.
The Packers currently have eight contracts at or near double-digit millions per year. These consume about 61.7 percent of the team’s cap hits. A week ago Jordy Nelson would also have been on the list. They are:
- Aaron Rodgers – $20.6M
- Randall Cobb – $12.7M
- Clay Matthews – $11.4M
- David Bakhtiari – $11.1M
- Nick Perry – $10.75M
- Davante Adams – $10.5M
- Jimmy Graham – $10M
- Mike Daniels – $9.8M
Kicking the Can Down the Road
It started in 2014, when Green Bay signed Clay Matthews to a five-year deal worth $66 million. His yearly cap hits were $11 million, $12.7 million, $13.5 million, $15.1 million (an obscene amount for 2017), and finally back to $11.4 million this year.
Things continued in 2015 when the team signed Cobb to a four-year $40 million deal. Those cap hits were similarly back-loaded, as follows: 2015, $3.35 million; 2016, $9.15 million; 2017, $12.66 million; and this year, $12.72 million. By shoveling much of the cap hit money on to future years, the Packers have created a log jam of payments that just came due in 2018.
Also in 2015, Aaron Rodgers signed up for five years for $110 million. Those cap hits increase slowly but steadily from $18.75 million to a projected $21.1 million in 2019.
Mike Daniels got his four-year $41 million deal in 2016, with a little less backloading: $7.4 million, $10.4 million, $9.8 million, and $10.9 million this year.
David Bakhtiari got his big contract one week into the 2016 season: the four-year $48 million package was very backloaded: from $6.2 million to $11.1 million to $14 million in both 2019 and 2020.
In 2017 Nick Perry got his five-year $61 million bounty. Same pattern: $5.9 million, $10.75 million, $14.7 million, $14.3 million, and $14.1 million this year.
The Davante Adams deal takes the cake. There’s a strong consensus among fans that he’s being overpaid – his four-year deal averages out at $14.5 million. Not only that, the payments go from about $10.6 million the first two years to $16.6 million in both 2020 and 2021.
I don’t yet have information on how Jimmy Graham’s three-year deal is going to be spread out.
Yes, fans, the salary cap squeeze will only be getting worse in coming years.
Pay vs. Performance
If these eight highly-paid guys live, or have lived, up to the expectations that resulted in these fat deals, we could take some consolation.
We all can reach our own conclusions on this score. Not counting Adams, Bakhtiari, and Graham, who have yet to perform under their new contracts, I’d say Rodgers is a plus, and Daniels sneaks into the plus category. Cobb, Matthews, and Perry have not justified their gaudy salaries. Davante will have to rival Julio Jones and Antonio Brown over the next four years to justify his pay.
Who Is to Blame?
Houston, we have a problem. And the Packers problem is massive. It’s what directly caused Jordy Nelson to be released by the team. It’s what now prevents the team from going after a top free agent cornerback, or receiver, or edge rusher, or just about anyone else. And it’s a problem that will continue to plague the team for at least the next four years.
There is really only one solution: continue to release the most highly-paid players as they enter the final year or two years of their contracts. That’s why Jordy is gone, and it still might happen this year to Matthews or Cobb. In future years, it will likely happen to Perry and possibly to Graham.
Who’s to blame? There’s lots of it to go around, but I’d say that Russ Ball, who is constantly hyped as being a cap space maestro, is the guy who made these deals, and Mark Murphy is the one who approved them.
I fear the team’s fate has already been cast. What’s taken place in a couple office rooms in the bowels of Lambeau Field over the last several seasons might impact the 2018 Packers more than anything that happens out on the field.