The 2019 season exceeded all expectations. The Green Bay Packers paid a big price for the shindig, however, and that realization is starting to kick in now that fans should start thinking about how the roster will look for the 2020 season.
General manager Brian Gutekunst had a clear plan for the post-McCarthy Packers. He invested lavishly in four players who were already established in the league, and he paid them based on the notion they were on their way to becoming stars – that dream has pretty much has come to pass. Few fans would now criticize the strategy, which helped produce a 13-3 record, a divisional championship, and two postseason games.
Gutekunst and the rest of the club’s front office felt the Packers needed to do something drastic to quickly restore the team to the powerhouse status it has enjoyed ever since 2010. Green Bay was in need of an instant turnaround, and Gutekunst and company made it happen.
The coming season might prove to be an even bigger challenge. Hang on fans, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
In acquiring Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner, the Packers raided the team’s treasury. As we approach the 2020 season, the Packers have a salary cap space of $29.4 million. They rank 21st in the league in cap space – the league’s average is $42.3M. This means the Packers aren’t in a position to be doing what they did in 2019: pursuing upper-tier free agents.
The reality is that it will be very difficult for the Packers to field as strong a team in the upcoming season as they did in the past season. Let’s look at a few of the obvious concerns.
To give you an idea of how fast NFL salaries are rising, spotrac.com has arrived at estimated market values for a handful of soon-to-be free agents. Here’s a sampling: WR A.C. Green $9.1M; DE Jadeveon Clowney $20M; WR Emmanuel Sanders $10M; QB Teddy Bridgewater $20M; T Bryan Bulaga $10.1M; QB Jameis Winston $26.7 M; WR Amari Cooper $19.7M; WR Randall Cobb $7.1M; SS Anthony Harris $13.8M; DE Chris Jones $19.2M; RB Derrick Henry $13.8M.
Given the above estimates, Gutekunst’s 2019 free market spending spree might prove to have been some great bargain-hunting.
We had a good discussion of the Pack’s defensive leader just days ago (here). No matter how you rate the leader of the Pack’s defense, it’s difficult to envision how the Packers can be an improved team without him.
Blake was paid an average of $681,000 over the last four years – he played almost every defensive snap the last three seasons. Spotrac.com’s Free Agent Tracker now estimates his market value over the next five years to average – sit down please – $16.3 million. I guess Martinez fans need not feel so bad: Blake is soon going to be a rich man with some other NFL team.
For what it’s worth, B. J. Goodson, an inside linebacker acquired by the Packers acquired on September 2 – and who’s also about to become a free agent – has been paid an average of $730,000. Goodson was one of Gutekunst’s under-the-radar acquisitions – and a great bargain.
Joe Schobert, a Wisconsin alum whose name comes up among Packers fans, has been paid almost the same as Martinez over his first four years. Spotrac has yet to estimate his market value as a free agent.
The Packers might decide to stay in-house with Martinez’s replacement. In addition to Goodson, there is Ibraheim Campbell, a safety who has often played in the ILB slot for the Packers. Though he only played in seven games for the Pack in 2019, the coaches liked what they saw from him. His 2019 salary of $720,000 renders him a good bet to stay with the team in 2020.
30-year-old Bryan Bulaga had a fine year for the Packers, though he battles with injuries on an annual basis. Last December, the Packers brought Jared Valdheer out of retirement to relieve Bulaga, and the 32-year-old exceeded expectations.
My guess is that Green Bay would jump at the chance to sign Valdheer up, even for just a year, as a way to relieve themselves of Bulaga’s anticipated $10 million annual salary. The question is whether Valdheer wants to play or re-retire.
Mason’s 4-year contract, at just over $4M per year, is expiring. I’m sure Green Bay would like to keep the kicker who’s been reliable for them since 2007, but there are lots of promising kickers out there who could be had for a fourth of Mason’s likely asking price.
The ageless cornerback, who will be 37 in March, played on 73 percent of the defensive snaps last season, and turned in a solid performance. Pro Football Focus just graded him at number 30 among NFL corners – three players ahead of the more heralded Jaire Alexander. His 2-year $10M contract is about to expire.
Though Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry are secured for the 2020 season, Kyler Fackrell and Tyler Lancaster are about to become free agents. Neither distinguished himself last season, and neither did third-year man Montravius Adams. The Packers will likely try to upgrade their defensive line through free agency, trade, or the draft, though it’s unlikely they’ll invest a lot of money in doing so.
The coaches were thrilled with what Ervin, who was claimed off of waivers on December 2. He so impressed as a punt returner that the Packers would like to insert him at times as a wide receiver or running back. After earning $720,000 in 2019, Ervin is set to become a free agent. I’ll be surprised if the Packers don’t try to sign him to a three- or four-year deal, at three or four times his previous salary. You don’t want a speedy guy like this to get away.
On offense, those about to become free agents include receivers Jake Kumerow, Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Robert Tonyan, and Marcedes Lewis. The Packers should try to sign up Lazard to a multi-year deal. The others might not be back unless no other team shows much interest in them. In my opinion, Kumerow has been under-used and deserves better, but Aaron Rodgers seldom looks his way.
On defense, cornerback 23-year-old Chandon Sullivan provided great value last year ($570,000), and he got significant playing time – a third of the defensive snaps and almost half of the special teams’ snaps. He’s likely to be offered a nice raise by the Packers. Free safety Will Redmond (26) is another minimum wage guy who could eventually develop into a starter, but he’s running out of time.
Brian Gutekunst has produced decidedly mixed results in the two drafts he’s headed up. The two times he’s selected an unconventional choice – Oren Burks in Round 3 of 2018 and Rashan Gary in Round 1 last year – the results to date have been dismal.
In 2019, Gutey started out with ten picks, including the 12th pick in most rounds. This time he’ll need hit after hit with his six picks (and one conditional), and despite choosing 30th out of 32 teams.
Rob, just to clarify one item for the readers. Several of the role players listed can just be offered a one year contract by the Packers, for the league minimum. They can either sign the contract or they don’t play for the year. Those players have less than three accrued seasons in the NFL. They are called exclusive rights free agents (ERFA).
Tonyan, Kumerow, Sullivan, Lancaster, Redmond, and Lazard fall in the ERFA category. I would guess the Packers will offer all those players one year contracts at the league minimum for a second or third year player. The Packers do not need to offer pay increases or multi year deals to any of the ERFA unless they want to do so. My guess, all are in camp as Packers under one year league minimum contracts. After the 2020 season all the players listed as ERFA will be RFAs in 2021. The Packers will still have some control over keeping them in 2021, although the control is less.
This coming year the Packers have options. It’s a LOT more difficult after the 2020 season. Rodgers salary cap hit will be $21 million in 2020 but in 2021 that will skyrocket to a $36 million cap hit. Bakhtiari, Clark, King and Aaron Jones will all have to be resigned before the 2021 season as they ALL are free agents in 2021. This next year is the last year I think the Packers have a chance at a Super Bowl. They’re in cap hell pretty much after that and will have to shed players.
Don’t forget the NFL and NFLPA need to negotiate a new CBA in 2020. A lot can occur in those negotiations that impacts salary caps after 2020.
I think the biggest impact the NFL and NFLPA can have, is by not having an agreement. Going into work stoppage while trying to negotiate new TV deals isn’t conducive to high leverage negotiations.
Everything DeMaurice Smith has done since getting stepped on in the last agreement, is setting up his players to strike this time around. He’s been prepping the union to get ready to strike for years. Not saying it’s going to happen, but i wouldn’t put anything past him, he’s bitter and angry since the union members collapsed on him last time. He’s been campaigning the members to be ready to strike for 2 seasons.
Apparently one of the things the League is pushing for is a 17 or 18 game season. They reason that out by arguing they have made the game safer (which i don’t dispute). But even so, to get the union to agree to that they will have to give up some concessions (money..absolutley) (part ownership….highly doubtful).
Remember the last time around Smith wanted the NFL to yield partial league ownership to the Union. My take on that is it will never happen. But if the union stuck their heels in the ground, that is where i could see a real strike happening.
I don’t think the weed issue is a real bargaining chip for the owners. i’ve read where marijuana, (THC) rules will all be virtually eliminated. I think the majority of players toke, so the NFL would be smart to be done with it, especially in today’s climate.
Thanks Rob, keep this kind of stuff coming. In the last thread regarding Martinez I wanted to go on a limb and suggest something on the order of a three year $42 mil (14 avg) but I thought I’d ask others. Now I read $16.3 million estimated value. Wow, good for him – rather great for him – should he get that. That certainly seems out of this team’s price range. I would think Littleton will also be way up there too, but haven’t seen a market value for him either.
You have to hit on draft picks for this reason, and it falls on coaching to get the most out of their players. The two teams in the super bowl today have a combined 28 undrafted free agents on their rosters. Nearly 30% of their roster.
It’s also worth noting you have to really really get production out of those guys when you pay a quarterback the big bucks and devoting over 18% of your salary cap to him. There is a reason why you see teams that paid their QBs, then never won the super bowl afterwards. Part of why New England won was Tom Brady being paid about half his market value. It makes a difference. Belichick is great, but the extra 15-20 million is important
It’s especially important when it’s…spent right. We’ve spent over 22 million on just one guy the last 2 years, but he did give us 5 TD’s in that time, so we have that going for us..
The Patriots needed a cornerback, so instead of swinging and missing for years in the draft like other teams sometimes do. They signed Stephon Gilmore for 13 mill/year when he was 26 years old. I think he just won an award a couple nights ago if i’m not mistaken.
Adrian Amos got paid 4 million more than Stephon Gilmore last season. Go figure.
How you spend it, matters. Anyone can just give it away in poor contracts, that’s easy…..right Russ?
It’s a shame Rodgers didn’t take a pay cut years ago. We could have overpaid even more players than we already have.Selfish bastard.
That was the end of the Year of Ted. On many blog site we were screaming for the brain trust to make a play for Gilmore as the primo free agent signing. No go as Belichick moved in like a shark. Shut-down corner to replace the Woodson Legacy and the basketball player, then you can use your One Pick on TJ Watt. Another chapter in the wasted years of Rodgers saga. See if they go for it in 2020??
Yep….Even more people were screaming for hometown boy TJ Watt at the time. this stuff isn’t hindsight bullshit. Fans were begging for it in real time. But Ted valued quantity instead of quality. all while Murphy didn’t have a clue he should have let Ted go years before. Or at best, he lacked the backbone to make a move. Until the BOD’s finally made him do it.
The worst thing about going 13-3, is it gave Murphy a reprieve.
Let’s just look at our big four free agents from the 2021 list.
You have David Bahktiari with a cap hit of $14.7 mil and a dead cap of $3.2 mil. A pre 6/1 release saves you $11.5 mil but nobody in their right mind thinks this is an option. He may not have played his absolute best in 2019 and he got flagged a bit more but c’mon man, have you seen that guy chug a beer.
Jimmy Graham is an $11.666 mil hit with $3.666 mil dead cap. A pre 6/1 release saves $8 mil. We are all pretty much in agreement that we will be saving $8 million here in 2020 to help in the FA market.
Lane Taylor is a $5.987 mil hit with $1.375 mil dead cap. A pre 6/1 release saves $4.612 mil. Lane Taylor is also a likely cap casualty hitting the market.
Corey Linsley is a $10.5 mil hit with $2 mil dead cap. A pre 6/1 release, or trade, saves $8 mil.
Now, I do not personally think this is a possibility but I’m just tossing it out for discussion. I really like Corey Linsley and his market value will be up there also when his next contract comes due. So what if – I mean a big what if – at pick number 30 the best college center, Tyler Biadasz, is sitting on the board? Do you pull the trigger on such a pick, free up cap money, get a real blue chip player, and possibly trade a guy with real upside and get some value in return for that? This only works if Biadasz is there at the right time in the draft and he might be. How badly we need a WR comes into play some but the class is deep at WR and that can easily become the second pick of the draft. Some fans would not be happy to lose Linsley but most would be ecstatic to draft a hometown boy from the UW who is cut out of the Joe Thomas bolt of cloth. Would Aaron be happy? Probably not but the conversation would have to remind him about how they afford his $36 million hit. He can go sulk about it in his new $28 mil house.
Three moves frees up $20.6 million and change. Just ponder it for discussion, that’s all.
smartestNbest commonsense comment
da rest is jyst…”california dreaming”
Yeah I do wonder if Linsley could be a cap casualty. It would be tough though, if you decide to let Bulaga walk, to have two new offensive line starters
Lindsley’s future could play out that way if Badger or Diaz in the second come into play. He was getting bull-rushed regularly the past two years and giving inside pressure, but have not watched enough file to know if Turner is not doing his job? He is a CAP option with cash going to OT/DE
not sorry at all on this 1: UB an insane IDIOT..
our high school coach is a WAAAAAY better PROFESSIONAL analyst…da sky is falling…da sky is falling…as stated previously
UB an insane IDIOT with NO credibility or believability..go away DS ! send in a PROFESSIONAL :0)
“……. he paid them based on the notion they were on their way to becoming stars – that dream has pretty much has come to pass.” – Rob
I’m down with calling the Smith Brothers becoming stars, or close enough to it) Amos and Turner? Not so much. Amos, a notch above average…maybe. but so was Clinton Dix at 11 million less for Chicago. Turner…clearly overpaid at 14 million his first year. still over paid but at a more manageable 5 plus million each of his next 3 years.
Now….if they slide Turner over to right tackle and he can hold it down (talk the talk, walk the walk) then it’s a different story. But we’ll see if they have any faith in his “versatility” based on what they do with Bulaga. If you are going to sell him as being able to play tackle…..then it shouldn’t be a question, otherwise you were full of shit.
It’s a damn good thing the Smith brothers played well, or Gutenkunst would probably have a foot out the door. Not bashing on Gute, just saying what it is. Those two signings are his saving grace so far. Citing the fact they received 40 million last season, it’s a good thing they came through.
Those 4 players received 65 million already. Maybe this time around we can find a #3 receiver, maybe have the wisdom not to pay a tight end like he’s at the top of his game.
This is year 3 of Gute, i don’t care if we were 13-3 last season. We are 0-0 now, and time is running out.
I just noticed this tonight. But LaFleur’s offensive play designs are like a half assed version of the stuff Shanahan does. Hopefully LaFleur takes the second year jump in that area.
One thing to remember, this is LeFleurs second season of calling plays. One year with the talent and injury depleted Titans. The second year as head coach with an offense crippled with a 5th round pick and UDFA’s for receivers, plus a 30 million dollar mistake.
I think he probably has two more years to get it right. But after one year getting his feet wet, i expect real improvement in year two also. You have to remember, this offense was new….to everyone.
I’m 100% convinced that Bob Kraft is going to make Brady some sort of ambassador for the Patriots when he retires, and pay him a million or two a year to make up the difference for his team friendly contracts all these years.
And like everything related to the Patriots, I hate it but have to kind of respect the moxy.
I’m a bit surprised nobody has brought up signing Greg Olsen. But then again, we should probably get rid of one mistake before making another.
I like Greg Olsen the player of two years ago. I would rather bring back Marcedes Lewis and his blocking ability. Cut Jimmy, and roll with the Sternberger show. Unless someone crazy good falls to them, which will likely never happen because everyone sees the value of a tight end in an offense. The two best ones in the league played last night. I see Kmet on the boards, and maybe it is my irrational hatred of Notre Dame, but I feel he is a bit overrated
I wouldn’t want anything to do with Greg Olsen, now, a year ago, two years ago, or 3 years ago. After not missing a game for 9 straight years, he’s missed 18 games the last 3 years. He played 14 games last season although he played injured in most of them.
Gute and Russ (Brinks truck) Ball would probably disagree with me. But Mr. Olsen should call it a career. Father Time is undefeated.
I agree with most of this post. However, I don’t think the Packers were going to be as big a player in Free Agency this year as last year regardless. I always felt like they were going to be more conservative. Obviously, they have to because of money but no team is going to have to big back to back Free Agency years. They outdid what most teams usually do including themselves.
What I do agree with is that next season could be a lot bumpier than people expect. I mean they could still be good, but there is plenty of reason for concern, and I’m going to be setting my expectations low again despite the fact everyone expects the superbowl. I think Bulaga isn’t coming back, so the offensive line could be weaker than it was. He had a great season, and will price himself out easily. I’ve seen lots of fan scenarios where Green Bay can resign Bulaga, Clark, and Martinez but they don’t account for having any left over money which will be needed next year if they want to keep Jones or Bahktiari.
It would probably be a mistake to re-sign Martinez at market value anyway, which spotrac estimates to be $16 million per year, and even if they do re-sign all their guys that only makes them as good as they were last year. They have to make even more moves to improve not just themselves, but get better than all the other teams who are making moves too. And now with limited money they’ll have to hit huge on the draft where they pick at the bottom of every round. The superbowl hump is looking as big and difficult to get over as it ever has been. The second option is hoping last years picks develop into big contributors. However, Adams hasn’t done anything more than a support role. Keke still has the most upside since he’s still new. But Gary is a headscratcher to me because even of the Packers already having the Smiths.