The Green Bay Packers made bold moves in 2019, signing a number of free agents. Brian Gutekunst sent the message, he would not be shackled by Ted Thompson’s philosophy of free agent restraint. There is no way Gutekunst and the rest of the Packer brain trust could have foreseen a Covid-19 pandemic. Nor could they have seen the drop in revenues that would sweep away packed stadiums and fan ticket opportunities . Well, the Packers are about to feel the pinch of that change in philosophy and just like this pandemic, it will not be pretty for Packer accountants or fans.
The Size of the Problem
Overthecap.com has the Packers projected as being $32,694,727 over next year’s NFL salary cap. Now, that is a projection, because the NFL has yet not set the cap for 2021. But everyone in the business knows that revenues dropped through the floor and into a cold, uninsulated basement when fans were banned from stadiums. How bad the damage is has not been officially announced, but Marc Ganis, co-founder of Sportscorp, a consulting group out of Chicago, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the total losses were between 3 to 4 billion dollars. That averages out to between $90,357,500 dollars to 125 million dollars per team. The Packers, who rely heavily on fan revenue, could be one of the hardest hit.
Besides perhaps needing another stock sale, the Packers will need to drop significant salaries to eliminate 32+ million from their salary cap. To illustrate, take a look at Overthecap.com’s salary cap numbers for the top eleven salaried 2021 Packer players.
|Player||2021 Salary Cap||Salary Savings If Cut|
|Aaron Rodgers||$37,202,000||$. 5,646,000|
After Wagner you drop to Mason Crosby at $4.5 million. As the numbers show, losing 32 million can’t be done without taking big hits. In addition, the salary is not what counts for the cap. Cap savings (simplified) is the difference between salary and future guaranteed money owed. The difference is defined as “dead money” because it does not give you salary cap relief.
To put a real world, real player name, perspective, on this is the only way to know how deep the cuts will be. First the cuts to players with high salaries cap savings that underproduced in 2020.
|Player||2021 Cap Savings|
|Oren Burks||$ 945,000|
|Dexter Williams||$ 850,000|
Eliminating all of these players leave the Packers needing to cut around 14 million dollars in additional salary. If you cut Gary, Savage, Love, or Dillion, there is no cap relief. Eliminating Wagner and Lowry still leaves you with 6.5 million to cut. Jace Sternberger would give you $628,368 in relief. MVS would give an additional $2,183,000 in relief. St. Brown adds $850,000. Cutting their punter, J.K Scott would add $920,000. Long snapper Hunter Bradley would save $920,000. Mason Crosby’s cutting would save $2.5 million. Any way you slice it, you are cutting past the bone. One way around these cuts would be to cut Za’Darius Smith which would save $12,000,000.
These cuts are just part one of any plan the Packers have to target the correct number for cap relief but the Packers still need to field 53 players and their top 51 count against the cap. Plus, we haven’t even begun to talk about how dead money could impact 2022 if these cuts are made. I am not a cap guru but I can add and subtract. In 2021, the Packers salary cap counters, Russ Ball and company, will be mostly subtracting.
Part two of the Packer plan outlined above would also require the Packers to cut loose every current free agent. Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Big Bob Tonyan, Corey Linsley, Lane Taylor, Marcedes Lewis, Kevin King, Montravius Adams, Tyler Lancaster, Chandon Sullivan, Will Redmond, Allen Lazard, Tim Boyle, Raven Greene and the list goes on.
Another way to reduce salary is trading high salary players for draft picks. But high salary player trades do not usually mean salary cap relief due to the acceleration of un-accrued signing and other bonuses. Besides Rodgers and Z. Smith, is there a Packer that could be traded for a high draft pick or picks?
Overthecap.com estimates 13 teams are at least 10 million under the cap. The Jaguars sit atop a 73 million dollar nest egg. The Colts and Jets top the Patriots which rounds out the top four teams. The Pats will have over 58 million, but they can’t get Brady back for that and Matthew Stafford apparently already vetoed them as a trade option. He won’t be the last free agent QB to feel that way. The Saints have the biggest problem with $120 million needed in cuts. That is two-thirds of the projected cap for 2021.
While the Packers are not facing the worst cap dilemma in the NFL, they are in the bottom five. That position could feel like the cold northeast winter winds off the Bay, making the chances of a 2021 title run about as likely as a smooth flowing Fox River.