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Green Bay’s Salary Cap Woes: Part 1

For the next month and a half, much of the talk among Green Bay fans is likely to center on salary caps. Will the NFL keep the cap amount almost the same as in 2020, or will it be reduced slightly or drastically? How can the Packers manage to get their payroll below the limit? Will restructuring – or releases – of any existing contracts be sought? How do things like, bonuses, guaranteed salaries, “dead money,” and cap hits figure into the equation?

I quickly bagged an attempt to lay out some of the ground rules concerning the different types of free agency, compensation possibilities, which parts of a player’s salary are included in the salary cap computation, and so on. It’s complex, confusing, and I’d probably provide more misinformation than useful information. That’s what Howard is for anyway.

One statement that I think is correct is that the league will announce the cap number in mid-March, just before the free agency floodgates are opened.

It’s best I talk in generalities. Even at that, I’m planning on a series of postings on the salary cap subject and on its likely effects on the makeup of the Packers. I’m quite certain that the Packers front office will face a greater challenge in getting the payroll under the salary cap than at any time in at least the previous two decades.

One reason is that GM Ted Thompson, unlike many GMs, was financially conservative, and he always retained a reserve of money in the coffers. The other reason is that GM Brian Gutekunst, rather than undertaking an orderly personnel rebuild, took a gamble in acquiring the Smith Brothers, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner in 2019. Gutekunst could hardly have anticipated in early 2018 that a coronavirus would cause the league and its teams to fall into a financial recession.


Packers GM Brian Gutekunst at NFL Combine

Feb 25, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst speaks during the NFL Scouting Combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports


Packers’ Salary Cap Position

We might as well get the bad news out of the way first. The folks at spotrack.com have the Packers with a current salary cap liability of $31.85M, which is 5th highest. Overthecap.com has the Packers $32.7M in the red. The range among the 32 teams is stunning: Spotrack lists the Saints as being in the worst predicament, as they are nearly $105M over the current cap. The league average is $4.14M of available cap space.

The league’s best situated teams – and this looms as important – are the Jaguars ($69M cap space), Colts ($68M), Jets ($65M), Patriots ($58M), and Bengals (a big drop to $35M). Of the 14 teams that made the playoffs this season, those with the most available cap space are: the Colts (2nd), Washington FT (6th), Buccaneers (7th), Browns (10th), and Ravens (11th). These teams are sitting pretty – with the Colts, who are already playoff caliber – and are going to have buckets full of cash to go after free agents, or make trades.

Here’s why the Packers must fear teams like the Jaguars. Let’s say, for instance, that the Jags wish to acquire a top-notch running back and center. It matters not how badly the Packers want to re-sign Aaron Jones or Corey Lindsley, they’re in no financial position to compete with the Jags. In fact, it’s hard to envision Green Bay able to compete for free agents with any of the 17 teams that currently show a cap surplus.

Of the Packers stars, I would think it’s inevitable that these two will be switching jerseys in March – Lindsley is after all, the best center in the NFL, Jones is a Pro Bowler, and both have credentials and histories that would make almost any team salivate at the prospect of obtaining their services. Any number of other solid players are likely to also wind up on other teams.

Almost all the pundits are predicting, based largely on salary cap concerns, that the Packers roster in 2021 won’t be nearly as strong as it was this past year. Of course they predicted the same thing last year – but this year they really, really mean it.

Something to bear in mind: the Packers might soon have an inferior roster compared to what they presently have, but so will lots of their rivals. The Bears, Lions, and Vikings all have cap liabilities – they rank 10th, 11th, and 12th in terms of highest cap space/liability. Some other powerhouses whose roster talent might decline precipitously: the Bills are 19th on this list; the Titans are 20th; the Chiefs are 25th; the Steelers are 27th, the Rams are 30th, and the Saints are dead last.

On the other hand, a number of the league’s perennial cellar dwellers might well take a leap right into the 2021 playoffs.

Next up: a look at current Green Bay players who have the highest “cap hits.”

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. Howard February 3, 2021

    A couple of things to consider when reviewing the projected Packer salary cap. The current salary caps numbers do not include restricted free agents. The Packers will have to make decisions on if they want to offer the restricted free agents contracts. In all cases even the lowest restricted free agent offer would add approximately 2.1 million. There is only one or two players that may get offers. One of those players, I believe will require more than the lowest offer to keep on the Packers roster.
    The restricted free agents are Tim Boyle, Sullivan, Raven Greene, Redmond, and the big one Robert Tonyon. The Packers may offer a low tender to Greene and Sullivan, but the Packers may not be able to afford such. Robert Tonyon is the problem. The Packers in my opinion need to keep Tonyon. So do you offer Tonyon the low tender at approximately 2.1 million with no compensation if another team makes a better offer, or do you offer a second round tender that will cost approximately 3.5 million, and if another team signs Tonyon the Packers get a second round pick, or do the Packers offer a first round tender that will cost about 4.6 million and if another team signs Tonyon the Packers get a first round pick. I think the Packers need to get an extension done with Tonyon as soon as possible if it is reasonable. If another team makes a contract offer to Tonyon the Packers could match that offer, but you can guarantee a team with a lot of cap room is going to make an offer the Packers can’t match.
    The salary caps right now also do not include the proven performance escalator pay increase that is due MVS. MVS has meet the requirements to receive an additional pay of approximately 1.1 to 1.2 million. The Packers have to pay the escalator or release MVS. There is no way the Packers are releasing MVS, so add another 1.1 to 1.2 million to the salary cap amounts mentioned.

    1. PF4L February 3, 2021

      If i can’t get a deal done with Tonyan, then I offer him up as a first round tender for two reasons. Teams will be reluctant to give up a #1 for Tonyan for one year of touchdown production. As i’ve said….one game, even one season…does not make you a great player.
      I don’t have any qualms with paying him 4.6 million based on his 11 TD’s, especially when you consider he was paid $750,000 last season. I give him 4.6 million, shake his hand, and tell him he’s earned it and that he looks good in green and gold.

      1. rebelgb February 4, 2021

        PF4L great post! I agree 100%. I have also heard that he is a favorite in the locker room and believes he can become one of the better TE’s in football. Its worth paying him just for that when you factor in the year he had.

        1. PF4L February 4, 2021

          Good to see you back Rebel.

    2. Robster February 3, 2021

      For any fan who s anal enough to want to know everything about the NFL’s Proven Performance Escalator clause (PPE), you can try: https://frontofficenfl.com/2017/03/27/nfl-rookie-contracts-explained-proven-performance-escalator/ At its very end the article cites eight notable players who earned the PPE in 2020 – one is Aaron Jones, who vastly outperformed his round-five expectations. The article appears, however to exclude Robert Tonyan, as it only applies to those drafted in the 2nd through 7th rounds – undrafted players such as Tonyan are not eligible. However, some of these rules were established in 2018, and Tonyan went undrafted in 2017, so I’m still not sure of his status. By all means though (regardless of PPE), as a “restricted” free agent, Tonyan should be offered a first round tender on that basis. There are many special rules and exceptions, most of which tend to add to a team’s salary cap woes. In Part 2 of this series, I propose one realistic (though painful) way to reduce the Pack’s current salary cap by about $35 million.

      1. PF4L February 3, 2021

        I’m looking forward to reading part 2. I know i don’t want to take the time and brain damage involved of trying to make sense of all of it. But appreciate you doing it for us.
        I look at the box score of the NFCCG and it’s hard to find hero’s. Alexander and MVS, Rodgers (considering the pressure he faced) maybe throw Clark in that mix. The Packers run defense showed up.
        But the Smith Brothers? Aaron Jones? Gary? Barnes and his club had 1 solo tackle (hard to see that coming).
        I mean A. Jones…27 yards rushing…7 yards receiving on 4 catches..2 fumbles? If he’s hurt, give his snaps to Dillon ( i mean…if you drafted him 2nd round…use him.
        Adams 67 yards…almost identical to the first game.
        I would say the MVP could be Rodgers, Alexander, MVS.
        MVS…the teams true enigma had 4 catches for 115 yards, 1 TD.
        MVS will have standout games on an erratic basis and even though his catch rate (52%) is still bottom of the barrel in year 3, he will have good enough games here and there, where he won’t let you get rid of him. That….is an enigma.

        1. Dean February 4, 2021

          I agree PF4L that MVS showed up in the last game. Hopefully year 4 has more consistency for him. I think in Adams 2nd or 3rd year his catch rate was about 58% and people gave up on him too early.
          The thing about MVS is if he catches the pass, it is a first down or touchdown basically — 21 yards per catch.
          The other thing is that most defenses respect his speed (except Tampa) and keeping a safety back for MVS helps other receivers underneath.

          1. PF4L February 4, 2021

            I agree MVS show’s value, and is sometimes a great asset.

            But his problem is twofold…
            1) Poor catch rate

            2) Lack of real improvement over a 3 season period. his catch rate each season….
            1) 52.0
            2) 46.4
            3) 52.3
            So it begs the question, has he plateaued, or does it take more years , or one magical year to improve?
            Having a career 50% catch rate in the NFL isn’t a small detail. Not many players stay in the NFL with that catch rate.
            The next dilemma…if that catch rate doesn’t improve measurably. Is how much is his 2nd contract with. Top QB’s are in the 15-22 million year range. So what do you pay MVS…8, 10, 12 million/year?

          2. PF4L February 4, 2021


          3. Mick February 5, 2021

            This team still has a big need for a dependable #2 WR. MVS can tease us with his speed and ability, but easy drops are too frequent to depend on him to be the starting #2. As you stated, he is an enigma. So, the team sticks to it’s draft and develop philosophy, but at what point do you say he has reached his ceiling. Given his minimal improvement in the catch rate area, in three years; he doesn’t warrant 8 to 12 mil a year.

  2. Ferris February 3, 2021

    P. Smith…gone, Linsley (no d) gone, A Jones gone, R Wagner, I think they can cut Funchess and save a little too. ESB…bye bye.

    1. Mick February 5, 2021

      I agree with you on the above players, and I’ll add King to that list. The guy is constantly injured to some degree, every season. Plus, what happened in the NFCCG before halftime, can’t be ignored. The fact that he turned his back on a speedy receiver, no matter if he had help over the top from a safety, is inexcusable. His tackling is also below par. P. Smith hasn’t been the same as in 2019; and I’ve commented before about ESB. I’ve watched him in college and thought that he dropped way too many passes, mostly easy ones.

  3. Howard February 4, 2021

    Tampa Bay’s current ranking of 7th best salary cap will change in another week. Right now Tampa Bay’s 2021 salary cap totals include only 31 players on the TB 2021 roster. Once TB signs futures contacts, accounts for achieved bonuses, etc. their salary cap will raise at least 10 million or more. The same will occur with the chiefs after the SB. I think the chiefs currently have only 41 players signed for their 2021 roster.

    1. Mick February 5, 2021

      Good point. Unless your team is way under the cap, your team is either in salary cap hell; or, are about to be. Could be worse, look at the Saints.

  4. Dean February 4, 2021

    I hope GB extends a few of contracts to help lower this years cap — #12, #17, #31, #55 would be a good start. Then draft a CB,LT, NT, WR, returner, RB and still sign a free agent or two that is let go by someone else.

  5. Royce February 4, 2021

    Offer up Z Smith for a ham sandwich. Overpaid player

  6. PF4L February 5, 2021

    Excellent article Rob. Looking at reality with league oversight. Straight between the eye’s. The only way it should ever be.
    It’s a time consuming thankless job Rob, i don’t have to tell you. But know, it’s appreciated.
    Keep standing on that wall brother..