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Salary Caps, Part Four: Can Restructuring Save the Day for Green Bay?

In my most recent post, I mentioned early on that the Packers have “more top talent than we can afford.” I wasn’t exaggerating.

Back in 2017, I did a post titled “Have the Vikings Over-Invested in their Defense?“ At that time I prophesized:

“So, I’m willing to concede the Vikings have a lot of stars, primarily defensive ones. The problem is: they have too many of them, and this house of cards is soon going to come falling down in the next year or two – just like it has in Seattle.”

Sure enough, all those Viking stars were soon spread around the league, and 2017 was the last time the Vikes won the NFC North. The Packers are facing a similar dilemma: they have, almost all of a sudden, assembled an imposing group of fine top-tier players. Restructuring contracts might be Green Bay’s salvation – or it could plague the Packers for years to come.

Green Bay Packers defensive tackle David Bakhtiari (69) blocks Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dawuane Smoot (94)) as quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) looks to pass Sunday, November 15, 2020, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

The Restructuring Option

Restructuring contracts applies only to those with large multi-year deals. Typically, a team gets a player to renegotiate his pay deal by spreading around a huge signing bonus (or a guarantee?) over the length of the contract, thereby reducing the team’s salary cap for the current year. The Packers had restructuring in mind when they wrote up the contracts for the Smiths, Amos, and Turner.

Green Bay just concluded their first such deal of 2021, whereby David Bakhtiari agreed to have his signing bonus of $30M spread over the four years of his humongous $92M deal. In David’s case, it’s reported that his $11M roster bonus has been converted to a signing bonus – making his cap hit under $11M and saving more than $8M in salary cap money in 2021.

The Packers would undoubtedly like to do more such deals – enough to erase all of their remaining salary cap deficit. It will likely take three more such maneuvers to get there, with the most likely candidates being Aaron Rodgers, Za’darius Smith, Adrian Amos, Billy Turner, and Kenny Clark.

Plus, the NFL recently issued a memo saying the 2021 salary cap will be a minimum of $180M, which is a small increase over what most people were forecasting, though it would still be a decrease from 2020, when the salary cap was $198.2M. Still, it’s good news for the Packers and the many other clubs who currently are projected to have a salary cap deficit.

I’m not so sure that most players would be amenable to such financial juggling. Some players might already have big investment strategies underway, or are about to close on their mega-house or yacht. Rodgers, however, previously has shown his willingness to help his team out financially, when he restructured his contract in December 2019.

GM Brian Gutekunst spoke to the restructuring issue on February 3:

“We’ve done that in the past, we’re going to have to do that this year, for sure. The situation that our football team is in now, I think we have one goal in mind. And if there’s an opportunity to take some risks to help us win now, we’re certainly in that mode. . .Obviously, with this year’s situation, I think most teams are going to be kicking money out to try to keep their teams together, and we certainly will be no different.”

Of course restructuring has a sizable downside. While it would ease the stress on the current year’s cap, it commits more money to future caps.

Too Many Stars?

This last point brings me back around to the notion that having an abundance of talented players can be as much a curse as it is a blessing.

The Packers currently stand to have big cap hits, beyond 2021, on these stars: Rodgers (contracted through 2023); Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner (all contracted through 2022).

But these aren’t the only “stars” on the current roster. Davante Adams’ 4-year $58M deal ends after 2021. Corey Lindsley’s modest deal is ending in less than a month. I’m assuming that Preston Smith is about to be released outright, and it’s likely that Lindsley will be joining up with another team.

In Smith’s case, wherever he goes, he’s going to experience a big drop in salary. Why haven’t the Packers already announced his release? It could be they are negotiating to keep him but at a greatly reduced salary – which would result in a significant salary cap savings, though not as great as would an outright release.

A quick thought on Aaron Jones. Given the league’s recent announcement that the salary cap floor has been moved up a bit, the chances that Jones will stay with the team increase ever so slightly.

In my mind, however, the worry over losing Jones is not due solely to financial reasons. In four years, Green Bay never utilized him as if he were one of the league’s premier running backs. How a team can so under-value a guy like Jones, and Jordy Nelson before him, will forever remain a mystery to me. I frankly don’t know why Jones would want to stay with Green Bay – that’s a question I wish someone at those press conferences would ask Matt LaFleur.

Even with all that’s been said above, the Packers have no shortage of emerging or future stars. Elgton Jenkins will become a rich man when his rookie contract expires after the 2022 season. I believe that Robert Tonyan will also join that club in 2022.

Three Green Bay players, being first-round draft choices, are subject to the NFL’s (complicated) fifth-year option policy. Jaire Alexander won’t be a UFA until 2023. Budding stars Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage won’t become UFAs until 2024. It’s going to require mucho dinero to retain this threesome long term.

Am I putting too much faith in guys like Savage and Gary? I don’t think so, because they are guys with high ceilings – which is just another way of saying they have exceptional athleticism. And you can include A.J. Dillon in this category.

I foresee two members of the 2020 draft class also becoming NFL stars by the time they reach free agency in 2024: Dillon and TE Josiah Deguara. Will we still be kicking the restructuring can down the road in 2023 and 2024? It’s a habit that becomes hard to break. Yes, the Packers are likely to be facing salary cap crises for the next several years.

It’s undeniable: restructuring a contract amounts to delaying a financial problem rather than solving it. However, with good drafts in 2021 sand 2022 – and by that I mean having a couple of draft choices quickly becoming starters in each year (unlike in 2020) – the Packers might just be able to continue to put an impressive number of stars onto the field over the next four years. Packer fans should have plenty of reasons to remain excited about their players, and the team’s prospects for several years to come.

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Rob Born

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

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22 Comments

  1. PF4L February 23, 2021

    I believe back in 2017-2018 the Queens needed to get a grip on the salary cap. they were able to re-sign Barr, but that’s about it. I think Hunter was signed to a big deal the year before, but i’m not 100% and i don’t care enough to look it up.
    .
    I think i have a different idea defining a “star” player, and i’m damn well sure i have a different idea of proclaiming future stars.
    .
    I’m going to wait on 3rd round tweaner Dequara awhile before i forecast him a star.
    Maybe when he catches more than 1 NFL pass and is available to play in more than 2 games.
    I know…i know…call me crazy!!
    .
    When i see Dillion being a consistent producer when he’s the defense’s #1 target against the run, and he proves he can be a 3 down back, then we’ll see.
    .
    But Rob is right, we do have stars…Rodgers, Bakhtiari, Adams, Z Smith, Alexander. I can call Clark a good player, but not a star…although i give him credit for about the only defensive player to make a play against T B. last Jan, sans the interceptions.
    Gary and the Smith Bros were largely AWOL.
    .
    Which brings me to Gary…i have to see Gary be a starter with 700+ snaps before i crown him a potential star in the making.
    Gary could make his bones rushing the passer possibly, but he needs to stop being a step and half too late, too often. I’d like to see him shed blocks and use that speed more effectively.
    Not many players earn the status of “star” player, coming off the bench. It’s his 3rd season coming up…is it about time to start the 12th overall pick and see what he has to offer….or is it too soon…Gute?
    .
    I’m not claiming Jones a star, or Lindsley simply because they are as good as gone.
    Caveat: I guess they could keep Jones if they tag him. I just find it hard to believe you draft a RB at #2 unless you planned on letting Jones walk.
    But then again, wtf do i know, i stopped trying to understand Gute.
    One thing i do know for damn sure…if you lose Jones and Williams, at the same time, your running back talent, just regressed, no matter how good anyone thinks Dillon is.
    .
    Preston had some sacks but otherwise we wouldn’t know he was playing. That isn’t a star.
    But i wish him well with his new team taking about a 35 – 40% pay cut
    .
    Cam Newton on playing in 2021 “I can’t go out like that….There is not 32 guys better than me”
    Cam is correct, there are only 31 guys better than him.
    .
    This turned into a novel (sorry), more on D. Adams situation later.

    Reply
    1. Jgando12 February 23, 2021

      Classic.

      Reply
  2. Howard February 23, 2021

    Tonyan is going to become richer this year, not next year. The question is are the Packers going to be the team to make Tonyan richer. The Packers have five choices with RFA,Tonyan this off season. Do not make a restricted free agent offer, or make Tonyan and original round offer UDA. In both cases other teams are going to make Tonyan offers he can’t refuse. The Packers can offer Tonyan a 2nd round (3.27 mil.) or first round (4.6 mil.) tender. Other teams can make offers to Tonyan and the Packers can match those offers. You can guess the offers (if they want Tonyan) by other teams may have some terms the Packers can’t or won’t match. If the Packers don’t match those offers the Packers could receive a first or second round pick for Tonyan. The last thing the Packers could do is try to sign Tonyan to a long term contract before free agency starts. Tonyan is going to make more money this off season. The only questions are how much more money and by what team?
    .
    Jenkins is going to be at least 2 million richer next off season. In the new CBA, second round picks can receive a Proven Performance Escalator. Prior to the current CBA only 3-7 round picks could earn PPE pay increases in their 4th year. Part of the formula to receive a PPE pay increase is to be an original Pro bowl selection. Jenkins was a pro bowl original selection this year . Jenkins will receive a pay increase to the amount of a second round RFA at approximately 3.278 million next year. That is about a 2 million dollar base pay increase for Jenkins next year.

    Reply
    1. PF4L February 23, 2021

      I wrote about this previously.
      Howard…Can’t they designate Tonyan an exclusive franchise tag, pay him 4.6 million, and other teams can’t negotiate with him?

      Reply
      1. PF4L February 23, 2021

        I might have confused myself.
        .
        I might be thinking about putting that tag on Jones.
        He would 8.1 million and can’t negotiate with other teams?
        Maybe i’m thinking non exclusive tag, but he can negotiate, but the team that signs him owes us two 1st round picks.
        .
        HELP!

        Reply
  3. Howard February 23, 2021

    I think the Packers only have the five options I listed for Tonyan as Tonyan is a restricted free agent and not an unrestricted free agent. The franchise tags exclusive and non-exclusive, or the transition tag are reserved for unrestricted free agents.

    Reply
    1. Howard February 23, 2021

      Well shit that did not go where I expected. I believe you are correct PF4L, the Packers could use the non-exclusive on Jones and could receive 2 first round picks if signed by another team.

      Reply
  4. PF4L February 24, 2021

    If the Packers don’t tag Jones an EFA, and i don’t know why they wouldn’t.
    .
    I’m tagging Tonyan a first round tender for 4.7 mill.
    If we lose him, we get a first round pick.
    If we keep him, all is good, he earned that money.

    Reply
    1. Howard February 24, 2021

      O.K. Now the comments reappear. One of the problems, and it is a big problem for the Packers is once you tender the offers to Tonyan and/or Jones the values associated with those offers go against the salary cap immediately even if the player does not sign the offer. With the Packers being well over the cap more needs to be done salary cap wise than just converting some of the 2021 roster bonuses to signing bonuses, or cutting/trading P.Smith, and cutting Lowry.
      .
      You are correct in bringing up Davante. To me to get everything done, and be “all in” at least one and probably two players need to have contract extensions finalized soon.

      Reply
      1. PF4L February 24, 2021

        I hear that…but i think what Jones brings to this team is a bargain at 8.1 mill. With no big signing bonus, no other guaranteed money. He’s earned it…pay him.
        We don’t have that many bites at the apple my friend…Tick Tock, Tick Tock.
        Not you….but some people (including Gute) don’t realize how soon this window will close….it doesn’t go on forever.
        When you have guns like that….put some bullets in the chamber.
        Some of us…..would like to see the Packers try to win something before he’s gone. No offence Gute.
        .
        Plus….Jones , has outperformed his contract and then some, and then some. Fuck, we owe him that cash, much like we owe Tonyan.
        The Packers can pay Graham over 22 million for 5 TD’s?
        But they pay Tonyan $750,000 for 11 TD’s?
        Excuse me….but F that. Pay the man
        .
        “We take care of our own….chuckle” – Mark Murphy

        Reply
  5. Howard February 24, 2021

    Ah, Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a Main B Bus Undervolt.
    .
    Most of the comments disappeared?

    Reply
  6. Mick February 24, 2021

    I read somewhere that the Packers could save more against the cap if they wait until June 1st before releasing P. Smith.. Another scenario would be if they found a trade partner for him; which is something the Pack rarely does. I don’t know about how the June 1st thing works, maybe someone can fill in the gaps.

    Reply
    1. Howard February 24, 2021

      I have wrote about the post June cuts a few times. The Packers do not have to wait until June1 to make a June 1 cut. The Packers could cut P. Smith today and designate it a June 1 cut. You can only designate 2 players each year as post June 1 cuts. In addition you can do the same when trading a player. The team can designate a trade as a post June 1 trade even if it occurs prior to June 1.
      .
      In the case of P. Smith. If the Packers designated him as a post June1 cut or trade the team could then divide his dead cap hit over a two year period. In the case of P. Smith his dead cap hit would be 8 million because of his signing bonus or guaranteed money. So the Packers would be able to disperse half of his dead cap hit (4 mil) into 2022. So if the Packers cut P. Smith this year they would save this years salary 8 mil. and half of his dead cap/signing bonus money of 4 million, thus resulting in a 12 million dollars savings this year.
      .
      One problem with using a post June 1 designation is the team can not use the dead cap savings for 2021 (4 mil.) until after June 1. So those dollars would not help in signing free agents before June1 2021. It would help in signing draft picks and free agents after June 1, 2021.

      Reply
      1. Mick February 24, 2021

        Interesting! Thanks Howard!

        Reply
        1. PF4L February 24, 2021

          Mick….in past years, for the Packers to find trade partners, they have to have players other teams feel are worth trading for.
          I think back to some players the Packers had big dreams for, paid them big money. Some of which after the Packers released them, are either out of the league, or barely hanging on somewhere.
          .
          Here’s a success story (post Hyde)…
          Mike Daniels..2019…Detroit paid him almost 8 million. For that he gave them 6 solo tackles and 1 sack and a lot of zero’s.
          Mike Daniels…2020…Bengals signed him for 1 million. For that he gave them 7 solo tackles and a lot of zero’s.
          .
          Nick Perry…..March 13th – present….Chillin on 40 million.

          Reply
          1. PF4L February 24, 2021

            *2019

            Reply
  7. KILLER February 24, 2021

    Having too many good players is not a thing and having too many good players is not a “house of cards”. It is good drafting and good coaching, that is what it is.

    Yes, choices need to be made. Of course. Like on all teams. But having too many good players is not an actual “problem”.

    The Vikings’ defense did regress this past year. What happened? Age for the most part. Age is what happened with Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, and Linval Joseph. Three great players but age happens to everyone. Then, additionally, major injury bad luck happened to Anthony Barr and Daneille Hunter and Mike Hughes. Less so for Eric Kendricks. Well, there you go, 6 pro bowl (Joseph, Hunter, Griffen) or 1st round players (Hughes) or both (Barr and Rhodes) lost and, of course, the D regressed.

    The money house of cards thing only impacted Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. Well, Waynes was injured all last year anyway and Alexander played at a mediocre level once he left the excellent coaching and great scheme of the Vikings’ D. The Vikings had money to sign Michael Pierce but the pandemic caused him to sit out.

    All teams have turnover. All teams WANT talent and WANT to develop talent. Succeeding in acquiring talent and developing talent, as the Vikings have done, is not “too many” or a “house of cards”. Failing to develop talent or overpaying free agents IS a house of cards. Those last two seem much more applicable to the Packers this coming season than to the Vikings.

    In the twisted mind of Rob Born, the Vikings success at acquiring and coaching defensive players is a failure. Of course, had the Packers had that same success, he would rush to label it a success or, at the least, as a “good problem to have”.

    Here, I’ll be Rob Born:

    “The Vikings drafted CB Cameron Dantzler in Round 3 last year. Dantzler went on to be the #2 DB among rookies in the NFL last year, just barely missing #1 (Sneed). In his 1st year, with little pass rush helping him, he outperformed the Packers top pick Kevin King in ALL of King’s first 4 years in the NFL. Well, obviously, the Vikings messed up by drafting Dantzler. Oh boy, are they going to regret it! Look at the wise Packers getting a subpar player. The Packers have a shot at resigning him that way! We can see this fantastic strategy in wise Gute the Bad drafting a 3rd string QB in RD 1 last year and a 3rd string RB in Rd 2. Hey, Gute even wisely traded up and got rid of a draft pick in order to get Jordan Love! So smart! That draft pick, had the player worked out, may have cost the team money years form now. Can’t have that!”

    Reply
    1. PF4L February 24, 2021

      Pssttt… Princess….We don’t care.
      .
      You can be the Easter Bunny, and we still won’t care.

      Reply
  8. PF4L February 24, 2021

    In other news……
    .
    Whether you are a golf fan or not, Tiger Woods is an icon in sports, MJ level.
    I respect what he’s meant, and what he’s done in the annals of his sport.
    He’s an icon in the world, off and on the course, and for all his faults, he’s done a lot of good for a lot of people.
    .
    I’m a fan of his on the field, and his accomplishments.
    Although he’s done some things i don’t (didn’t) respect.
    .
    He was careless yesterday morning, and he’s going to pay a high price.
    Multiple surgeries, possible complications, not to mention months or years of rehab.
    He’ll need someone to do things for him everyday, i’m sure you can imagine.
    .
    I thought i had it rough, but i wouldn’t change places with him for anything.
    He has a tough and painful road he has to go down.
    .
    Godspeed to you brother, your family, your children.

    Reply
  9. joefan February 28, 2021

    It’s weird Gutekunst would decide to be more aggressive this year. 2019 and 2020 were the years to be aggressive, which they were in 2019, but they followed that up with a strange 2020 offseason. I say those years were the time for aggressiveness due to still having the offensive line with Linsley and Jones at running back. It doesn’t make sense to now say they’re going to be aggressive after losing two good players. Because now they will have to make up for those losses just to get back to where they were last year and then do more on top of that to compete with the rest of the NFL.

    Reply
    1. PF4L March 1, 2021

      ^^EXACTLY^^

      They were aggressive in 2019, except for Gary. That was anything but aggressive. But yu can’t bitch too much getting 2 quality starters.
      .
      Obviously Joefan knows what he’s talking about concerning the 2020 draft.
      .
      It’s my opinion that he wasn’t aggressive in 2020 because he had other plans. A reasonable mind couldn’t come to the conclusion that in 2020, Gute was “going for it”.
      .
      But now…..Rodgers, LaFleur and company threw a wrench in Gutes plan by lighting up the league offensively last season.
      His change of heart, (if he has one) could also have been brought on with the realization of the work and time needed to
      to develop Jordan Love.

      Also maybe Gutes player talent assessment skills finally made him realize after 4 years that Kevin King is more of hinderance than an asset to winning football games.
      .
      Good post Joe…you can also add Wagner to those departures, plus there probably is more to come.

      Reply
      1. Mick March 1, 2021

        Good points; not only the fact King is a hinderance; but how he has handled the entire 2020 draft is way beyond a brain fart. Put it this way, those kind of moves won’t get your name on the wall of fame; instead he’s a candidate to have his name on the turd wall.

        Reply

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