The Green Bay Packers spent most of this offseason trying to work their way under the shrunken salary cap. With no fans in the stands for a large portion of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, this led to the salary cap plummeting from $198.2 million to $182.5 million.
In order for the Packers to get under that cap figure while still being able to re-sign players like Aaron Jones, Kevin King, Robert Tonyan, Chandon Sullivan, and several others, it required pay cuts from Devin Funchess and Preston Smith, as well as numerous contract restructures.
Restructuring a player’s contract is a nice way to create some immediate cap relief, but that cap space doesn’t just disappear; rather, it’s pushed into future years. You’ll oftentimes hear the phrase “kicking the can” when discussing contract restructures. In fact, according to salary cap guru Ken Ingalls, the Green Bay Packers have “kicked” $34.8 million worth of cap charges into future years, and $19.3 million of that total amount will be recognized in 2022.
Even with the salary cap set to increase next offseason, the Green Bay Packers are still going to be in store for a very challenging offseason from a financial perspective.
As of Wednesday, the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to a salary cap ceiling of $208.2 million, which is about $5 million more than what Over the Cap was projecting–so that’s a positive if it gets to that level.
While $5 million isn’t a massive amount in this situation — and again, $208.2 is the ceiling, there is no guarantee it gets that high — when it comes to the Green Bay Packers, every little bit helps, but once again, they are going to be faced with a number of difficult decisions.
With the $208.2 million figure as the benchmark, Over the Cap still has the Packers $29.12 million over the salary cap next offseason. And as we’ve talked about before, that doesn’t take into account additional expenses such as the final two roster spots, the practice squad, signing the draft class, any in-season spending, or any money spent in free agency. With those additional costs baked in, Ken has the Packers at about $50.7 million over the projected salary cap–yikes.
It’s also worth pointing out that if the Packers are planning to bring back Davante Adams, these figures also don’t include the massive deal he will receive. Or what if Aaron Rodgers does receive an extension, how does that affect the salary cap in 2022?
During his pre-draft visit with reporters, GM Brian Gutekunst stressed on a few occasions how important it was to navigate these 2021 and 2022 offseasons carefully, given the cap restrictions.
“It’s very important for us to work through the next two years to get this salary cap thing right,” Gutekunst said via Packers Wire. He would later add, “we’re going to be in the same situation next year as we are this year, we’re trying to push more money to field our team. We had to do a lot of things to bring guys back this year. We’ll have to do that again.”
The added wrinkle in all of this is that the Green Bay Packers are still trying to compete for a Super Bowl. Sure, they could have made additional cuts or not brought back Aaron Jones, for example, which all would have helped their cap situation in 2021 and 2022, but Gutey and Co. are trying to balance winning as well. In a way, this offseason was the Packers’ version of going all in.
As we saw this offseason, there are of course a few ways for the Packers to create cap space through veteran cuts, contract extensions and restructures, along with pay cuts. But if you’re hope was that the 2022 offseason would be different than 2021, it’s likely not going to be. To get under the salary cap, that’ll potentially be increasing by as much as $26 million, it is still going to require more financial gymnastics from Gutey and Russ Ball.
If there is a light at the end of this dark salary cap tunnel, it’ll hopefully come in 2023 when the cap is expected to sky-rocket with the league’s new TV deal kicking in. However, until then, expect a very cap conscious Green Bay Packers team.