Packers 2023 NFL Trade Deadline Primer: Buy or Sell?

Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst talks on the phone during practice on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 in Ashwaubenon, Wis.Gpg Packerspractice 091218 Abw158
Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst talks on the phone during practice on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 in Ashwaubenon, Wis.Gpg Packerspractice 091218 Abw158 /

In a fitting fashion, the NFL trade deadline is set for 3:00 CST on Halloween. Here is what you need to know about the upcoming trade deadline and what it means for the Green Bay Packers.

Notoriously, the Packers name is thrown around often at the trade deadline but nothing ever truly materializes. GM Brian Gutekunst makes it a goal to be in on every conversation, and if that’s the case this year, at 2-5 it may include him fielding calls about members of this Packers team rather than making the outbound call to check in elsewhere.

Regardless of what the Packers decide to do – if anything – at today’s deadline, here is everything you need to know to prepare for all outcomes.

Who could the Packers realistically trade away?

When it comes to who the Packers could part with at the trade deadline, a player has to check one of these four boxes:

– A veteran in the final year of their contract.

– A veteran who would provide salary cap relief if the Packers were to move on from them.

– A veteran who won’t be a part of the team in 2025 and beyond when the Packers may have the opportunity to compete once again.

– A position of depth for Green Bay.

In regards to the second point, unfortunately, because the Packers have restructured so many contracts over the last few offseasons and pushed cap charges into future years, they have little financial flexibility to gain at the trade deadline. As salary cap guru Ken Ingalls noted in a recent article with Packers Central, there are just seven players on the entire team who, if traded away, would create even a million dollars in cap space for Green Bay in 2023, with none of the individuals clearing much more than that amount.

Preston Smith: Smith is still under contract through 2026, but at 31 years old, if the Packers want to maximize what they get in return for him, now is the time to make a move. Smith has 18 pressures and four sacks this season, along with being one of Green Bay’s more consistent run defenders. This is also a position that the Packers have invested in over the years by drafting Lukas Van Ness in Round 1, JJ Enagbare in the 2022 draft, and having just signed Rashan Gary to an extension. They also have UDFA Brenton Cox as well, who flashed upside this summer. With that said, moving on from Smith saves just over $1 million in 2023 and only $2.5 million in 2024. As I said, there is little financial gain with any of these moves.

De’Vondre Campbell: Campbell is still under contract through the 2026 season and comes with cap hits of at least $12 million over each of the next three seasons. Given the current state of the Packers and that Campbell is 30 years old, perhaps the team uses this as a reason to try to sell high on him. That would still leave them with Quay Walker, along with Isaiah McDuffie, who has held his own when called upon.

Yosh Nijman: Given that Nijman now appears to be competing with Rasheed Walker this week for the starting left tackle role, the Packers may be less willing to part with him. Finding some sort of consistency on offense begins with better play from the offensive line. However, before Sunday’s game against Minnesota, it didn’t look like Nijman was going to see the field at all this season. Nijman is in the final year of his contract, and at least up to this point in the season, doesn’t appear to be a part of the Packers’ future plans.

Jon Runyan: This is also the final year of Runyan’s rookie deal, and he is having a rough go of it. While Josh Myers takes a lot of heat from fans, Runyan may be struggling the most. Similarly to Nijman, if the Packers don’t plan on re-signing Runyan in the offseason and can get something in return, they might be willing to move on from him. In his place, Green Bay would either have to start Royce Newman or finally give Sean Rhyan an opportunity.

Keisean Nixon: The Packers signed Nixon to a one-year deal in the offseason. With Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, Rasul Douglas, and Carrington Valentine all under contract beyond 2023, if Nixon doesn’t fit into the Packers’ future plans, they could feel comfortable enough with the depth at this position to try and get something in return.

Rasul Douglas: 2024 is the final year of Douglas’ deal. In all likelihood, at least based on what we’ve seen up to this point in the season, this is not a Packers team that will be competing at that time either. So, again, if cap space can be created and draft capital can be gained for a player who may not be a part of the 2025 and beyond plans, it could be worth Brian Gutekunst’s time to listen to offers. Trading Douglas creates little cap space in 2023 but does create $5.1 million in 2024–although that can be recognized at any point in the upcoming offseason. A trade doesn’t have to take place today to have that space created.

Packers salary cap situation

According to Over the Cap, the Packers have $7.5 million in available cap space at the moment, which doesn’t include the extension for Rashan Gary that will reduce that figure by around $1 million. If they were to acquire a player, they have some wiggle room, but also can’t absorb a huge contract by any means unless they plan to then sign that player to an extension, which would lower his 2023 salary cap.

It’s also important to keep in mind that even though Green Bay may have roughly $6.5 million in available cap space that isn’t what they actually are able to spend. There are still future in-season expenses, such as practice squad elevations, that will occur. With it being roughly the halfway point in the season, the cap hit for any contract the Packers take on would be prorated.

Looking ahead to 2024, Aaron Rodgers’ contract will be off the books at that time, and Green Bay will have additional financial flexibility, but they still won’t be in a great position in comparison to the rest of the NFL. As of now, they are projected to have $17.6 million in available cap space next offseason (before any potential trades, restructures, or roster cuts at that time), which ranks 20th in the NFL.

Why would the Packers still be buyers?

There’s really no reason to justify the Packers being buyers, given that they are 2-5 and in the midst of at least a two-year turnaround period as they try to get their salary cap back in order and develop their young talent. However, if they were to be interested in acquiring someone, help on the offensive side of the ball would be where they go.

Adding an interior offensive lineman to compete with Runyan or Myers in an effort to bolster the play of that unit would be an area to upgrade. As I’ve already mentioned, without consistent offensive line play, this young offense is going to struggle. It’s also been reported by Jay Glazer that the Packers are still monitoring the running back market–although I’m not sure how much of an impact an addition there would have with how poor the blocking up front has been.

Lastly, adding a veteran receiver to the mix could help provide some stability for Jordan Love. While Love certainly has areas to improve upon, his receivers are providing him little help right now by dropping passes, failing to make contested catches, and too often running the wrong routes. I imagine it’s been difficult for the Packers to truly evaluate Love, given all the chaos going on around him.

With that said, sinking future resources into a lost season is not a prudent move, and to a degree, could be a sign of desperation from Gutekunst and Co. who may feel the pressure to right the ship as much as possible in the moment. This line of thinking can result in a more narrow vision, with the long-term outlook taking a back seat—not something that should happen for a team not ready to compete.

Why would the Packers be sellers?

At 2-5, with not even the slightest glimpse of things being able to be turned around, moving on from veteran players who don’t fit into the Packers’ future plans could be the prudent move for the Packers. Doing so will provide them with additional draft capital to help facilitate the rebuild or whatever term you want to use to describe what the team is going through right now.

We don’t see a lot of player-for-player trades happen in the NFL, but I think that could be a prime opportunity for the Packers. This is a team that has had 20-plus draft picks over the last two offseason. They don’t really need another developmental Day 3 pick on their roster–there are already a lot of those. But if Green Bay could get in return a player who is still on their inexpensive rookie deal and comes with some team control, that may be more impactful for the Packers than a future fifth-round pick, given the current state of the roster.

An example that Andy Herman of the Pack-A-Day podcast brought up in a recent discussion we had was Jets’ running back Michael Carter, who is under contract through 2024, doesn’t appear to be a part of New York’s current or future plans, and it’s a position of future need for Green Bay.

The verdict: What will happen?

What I hope happens, and also what I would guess happens, is that the Packers stand pat, and there are three primary reasons why.

The first is that there is little financial gain for the Packers. Nothing from a salary cap standpoint can be accomplished at this year’s trade deadline that will drastically affect how the team goes about business next offseason.

The second reason being that this season is all about evaluating Love, and as alluded to, that’s a really difficult task at the moment with everything breaking down around him. Trading away a key player makes this team worse and makes it harder to evaluate Love. Even if a defender is traded away, a worse defense likely gives up more points, which means the offense is playing from behind even more. This limits their ability to lean on the run game, gets the offense out of its game plan, something these young players have struggled with, and puts Love in more predictable passing situations. If the defense becomes worse, that only makes Love’s job more difficult.

Lastly, and as previously mentioned, this team doesn’t need another Day 3 pick, which is what I believe they would get in return for any of the players that they could potentially trade away. Green Bay needs impact players right now to help Love. Another fifth-round pick that needs time to develop doesn’t accomplish that.

It truly is a difficult situation to be in, but where the Packers currently stand is their reality. They just need to make the best out of the situation they have, which means not selling at the deadline, and of course, parting with future resources doesn’t make any sense either.