GREEN BAY, Wis. – With some high-profile players headed to free agency and a $50 million hole in the salary cap, the Green Bay Packers figure to be a much, much different outfit when they hit the grass for organized team activities in May.
Six players who started in Saturday night’s playoff loss to the 49ers, including All-Pro receiver Davante Adams and All-Pro linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. That list does not include potential cap-saving cuts, such as receiver Randall Cobb, or restricted free agents, such as receiver Allen Lazard.
The team must be below the cap at the start of the league-year on March 16.
“I’m confident that we’ll all work together to try to get as many guys back as humanly possible,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Monday. “I’ve had a lot of success with these guys and they brought a lot to this team. But I also realize that there’s going to be some tough decisions, just like there is every year. And you’ve got to find a way to make some of those tough decisions and try to supplement it in other fashions via the draft or other players that might be out there.”
Here’s a look at the Packers’ depth charts. These are based on the depth chart posted at Packers.com, and we sprinkled in players returning from injured reserve. Players who will be unrestricted free agents have been crossed out.
(“IR” notes players who ended the season on injured reserve. “PS” notes players who finished the season on the practice squad and have been given a futures contract. “F” notes players not with the team at the end of the season but were given a futures contract. Restricted free agents (three years of experience) and exclusive rights free agents (two or fewer years) are not crossed out because the Packers possesses contractual control over those players.)
Quarterback Depth Chart
Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love, Kurt Benkert (PS), Danny Etling (F).
So long as Rodgers returns – and the Packers say they want him back – then the top of the depth chart is set. If Rodgers returns, will the Packers keep Love and can Benkert hold off Etling?
Running Back Depth Chart
Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, Kylin Hill (IR), Patrick Taylor.
The Packers will have Jones and Dillon for at least the 2022 season. Jones’ cap number for 2022 is $9.75 million but there are no cap savings from releasing him and moving forward with Dillon as the undisputed No. 1 back. If Aaron Rodgers doesn't return, it will be up to these two to carry the offense. Literally.
Receiver Depth Charts
Davante Adams, Equanimeous St. Brown, Juwann Winfree.
WR 2: Allen Lazard,
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Malik Taylor (IR), Chris Blair (PS).
Slot: Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers, Rico Gafford (F).
Adams will be the best player in free agency – assuming the Packers let him get to free agency. They could use the franchise tag, which is incredibly expensive at about $20 million, though that could be a place-holder for a long-term extension if the Packers officially hitch their wagon to Rodgers for the long haul.
Valdes-Scantling had a quiet season due to injuries but is a proven big-play threat and could be priced out of Green Bay. Lazard will be a restricted free agent. His gritty skill-set might be valued more by the Packers than other teams.
Cobb is under contract through 2022 but with a cap charge of about $9.6 million. The Packers could move on and create more than $6.8 million of cap space. That would not be a popular move in Rodgers' eyes; then again, Rodgers threw him only one pass on Saturday night.
Offensive Line Depth Charts
LT: David Bakhtiari, Yosh Nijman.
LG: Elgton Jenkins (IR), Jon Runyan.
C: Josh Myers, Jake Hanson, Michal Menet (PS).
Lucas Patrick, Royce Newman.
RT: Billy Turner,
Dennis Kelly, Cole Van Lanen (PS).
In a perfect world, maybe the Packers could let Patrick and Kelly walk, save $3.4 million by releasing Turner, and line up with a five-man group of Bakhtiari, Jenkins, Myers, Runyan/Newman and Nijman. But if this year taught you anything, it’s that depth on the offensive line is vital.
Tight End Depth Charts
Robert Tonyan (IR), Josiah Deguara, Tyler Davis.
TE 2: Marcedes Lewis, Dominque Dafney.
Coming off a breakout season of 11 touchdowns in 2020, few people in the NFL lost as much money in 2021 as Tonyan due to his midseason ACL tear. Maybe he’ll be ready sometime in training camp, but will he be the same downfield threat? The beloved Lewis, whose fumble turned the tide on Saturday, is under contract for 2022 with a cap charge of about $4.5 million. They could release him and save $2.4 million but who’d block?
Defensive Line Depth Charts
DE: Dean Lowry.
NT: Kenny Clark, TJ Slaton.
Tyler Lancaster, Jack Heflin (F).
Lancaster’s been a reliable meat-and-potatoes run defender. Will his last key play be the blocked field goal that he allowed? With the late-season release of Kingsley Keke and the decisions to not retain practice-squad players Abdullah Anderson and RJ McIntosh, the Packers are incredibly thin on the defensive line. And that’s with Lowry on the roster at a cap charge of $8 million (potential savings of $4 million). D-line and receiver will need multiple additions in the draft.
Outside Linebacker Depth Charts
OLB: Preston Smith,
Whitney Mercilus, Tipa Galeai, Randy Ramsey (IR).
OLB: Rashan Gary, Za’Darius Smith, Jonathan Garvin, Chauncey Rivers (IR), La’Darius Hamilton (PS).
The Texans dumped Mercilus to escape the rest of a four-year, $54 million contract. The Packers paid him the league minimum. He’ll turn 32 before camp. The big question is what the Packers will do with The Smith Bros. With a cap charge of almost $27.7 million, the Packers could save $15.3 million by releasing Za’Darius Smith. With a cap charge of $19.75 million, the Packers could save $12.5 million by releasing Preston Smith. The former seems much more likely than the latter. Preston Smith had a big-time bounce-back season and formed an excellent tandem with Gary. An extension would take the sting out of his cap charge.
Inside Linebacker Depth Charts
ILB: Krys Barnes,
Oren Burks, Ray Wilborn (PS).
De’Vondre Campbell, Ty Summers (IR), Isaiah McDuffie.
Campbell joined the Packers in June with a one-year contract worth $2 million. He figures to earn an annual salary of five times that much as a free agent following an All-Pro season in which he was a dominant, game-changing player on the field and a popular player in the locker room. The good news is he was a field-tilting player. The bad news is he’s probably priced himself out of Green Bay. If that’s the case, it would create a giant hole in the middle of the defense.
Cornerback Depth Charts
Rasul Douglas, Kevin King, Kiondre Thomas (F).
Slot: Jaire Alexander,
Chandon Sullivan, Shemar Jean-Charles.
CB 2: Eric Stokes, Kabion Ento (PS).
Did any player in the league earn a bigger raise than linebacker De’Vondre Campbell? Perhaps it’s Douglas, who was signed off Arizona’s practice squad in October. The good news is he saved the defense following Alexander’s shoulder injury. The bad news is he probably earned a lucrative contract somewhere else. The undervalued Sullivan played the fifth-most snaps on the defense. In five seasons, King played 40 percent of the snaps in just two of his five seasons.
If the Packers can somehow keep Douglas, a three-man corner group of Douglas and Stokes on the perimeter and Alexander in the slot would about as good as it gets in the NFL.
Safety Depth Charts
SS: Adrian Amos, Vernon Scott, Shawn Davis.
FS: Darnell Savage, Henry Black, Innis Gaines (PS).
Safety is the only position without a scheduled free agent, though the rock-solid and supremely reliable Amos could be a cap-saving cut just because the team has to find the money somewhere. With a cap charge of almost $12 million, moving on would save about $4.7 million against the cap.
Special Teams Depth Charts
K: Mason Crosby, JJ Molson (PS).
LS: Steven Wirtel.
Bojorquez has a lot of talent but consistency and holding on kicks were issues. Crosby is under contract through 2022 and is coming off a dismal season – not all his fault – and will turn 38 just before the start of the season. The Packers would save $2.4 million against the cap by creating a kicking competition for the rocket-legged Molson.