GREEN BAY, Wis. – The bad news for the Green Bay Packers as the league-year gets closer is they’re over the salary cap and have limited resources to improve the roster.
The good news is the Packers’ list of unrestricted free agents includes only two top-shelf players: running back Aaron Jones and center Corey Linsley.
As of late last week, the Packers had not engaged in contract talks with either player, sources told Packer Central.
Linsley seems especially unlikely to return to the team. General manager Brian Gutekunst spoke in glowing terms about the team’s starting center from the past seven seasons but didn’t strike an optimistic chord about re-signing the All-Pro. Linsley is coming off a stellar season but missed all of three games, most of two other games and will turn 30 before training camp.
“Corey’s a great player. He’s been a really good player for us,” Gutekunst said on Tuesday. “There’s nothing more we would like (than) to have Corey back. Obviously, there’s a lot of pieces to this puzzle we’re trying to put together. Finding a way to bring him back would be ideal but, at the same time, obviously, at the level of compensation that he’s at, he’s earned that. We certainly would never close the door on someone like Corey Linsley. We’ll see as we get down what’s possible and what’s not.”
Jones, the Pro Bowler with one of the top rushing averages in NFL history, is the wild card. While the tender amounts for the franchise tag won’t be known until a salary cap is established, Brad Spielberger, a salary-cap analyst for Pro Football Focus and contributor to OverTheCap.com, figured tagging Jones would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $8.6 million. That’s the lowest figure for any position group other than the kickers and punters.
“We certainly could,” Gutekunst said of using the tag.
History says the Packers won’t use the franchise tag. After all, over the last decade, they’re the only team in the NFL to not use it even once. But this is a unique year filled with unique challenges, with the impact of COVID-19 leaving a dozen teams over the salary cap ahead of the start of the league-year on March 17.
“It’s very much case by case. It’s not an organizational philosophy to not use it,” Gutekunst said. “I think every situation is different. It is a tool that is out there for us to use if it makes sense for the football team. Whether it’s the franchise tag, the transition tag or some of the other avenues for us to retain players, it’s always something that we’ll look at and if that’s the best situation for us, then we’ll go ahead and use it if we need to.”
The problem with tagging Jones is that $8.6 million – or whatever the number – would go on an already-stressed cap immediately, even if Jones doesn’t sign the tender. The upside is one of the team’s marquee players would be back on the roster without a dangerous long-term commitment. Or he could be traded. A league source figured Jones could fetch a second-round draft pick in 2021 in return. That would be a better and more immediate return on investment than possibly getting a fourth-round compensatory pick in 2022.
“I think it’s something we’re working through,” Gutekunst said. “I do think there’s usually better ways to go about it, but if that becomes what is in the best interest of the Packers, I think we’ll do that.”