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What’s Next for Packers After Keeping Campbell, Extending Smith?

The Green Bay Packers made some huge moves on Monday, the unofficial start to free agency, but there is work to do before 3 p.m. Wednesday.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers extended the contract of outside linebacker Preston Smith on Monday morning. That wasn’t a surprise. By doing so, Green Bay ensured a key player will be part of the long-term future while significantly cutting his cap charge.

The Packers also re-signed linebacker De’Vondre Campbell on Monday afternoon. That was a surprise, and hints that big moves are coming. Soon.

According to Campbell’s agent, Joe Panos, it’s a five-year deal worth $50 million. He will get $16.25 million in Year 1, $21.5 million in Year 2 and $32.25 million by Year 3. It’s a huge deal but, by keeping the base salary low, his cap charge for 2022 will only be about $4.24 million.

According to OverTheCap.com, the Packers started the day about $43.8 million over the salary cap. By extending Preston Smith (saving about $8.25 million), releasing Za’Darius Smith (saving $15.28 million) and releasing Billy Turner (saving $3.36 million for now), the Packers are about $18.3 million over the cap. Adding Campbell will push that to about $21.87 million. (If you are wondering about the math: During the offseason, only the top 51 contracts count against the cap, so Campbell joins the top 51 and knocks a minimum-salary player off.)

They have to get below the cap by 3 p.m. Wednesday, which is the start of the league-year.

Aaron Rodgers’ contract extension – whenever he signs it – will take care of most of what’s left, as it will reduce some of the sting from his upcoming cap charge of $46.66 million. While Rodgers has said reports of a $50 million are inaccurate, let’s use it just for simple math.

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To get super-aggressive, the Packers could give him a three-year, $150 million contract with a $50 million signing bonus and a minimum base salary in 2022. With a couple void years tacked on to turn the $16.67 million signing bonus proration into $10 million segments, the Packers could reduce his cap charge to less than $30 million.

By releasing receiver Randall Cobb, who has a cap charge of $9.53 million, and re-signing him to a lesser deal, or restructuring his current deal, the Packers would be below the cap. While they might not have enough money to sign their draft class, they’d at least be in position to give receiver Allen Lazard the second-round restricted tender of $3.986 million before the 3 p.m. Wednesday deadline.

At this point, an extension for cornerback Jaire Alexander, which would create space by getting him off the $13.294 million fifth-year option, does not appear to be in the works. Of course, the Packers will want to get to that at some point to make sure one of the league’s top defensive backs will be in Green Bay for the long haul. But there’s no financial pressure to get that deal done before Wednesday.

Besides, Alexander’s agent, John Thornton, probably is enjoying seeing the likes of J.C. Jackson (five years, $82.5 million by the Chargers) and Carlton Davis (three years, $45 million to re-sign with the Buccaneers) further establish the cornerback market. Any extension for Alexander would create cap savings that could be used for additional moves, whether it’s an in-season extension for offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins or to handle in-season additions.

Given Green Bay’s financial predicament, general manager Brian Gutekunst and his right-hand man, Russ Ball, have done fine work navigating the stormy financial waters. Having to get rid of Turner wasn’t ideal but at least there are options on the offensive line. Za’Darius Smith was a game-changer in 2019 and 2020 but the Packers won without him last year. If the Packers can’t re-sign cornerback Rasul Douglas, at least they’ve got Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes as a starting point for 2022.

Ultimately, keeping Campbell was an overwhelming victory and the best possible outcome this offseason. Considering his brilliance last season and the absolute lack of talent behind him on the depth chart, he was practically irreplaceable. With him under contract through 2026, the Packers won’t have to worry about that for a long time.

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