GREEN BAY, Wis. – What does “all in” mean? Including a restructure of defensive Dean Lowry’s contract, check out the list of transactions made by Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst in order to keep a championship contender together.
The team entered the offseason more than $28 million over the salary cap. Without releasing a single key player, Gutekunst has managed to keep the NFC’s best team by regular season record intact to take another crack at finally getting back to the Super Bowl.
The latest came on Wednesday with Lowry, who in July 2019 signed an extension to keep him with the Packers through 2022. According to ESPN.com’s Field Yates, the Packers reduced Lowry’s $4.1 million base salary to the league minimum and converted the difference into signing bonus. With the insertion of three void years, the Packers reduced Lowry’s $6.3 million cap hit by $2.488 million, according to Yates. The Packers entered the day about $2.22 million below the salary cap, according to the NFLPA. Now, they have about $4.71 million of cap space.
Gutekunst has restructured the contracts of several veterans to handle the COVID-impacted salary cap.
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Left tackle David Bakhtiari had an $11.072 million roster bonus that was turned into signing bonus, which created about $8.3 million of cap space for 2021.
Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith turned most of his base salary and a $5 million roster bonus into a signing bonus, which created $7.38 million of cap savings for 2021.
Outside linebacker Preston Smith, who had a cap hit of $16 million following a dismal 2020 season, agreed to an enormous, incentive-laden contract revamp to create more than $7.25 million of cap savings.
Right tackle Billy Turner turned some of his base salary and a roster bonus into a signing bonus to create more than $3.5 million of cap savings for 2021.
Restructures for safety Adrian Amos, kicker Mason Crosby, tight end Marcedes Lewis and Lowry added a bit more than $9 million to the ledger. Moreover, the team re-signed cornerback Kevin King with a one-year, $5 million contract that included four void years. So, King has a $3 million cap hit in 2022 even while not under contract.
The problem is the team will have to pay the piper at some point. According to OverTheCap.com, the Packers in 2022 are $33.7 million over a projected salary cap of $203 million. While the NFL and NFLPA agreed to set the ceiling at $208.2 million, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, it won't necessarily be that high. Moreover, the offseason salary cap is based on the top 51 contracts. The Packers have only 47 players under contract for 2022, according to OverTheCap.com.
Whatever the number, that’s by far the worst cap situation in the NFL and doesn’t even include Lowry or whatever other moves – an Aaron Rodgers restructure or Davante Adams extension – necessary to create enough money to stay below the cap once the regular season begins and the team has to account for a practice squad and in-season moves.
“We’re going to be in kind of the same situation next year as we are this year with trying to continue to push more money out to field our team,” Gutekunst said before the draft. “I think we had to do a lot of things to bring guys back this year and we’ll have to do that again. So, we’re not done by any means yet and we are working through that with a number of our players, including Aaron.”
As for Lowry, he’s played all but one game in his five seasons. In 2020, he recorded 36 tackles, his fourth consecutive season between 32 and 47 stops. After going without a sack in 2019, he matched his career high with three sacks in 2020.
The impact plays, though, are fleeting. Of 101 interior linemen to play at least 140 snaps vs. the run, he tied for 88th in PFF’s run-stop percentage. Of 115 interior linemen with at least 140 pass rushes, he tied for 60th in PFF’s pass-rushing metric. In seven career playoff games, he has no sacks or tackles for losses. With 36 tackles in 601 snaps, his rate was 16.7 snaps per tackle, down sharply from 10.27 snaps per tackle in 2019.