Packers Release Kirksey, Have Reduced Cap Deficit by 60 Percent

Signed to a two-year, $13 million contract, veteran linebacker Christian Kirksey lost the every-down role to an undrafted free agent.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst continues to dig the team out of its giant salary-cap hole.

A week after restructuring All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari’s contract to create $8.304 million of cap space, the Packers released right tackle Rick Wagner and linebacker Christian Kirksey on Friday.

The release of Wagner, who is considering retirement, saved $4.25 million of cap space. The release of Kirksey, who was signed to replace Blake Martinez but lost the every-down role to an undrafted rookie, saved an additional $5.61 million.

With those three moves taking care of almost $18.2 million of cap liabilities, the Packers are $11.45 million over a projected salary cap of $180.5 million, according to OverTheCap.com. The cap floor for 2021 is $180 million, though it could be higher – perhaps somewhere in the middle of the $180 million floor and the 2020 season’s $198.2 million.

Green Bay was $28.19 million over the cap before the Bakhtiari restructure. With only the top 51 contracts counting against the offseason cap, the team has taken care of about 60 percent of the deficit.

“The releases of Kirskey and Wagner were relatively unsurprising moves as the Packers continue to work their way under the 2021 salary cap,” Pro Football Focus cap analyst Brad Spielberger said.

“Kirksey’s release will clear $5.6 million and will leave behind a dead money charge of $2 million. He was also released with a ‘failed physical’ designation, meaning the Packers may be on the hook for a small injury settlement down the road. Wagner’s release will clear $4.25 million in cap and leave behind a dead money charge of $1.75 million. The Packers are now only about $11.5 million over the projected cap, though there has been optimism that final number may be even higher.”

Whatever the number, teams must be below the cap by the start of the league-year at 3 p.m. (Central) on March 17. Teams might not know the official cap number too far in advance.

With Martinez signing a three-year, $30.75 million contract with the Giants in free agency last offseason, Gutekunst took a flier on Kirksey. Kirksey had a couple big seasons with the Cleveland Browns but had missed most of the previous two seasons due to injuries.

Despite his familiarity with then-defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme, Kirksey was unable to turn back the clock. He started the season as the every-down linebacker but, by season’s end, had lost that role to Krys Barnes, an undrafted free agent who didn’t even make the opening roster. Even with Barnes playing with a club-cast in the playoffs to protect a broken thumb, Pettine stuck with the one-handed rookie over the veteran.

Kirksey missed five games due to injury and tied for second on the team with 78 tackles. His tackle rate was one for every 7.03 snaps, which lagged behind Martinez’s 6.61 for the Giants and Barnes’ 5.40 for the Packers. He added two sacks, two interceptions and four passes defensed. Of the 100 linebackers to play at least 99 run-defending snaps, he finished 73rd in PFF’s run-stop percentage, a metric that essentially measures impact tackles. He missed 11 tackles, or 12.6 percent of his attempts, according to Sports Info Solutions. Barnes was sixth in PFF’s run-stop percentage and had a missed-tackle rate of 9.1 percent.

With Barnes and fifth-round rookie Kamal Martin, releasing Kirksey might have been the obvious move even without the team’s cap problems.

With Bakhtiari, Wagner and Kirksey, the easy stuff has done in the quest to get to the cap. Now come the hard decisions, including a potential restructure of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' contract, a potential extension for receiver Davante Adams and possible roster cuts.