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PFF Study Shows Packers’ Cap Problems

Using five data points, including available cap space, prorated bonus money and the quality of the roster, PFF examined the cap situations over the next three seasons.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – With Russ Ball forced to rob Peter to pay Paul to get in compliance with the COVID-impacted salary cap the past two years, it’s no surprise the Green Bay Packers face one of the most challenging cap situations in the NFL.

That picture was painted by Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus, who analyzed each team’s salary cap for the 2022, 2023 and 2024 seasons. Ranking 28th in available cap space and 30th in total prorated bonus money over those three years, the Packers’ cap forecast ranks 28th.

“Green Bay is a good example of a team that shouldn’t really care where it ranks when it comes to salary cap health in 2022,” Spielberger wrote. “The Packers have a 38-year-old quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, who is coming off back-to-back MVP seasons and only has one Lombardi Trophy to show for his Hall of Fame quarterback play.”

When COVID struck, meaning empty stadiums and drastic revenue reductions, the Packers – with a roster filled with high-quality, highly paid veteran players – were hit hard. Ball, the team’s executive vice president and director of football operations, was forced to take drastic measures.

With prudent salary structuring and few splash additions in free agency during the Ted Thompson era and continued under Brian Gutekunst, the Packers typically enjoyed a healthy cap. That meant they weren’t forced to restructure contracts or prematurely release players to get in compliance with the cap.

COVID changed all of that. In 2020, the cap was $198.2 million. After year upon year of steady growth, the cap in 2021 fell to $182.5 million – with borrowing against future caps limiting the damage to merely $15.7 million.

The team was faced with two options, none of them great. It could simply slash salary to get to the cap. That wasn’t a feasible approach with Rodgers nearing the end of the career. So, to keep a championship team together, one contract after another was restructured, pushing the cap impact into future years. The aggressive approach taken by Ball and Gutekunst, and no doubt agreed to by President Mark Murphy, has kept the Packers on the short list of championship contenders.

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On the surface, Green Bay’s salary cap looks rosy. According to the latest from the NFLPA, the Packers are $16.8 million under the $208.2 million cap. Only seven teams have more available cap space. A decent chunk of that will be needed to fund the practice squad and handle any in-season additions, such as Rasul Douglas last year. Whatever’s left could be spent on a contract extension or rolled into 2023.

Every penny will help in 2023 when, according to OverTheCap.com, the Packers are $7.3 million over a projected cap of $225 million. That’s the byproduct of those aforementioned prorated cap dollars from the kick-the-can-down-the-road approach to handling the cap. In 2023, Rodgers ($31.62 million), left tackle David Bakhtiari ($29.07 million), defensive tackle Kenny Clark ($23.97 million), running back Aaron Jones ($20.01 million) and cornerback Jaire Alexander ($20.00 million) will consume 55.4 percent of the projected cap.

To deal with what’s to come, the Packers figure to release Jones and restructure the contracts of Clark and Smith. Doing those, Spielberger said, would get the Packers to about $22 million below the cap. Potential contract extensions for outside linebacker Rashan Gary and safety Darnell Savage, both of whom are scheduled to play under their fifth-year options, will help.

However, restructuring Clark and Smith will only mean more money being kicked down the road.

Of course, the Packers don’t really care. So long as Rodgers is on the team, they’ll enter every season as a championship contender. That’s probably not true with Jordan Love or whoever the next quarterback of the future. When Rodgers is gone, the Packers can hit the financial reset.

“The credit card bill always comes due,” Spielberger wrote, “and Rodgers could leave Green Bay with an absurd dead cap charge down the road, but they’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.”

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