GREEN BAY, Wis. – Kenny Clark’s four-year, $70 million contract extension comes with massive salary-cap charges of $20.65 million in 2022, $21.25 million in 2023 and $22 million in 2024.
Also in 2022, Aaron Rodgers’ salary-cap charge balloons to $39.85 million.
Assuming Jordan Love is ready to take the reins after watching and learning behind Rodgers in 2020 and 2021 – a large assumption, to be sure – 2022 would be the logical time to make the change. That’s because releasing or trading Rodgers would create $22.6 million of cap space, according to OverTheCap.com.
However, if Love isn’t good enough and Rodgers remains a quality starter, the team’s finances don’t necessarily dictate shoving Rodgers out the door.
With a 17-game regular season and expanded the playoffs, the league figures to be awash in fresh money from new TV deals in time for 2022. Thus, even with teams borrowing against future caps to smooth the financial pain of COVID in 2020, Over the Cap projects a salary cap of $227.5 million in 2022.
Thus, even with monster cap hits for Rodgers, Clark, Za’Darius Smith ($20.75 million), Preston Smith ($16.5 million) and Adrian Amos ($10.65 million), the Packers are projected to have $62.2 million of cap space headed into 2022. That’s not ideal; only five teams have less and the Packers have only 35 players under contract. However, there might not be a lot of heavy lifting in free agency that would take a big bite out of the remainder of the salary-cap apple.
Receiver Davante Adams is the only big-ticket player who will be a free agent after the 2021 season. Perhaps linebacker Christian Kirksey will play himself back into that type of player. Then again, both players will be 29 in two years. The 2018 draft class will be headed to free agency but the team can trigger the inexpensive fifth-year option on cornerback Jaire Alexander. The rest of the draft class – cornerback Josh Jackson, inside linebacker Oren Burks, punter JK Scott, receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown, and long snapper Hunter Bradley – has provided only modest impact.
Moreover, cap space can be created through other means, such as renegotiations (the Smith Bros., for instance) or releases (Billy Turner would create $5.85 million, as an example). Heck, the Packers could even do something with Rodgers, whose cap drops by about $11 million for 2023, his final year under contract.
So, are the Packers likely to release Rodgers between the 2021 and 2022 seasons? If the Packers are sold on Love, then the answer is probably yes. But, from a cap perspective, Clark’s contract doesn’t exactly serve as a financial gun to the team’s head. Indeed, ultimately, it could be a football decision and not a financial decision.