I promised you a second part of our early offseason primer for the Green Bay Packers and dammit, that’s what you’re going to get.
Part one, for those who missed it (shame on you if you are one such person), can be found here. In part two, we’re talking contracts, the draft and free agency, not necessarily in that order. Enjoy!
- Question: We’re still a few months away from the draft. But let’s be honest, it’s never too early to talk about the draft, right? What are some areas the Packers could look to bolster in April?
Answer: No, it’s never too early. Never. In fact, I pretty much began my internal countdown to the draft within a day or two of the loss to the Niners (only 95 days away from round one!). Yeah, I’m deranged, I know. I haven’t really started my in-depth research – though I’m going to – so as of now, we’ll look more at positions rather than specific players.
In part one, I said I would love to see the Packers use their first choice – no. 26 overall – on Alabama center Barrett Jones. That remains true now. It’s much too soon to say if he’ll be there at 26, but if he is, he should be the guy. Other positions discussed as potential early targets included wide receiver (as Greg Jennings is almost surely gone) and tight end, should the Packers move on from Jermichael Finley (more on him in a bit).
What about some additional spots we could see the Packers target early? The first place you must look is the front seven, especially after everything that happened late in the year against Adrian Peterson/the Niners. Desmond Bishop (hamstring) should be ready for camp, so that will clear up one inside linebacker spot. But if the team is unsure about the health/upside of D.J. Smith (knee) or decides to move on from A.J. Hawk (more on him in a bit), the other inside spot could definitely be a possibility. Also, this team still needs more big bodies on the front line. Don’t think pass rushers – the emergence of Mike Neal and the drafting of Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels last year covers that, even with the news of Worthy’s ACL surgery. We’re talking “bigs.” Ryan Pickett (34 in October) probably doesn’t have a ton left in his tank, which really leaves the team with just two good “bigs” – B.J. Raji and C.J. Wilson. Not a bad pair, obviously, but more is needed there.
The last two positions to keep an eye on are safety and running back. These feel like middle-round positions, as of now (but with Ted you never really know). Neither M.D. Jennings nor Jeron McMillian really emerged last year, so adding one more name to the mix couldn’t hurt. And, as I wrote in part one, the middle rounds would be a great time to pick someone up to pair with DuJuan Harris and Alex Green for next season.
- Question: Okay, so we all know Ted Thompson despises getting involved in free agency. Could that change this year? If it did, who are some players he could target?
Answer: Don’t get your hopes up. Seriously, don’t. But feel free to read this list of possible free agents and let us know who intrigues you. It’s at least fun to talk about, right?
- Question: The Packers sure seem to have some players with bloated contracts. Which of those players could be cut this offseason?
Answer: When addressing this question, you’re really talking about three players: Charles Woodson, Hawk and Finley. All three have big-time cap numbers for next season and all three are questionable to return, in varying degrees.
Of that group, Woodson is least likely to return. He has a $6.5 million salary for next year, plus a $2.5 million roster bonus PLUS $1 million total in weekly roster bonuses. Those are astronomical numbers for a player who turns 37 in October and has broken his collarbone in two of the last three seasons. And when you factor in the wealth of truly young talent Green Bay has at cornerback (Casey Hayward, Sam Shields, Davon House), Woodson seems more than expendable. Don’t bother bringing up a pay cut – Woodson is much too proud to ever take that. That would be a slap in the face to him. He can still play, yes, but his value is trumped by his price.
As for Hawk, it’s really a toss-up. The 2012 season was a bounce-back year of sorts for him, yes, and he’s a guy who you can count on to play every week. Those are the positives. But Hawk is due $5.2 million next season and very few would argue he’s worth that. He’s just not consistently physical enough for his position in this scheme. Again, Bishop and Smith are both set to return, the team has a couple of intriguing young guys there in Jamari Lattimore and Terrell Manning and it could always draft there, as well. In the end, my gut says Hawk is on his way out. Like Woodson, his price trumps his value.
Now, it’s time for everyone’s favorite pinata, Finley. First, the numbers. Finley is due a $4.45 million base salary plus a $3.5 million roster bonus in March. So, overall, his cap number is north of $8 million. Now, if you are talking “first-half of the season” Finley, no way is he worth that dollar amount. That Finley was a big-time off-the-field distraction who turned in small-time performances on it. You want to ship that Finley to Siberia. But, if you’re talking “second half of the season” Finley, that number isn’t so crazy. THAT Finley kept his mouth shut, played really hard and made the most of his chances. THAT Finley makes you wonder what he could do for a full season playing that way. Of course, there will be people who say he only played that way because he knew he could be auditioning for 31 other teams. They could very well have a point. But as of now, my feeling is that he sticks. I don’t think Mike McCarthy will want to lose both Finley and Jennings in the same offseason. And, remember, the team could always work out a longer-term extension to help lower his number for next season.
Lastly, there has been some talk amongst fans as to whether or not Tramon Williams or John Kuhn could be released. Williams has a $5.9 million base salary (plus $300,000 roster bonus) for next year. That’s high for a player who has not been the same guy since 2010, no doubt. But Williams is still relatively young (turning 30 in March), so it feels like he’ll get one more shot to fully bounce back. He was playing much better for a stretch late in the year before going off the rails at the end. And Kuhn…well, yes, his $1.8 million salary and $450,000 roster bonus is a bit higher than you’d like. But as I said in part one, McCarthy loves this guy – he isn’t going anywhere.
- Question: The Packers seem to be in good cap shape and will only gain more once players like Jennings leave. Maybe even better if they release some players. Who are some players who could get new deals?
Answer: Yes, the Packers are in solid cap shape, with $7.1 million of available space according to this (quick aside: How in the world do the Bengals have over $55 million in cap space?!?!). That number will indeed go up once Jennings, Driver and some possible cuts like Woodson come off the books. And, yes, it seems certain we will see some players receive new deals.
Obviously, the big three here are Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Raji.
They are the three most important players on the team going forward and all are making quite a bit less than they’re worth. That likely ends now. It’s a safe bet that at least two of these three are going to be locked up long-term before camp starts. Raji and Matthews are both nearing the end of their rookie deals, so time is especially a factor with them.
It seems certain that Matthews goes first. Do you know what his salary is next season? Just $1.49 million. That is an utter steal and it’s frankly shocking Matthews hasn’t made more of a public stink. Most guys in the league at his level would’ve by now. That will get taken care of, no question. And if you’re wondering what kind of deal Matthews could get, DeMarcus Ware’s seven-year, $79 million deal ($40 million guaranteed) signed in 2009 is a good place to start. In fact, Matthews could very well want more. With the way the pass rush tanked in his absence this past season, it’s not like the Packers can really turn him down. He’s clearly the second most important player on the team and will finally be paid like it.
Raji is due just over $4 million in 2013, so he’s doing a little better. Still, there aren’t many players who can do what he does and the Packers are getting a bargain on him at that price. Yes, he stumbled in the playoff loss (so did Matthews), but do not forget the lengthy stretch of the season in which it was nearly impossible to block Raji. And he’s only 27 in July, so he could do this for awhile, sort of like Vince Wilfork in New England, the player that most comes to mind when finding a comparison for Raji. Wilfork is also great place to look when figuring out Raji’s possible new terms. Wilfork received a five-year, $40 million deal ($25 million guaranteed) from the Pats in 2010 and those numbers would seem fair for Raji, as well. Raji’s deal could end up being a tad less, as Wilfork is a better player, but only by a hair.
Now we move to The Franchise, Rodgers. He has two years left on the six-year, $65 million ($20 million guaranteed) extension he signed in October 2008. He will make $9.25 million next year and is set for $10.5 million in 2014. Obviously, his contract is going to get torn up, but will it happen this offseason or next? That depends on a few things. One, if the team decides to give Raji and Matthews new deals first, how much money will be left? The Packers still need to sign their draft picks, also. Doing all that could eat up most of the available cash, even after some cuts are made.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Chris, I get giving Matthews a new deal. But Raji before Rodgers? Huh?”
I’m certainly not saying Raji has more value – he doesn’t. No one’s more valuable than Rodgers. But, Raji’s deal may be easier to finish, hence him getting re-done. Remember, quarterback extensions can be rather tricky to pull off. The New Orleans Saints had to franchise Drew Brees in order to keep him from free agency and give themselves more time to re-sign him. They ultimately did that, agreeing to a five-year, $100 million deal ($40 million guaranteed) in July. And you get the sense the Packers have been trying for something with Rodgers for awhile now. Remember LeRoy Butler saying last July that Rodgers had agreed to a five-year, $95 million extension? That turned out to be false, but it’s not like Butler just made that up, either. I’m sure the team had been trying even then.
I don’t think Rodgers’ situation gets as dire as Brees’ was. At least, I hope not. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he waits one more offseason, either, before reaching what is surely to be a gigantic payday. The team is in win-now mode and an extension for Rodgers could jeopardize new deals for almost everyone else, including Matthews. The money will be so big it may need to be a situation where he’s the only deal the team does in that particular offseason. And Rodgers seems to be a team guy, so he may be willing to put it off one more year. Whether it’s this offseason or the next, expect Rodgers to top Brees’ record-breaking deal. Brees was 33 when he re-signed. Rodgers will be either 29 or 30. Simple math there.