The Packers were the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl after finishing the season with a 14-3 record and earning the top seed in the conference. However, they failed to win their only playoff game, losing 13-10 to the 49ers in the divisional round of the 2022 NFL playoffs.
Now, Green Bay faces a reckoning, as Aaron Rodgers mentioned during his postgame news conference.
“I think this is definitely going to look different going forward,” Rodgers said. by NFL.com. “Green Bay has a lot of decisions, a lot of guys with opportunities. So it’s going to be interesting to see how things look going forward.”
Rodgers’ future is chief among those decisions. He still has one year left on his contract in 2022, but he wouldn’t guarantee he would return to Green Bay.
“I don’t know,” Rodgers said when asked about a possible return to the Packers. “That’s a good question. Definitely one I’ve thought about.”
But one thing Rodgers knows is that he doesn’t want to return to Green Bay if the Packers are going into a rebuild.
“I don’t want to be part of a rebuild if I’m going to keep playing,” Rodgers said. “So a lot of decisions in the next few months.”
Why the Packers might face a rebuild Here’s why the Packers may have to face some tough roster decisions during the 2022 offseason that could affect their status as NFC contenders.
Packers Salary Cap 2022
The Packers face a salary-cap crisis in 2022 and will have to leave several key players behind as a result. Currently, they are about $40.1 million over the salary cap, for OverTheCap.comAnd that’s before he re-signed any of his key free agents or draft picks.
As a result, the Packers will have to find ways to create cap space. That will involve making some significant changes to their team, so the team will look very different whether they bring Rodgers back to Green Bay or seek to trade him.
How the Packers can create cap space
Below is a summary of the methods the Packers can use to create salary-cap space.
Restructure or extend player contracts to reduce their current maximum limits
Oftentimes, when NFL teams find themselves in salary-cap trouble, they restructure the contracts of some of their key players to lower their current salary cap. This process typically involves signing a player to an extension with a large signing bonus, as NFL teams prorate the signing bonus equally over the remainder of the deal.
So while the player may be receiving more money now, the limit charge will not increase. It is simply deferred equally over future seasons for the duration of the agreement.
This is also part of the reason null years have become a popular contract mechanism. A “null year” is essentially part of a contract that extends salary cap charges into future years but does not bind the player to a team in that season.
For example, Rodgers has a void year on his contract for 2023. That means his contract will be voided before the league year and he will no longer be with the Packers. However, Green Bay will be left with a dead salary cap of $7.7 million because his signing bonus, which was renegotiated before the 2021 season, is prorated for that season.
This practice is highly appreciated by players as it allows them to enter free agency earlier while being paid more up front, while teams like it because it frees up more salary-cap space. And while it hurts teams down the road, front offices often see it as worth it because teams that use empty years are often Super Bowl contenders.
Trade or remove players
This is the easiest alternative for the Packers. It is almost certain that they will have to spend at least Some players with high-limit hits to wipe $40 million off the books. They’ll be looking to do that first through trading, as they can probably get rid of some of their talented players for draft capital, but those who can’t will need to be released as cap drops.
With any trade they make, the Packers will potentially have to eat dead cap space, which is cap space allocated to a player who is no longer on the team. This often stems from the guaranteed salary already paid to a player who has been released or traded.
Packers restructure, cut and trade candidates
The Packers have a handful of players they’ll need to consider parting with or restructuring to get under the cap. The most notable candidates to be transferred or restructured are the following.
QB Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers remains the obvious candidate to be traded, as walking away from him would take the Packers halfway to their goal of losing $40 million. Rodgers balked at the Packers last season and demanded a trade, but agreed to return to the team after a contract restructuring.
The Packers may want to keep him, but as Rodgers has said, he doesn’t want to be part of a rebuild. If the two sides don’t see a path to contention, parting ways with Rodgers would be a good start to clear some space. Plus, it would give them a chance to see if 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love can become a long-term starter.
W.R. Randall Cobb
The Packers traded for Cobb last offseason to bring the 31-year-old wide receiver back to where he began his career. Rodgers also wanted to play Cobb, and that was the main reason for the move.
Cobb caught 28 passes for 375 yards and five touchdowns during the season in 12 games. He’s just a part-time player now, and since the Packers can save themselves nearly $7 million if they walk away from him, he’ll likely be released this offseason, especially if Rodgers leaves. The only complicating factor for Green Bay is the fact that most of their receivers will be free agents, so they could look to restructure Cobb because of that.
OLB Za’Darius Smith
Smith was a Pro Bowl in 2019 and 2020, but suffered a back injury that sidelined him from all but two games in 2021. He had a sack in the playoffs against the 49ers, but the Packers may not be able to keep the 29. -years old because of how much they could save by parting with him.
Smith is entering the final year of the four-year, $66 million contract he signed with the Packers in 2019. Releasing him would save the Packers more than $15 million and generate a salary cap of just $12.4 million. The Packers will probably be looking to get something of value for Smith, or maybe they could get him to agree to a team-friendly extension after a rough year. Either way, the Packers have a big decision to make about him.
OLB Preston Smith
Like his counterpart, Smith has been a solid sack artist in Green Bay. He has racked up 25 sacks for the team over three years, including nine in 2021. However, the Packers can save $12.5 million with a salary cap of just $7.5 million if they walk away from him.
The Packers probably won’t want to leave both Smiths behind, but they may be forced to leave at least one while they restructure the other. Rashan Gary’s presence will make him an easier pill to swallow.
Packers free agents 2022
The Packers don’t just have to worry about losing $40 million to get under the salary cap. They also need to consider what their plans are in free agency. They have plenty of players ready to hit the open market, some of whom they’ll want to retain.
Namely, Davante Adams will be available and will likely get a deal similar to the one that pays DeAndre Hopkins an average salary of $27.5 million. At a minimum, she will be looking for $20 million a year.
There are several other starters and key role players for the Packers to consider among their free-agent class, as you can see below.
|dennis kelly||Old Testament|
|Equanimous St. Brown||WR|
|Yosh Nijman*||Old Testament|
* Denotes restricted free agent
The Packers also have several exclusive rights free agents, who must re-sign in Green Bay if the Packers want them back. This includes starting linebacker Krys Barnes and tight end/H-back Dominique Dafney.
Suffice to say, the Packers have a lot of decisions to make. They will be active through the 2022 NFL offseason, much like the Saints in 2021 as they tackled their salary nightmare after Drew Brees’ retirement.