The Green Bay Packers have some difficult decisions ahead of them, and they have nothing to do with who's in the starting lineup or even whether to place a player on injured reserve.
What faces the Packers is a series of choices that will impact their salary cap and the makeup of the team for 2013 and beyond.
General manager Ted Thompson will be charged with handling this situation, one he must treat delicately, because the future of the franchise will be at stake.
Packers beat reporter Bob McGinn laid out the scenario in front of the Packers in an article published on Sept. 21 in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
The way it stands now, there are 20 players under contract to Green Bay for next year who are to count about $98.36 million. The unadjusted cap for 2012 is $120.6 million, and projections are that the cap will remain almost flat until 2016.
Making the issue even more complicated are the elite players whose contracts are expiring and will soon be due for a payday, namely quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebacker Clay Matthews, wide receiver Greg Jennings and defensive lineman B.J. Raji.
What we want to look at is what's changed over the course of the last month-and-a-half since McGinn's article in late September and how the Packers might deal with their salary cap.
According to McGinn, the Packers were $8.08 million underneath the salary cap as of Sept. 21, although they have signed one player since that time.
Long snapper Brett Goode signed a modest contract extension in October, and the impact on the salary cap was similarly modest.
The biggest change might be the injury situation in Green Bay, and how it will impact the future of a couple of elite players.
Most notably, the groin/abdomen tear sustained by Jennings, who's scheduled to be a free agent at season's end, could alter his future in the NFL whether it's with the Packers or another team.
Jennings has generally been viewed as a player the Packers will make the unpopular decision with whom to part ways. The logic is that he's just not as important as either Rodgers or Matthews, and the Packers are already in good shape at wide receiver with younger players like Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb.
If there's been a change over the course of the last month-plus, however, it's that Jennings' price on the open market may have decreased because of his recent injury issues. Any team that signs Jennings will have to weigh the fact that he just hasn't been all that reliable or healthy for much of the past two seasons.
That being said, the extent to which the value of Jennings has dropped is up for debate. If a wide receiver like Vincent Jackson is able to get a deal worth $55 million over five years from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it stands to reason that even an injury-prone Jennings can command a similar deal.
The Packers might be willing to pay Jennings in the range of $10 million for a season or two, but the likelihood of offering him a four- or five-year contract seems unrealistic. Of course, there's always the possibility of slapping the franchise tag on Jennings, which would be in the neighborhood of $10 million, but both parties would rather avoid such a scenario if possible.
One other injury that presents its own set of complications is the broken collarbone to veteran defensive back Charles Woodson.
Age has already taken its toll on Woodson. He's lost a step, and the Packers have basically admitted as such by moving him part time to safety this season.
Woodson had been having an adequate year prior to injury, but he hadn't been making the big plays for which he's become known.
"Safety Charles Woodson will be 36 in October and has two years left on his contract," writes McGinn. "The Packers would realize $10M in cap savings if he were released early in 2013."
With so many young and promising defensive backs on the roster like Casey Hayward, Jerron McMillian, Davon House and Sam Shields, it's becoming increasingly hard to imagine the Packers paying him roughly $10 million at age 37 next year.
It could be a situation where the Packers ask Woodson to take a pay cut if he wants to play next season, not unlike how they did with Donald Driver this season.
Furthermore, tight end Jermichael Finley will be in the second and final year of a two-year $14 million contract next season. The Packers would save more than $8 million in salary cap space next year alone if they part ways with Finley, and that's something they'll have to consider given his sporadic play.
Based upon their importance to the team, the priority for doling out the next set of contract extensions to high-profile players would appear to be Rodgers, Matthews with Raji a distant third.
The actual order in which the Packers choose to re-work their contracts, however, is up for debate. Matthews' contract is up after the 2013 season whereas Rodgers' lasts through 2014.
But given the way Rodgers is underpaid relative to other quarterbacks in the NFL, he would appear to be in line for a pay raise any minute.
And in fact, it's not necessarily far-fetched that the Packers come to a contract extension with either Rodgers or Matthews before the current season is over.
Rodgers' last extension came in November of 2008, and the Packers have a history of signing other players to mid-season extensions as well.
Perhaps the most likely scenario is that both Rodgers and Matthews are signed sometime before the start of the 2013 season. How much room that leaves for Raji remains to be seen, but it's always possible the Packers wait on the defensive lineman until the end of the 2013 season, after which he's scheduled to become a free agent.
It's difficult to predict exactly how everything will play out, but it will be next to impossible to have Rodgers, Matthews, Jennings, Raji, Woodson and Finley all on the roster next season and beyond.
Who the Packers sign and when they sign them is up for debate, as are the decisions about any players they decide to let walk away via free agency. But it will definitely be interesting to watch it all shake out.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!