With 17 players set to become free agents at the end of the season and $9.8 million in cap space to carry over to the 2014 season, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Green Bay Packers of 2014 will look very different from the one heading into the playoffs Sunday.
|2014 NFL Salary Cap||$126,300,000|
|Green Bay Packers' Cap Charge (47 players currently under contract)||$103,422,000|
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Though the Packers' total cap hit of $103.422 million for 2014 is well under the NFL average, coming in at the 10th lowest in the league according to Spotrac.com, Green Bay will need to make some cuts to members of a veteran group that includes James Jones, John Kuhn, B.J. Raji, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Sam Shields, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly.
After all, Clay Matthews' and Aaron Rodgers' contract extensions will increase their cap hit by $10.3 million in 2014. Then, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, both of whom have proven themselves worthy of lucrative new contracts, will need to be re-signed in 2015.
The deadline to re-sign players to count toward this season's cap limit passed on December 28, 2013.
Then there's the question of what to do about Jermichael Finley, who becomes a free agent in the offseason and who is recovering from cervical fusion surgery on the same vertebrae as Nick Collins, whom the Packers did not re-sign after his surgery.
So despite their good standing heading into the 2014 offseason, the Packers will make some notable cuts this offseason to make room for upcoming re-signings as well as new draft acquisitions. The question is, who doesn't make the cut?
B.J. Raji's rejection of Green Bay's $8 million extension offer was widely publicized (and criticized), but it's unclear if that amount is still on the table—or any offer, for that matter. Per Bob McGinn, nothing was resolved when Raji's agent David Dunn spoke with Packers management just a few weeks ago.
It may be worth it for the Packers to re-sign Raji for a price tag of just under $8 million if they cut Ryan Pickett, who is in his mid-30s and earned $5.4 million this season, per Rotoworld, and subsequently moved Raji back to nose tackle. He had his most productive season at that position.
Another tough decision Ted Thompson and Packers negotiator Russ Ball will need to make is whether or not fan favorite Johnny Jolly will return next season.
Jolly's return to the Packers after his suspension from the league for violating the NFL substance abuse policy provided an emotional boost to the team, and toward the end of the season he was showing flashes of returning to his 2011 form.
But he suffered a season-ending cervical neck injury, and whether or not he has surgery could determine if he can heal enough to be re-signed by the team. Coupled with the injury and his age (31), Jolly may not have done enough to prove to the team he's worthy of a contract extension.
As for whom the Packers need to retain, Aaron Rodgers has advocated for Evan Dietrich-Smith to earn the starting center job for years, and now that he has, could use the consistency.
Some will argue that re-signing Jones isn't necessary with the emergence of Jarrett Boykin, but Jones gives Mike McCarthy the ability to call a variety of plays and can line up all over the field. More, his presence on the field allows Nelson and Cobb to get open more easily.
Thompson and Ball have put the team in a great position heading into next season in terms of cap space, but the number of players departing will be above average, and many positions, notably safety, offensive line and defensive line are calling out for bolstering through both the draft and free agency.
With the surge of players likely to depart in the offseason, 2014 is a great opportunity for the usually reticent Thompson to wade deeper into the free agency pool and commit some of that unused cap money to a veteran player.
Thompson's decisions in both will be severely scrutinized regardless of how far into the postseason the Packers go.