5 Cap-Friendly Moves Green Bay Packers Must Make This Offseason
Green Bay Packers' general manager Ted Thompson is all dressed up with nowhere to go two days into the new NFL league year, with upwards of $20 million in cap space remaining after re-signing in-house free agents Sam Shields and Mike Neal, but no outside players.
How can Thompson best use that money? And will the majority of it be spent on the Packers' own players? It may feel like the Packers are sitting on a goldmine, but the money can go fast when taking factors like restructuring deals of current players into consideration.
The following five moves are ones that will satisfy the Packers' most glaring holes this offseason while keeping the cap in a healthy place. While this offseason may not have brought such big-name free agents as Jairus Byrd, DeMarcus Ware or Lamarr Houston to Green Bay, these moves will still plug both young and veteran talent into positions of need.
Restructure Tramon Williams' Contract
Tramon Williams is set to count a whopping $9.5 million against the cap in 2014, broken down into a base salary of $6.9 million, a prorated bonus of $2 million, a roster bonus of $300,000 and a workout bonus of $300,000.
Fellow corner Sam Shields' new four-year, $39 million-dollar deal is structured so that the Packers sustain minimal cap hits this season and next season, back-loading the largest impact to 2016 and 2017, by which time the cap will have risen more than another $10 million in each season, per reports by Pro Football Talk.
Shields will only count $5.562 million against the cap in 2014, per Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette—almost half of Williams' hit.
Ted Thompson needs to restructure Williams' contract and get his 2014 cap hit back in the neighborhood of Shields', similarly back-loading his contract to take advantage of the higher cap in two or three years.
Let Ryan Pickett Walk and Draft a Nose Tackle
By not entering the bidding for defensive tackles Linval Joseph or Paul Soliai on Tuesday, both of whom could have been potential free-agent nose tackle options for Green Bay, the Packers indicated one of two things: They're gearing up to pay Ryan Pickett, or they're planning to draft a nose tackle prospect.
The latter seems far more likely.
ESPN's Rob Demovsky reported on March 8 that the Packers were and would continue to be in talks with Pickett, but the deadline to re-sign him Tuesday came and went without a deal. It's possible he doesn't find what he's looking for on the open market and accepts whatever Green Bay is willing to offer, but at 34 years old the Packers may want to look for the nose tackle of the future.
Pickett counted $6.7 million against the cap in 2013.
Of course, the nose tackle position will remain up in the air so long as B.J. Raji continues to weigh Green Bay's one-year, $4 million offer—which, per Demovsky, could include a move back to nose tackle.
But there's no doubt drafting a wide body to anchor the line is the most cost-effective method and that the amount Pickett would require would be better spent elsewhere.
Potential draft prospects for the Packers at the nose include Notre Dame's Louis Nix and Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, both of whom could play nose in a 3-4 scheme but who are completely different players. At 331 pounds, Nix would follow in the tradition of the 337-pound Raji and Pickett, while the 299-pound Jernigan could be more athletic and faster—if he's big enough.
Draft a Starting-Caliber Tight End
Even if Ted Thompson wanted to fill the need for a starting tight end through free agency, the pickings are becoming slim.
After two days into the new NFL league year, many of the big-name tight ends have been franchised or signed. The New Orleans Saints placed the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham and the Baltimore Ravens re-signed Dennis Pitta.
Of course, the biggest-name free agent is still Jermichael Finley, who visited with the Seattle Seahawks Wednesday, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. He hasn't yet been medically cleared to play, and it seems the Packers will let him walk.
Other free-agent tight ends Green Bay could consider are the Texans' Owen Daniels, set to visit with the Packers Thursday, the Lions' Brandon Pettigrew or the Dolphins' Dustin Keller, but in each case they would have to allot a large portion of the cap to older players; Myers is entering his sixth season, Pettigrew, his fifth and Keller, his seventh.
Then there's the outside possibility that they retain Andrew Quarless, who has received interest from seven other teams, according to ESPN's Rob Demovsky. But he didn't quite prove in 2013 that he has the pass-catching skills and the ability to be the red-zone threat Aaron Rodgers needs to justify making an offer that would eclipse seven other teams'.
Draft-and-develop is Thompson's preferred method, and with the Packers' need moving forward at tight end, it makes the most sense financially.
Before Tuesday, there was a possibility the Packers could have filled needs for veteran defensive linemen and a safety through free agency, potentially freeing them up to consider taking a tight end as high as Round 1, with North Carolina's Eric Ebron or Texas Tech's Jace Amaro. And perhaps if they sign Miami's Chris Clemons at safety, they would be freed up to consider a skill position in the first round.
But more likely, the Packers would look to Rounds 2-4 for a starting tight end, such as Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Notre Dame's Troy Niklas or Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz. All three have great size and could be split out wide.
Let James Jones Walk
Back in November, I made the case that James Jones was one of a handful of unrestricted free agents the Packers should re-sign. The reasoning, which still holds water today, was that a key element of the Packers' receiving corps is having a group of players who can line up anywhere on the field, be legitimate scoring threats in the red zone and elude double coverage.
Jones, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin could continue to be successful precisely because they all perform at such a high level; it ensures that Aaron Rodgers always has an open target in the slot or down the field and helps the Packers get into the end zone.
Unfortunately, however, the reality of the cap has set in this offseason. James Jones earned a larger base salary than Nelson in 2013, though Nelson had a higher overall cap hit. Jones' cap number was $3.75 million, compared to Nelson's at $3.975 million and Cobb's at $875,297.
The Packers cannot allow Nelson and Cobb to become unrestricted free agents simultaneously next offseason, and if restructuring one of their deals now means the Packers need to let Jones walk, in the end it's the best move for the health of the cap.
Nelson's extension back in 2011 was for three years and $13.35 million, with incentives to make it worth $15 million overall. It, frankly, has been a steal, as he's proven that he's worth far more. And if Amendola was worth $31 million over five years to the Patriots, it's hard to imagine Cobb would be satisfied with anything less.
What he could hope to earn will likely depend on how those deals begin shaping up, but it's not hard to imagine he would seek something like five years for $40 million, which is in the neighborhood of recent deals signed by Greg Jennings, Brandon Marshall, Roddy White and Antonio Brown.
Draft a Starting Safety Rather Than Acquire in Free Agency
By the end of the day Wednesday, few top-name, top-dollar free-agent safeties were still on the market. Antoine Bethea, Jairus Byrd and Donte Whitner signed lucrative deals that were evidently too rich for Green Bay's blood, as the Packers reportedly didn't make any attempts to land any of the three.
At this point, with the veteran safeties who remain, the Packers would be better off both talent-wise and cap-wise to prioritize drafting a starting safety in the first or second round.
Miami's Chris Clemons is still available and is the most compelling free agent for whom Green Bay could still make a play. However, he counted $2.750 million against the Dolphins' cap in 2013, and as the best free-agent safety still available, teams who need safety help may get desperate.
After Antoine Bethea's deal with the 49ers that will earn him between $5 and $6 million per year, per Pro Football Talk, at this point the Packers would be wiser to target Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Louisville's Calvin Pryor or Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward rather than spend similar money.
That money could be better spent retaining in-house free agents for whom there aren't leading draft prospect replacements, such as center Evan Dietrich-Smith.
All salary information courtesy of OvertheCap.com unless otherwise specified.