With both Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams set to return to Green Bay in 2022, the Packers are in the ultimate “win now” mode.
Before the team decided to tag Adams, they were $26,404,202 over the salary cap. With Adams currently set to play on the franchise tag and take up $20,145,000 (as per Over the Cap) the Packers are now $45,844,202 over.
While the Packers technically have until July 15th to sign Adams to an extension, it would benefit the team greatly to come to an agreement before 4 pm ET on March 16, the start of the new league year, in order to bring their cap situation down below $208.2 million. In order to do this, they will likely structure both Adams’ and Rodgers’ deals with massive signing bonuses.
Dak Prescott signed a deal with the largest signing bonus in NFL history prior to last season at $66 million. Do not be surprised to see Rodgers get a signing bonus even larger than that. Alternatively, Rodgers might insist on a roster bonus that is fully guaranteed at signing (rather than becoming fully guaranteed 3-5 days after the contract is executed like most roster bonuses) since such a bonus is treated as a signing bonus for purposes of cap — prorated up to five years. By using this contract mechanism rather than a signing bonus, the player cannot be asked to return any amount of the prorations in the event of retirement. This would benefit the team because they would still spread out the cap hit over multiple years while at the same time protecting Rodgers in the event that he chooses to retire after another year or two.
Assuming a deal with Rodgers is signed prior to the start of the new league year, his current $46,664,156 cap hit will decrease to somewhere around $35M ($19.173M in current prorations + $13-15M in prorations from a $67-75M signing/roster bonus) saving the team more than $10M on this year’s cap. Including larger base salaries in the 2023 and 2024 years will also provide Rodgers, as well as the Packers, the ability to go year to year in reducing Rodgers’ salary cap hits to keep the team competitive.
As for Adams, assuming he and the team are able to come to a long term agreement, he will likely break all of the previous highs for wide receiver contracts including DeAndre Hopkins’ $27.25M APY and $27.5M signing bonus as well as Julio Jones’ $64M in fully guaranteed money. In the case of a $30M signing bonus and a league minimum 2022 P5 salary, Adams’ cap hit could drop from $20,145,000 to about $7M.
The Packers will look to keep core players to low cap hits by handing out large signing bonuses. This is the strategy the New Orleans Saints used when Brees was in his final years with the team. In the last 4 seasons of Drew Brees’ legendary career, the Saints were the winningest team in the NFL with a 49-15 regular season record. Another example the Packers will look to follow is the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers formula when they re-signed 43 year old QB Tom Brady as well as a number of key free agents such as Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Chris Godwin in the hopes of “going for two." The Packers hope to replicate the successes of these franchises by following the contract structure blueprint laid out by these teams in order to keep a competitive roster in Green Bay while staying under the salary cap. The idea of pushing cap hits out to the future can lead to headaches down the line, but it is a necessary evil when you are trying to keep a very talented and veteran roster intact.
The nearly $23 million in cap savings that can be created by extending Rodgers and Adams will be used on other key free agents such as Rasul Douglas and De'Vondre Campbell. Others on the roster who could be extended/restructured to create maximal cap space include Za’Darius Smith ($11.6M savings available), Preston Smith ($6.68M), Billy Turner ($4.36M), and Randall Cobb ($6.3M). As the Packers operate under a “win-now” mentality, they may look to cut ties with third year QB Jordan Love and replace him with either a veteran backup (e.g. Fitzpatrick, Dalton, Brissett, Minshew, Rudolph, etc.), who can play if Rodgers gets injured or draft another young player in the mid to late rounds who will be able to learn behind Rodgers for a few years and develop for the future.
The bar is set immensely high for the Packers to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, especially after two elite QBs in Tom Brady and Russell Wilson move away from the conference (retire and trade respectively).
Credit to Brian Gutekunst, Matt LaFleur and Tom Clements for keeping Rodgers in Green Bay after the seeming turmoil that ensued over the past year. While that might have seemed like the hard part, they will now have to work to keep a strong core around Rodgers and set the Packers up for another Super Bowl championship. If the Packers do not make it to multiple Super Bowls, this will not be considered a success.