Evaluating Green Bay Packers’ roster entering 2021 offseason

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Zach Kruse
·14 min read
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Understanding the Green Bay Packers’ needs and offseason plans first requires knowing where the roster stands exiting the 2020 season and entering 2021.

Going through position by position helps paint a clear picture of what GM Brian Gutekunst is facing this offseason, both from a personnel and salary cap standpoint.

Here’s a breakdown of the Packers’ roster at every position, with players under contract for 2021, free agents, early thoughts on the position groups and a unique cap perspective from Ken Ingalls, a CPA who studies the salary cap:

Quarterback

(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Under contract (2): Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love Free agents (1): Tim Boyle (restricted) Early thoughts: Rodgers, the presumptive MVP in 2020, will be the Packers quarterback for at least one more season, ensuring no major changes for 2021. In the meantime, the team must decide if Boyle, the backup each of the last two seasons, will return. At some point, Love has to be the No. 2 before there's any consideration of him as a future replacement for Rodgers, who has three years left on his deal. The Packers have invested time and energy into developing Boyle, but money will be tight and Love is a first-rounder. Ken's cap perspective: Aaron Rodgers’ contract is the most expensive on the roster at a $37.2 million cap hit, but offers by far the most salary cap flexibility of any player on the roster with the ability to free up to between $13-16 million via restructuring his base salary and roster bonus into a signing bonus. The question is – how much will the Packers want to hamstring their ability to move on from Rodgers post-2021, since every cap dollar saved is another financial hurdle for the future? What the Packers choose to do here will tell a much clearer story of Rodgers’ future with the team than anything Matt LaFleur or Brian Gutekunst can say in front of the podium. Jordan Love’s contract is fully guaranteed, and he isn’t going anywhere as the likely backup to Rodgers next season. I suspect the Packers draft another quarterback or pick up an UDFA to be the No. 3 on the practice squad. Unless he comes back on a minimum salary, I do not see restricted free agent Tim Boyle returning in 2021.

Running back

(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

Under contract (4): A.J. Dillon, Patrick Taylor, Dexter Williams, Mike Weber Free agents (3): Aaron Jones (unrestricted), Jamaal Williams (unrestricted), Tyler Ervin (unrestricted) Early thoughts: The Packers drafted Dillon in the second round to protect against losing Jones or Williams, or both. If one of the veterans departs as expected, the Packers may need to add help at the position, either with a cheap option in free agency or a draft pick. Depth is lacking behind Dillon, and the Packers offense needs more than one capable running back. Ervin's uncertain future opens up a chance to add a gadget-like player who can run the jet motion in Matt LaFleur's offense and return punts and kicks. Ken's cap perspective: A.J. Dillon was drafted in 2020 to hedge against both Jones and Williams leaving via free agency in 2021. I don’t see a way Jones returns, perhaps Williams returns on a team-friendly deal. Either way, it looks like the starting job is Dillion’s to lose. The contracts of the current running back room are all very cheap and I suspect will stay that way with no real meaningful cap space can be found by tweaking these deals. I could easily see another draft pick used to bolster this group.

Wide receiver

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Under contract (7): Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Devin Funchess, Juwann Winfree, Reggie Begelton, Chris Blair Free agents (3): Allen Lazard (exclusive rights), Tavon Austin (unrestricted), Malik Taylor (exclusive rights) Early thoughts: The Packers should have no issues returning Lazard, meaning the top three receivers will all be back in 2021. Funchess, who sat out the 2020 season, is a wildcard. Can he add anything after being out of football for over a year? Depth is needed here regardless. Adding a draft pick to the mix could create a strong competition during camp. Expect at least 2-3 new players. Ken's cap perspective: Davante Adams has the fourth-highest cap hit on the roster with $16.8 million in 2021 and is in a prime position to be extended by the Packers this off-season which could lower his cap by an estimated $4-6 million depending on structure. Devin Funchess returns from his COVID opt-out season with his $2.3 million deal – the Packers could save $1.3 million if they let him go. MVS earned a rookie proven performance escalator by playing a significant number of snaps in his first three seasons and gets a raise up to a $2.2 million base salary in his final year. Allen Lazard should be back on a cheap $850K exclusive rights free agent deal and Malik Taylor could similarly be back as well, even cheaper. The entire 2020 wide receiver corps should return for training camp, but this position group needs an infusion of young talent since there isn’t a returning receiver under contract beyond this 2021 season. I expect at least one draft pick used to provide future stability here.

Tight end

(AP Photo/David Berding)

Under contract (6): Jace Sternberger, Josiah Deguara, Dominique Dafney, John Lovett, Isaac Nauta, Bronson Kaufusi Free agents (2): Marcedes Lewis (unrestricted), Robert Tonyan (restricted) Early thoughts: Do the Packers have enough money to bring back Lewis for one more year? Doubtful. Tonyan is the focus here. Maybe the Packers can get a multi-year deal done and avoid the risk involved in the restricted tender. If Tonyan returns, this looks like a strong, versatile group, although finding a replacement for Lewis as the blocking tight end will be a struggle. Ken's cap perspective: The current tight end group is made up of a bunch of guys on cheap rookie deals, no big cap savings are going to be found in this group. One name currently not listed is restricted free agent Robert Tonyan. I predict the Packers want Tonyan to return and will place a second-round tender on him which equates to a one-year deal of $3.4 million. This gives the Packers a bit of insurance if another team tries to sign Tonyan to a long-term deal, and if the Packers decline to match the offer, they will receive a second-round draft pick as compensation for losing Tonyan. I can also see the Packers avoiding the RFA tender system and negotiating a long-term deal outright which could prove to be cheaper in 2021.

Offensive line

Under contract (10): David Bakhtiari, Billy Turner, Rick Wagner, Elgton Jenkins, Lucas Patrick, Jon Runyan, Simon Stepaniak, Ben Braden, Jake Hanson, Zack Johnson Free agents (4): Corey Linsley (unrestricted), Lane Taylor (unrestricted), Jared Veldheer (unrestricted), Yosh Nijman (exclusive rights) Early thoughts: It will be tough to lose Linsley after an All-Pro season, but he'll likely have a strong market and the Packers will be hard-pressed to keep him. Jenkins or Patrick are good bets to move to center if Linsley departs. Maybe bringing back Taylor on a cheap, one-year deal could help maintain some of the impressive depth along the offensive line. Re-doing Turner's deal could create some cap space, while Wagner is a likely cap casualty. The Packers prepared for losing depth when they drafted three offensive linemen in the sixth round last year, but there looks to be a real need at offensive tackle entering 2021. Ken's cap perspective: David Bakhtiari got paid a truckload of money with his record-breaking extension in 2020 and carries a $19.3 million salary cap hit for the 2021 season, the third-highest on the team. The Packers will convert part of his $11 million roster bonus into signing bonus, freeing up to $8.3-8.9 million of cap space. Billy Turner brings the seventh-highest cap hit on the roster at $8.4 million – a restructure could create up to $2.2-3.6 million. Rick Wagner played well for the Packers but is very venerable to be cut freeing up $4.25 million. Lucas Patrick being cut could save almost $2 million, but I see him sticking around. The rest of the guys along the line are on cheap rookie deals without much cap savings to be had. Yosh Nijman could come back on a cheap $850K exclusive rights free agent deal. Corey Linsley was excellent, but I don’t see him returning with three potential replacements at center already on the roster in Elgton Jenkins, Lucas Patrick, and Jake Hanson. Lane Taylor could perhaps come back on new veteran salary benefit rules in the recent CBA to be paid up to $2.24 million cash but count only $990K on the salary cap. Bakhtiari’s injury and the likely departure of Wagner make tackle a top need for this team and could see multiple draft picks used here.

Defensive line

Under contract (6): Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Kingsley Keke, Anthony Rush, Willington Previlion, Delontae Scott Free agents (4): Montravius Adams (unrestricted), Tyler Lancaster (restricted), Damon Harrison (unrestricted), Billy Winn (unrestricted) Early thoughts: Lowry is a serviceable role player but has an inflated contract and is a strong candidate for restructure or release. This position is severely lacking depth even with Lowry. The Packers may need to find cheap veterans or use several draft picks to replenish up front on defense. Ken's cap perspective: Kenny Clark became the highest-paid nose tackle in the league with his extension during 2020. His contract was structured to be extremely lean for the 2021 season collecting only $2 million in cash with a $7 million cap hit – there is negligible cap savings to be had here. Dean Lowry is vulnerable to a salary reduction or else being cut from the roster, creating $3.3 million in cap space. The remaining defensive linemen are on their cheap rookie deals with no real cap savings to be had. Tyler Lancaster is a restricted free agent, but I don’t see the Packers tendering him an offer – perhaps he or free agent Montravious Adams come back on a veteran minimum deal. Defensive line must be a top need for this team, especially if the new defensive coordinator prefers a heavier defensive front. This area certainly will be targeted in the upcoming draft.

Linebacker

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Under contract (7): Christian Kirksey, Kamal Martin, Krys Barnes, Oren Burks, Ty Summers, De'Jon Harris, Ray Wilborn Free agents (1): James Burgess (unrestricted) Early thoughts: Kirksey came on late in 2020, but he still played at a replaceable level and likely won't be back without taking a big paycut. This can be a cheap but serviceable position if Martin and Barnes take a jump in Year 2. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said he wants more production from the inside linebackers in 2021, but that doesn't guarantee he'll make an addition. Ken's cap perspective: The linebacker group is Christian Kirksey and a bunch of guys on their cheap rookie deals. Kirksey is another player who will likely be approached with taking a pay reduction or getting outright cut, saving $5.6 million. Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin are the likely starters heading into 2021, but the depth behind them is bone dry. I don’t expect premium draft capital to be used here, but a few new bodies will be needed to compete for back-end roster spots.

Edge rusher

AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith

Under contract (5): Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai Free agents (1): Randy Ramsey (exclusive rights) Early thoughts: It's increasingly difficult to imagine Preston Smith being back in 2021 at his current cap hit. The Packers need to create savings somewhere, and he's a prime candidate. If he departs, more depth will be required, but Gary took a massive jump in 2020 and the Packers like both Garvin and Galeai. Ken's cap perspective: Za’Darius Smith has the second-highest cap hit on the roster at an even $22 million. I don’t see Z being cut, but his contract can be restructured to free up to $7.4-11.8 million, or perhaps even more if the Packers choose to extend his deal beyond the 2022 season. The other Smith brother, Preston, has the fifth-highest cap hit of $16 million in 2021 and does feel extremely vulnerable to a pay cut or release by the Packers freeing up $8 million in the process. Rashan Gary seems more than ready to fill the void of Preston Smith, but the remaining guys on the depth chart are cheap and unproven on the playing field. While not a top need, you can never have enough quality pass rushers and I could see the Packers adding here in the draft.

Cornerback

Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Under contract (5): Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, Ka'dar Hollman, Stanford Samuels, KeiVarae Russell Free agents (3): Kevin King (unrestricted), Chandon Sullivan (restricted), Parry Nickerson (restricted) Early thoughts: This position is a mess, even if Alexander is the best young corner in football. Who knows what the Packers have behind him. King is almost certainly gone, and the Packers may want competition in the slot even if Sullivan returns. Cornerback looks like it needs another major investment through the draft. Again. Ken's cap perspective: The best way to describe this position group is cheap and thin. Jaire Alexander is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal at $3.8 million. While I have heard lots of discussion around the need to extend Jaire this season, I think the Packers instead exercise their fifth-year option to extend his contract into 2022 and worry about an extension next season, similar to how they handled Kenny Clark’s fifth year. Kevin King likely does not return to the Packers after his final up and down season, but I won’t fully rule out a one-year, prove-it deal if he doesn’t land a big contract elsewhere since the depth here is troubling. Chandon Sullivan is a restricted free agent they may or may not like to see come back. Josh Jackson was a healthy scratch behind the disappointing King and Sullivan down the stretch last season and is questionable to return in 2021. Cornerback is the No. 1 top need of this team heading into the 2021 season and I would be shocked not to see a premium draft selection used here.

Safety

AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith

Under contract (5): Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Vernon Scott, Henry Black, Innis Gaines Free agents (2): Will Redmond (unrestricted), Raven Greene (restricted) Early thoughts: Even if the Packers lost Redmond and Greene, this position would be in good shape. We also don't know if the next defensive coordinator will want to use the dime linebacker/safety hybrid position. Adding another centerfield type could allow the next coordinator to use Savage and Amos in more creative ways. Ken's cap perspective: Adrian Amos is the pricey veteran of the group with the sixth-highest cap hit on the roster at $10.3 million. Similar to Za’Darius Smith I could see the Packers looking to restructure Adrian’s deal, creating $2.7-4.3 million in cap space, or even extend his deal beyond the 2022 season. A cut of Amos would be a surprise to me but would create $4.3 million. Savage and the rest of the depth here are on their cheap rookie deals. Raven Greene is another restricted free agent who I don’t think receives a tender offer from the Packers but could maybe be back on a minimum deal. Will Redmond is an unrestricted free agent who could also return on a cheap deal. The Packers will need to add to this existing position group either by bringing back some of their own guys or via the draft.

Specialists

AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Under contract (5): Mason Crosby, JK Scott, Hunter Bradley, JJ Molson, Ryan Winslow Free agents (0): None Early thoughts: Having Molson and Winslow on the offseason roster provides competition for both Crosby and Scott, respectively. The Packers may also need to find competition for Bradley, who had a shaky third season. Ken's cap perspective: Mason Crosby has been excellent, but his $2.5 million cap savings if they move on can’t be fully ignored. JK Scott at punter has been the subject of a lot of criticism, but from a cap perspective the savings from a potential departure is rather insignificant.