The NFL’s legal tampering period starts Monday, followed by the start of the new league year on Wednesday. The Green Bay Packers, still millions over the salary cap and with over a dozen free agents, are entering a pivotal period for building the 2022 roster.
Here’s a quick guide to what the Packers are up against entering free agency.
Unrestricted free agents
(AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
LB De’Vondre Campbell: First-team All-Pro linebacker might be the team’s priority, but he’ll receive plenty of interest on the open market after a breakout 2021 season.
OL Lucas Patrick: Versatile and experienced interior lineman who can start at either guard spot or center. Played over 900 regular-season snaps along the Packers offensive line each of the last two seasons.
CB Chandon Sullivan: Primary slot corner in Green Bay the last two years. Capable enough in coverage but can be iffy against the run and as a tackler. Packers likely need an upgrade here.
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling: Legit vertical threat with length and speed. Kicked his drop habit but missed six games to injury in 2021. Averaging 17.5 yards per catch for his career.
CB Rasul Douglas: Breakout star after arriving in October. Intercepted five passes and stabilized cornerback after the Packers lost Jaire Alexander. Likely priced himself out of Green Bay.
P Corey Bojorquez: Young punter with a big leg and legit kicking talent. Started hot but faded in the cold in his first season in Green Bay. Packers traded for him last August.
TE Robert Tonyan: Coming off an ACL injury, but he’s an effective pass-catching tight end, especially in this style of offense. Caught 11 touchdown passes in 2020. Could be ready for the start of the regular season.
CB Kevin King: Inconsistent and oft-injured cornerback who actually played well for stretches when healthy in his first year under Joe Barry. Packers’ top pick in 2017.
OT Dennis Kelly: Made four starts at right tackle last season, giving the Packers valuable insurance at a key position. He might be 32, but he could return to stabilize depth along the offensive line.
OLB Whitney Mercilus: Veteran edge rusher came alive for a stretch after signing in Green Bay. Injured his biceps and missed the rest of the regular season. Turns 32 in July.
DL Tyler Lancaster: Run-plugging defensive lineman with almost no pass-rushing value. Played at least 270 snaps for the Packers each of the last four seasons.
LB Oren Burks: An experienced special teamer who has never been able to carve out a meaningful role on defense. A fresh start might be best for the 2018 third-round pick.
WR Equanimeous St. Brown: Versatile and athletic receiver with special teams value. Might be maxed out as an offensive weapon. Only has 42 career touches over 37 games.
Restricted free agents
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
WR Allen Lazard: The big, physical receiver set career-highs in catches (40), receiving yards (513) and touchdowns (eight) in 2021. He’s a big part of the Packers’ run game, and the scheme often frees him up in the passing game. His season really took off once he started making contested catches, which only upped Aaron Rodgers’ confidence in throwing his way. He could be back on the second-round tender.
Exclusive rights free agents
Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Yosh Nijman (73)
All eight of these players should return on the one-year exclusive rights tender:
OT Yosh Nijman
LB Krys Barnes
OLB Randy Ramsey
WR Malik Taylor
S Henry Black
TE Dominique Dafney
C Jake Hanson
OLB Chauncey Rivers
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Defensive line: Kenny Clark provides a strong foundation, and Dean Lowry enjoyed a breakout season in 2021. But this group needs help almost every year. A cheap veteran addition and a draft pick might make sense here.
Wide receiver: Keeping Davante Adams on the tag lowers the need here, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling could depart, opening up a big void in the functionality of the offense. The passing game needs a speedster capable of winning as a vertical threat. Establishing a long-term No. 2 option might also be a priority.
Inside linebacker: If De’Vondre Campbell goes, this becomes a much bigger need. A veteran (like Cory Littleton?) will likely be required if Campbell finds more money elsewhere in free agency.
Cornerback: Every team needs three capable cornerbacks. The Packers have two (Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes). Rasul Douglas, Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan are all free agents.
Edge rusher: Brian Gutekunst also prioritizes the pass-rush, so if the Packers part ways with Za’Darius Smith, don’t be surprised if cap space or draft capital is spent on adding another big-time talent.
Offensive line: The big pieces of the line are in place, but adding depth could be in order if Lucas Patrick and Dennis Kelly depart.
Salary cap situation
According to Over the Cap, the Packers are almost $44 million over the salary cap as of Sunday night. Aaron Rodgers still doesn’t have a new contract, Davante Adams is still on the franchise tag at over $20 million, Za’Darius Smith is still on the roster and many of the most difficult decisions – on restructures and releases – still need to be made. Once Rodgers’ deal gets done, the rest of the puzzle pieces can fall into place. Expect a busy week ahead.
Potential cap casualties
Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
OLB Za’Darius Smith: The Packers can save $15.3 million by releasing him.
OLB Preston Smith: The Packers can save $12.5 million by releasing him.
WR Randall Cobb: The Packers can save $6.7 million by releasing him.
S Adrian Amos: The Packers can save $4.7 million by releasing him.
DL Dean Lowry: The Packers can save $4.1 million by releasing him.
OL Billy Turner: The Packers can save $3.4 million by releasing him.
K Mason Crosby: The Packers can save $2.4 million by releasing him.
TE Marcedes Lewis: The Packers can save $2.4 million by releasing him.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
– Za’Darius Smith is released. The Packers can’t realistically get under the salary cap by Wednesday without getting a big chunk of the savings from Smith’s deal.
– The Packers restructure just about every other veteran deal. Maybe not by Wednesday, but over time, every deal needs to get touched, just like last year.
– The Packers lose Marquez Valdes-Scantling. He’s fast, and a big-play threat. Some team will pay him much more than the Packers can.
– The Packers place the second-round tender on Allen Lazard, but add void years to spread out the cap hit. The team did a similar thing with Robert Tonyan last year.
– Many good role players leave Green Bay. The depth of Brian Gutekunst’s roster is going to take a hit over the next few weeks, but the Packers general manager is getting good at finding cheap veteran role players.
– The Packers add a veteran in the defensive front seven. Don’t expect a big splash, but don’t be surprised if the Packers take a few swings on players at defensive line and edge rusher.