Pardon the pun in the headline. Obviously, not all these guys are going to be gone, but I thought I would group together all the larger salaries, and sort of take a step back & consider the possibility of who should & shouldn't be on the payroll for this upcoming season. I have listed all players whose salary next year exceeds $1,000,000. Asterisks indicate that 2011 is the final year of their current contract.
They're clearly staying, so, not much to think about here. Plug & play, these guys earn their salaries:
QB Aaron Rodgers ($7.25 mil + $500k roster bonus)
WR Greg Jennings ($2.7 mil)
TE Jermichael Finley ($1.2 mil)*
C Scott Wells ($2.75 million + $200,000 roster bonus)*
G Josh Sitton ($1.2 million)*
T Bryan Bulaga ($405,000 + $3.95 mil option bonus)
ILB Desmond Bishop ($1.188 mil)
CB Charles Woodson ($7.85 mil)
CB Tramon Williams ($1 mil + $3.5 mil roster bonus)
S Nick Collins ($2.9 mil)
This next tier is guys who have history here and are quite likely to return. There is some questions about these guys returning, but mostly not because of cap space:
RB Ryan Grant ($3.5 mil + $250k roster bonus)*
How much has the injury affected his play? Does the coaching staff have enough faith in James Starks to make him the feature back? I think the answer to those two questions are not much & no, respectively. However, he is getting up in years (for an NFL RB), and I would think there would be some decline in his production. Barring any "cratering" of ability, I think we'll have #25 in the backfield for the upcoming season.
WR Donald Driver ($4.1 mil + $700k roster bonus)
He could potentially retire, but I think it is quite unlikely. He has done so much for the organization, that I think they're going to allow him to retire as a Packer after playing his whole career here. His salary may be more than he's worth, but they'll let him go under his own terms, and that's the right move.
T Chad Clifton ($5.25 mil + $203k roster bonus)
See: Driver, Donald
DL Ryan Pickett ($2.7 million)
This is the only salary cap fatality I could see in this group. If they wanted to free up cap room on the D-Line to re-sign Cullen Jenkins, they may cut Pickett loose. I think it's highly unlikely, though.
DB Jarrett Bush ($1.4 mil)*
He's a special teams demon, but I still think his coverage skills are lacking. He will almost certainly be back. Let's just hope it is confined entirely to non-defensive plays.
...and so we reach the guys who have to sweat it out. These are not bad players, but in the salary cap world of the NFL, competition & finances both play a role in determining who makes the active roster.
TE Donald Lee ($2.2 mil)*
He's been outplayed by every other TE on the roster. Crabtree is a better blocker. Finley is a better receiver. "God's Gifts"....well, he has better upside than Lee, and has shown flashes of brilliance, if it is at times inconsistent. In the H-back formation, Crabtree & Quarless have been the ones lining up in the backfield, not Lee. Add in to that the fact he's set to make $1 mil more than Finley, 5 times more than the other two, is in the final year of his deal, and I just don't see a reason for him to return, even if we were to keep 4 TEs on the roster again this year. That's not a knock on Lee, who is a solid player, but just a testament to how strong we are at TE.
T Mark Tauscher ($4.1 mil + $281k roster bonus)*
He's the most likely player on the roster to retire, and even if he doesn't, that's looking like quite a fat salary for a backup T. I have always liked him quite a bit, local boy makes good, plays for the hometown teams UW & GB (always seemed like a really cool person, too), so it does pain me to say this, but I think he should step out the door. If we encounter injury problems on the OL, I think we could just give him a jingle & have him fill in, like he did last time we were in that situation.
DL Johnny Jolly ($2.521 million)*
Here's an interesting case. He certainly did himself no favors with his legal issues, and may not even be granted reinstatement to the NFL. That's just one hurdle he has to clear. How has he maintained himself while he was out of football? While he was out, there were some other players who stepped up along the defensive line, making him appear expendable. I don't know if I totally buy that, though. I think, barring any further legal indiscretions or extended NFL suspension, he will be at training camp (if there is one this year), and the coaches will evaluate where he is at physically. I think all that will factor in more than his potential cap number.
ILB A.J. Hawk ($10 million)
ILB Nick Barnett ($5.5 mil + $375k roster bonus)
ILB Brandon Chillar ($2 million)
These three are intertwined, because it's pretty clear they're not all going to be on the roster with these salaries. Hawk has the largest salary, but also is the only one who didn't finish the season on IR. He showed his value to the team this year. That being said, there's no way he's getting $10 million from the Packers next season. Obviously, the team's first priority is to get him to renegotiate his contract to get it a little more manageable, say in the $3-6 million range. Depending on how these negotiations go, he may or may not be in Green & Gold next year. I think he has to know that his contract is ridiculous, and I think he's decent & reasonable enough to bring it down to stay with the World Champs. Barnett is another who would do well to renegotiate or fear the slice of the blade. However, I don't necessarily think that he has to renegotiate to stay. He has been a leader of the defense for many years, but he is another year older, and sustained another injury. $5.875 million could go a long way to securing a certain FA CB, who may have some trouble with the TSA, if he flew commercially. Chillar, I think has a pretty clearly defined role in the nickel, which sets him apart from the other ILBs. I'd say he's pretty much a lock to make this salary next year as a member of the GB Packers.
OLB Brady Poppinga ($2.05 million + $300,000 roster bonus)
He's as good as gone. He's 32, injured the same knee last season that he did as a rookie, and hasn't really done a whole lot so far in his pro career. There is no reason to hold on to him after what Zombo/Walden/Jones have done this past season (well, maybe not Jones, but he was the starter coming out of camp). He's solid depth, but we have plenty of that at OLB, what we need is an impact player there, and he is not that.