The Green Bay Packers under the leadership of general manager Ted Thompson have consistently been one of the most financially stable franchises with respect to the NFL salary cap. The team has been shrewd with its free agent signings (often to fans’ consternation), but they have taken on few bad investments. Furthermore, cap guru Russ Ball has helped develop contract structures that limit the Packers’ commitments if a contract were not to work out in a beneficial way for the team.
One way of assessing how well a team has made its financial investments is by looking at how much dead money a team carries against its salary cap. Dead money is assessed when a team has paid out cash to a player, usually in the form of a signing bonus, then releases that player.
Although the Packers have a significant number of individual players responsible for the dead money on the books in 2017, the total dollar value is quite small. In fact, the Packers’ total dead money — just $3,975,415 — ranks right at the bottom third of the NFL (11th-fewest, to be exact).
Furthermore, the biggest single contributor to that value is cornerback Sam Shields, whose release was due entirely to concussion-related symptoms. Those issues kept him out of essentially the entire 2016 season and any potential return to the NFL is essentially off the table. Shields had one year left on a four-year contract when the Packers released him after the season, and the prorated portion of his signing bonus added $3.125 million to the Packers’ dead money total.
The only other player with six figures or more in dead money is running back James Starks, who had $750,000 in signing bonus money prorated to 2017. His release was a necessity, as a result of rapidly declining play, injuries, and the development of Ty Montgomery as a tailback.
Two more players are in the five-digit range; 2015 sixth-round draft pick Kennard Backman ($45,242) and running back Christine Michael ($25,000). Backman was cut at the end of last year’s training camp, while Michael actually received that amount as a signing bonus on a one-year deal for 2017. However, Michael was released a few weeks after he signed, following the Packers’ drafting of three rookie runners.
The 16 players who account for the remaining $30,173 of dead money are undrafted players who received small signing bonuses last season but who were released off the active roster at some point during 2016. That list includes a few players who later were added back to the roster, including wide receiver Geronimo Allison, quarterback Joe Callahan, and cornerback Herb Waters.
All told, the Packers only have about $850,000 in dead money that is the result of non-injury-related transactions, a nice low number to maintain. In fact, only three teams have less dead money than that overall: the Raiders and Broncos at about $110,000 each and the Bengals at about $370,000. By contrast, the Ravens, Jets, Saints, and Cowboys each have over $16 million in dead money in 2017, a number which accounts for about 10% of the total salary cap.
It is by ensuring that the team does not have to take on dead money that the Packers make sure they avoid salary cap hell that has claimed the fortunes of several NFL teams in recent years.
Contract and salary cap information was obtained from Over The Cap.