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Packers Free Agency Fantasies: Playing the salary cap game with a few big names

Week 17 has passed, but I’m already daydreaming about the future.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

I can feel the comments already being pre-typed out for this one, but I just want to take a quick beat and fantasize about what it would be like if the Packers pulled a Jacksonville or Philadelphia and spent big in free agency.

When I first started this piece, Ted Thompson was still the GM of the Packers. Now? The search begins (both internally and externally) for Thompson’s possible replacement. With that being said, it’s hard to guess what the next GM will do if there isn’t one.

Just take this article with a Crait-sized grain of salt and look with me at what an anti-Thompson GM could do.

Davante Adams has a large new contract and one could argue that Aaron Rodgers should be extended sooner rather than later. Adams’ new contract has a reported $10.6 million cap hit in 2018. Also extended is center Corey Linsley, who just got a new 3-year deal with an average salary of $8.5 million/annually. Linsley’s cap hit was reported for 2018 at just under $5 million.

That leaves an estimated $25.3 million in cap space for the Packers in 2018 free agency.

Other notable free agents for the Packers will be Morgan Burnett, Ahmad Brooks, Davon House, and Jahri Evans. If re-signed, don’t expect these guys to put a huge dent in the salary cap. But for the sake of this exercise, let’s not include them in the budget.

When looking at free agents, I’ll target three things in this free agent fantasy:

  1. Character— I think we all want to avoid another instance of signing a semi-high profile free agent who quits on the team when things get rough.
  2. Aaron Rodgers— we’re extending Rodgers without question, but at 34-years old, it’s time to give Rodgers the LeBron James treatment and allow him a say on who he thinks will be able to help them deliver another Lombardi Trophy.
  3. Realistic shot— I know this is a fantasy, but we’re not going after Le’Veon Bell. The free agents have to be somewhat believable and at a position of need. (I’m still really excited to say that RB isn’t a position of need anymore.)

I’m going to use Over the Cap’s Salary Cap Calculator to keep track of the cap space for this exercise.

Without further ado, let’s take a look into the crystal ball, get our hopes up, and day dream about an alternate universe where the Packers sign free agents.

Allen Robinson, WR

Robinson missed essentially all of the 2017 season with a torn ACL so many expect Robinson to be a lot better of a value going into unrestricted free agency. Alshon Jeffery keeps popping up as the litmus test here and I’ll use it again. Suffering several injuries, Jeffery signed with the Eagles on a one-year prove it deal. He parlayed that into an extension and I expect Robinson to do the same, because fair or not, he was coming off just an okay season in 2016 after exploding in 2015.

Robinson would provide a solid complement to Davante Adams since we don’t know what we’ll get with Jordy Nelson moving forward. (For the record, I like Jordy taking on a little bit of a revival role in the slot like Larry Fitzgerald has).

Someone please get Robinson a competent quarterback!

Robinson has great size and even though he lacks top end speed, I think Rodgers would appreciate the separation he can still make with his initial burst. With Robinson, the Packers wouldn’t have to wait for a young receiver to develop into an NFL player and I don’t see any diva tendencies.

On a 1-year, $9 million dollar deal like Jeffery’s contract coming into this year, that’ll leave the Packers with ~$16.3 million in cap space, which if structured like Jeffrey’s, only had a base salary of $1,000,000 and the rest made up in bonuses. Super team friendly.

The idea would be to sell Robinson on playing with a Hall of Fame quarterback and earning a big paycheck the next season because of it.

Kyle Fuller, CB

The Bears have a decision to make as Kyle Fuller and their other starting corner, Prince Amukamara, are free agents. After Chicago declined Fuller’s fifth-year option, the soon-to-be 26 year old played himself into one of the top corners on this year’s free agent market. Fuller allowed only a 75.2 passer rating to opposing QBs this season when throwing in his direction.

It makes too much sense for the Bears to re-sign Fuller, but with their front office consistently re-shuffling, it’s hard to tell what the move is.

Kevin King is still a work in progress, but you have to like what you saw in his limited action as a rookie. With Damarious Randall having an improved season, the secondary feels like it’s a piece or two from being a good unit. Davon House is a free agent, but scooping up a solid boundary corner like Fuller would more than make up for House’s absence. Fuller has great closing speed and has good size at 6’ tall.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Plus, bringing in a good free agent from a rival is just icing on the cake isn’t it?

According to Spotrac, Fuller has a 93.4% similarity score to Xavier Rhodes. With that in mind, and a similar contract to what Rhodes got, signing Fuller would leave the Packers with ~$14.9 million in cap space for 2018 and a cap hit of ~$10.4 million in the first year. Though with Fuller’s health issues and the fact that he’s not at Rhodes’ level yet, it could certainly be argued that he’s worth less.

Demarcus Lawrence, DE

You think I forgot about snagging a good pass rusher?

The Packers might be in for a new defensive scheme after parting ways with Dom Capers. And they might be better off in a 4-3 defensive scheme to give Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels more one-on-one match ups. Lining up Demarcus Lawrence in a front four with Nick Perry (or a high-drafted DE), Clark and Daniels gives me goosebumps and would give opposing offenses night terrors.

The Cowboys have enough cap issues of their own if they’re going to sign Zack Martin to a long-term deal in 2019. So that leaves Lawrence as a potential cap casualty.

That is, of course, if they don’t franchise tag him.

Normally, I would shy away from a defensive end that suddenly blows up in a contract year to DPOY territory, but Lawrence is young (4-year vet) and had a solid second season where he recorded 8 sacks. 2016 was an injury and suspension plagued year that only allowed Lawrence to play 9 games which is why this season may have looked unexpected.

I said I was avoiding bad character guys, but being suspended in Dallas almost seems like a right of passage for young Cowboys. A change in environment might help him continue his football progression.

Cowboys Wire has Lawrence valued at earning a six-year, $98 million deal with an $18 million signing bonus. For 2018, that could be structured to have as low as a $6.6 million cap hit, which would leave the Packers with ~$18.7 million in cap space for 2018 and a cap hit of ~$6.6 million. However, Lawrence’s cap hit would be much more significant in 2019, probably second to only Aaron Rodgers. Knowing the Packers’ front office, they would be likely to load more money onto the first year of the deal instead of backloading it like that.

The Hail Mary in this fantasy would be if the Front Office decided they wanted to go full Madden franchise and sign all three.

This would be a real “all-in” move that is unprecedented with the Green Bay club.

The issue? It’s not feasible without some massive restructuring.

The Packers would be in a cap hole by about $700,000. Leaving Robinson out of the equation would leave the Packers in the black at ~$8.3 million.

As I play GM here, I could cut Clay Matthews in the final year of his contract. If cut, it looks like that would give the Packers an additional $11.4 million dollars to play around with. That brings the cap space (minus Robinson) up to ~$19.7 million. We could renegotiate his deal, spreading his base salary out as a signing bonus to keep him longer, but that cap hit as it stands currently for an average edge linebacker on the other side of 30 is just too much.

It’s obvious that the Packers won’t be this splashy in free agency, but with Adams’ and Linsley’s contracts, they’ve proved they can still swing some significant cap friendly contracts.

It’s still fun to consider the possibility after a disappointing season that started with Super Bowl hopes.

Back to reality. It’s time to panic about who the Packers are giving the GM job to and the roster being filled out with rookie draft picks.