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Jimmy Graham’s salary cap implications for the Packers in 2019 and beyond

Plus, here’s how and when cap space would open up if both Graham and Perry are released this offseason.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In early December, when the Green Bay Packers put outside linebacker Nick Perry on injured reserve, we at APC discussed all the options for what the team could do with him this offseason. Any decision the Packers make — from a conventional release to a post-June 1st cut to keeping him on his current contract for 2019 — will force the Packers to take a substantial hit on the salary cap over the next year or two.

At the time, the most palatable option seemed to be cutting him with a post-June 1st designation, which frees up about $10 million in salary cap space for 2019 and another $7 million in 2020. It remains this author’s opinion that this is the best option moving forward.

A similar situation is now setting up with tight end Jimmy Graham, however, who is scheduled to have a cap hit of $12.67 million in 2019. As with Perry, the team has three feasible options: a straight-up release, a post-June 1st release, or keeping him through 2019 and dealing with him in 2020. Given Graham’s production — 55 receptions for 636 yards and two touchdowns — his price tag for his age 33 and 34 seasons looks difficult to justify.

Below, you will find a breakdown of the financials of each of these situations as well as a discussion of how the decisions with both Perry and Graham could work together.

Graham’s Contract

The contract that Graham signed last March is scheduled to pay him $30 million over the three years from 2018 to 2020. That included an $11 million signing bonus, which would apply to the salary cap as a $3.667 million charge each of the three years. Graham’s cap hit in 2018 was just under $6 million, as the deal backloaded significant dollars onto years two and three.

The current cap hits are scheduled as follows:
2019: $12.667M
2020: $11.667M

A final note is that $5 million of Graham’s 2019 compensation is in the form of a roster bonus, which is scheduled to pay out on the fifth day of the 2019 league year.

Conventional Release

This is simple: if the Packers cut Graham normally, they take a $7.3 million hit on their cap, due to the final two years of his signing bonus deferral accruing in 2019. That frees up $5.3 million in cap space immediately, and it gets him off the books entirely for 2020.

2019: $7.3M dead cap, $5.3M cap relief (immediate)
2020: no dead cap, $11.7M cap relief

Post-June 1 Release

The post-June First cut option gets slightly tricky, thanks to that roster bonus, but here goes. The move would free up some cap space immediately, some more as of June 2nd, and most (but not all) of his cap hit in 2020.

The rule states that a post-June 1 cut puts the current year’s guaranteed money (or signing bonus deferral) on the current year’s cap, and all future years’ obligations go on the next year’s cap. Therefore, the Packers take one hit of $3.7M each of the next two years. However, the post-June 1st cut results in the player’s 2019 full cap hit remaining on the books until June 2nd. This means that the Packers would get $9 million of extra cap space — but not until that date. Thus, the schedule looks as follows:

2019: $3.7M dead cap hit, $9M in cap relief on June 2nd
2020: $3.7M dead cap hit, $8M in cap relief

If the Packers are going to cut Graham, they may as well do it outright without the post-June 1 designation; that would allow them to use the $5.3M in open cap space immediately for free agent signings rather than leaving it on the books until the summer. This makes even more sense when we add Nick Perry into the mix, as you’ll see shortly.

Keep Graham for 2019

The other option is, of course, to let Graham remain in Green Bay on his contract for a second season and presumably cut him before 2020. In this case, the Packers keep his $12.67M cap number on their books this year, then take a $3.67M dead hit in 2020 to open up that $8M number that season.

The difference here is the $9M in total cash Graham is scheduled to receive in 2019. That’s the amount that the Packers would save by cutting him in 2019 instead of 2020, with the timing of when those savings kick in being determined by the cut designation. Given his production in 2018, this writer feels that this $9 million could probably be put to better use elsewhere, and a cut is the wiser option.

Cutting Graham and Nick Perry

Perry’s situation is similar to Graham’s, but the amounts of cap savings are a bit different. As we discussed previously, cutting Perry outright saves the Packers about $3.3M immediately. However, the $10.7 million cap savings over the summer that would result from a post-June 1st cut is a big number, one that could feasibly cover the Packers’ entire draft class (which currently has a pool of $10.35M, per Thus, the post-June 1 cut makes sense for him. Use the cap savings from Graham to help sign some free agents, then use the Perry savings to sign the draft class.

That’s just one scenario. If the Packers were to cut both players, there are four combinations of designations possible: either, neither, or both players could get the post-June 1st designation. Here is how cap space would open up in all four scenarios:

Both Graham & Perry designated as post-June 1st cuts

  • Immediate: No cap relief
  • June 2nd: $19.7M cap relief
  • 2020: $14.9M cap relief

Graham released immediately, Perry post-June 1st

  • Immediate: $5.3M cap relief
  • June 2nd: $10.7M cap relief
  • 2020: $18.6M cap relief

Graham post-June 1st, Perry released immediately

  • Immediate: $3.3M cap relief
  • June 2nd: $9M cap relief
  • 2020: $22.3M cap relief

Both Graham & Perry released immediately

  • Immediate: $8.6M cap relief
  • June 2nd: no additional relief
  • 2020: ~$26M cap relief

Again, given that the Packers will need to sign their draft class this summer, the option of cutting Graham outright and using a post-June 1 designation on Perry appears to be the best. It frees up a nice chunk of space immediately to help sign some free agents, opens up an even bigger chunk over the summer, and gets two albatross contracts off the books with a substantial savings against the 2020 cap. And keep in mind that any unused cap space from this year’s cap will be applied to 2020, so the added flexibility of having more money during the 2019 season can only help.

The question now becomes whether Brian Gutekunst and Russ Ball see the numbers the same way.