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Breaking down the Salary Cap implications of David Bakhtiari’s new contract

A clear accounting quirk will allow the Packers to keep Bakhtiari’s cap hit relatively low in 2021, but they will still need to cut some money off the roster for next year.

Green Bay Packers Training Camp Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The numbers are in. David Bakhtiari’s contract is official, and the full structure of the deal between the Green Bay Packers and their current and future left tackle is fully available.

While the cap number for 2021 looks big — just shy of $20 million at present, with a shrinking salary cap expected to be around $175 million — the Packers reserved the ability to spread some of that cap hit out into 2022 and beyond, when the cap is expected to rebound. It’s a clever bit of accounting by Russ Ball and company, and it allowed Bakhtiari to still clean up with a big signing bonus last week while keeping his cash flow consistent over the next few years.keeping

ESPN’s Rob Demovsky published the full breakdown of the contract on Friday morning and went through a solid explanation of some of the salary cap implications of the deal. The base contract, as currently written, breaks down as follows: (all numbers shown in millions)

Bakhtiari Base Contract

Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Proration Roster Bonus Per-Game RBs Workout Bonus Cap Hit Cash
Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Proration Roster Bonus Per-Game RBs Workout Bonus Cap Hit Cash
2020 $6.053 $9.200 $0.000 $0.500 $0.500 $16.253 $37.05
2021 $1.075 $6.000 $11.072 $0.600 $0.700 $19.447 $13.45
2022 $3.200 $6.000 $9.500 $0.600 $0.700 $20.000 $14.00
2023 $6.700 $6.000 $9.500 $0.600 $0.700 $23.500 $17.50
2024 $20.200 $6.000 $0.000 $0.600 $0.700 $27.500 $21.50

Ultimately, this new deal increases Bakhtiari’s 2020 salary cap number, but only by a bit; his hit goes up by about $2 million for this year from the previous $14.2M number. This cuts slightly into the team’s available cap space and therefore reduces the amount that they will be able to roll over into 2021.

But, as Demovsky notes, that roster bonus for 2021, set to be paid out on March 19th, is an obvious candidate for restructuring. If the team reworks the contract to pay that $11M or so as a signing bonus at that time, it will get spread out over the final four years of the contract. That would then make the deal look like this instead:

Bakhtiari Restructured Contract

Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Proration Roster Bonus Per-Game RBs Workout Bonus Cap Hit Cash
Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Proration Roster Bonus Per-Game RBs Workout Bonus Cap Hit Cash
2020 $6.053 $9.200 $0.000 $0.500 $0.500 $16.253 $37.05
2021 $1.075 $8.768 $0.000 $0.600 $0.700 $11.143 $13.45
2022 $3.200 $8.768 $9.500 $0.600 $0.700 $22.768 $14.00
2023 $6.700 $8.768 $9.500 $0.600 $0.700 $26.268 $17.50
2024 $20.200 $8.768 $0.000 $0.600 $0.700 $30.268 $21.50

The restructuring of the bonus drops Bakhtiari’s cap hit for 2021 by over $8 million, down to $11.43M. That is a much easier pill to swallow for next year, when the cap is projected to be down around the minimum allowed number of $175 million.

The Packers could then keep kicking the can down the road with Bakhtiari’s roster bonuses in 2022 and 2023 if they so choose, depending on whether the salary cap in those years remains depressed. If league revenues bounce back in 2021, those caps should be back closer to normal — perhaps over $200 million in both years — which would make the cap hits of $20M-plus more palatable, but if needed, the Packers could spread out the $9.5M bonus for 2022 over the final three years, reducing that season’s cap number by another $6.2 million or so. Then there’s 2024, when the Packers would almost certainly look to restructure Bakhtiari’s deal either through a release or an extension.

All told, OvertheCap.com now projects the Packers to be about $24 million over the salary cap in 2021, based on a cap number of $176 million and only the contracts that remain on the books for next season — in other words, the incoming draft class and any future signings are not included, and neither is the projected restructure of Bakhtiari’s deal. That bonus conversion would drop the Packers down to being about $15.78 million over the cap, so the team will need to continue to find ways to trim cap numbers down.

One option that could free up space would be a contract extension for Davante Adams. With the going rate for top wide receivers on long-term contracts being around $22-23 million per year, the Packers might be able to cut as much as $5 million off his 2021 cap hit by signing him to a four-year extension. That could bring them down to about $11 million left to go to get under the cap number, which they could reach by releasing a few high-priced veteran players with little dead money.

Of the players Demovsky mentioned as candidates for release, a few stand out as clear candidates. Linebacker Preston Smith would save the Packers the most cap space — he is due a $16 million cap hit in 2020, and accounting for an $8 million dead money charge due to signing bonus money already paid, releasing him would save the team $8 million. Christian Kirksey would save $6 million in cap space, with his $8 million cap hit in 2021 being offset by $2 million in signing bonus money. Rick Wagner’s $6 million cap hit would drop to $1.75 million in dead money on release, saving the team $4.25 million.

The latter two players seem like plausible releases; both players’ deals, signed in March, were two-year contracts that seemed set up to be one year and done — that possibility was evident even in the spring when they signed. Furthermore, Wagner has played only when one of the Packers’ starting tackles has been injured, while Kirksey has missed a few games to injury himself, allowing Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin some valuable early playing time. Combined, cutting those two would save $10.25 million against the cap, nearly making up for Bakhtiari’s 2021 number. And with the cap crunch coming, luxuries like a $6 million backup offensive lineman or an $8 million starting linebacker who provides a steady but not-very-impactful presence are ones that the Packers, given their cap situation, simply cannot afford.

Yes, the Packers paid up big for Bakhtiari, but he’s worth it, earning first- or second-team All-Pro status in each of the past four years and heading into just his age 30 season in 2021. And let’s face it: would you rather the Packers keep the best pass-protector in football manning the blind side at a cap hit of $11 million and change with a few athletic second-year players playing linebacker; or see Bakh walk, resulting in a drop-off to a significantly less effective player in Wagner and keeping the ability to pay Kirksey?

Obviously, the cap implications are not quite that simple, but the numbers come out pretty close. The deal keeps one of the Packers’ very best players — the best, in fact, according to APC’s offseason roster ranking — on the roster with a cap hit of a fraction of his actual value. It’s nearly impossible that the Packers could find a better way to use $11 million in cap space in 2021 than doing so to keep Bakhtiari.