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What Aaron Jones’ new contract with the Packers might look like

Jones is getting a big bag of cash no matter what. But if the Packers structure his deal like some of their other big contracts from the past few years, it won’t be as painful for the team as skeptics initially feared.

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Aaron Jones’ contract on Sunday was a stunning piece of news for Green Bay Packers fans. After the team elected not to place the franchise tag on Jones last week, assuming that Jones would test the free agent market was a reasonable thought. In fact, that Jones signed prior to the start of the NFL’s negotiation period on Monday was genuinely shocking.

Jones’ deal was initially reported as a four-year, $48 million deal. However, that detail came from Jones’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and likely represents the maximum possible compensation if Jones hits all the incentives that are surely included in the deal. Instead, the base value of the contract is likely less than this, with NFL reporter Matt Lombardo reporting that his sources say the deal is worth $9.5 million per year, or $38 million total, prior to incentives.

Let’s speculate about a possible contract structure here, estimating that the pre-incentive amount comes in a little above that, at a flat $40 million, or $10 million per year. It’s a nice, round number and one that still gets Jones to a good place in the running back market while not being quite as painful as the $12 million annual value first reported.

Looking at the Packers’ typical contract structures, the only guaranteed money that they typically provide is in the form of a signing bonus. Per Rosenhaus, via ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the signing bonus is $13 million; that amount should be accurate, as there is no real way to inflate or deflate the signing bonus number.

Now let’s account for Green Bay’s typical contract structure. The Packers always include workout bonuses in veteran contracts while also working in per-game active roster bonuses to protect themselves a bit in case a player misses games to injury. Adrian Amos’ contract is helpful here, as his four-year, $36 million deal included a $500k annual workout bonus and $400k in annual per-game roster bonuses. We’ll assume a similar workout bonus and a bit more in per-game roster bonuses, up to $500k, due to reports that the Packers are somewhat concerned about Jones’ durability.

On these four-year deals, the Packers tend to give players a low base salary in year one to keep the cap hit low, then inflate it a decent amount in year two. With the Packers’ cap numbers continuing to climb in 2022, we’re betting that they try to keep Jones’ cap hit a bit lower for next season before it increases precipitously in 2023, setting up a big decision that offseason.

The Packers also tend to use offseason roster bonuses to ensure a decision on a player’s roster status in the offseason.

With all of those factors included, the contract structure below would seem to be a reasonable place to land for a four-year, $40 million deal, with something around $2 million in incentives baked into each season. This keeps Jones’ cap hit fairly low in 2021 — at just $5.25 million — before jumping to $9.25 million in 2022 and then bumping up another notch for 2023. It also gives Jones $21 million in compensation over the first two years.

Possible Contract Structure

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
2021 $1.000 $3.250 $0.500 $0.500 $5.250 $15.00
2022 $2.000 $3.250 $3.000 $0.500 $0.500 $9.250 $6.00
2023 $5.000 $3.250 $3.000 $0.500 $0.500 $12.250 $9.00
2024 $9.000 $3.250 $0.500 $0.500 $13.250 $10.00

Actual details of the deal should be revealed in the next 24 to 48 hours, and we’ll see how close this estimate is to the real deal. This structure would allow the Packers to move on from Jones in 2023 if he fails to live up to the deal, doing so with just a $6.5 million dead cap hit that season — a cap savings of $5.75 million versus the number if he stays on the contract.

If the structure looks something like this — with less money than originally reported and offering the Packers an out after 2022 with relatively little dead money on the books in 2023 — it should make the contract at least a little more palatable to individuals who subscribe to the “don’t pay running backs” philosophy.