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What will the Packers do about their 2021 exclusive rights free agents?

Expect all of these young players to return for 2021, but one in particular might be interested in a little more than his league-minimum tender.

Divisional Round - Los Angeles Rams v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers face decisions on a handful of players classified as Exclusive-Rights Free Agents over the next 13 days. These players, whose contracts expired after the 2020 season, all have two or fewer accrued seasons of NFL experience, defined as six or more games spent on the active roster or injured reserve.

For all of these players, the Packers’ decisions to use an ERFA tender are easy ones. The tender is equivalent to a one-year contract at the league minimum salary, which is dependent on how many of those accrued seasons the player has. In 2021, the minimum is $660,000 for rookies, $780,000 for second-year pros, and $850,000 for a third season.

Also notable is the financial impact of signing these players. Because of the NFL’s Top 51 rule in the offseason, only the 51 highest contracts (in terms of salary cap hit) count towards the cap. Thus, using these tenders only adds to the cap in the amount that the tender exceeds a first-year league minimum salary of $660k.

Here’s a look at what to expect from the team’s four exclusive-rights free agents and why one of them might want to consider a creative contract negotiation.

OT Yosh Nijman

Accrued seasons: 1
ERFA tender amount: $780,000

With the Packers facing the prospect of not having David Bakhtiari for the first part of the 2021 season, every depth piece at offensive tackle that they can get will be important. Nijman managed to be active for every game in 2020, even if he barely saw any playing time because of the versatility of the starting line. But for the second-year minimum, he’ll definitely be back on his tender, given that the offseason cap impact of signing him is just $120,000.

OLB Randy Ramsey

Accrued seasons: 1
ERFA tender amount: $780,000

Like Nijman, Ramsey has the benefit of playing at a position where the Packers are top-heavy but have little depth. That depth will be even more shallow if the team does move on from Preston Smith. At the end of the season, Ramsey had moved past rookie Jonathan Garvin as the #4 EDGE, pushing Garvin to be a healthy scratch as Ramsey played heavily on special teams and saw a handful of defensive snaps in each game.

The Packers need all the promising young bodies on the edge that they can find, meaning Ramsey will definitely be back as well.

WR Malik Taylor

Accrued seasons: 1
ERFA tender amount: $780,000

The Packers seem to really like Taylor, whom they signed before training camp in 2019. Taylor ended up on the practice squad throughout that entire season, then made the team as the WR5 out of training camp.

However, after being a staple on special teams during the early and middle parts of the season and even pitching in with some significant offensive playing time during Allen Lazard’s injury absence, Taylor never really carved out a significant role. If there’s one player in this group who might not get a tender should they need the $120k in cap space, it’s Taylor, but the team will probably still bring him back to compete for a job once again, given his low price tag.

WR Allen Lazard

Accrued seasons: 2
ERFA tender amount: $850,000

Will Lazard get his tender? Yes, of course. As the team’s WR 2 or WR3 (depending on how you view him and Marquez Valdes-Scantling), Lazard has back-to-back seasons with over 450 receiving yards, hitting that number in just ten games in 2020. Lazard’s numbers in his two seasons show remarkable consistency on an efficiency basis, with yards-per-catch values of 13.6 and 13.7 and catch rates between 67 and 71 percent, and he remains a reliable chain-mover on third downs. However, his overall target rate increased by more than a full target per game from 2019 to 2020, and his snaps per game jumped from about 30 to 47.

If Lazard maintains his efficiency and his upward trend in overall usage, he would almost certainly draw interest as a Restricted Free Agent next season. That puts him in a position where he could try to leverage the Packers for a bit more security on a two-year contract, buying out his RFA year in 2022. Should he sign the one-year tender, Green Bay may face the prospect of using a second-round or even a first-round RFA tender on him next season and costing themselves some substantial money next season. Lazard could push the Packers for a two-year deal that includes a little bit of guaranteed money up front but carries a lower 2022 salary than it might take to bring him back on a high tender. Basically, he could offer to sacrifice a bit of money in 2022 in exchange for a little bit up front and some more security if anything happens to him in 2021.

Ultimately, given the Packers’ tight cap situation in 2021, that may be untenable; GM Brian Gutekunst may simply be happy to pay him the league minimum this year and worry about a 2022 RFA tender this time next year, when the cap should increase. But if I were Lazard and his camp, I’d wait to sign the inevitable 2021 tender for at least a few days to see if the Packers miss out on any big free agent fish and end up with a little bit of extra cash. In that case, then it might be worth at least asking about a two-year deal.


Note: CB Kabion Ento had previously been included in lists of exclusive-rights free agents, but according to Overthecap.com, he actually remains under contract through 2021. Should he indeed be an ERFA, he should return as well given the Packers’ question marks at cornerback.