The Green Bay Packers’ offseason is starting sooner than the organization had hoped in 2023, thanks to the team missing the postseason by one game. Green Bay’s loss to the Detroit Lions in week 18 knocked them out of the playoffs, kicking off the roster evaluation portion of the year a bit early this month.
In 2023, the NFL’s league year is set to begin on Wednesday, March 15th. At that time, players whose contracts expire after the 2022 season will become free agents and, depending on the number of accrued seasons of experience they have, will fall into one of a few different free agent categories.
Perhaps the biggest Packers player who had been set to be a free agent was offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins, whose 4-year rookie contract ran through 2022. However, the Packers signed Jenkins to a contract extension late in the season, locking him in through 2026 with a four-year, $68 million extension. That will keep him off the market, leaving the Packers with 18 total players who will be free agents in March, barring any additional early extensions.
Here is the list of impending free agents, broken down by the type of free agency they will be subject to.
Unrestricted Free Agents (7)
The following seven players have at least four accrued seasons of NFL experience and have contracts that will expire after 2022. By rule, this makes them unrestricted free agents, who can negotiate and sign with any team at the start of the 2023 league year.
CB Corey Ballentine
A 6th-round pick by the Giants in the 2019 NFL Draft, Ballentine has bounced around to six different teams in his four-year career. His only four career starts all came with the Giants in 2019 and 2020, when he also settled into a role as a kickoff returner, but his primary contributions have always been as a special teamer. He’ll likely sign somewhere on a league minimum deal to compete for a roster spot in training camp.
S Rudy Ford
The Packers claimed Ford, a six-year veteran journeyman, off waivers from the Jaguars after final cuts in August, intending for him to be safety depth and a core special teamer. He was the former for the first half of the season, playing only a handful of snaps as an injury replacement, but he was thrust into the starting lineup in week 10 when Darnell Savage was benched. Ford started the next six games, but was benched himself on Christmas Day against the Dolphins. He intercepted three passes, adding one forced fumble and another fumble recovery. As safety depth, the Packers could certainly do worse, but he is unlikely to draw a significant market in free agency.
EDGE Justin Hollins
Like Ford, Hollins was an in-season waiver claim after the Los Angeles Rams released him following week 11. With the Packers needing edge depth, Hollins immediately jumped into the rotation and played about 40% of the team’s defensive snaps over the final six games. He gave the team a little bit of pass-rush juice as well, picking up 2.5 sacks in that stretch. With the Packers still looking for depth at outside linebacker and Hollins unlikely to draw a big deal, he could be a useful player to retain for 2023.
WR Allen Lazard
Now we get into the big name of the true UFA group. Having completed his fourth full NFL season with the Packers after a year on the Jaguars’ practice squad in 2018, Lazard will look to find a bi payday following a season that saw him set career highs in targets (100), receptions (60), and receiving yards (788). His six touchdowns were two shy of his 2021 total and his 13.1 yards per reception average was right in line with his career average.
Lazard brings surplus value as a big target and a punishing run-blocker, which should help him draw substantial interest on the free agent market. Given Green Bay’s cap situation, it may prove too expensive to keep Lazard for 2023 and beyond, especially if he gets a contract in the 3-year, $33 million range that Spotrac projects for him.
S Dallin Leavitt
Leavitt came over from the Raiders this offseason as one of Rich Bisaccia’s hand-picked special teamers and proved to be a constant presence on all coverage and blocking units. He had at least 15 special teams snaps in all but two games this season, and if Bisaccia stays in Green Bay for another season, expect to see him push for Leavitt’s return on a similar one-year deal to that of 2022 — a league minimum base salary with a small signing bonus and some per-game active roster bonuses.
CB Keisean Nixon
Initially signed as cornerback depth and a special teams ace, like Leavitt, Nixon may end up as the NFL’s All-Pro kickoff returner following his explosive emergence over the second half of the 2022 season. Nixon ended up leading the league in kickoff return attempts and yards while finishing second in average yards per return as he took the Packers’ return game from nonexistent to a true threat. He also pitched in on defense as a nickel cornerback, earning four starts and seeing extended action in six games over the course of the season, much of it following Eric Stokes’ injury.
Last week, we at APC speculated on what kind of contract we would be willing to pay for Nixon, landing at something around $6 million per year for two or three years. That might be more than he gets on the open market, however.
LB Eric Wilson
Another core special teams player whom the Packers picked up on the waiver wire, Wilson was a member of every coverage and return unit since his debut in week 5. He graded out as one of the best special teams players in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, so the Packers may be inclined to bring him back on a league minimum deal to compete for a similar job in 2023.
Voiding Contracts (7)
Like Unrestricted Free Agents, any of these players will be free to sign with any other team. The void process is a way for the Packers to artificially spread out salary cap money for signing bonuses, with all of the future-loaded money hitting the cap in 2023 after the void kicks in. If the Packers were to re-sign any of these players prior to the void deadline (which appears to be February 25th in most cases), future years’ cap hits beyond 2023 would remain in those future years rather than accelerating to 2023. However, the players do not officially become free agents until the start of the 2023 league year on March 15th.
S Adrian Amos
The largest amount of voiding cap space for 2023 belongs to Amos, who will account for a cap hit of nearly $8 million if the Packers do not extend him early. Amos seemed to hit a wall in 2022, however, as his consistent, steady play fell off significantly. He recorded only a single interception this season and just five pass breakups, low marks for his career in Green Bay.
WR Randall Cobb
Cobb’s void will cost the Packers just $1.39 million in cap space for 2023 with no future void money, so any possible return to Green Bay will be predicated almost entirely on whether Aaron Rodgers plans to come back with his best friend and security blanket. Cobb’s numbers were fairly similar to those of the past few years — around 30-odd receptions, 400 yards, and the occasional touchdown. With the Packers’ numbers at wide receiver down, it’s not impossible to think that the 32-year-old might come back for one more go if his quarterback does as well.
K Mason Crosby
No player has played more consecutive games for the Packers than the venerable Crosby, who moved just over $1 million of cap money into void years back in 2021. With his deal expiring and his leg strength rapidly decreasing, it appears likely that the Packers will move on from him this offseason and that he departs either in free agency or into retirement.
TE Marcedes Lewis
Like Crosby, Lewis’ void money is just over $1 million thanks to the two-year deal he signed before 2021. The Packers have just one tight end under contract (Josiah Deguara) and no in-line blocker types, so it’s feasible that “Big Dog” might come back if he’s willing to keep playing in his age-39 season.
DL Dean Lowry
One of the Packers’ longest-tenured defensive linemen, Lowry struggled most of the season before landing on injured reserve after week 16. The Packers will carry about $3 million in void money for him in 2023 if they don’t re-sign him before the February 25th void date, but with his play diminishing steadily, he is probably headed for another team in 2023.
DL Jarran Reed
While Lowry struggled most of the year, Reed seemed to come on late with some solid performances in the second half. Reed signed a one-year deal for 2022 with a signing bonus of nearly $2 million, spread out over five years with voids, making his cap hit just under $1.5 million for 2023 if he does not re-sign. Since he elevated his game late, he might be a candidate to return for next season, especially given the questions on the DL depth chart.
TE Robert Tonyan
Like Lewis, Tonyan plays a position where the Packers enter 2023 perilously thin. Tonyan got a restricted free agent tag for 2022, then agreed to a restructured deal with $1 million guaranteed and one void year, allowing the Packers to shift $500k of that deal onto the 2023 cap. Following his return from a torn ACL last season, Tonyan’s efficiency dropped significantly with a career-low 8.9 yards per reception, but he did see career-highs in targets (67) and receptions (53). If the price is right, the Packers could bring him back for 2023 given his familiarity with the team, and after the season he sounded extremely interested in coming back if the Packers are interested in re-signing him.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (3)
The Packers have three players who have expiring contracts but three years of NFL experience. That means each of these individuals are eligible to become restricted free agents if they receive an RFA tender before the league year begins. If the Packers do tender any of these individuals they would retain the right to match any contract offer sheet the player would sign with another team or potentially receive draft pick compensation based on the tender used.
Currently, Overthecap.com projects the tender numbers to be as follows, and they will be finalized when the official salary cap number for 2023 is announced.
- First round: $6.011 million
- Second round: $4.308 million
- Original round/right of first refusal only: $2.629 million
LB Krys Barnes
The Packers got 23 starts out of Barnes in his first two NFL seasons after he signed with the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2020. An undersized linebacker, Barnes’ role shifted to that of a special teamer in 2022 with the addition of Quay Walker and the return of De’Vondre Campbell, but he missed 11 games with injuries. It would be a surprise if the Packers would tender him.
TE Tyler Davis
Like Barnes, Davis seems unlikely to be the recipient of a RFA tender. He has played 31 of 34 possible regular season games over the last two years, but has fewer than 300 offensive snaps in that time, instead being a near-constant presence on every special teams unit. The Packers will probably try to bring him back for 2023, but with just 8 receptions and 61 receiving yards in his career, the tender value is much too steep.
OT Yosh Nijman
Like the other two players in this category, Nijman was undrafted, but he came out in the 2019 draft class and spent his first year on the practice squad as a raw but athletic tackle prospect. He has been active for every game in the past three years, however, making 8 starts at left tackle in 2021 amid injuries to David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins and another 13 this season split between both tackle spots. He has proven to be at least a capable starter when healthy, and he will surely get a tender of some kind as he will at the very least be a top competitor for a starting job in 2023.
EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS (1)
A player with fewer than three accrued seasons can receive a non-guaranteed ERFA tender, which is equivalent to a one-year contract at the league minimum salary. Players receiving said tender are prevented from negotiating a contract with any other team, but could try to work out a longer-term deal with their original team.
C Jake Hanson
The Packers’ only ERFA player on the 53-man roster is Hanson, who started at right guard in week this season before being pushed out of the starting lineup by Elgton Jenkins’ return from injury. Since he can contribute as a reserve at all three interior spots, the Packers will likely extend an ERFA tender to Hanson to afford him another opportunity to compete for a roster spot next season.