While we await Aaron Rodgers’ decision to return to football or not in 2023, we might as well take a look at how the potential fallout of his decision could impact the rest of the players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. Truly, how many of their decisions are tied to the potential return of Rodgers?
We set out to attempt to answer this question by putting players in a set of buckets: Players the Packers probably want back, players that they probably want back but can’t pay, players they probably don’t want back, and medical questions (hello, David Bakhtiari.) Once Green Bay’s cap limitations are put into perspective, the players who do not fit into one of those categories are the people most on the fringe of the roster — the same players who could be swung the most by Rodgers returning, retiring or requesting a trade.
Peep how the process played out below as we sort through the Packers’ key 2023 free agents and potential cap casualty players.
Probably won’t pay: Allen Lazard, Robert Tonyan and Justin Hollins
According to Spotrac, the Green Bay Packers are $17.5 million over the 2023 salary cap before they make adjustments to contracts with players such as Kenny Clark, Aaron Jones, David Bakhtiari, Jaire Alexander and Preston Smith, veterans who are under contract with the team for multiple remaining seasons. Still, this number doesn’t include the cost to sign rookie draft picks, which means that Green Bay once again won’t have many cap dollars to work with this offseason.
Because of that, it’s unlikely that the team will bring back the likes of receiver Allen Lazard, tight end Robert Tonyan and/or pass-rusher Justin Hollins. According to a rumor, Lazard is “looking for $15-$17 million a year on the open market,” which is simply not possible for the Packers to fork up in their current state. Lazard also hinted following the team’s Week 18 loss against the Detroit Lions that it was his final game in green and gold.
Spotrac also gives Tonyan a market value of a one-year, $5.09 million contract, which would pay him like the 23rd-ranked tight end in the league. That deal is much more digestible than the proposed Lazard contract, but the Packers likely won’t be the squad to pay it.
The final player on the list is Hollins, who was picked up off of waivers from the Los Angeles Rams in-season and played 128 snaps on defense for Green Bay. With Smith, Kingsley Enagbare and likely Rashan Gary under contract for the foreseeable future, it’s unlikely that the Packers pay their fourth pass-rusher a significant veteran deal.
Probably won’t return: Jarran Reed, Dean Lowry, Adrian Amos, Rudy Ford (?) and Mason Crosby
The most disappointing units on Green Bay’s team in 2022 were arguably their interior defensive line and their safeties. Four contributors, Jarran Reed, Dean Lowry, Adrian Amos and Rudy Ford, are set to be free agents coming out of those rooms. Amos and Lowry have lost a step from their peak play with the Packers while Reed never looked like the starting-caliber player that he was touted to be. Ford, who replaced starter Darnell Savage at safety and then later replaced him in nickel looks as Savage was moved to the slot, has the best chance of being re-signed out of the group.
The final player on this list is kicker Mason Crosby, whose leg has seen better days. The Packers had easily the worst touchback percentage in the league at just 22.5 percent in 2022, if you’re looking for evidence of that. For reference, the league leader was the New York Jets at 79.5 percent last season.
Depends on medical: David Bakhtiari
In his end-of-the-year presser, general manager Brian Gutekunst stated that he “would hope” that David Bakhtiari is the team’s blindside tackle going into 2023. Bakhtiari, when on the field, looked like one of the better pass protectors in football, at least after a few games under his belt following a knee injury that cost him nearly all of the 2021 season.
Lingering, though, is the question of if Bakhtiari’s knee can hold up on turf. The Packers played on grass at the end of the season and their final game on turf, against the Buffalo Bills, was one that Bakhtiari had to sit out. As long as his medical clears, it seems as though the former All-Pro will return to the team. That’s a major qualifier, though.
Want back unconditionally: Yosh Nijman and Keisean Nixon
The two players who make the most sense as re-signings among Green Bay’s 2023 free agents are right tackle Yosh Nijman and cornerback/return man Keisean Nixon. Nijman is a restricted free agent, meaning that the Packers can hand him a second-round tender worth about $4.9 million for nearly exclusive rights to the Virginia Tech product in 2023. In theory, a team could give up a second-round pick to receive Nijman on that one-year deal, but no player who has ever been given a second-round tender has actually been exchanged for that draft pick. At a price of under $5 million, Nijman’s cost is well below the going rate for an offensive tackle in 2023.
Nixon was a First-Team All-Pro return man and actually also played significant snaps in the slot at times when Green Bay’s secondary was working through some injuries in 2022. Our best guess is that Nixon would warrant something in the ballpark of a two-year, $12 million contract this offseason, which would give the Packers an electric return man along with a fourth cornerback on the depth chart.
Depends on Aaron Rodgers’ status: Aaron Jones, Randall Cobb and Marcedes Lewis
After narrowing down all of these players through various categories of filters, this leaves us with three names: The players who could actually be impacted by the return or retirement of Aaron Rodgers.
First off is running back Aaron Jones, who will be a 29-year-old in the upcoming season and is set to make $28 million over the final two years of his contract. A potential trade of Jones would save the Packers just north of $10 million in cap space in 2023 and would also save them $16 million in 2024. If Rodgers is going to be playing elsewhere, it would make a lot of sense to get something back for Jones while Green Bay trots out a first-year starting quarterback. Don’t discount the fact that Jones’ agent is Drew Rosenhaus, either. Who says Jones and his camp couldn’t request a trade from the Packers, just as Davante Adams did in the offseason prior?
The other two players aren’t under contract for 2023: Randall Cobb and Marcedes Lewis. The two free agents combine to be 70 years old and don’t really fit in with the youth movement that we expect the Packers to take if they choose to roll with Love instead of Rodgers. They are close friends with Rodgers and are role players on the team, though, which leaves the door open for their return if the four-time MVP comes back.
So how much will Green Bay’s plans be impacted by a potential Rodgers retirement or trade request? From the outside looking in, at least based on initial expectations, it seems like relatively little. The key player to watch is Jones, but the Packers’ hands are already forced on a lot of their 2023 free-agent decisions simply due to players’ level of play (players they don’t want to re-sign) or their salary cap situation (players they can’t afford to re-sign.)