On Tuesday, the day of the fifth-year option deadline for the 2020 first-rounders, the Green Bay Packers made the interesting decision to give their quarterback of the future Jordan Love a one-year extension in place of exercising his option. Instead of making $20.2 million in salary in 2024, Love can earn up to $9 million in salary next season on top of the $13.5 million signing bonus that he’ll receive this year.
Because of how the NFL handles signing bonuses on the cap, this also means that the Packers will now have to account for $6.75 million more on their 2023 cap (half of Love’s signing bonus) because of the move. To offset some of that cap space, Field Yates of ESPN reported that Packers safety Darnell Savage, himself on a fifth-year option, had his 2023 salary converted into a signing bonus — which will push $5.5 million of his cap hit into 2024.
So what’s the deal here? The Packers, who are already pinching pennies, added more money onto an already stretched-thin 2023 salary cap while also potentially setting themselves up to pay Love more money over the next two years than if they had just picked up his fifth-year option.
The reason that Green Bay made this move was the guarantees involved. Had the team picked up Love’s option, that $20.2 million would have been fully guaranteed and would have had to be paid out in 2024 unless a trade partner took the deal off their hands.
Now, with the 2023 Packers paying off half of Love’s $13.5 million signing bonus (his only guarantees in the one-year extension), the decision to cut or keep Love in 2024 simply comes down to his $6.75 million dead cap and his $9 million salary. In short, Green Bay will be able to save $9 million in immediate cap space (and cash) in 2024, if they, at that point, believe that Love is not the quarterback they thought he could be when the team decided to move on from Aaron Rodgers this offseason. That’s obviously a much different situation than if the team was fully lock-in with a $20.2 million salary.
General manager Brian Gutekunst has stressed that he will do anything to continue to be flexible at the sport’s most important position. Not only did he draft Love while Rodgers was still in his prime, but he brought in Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker for a pre-draft visit this spring and also stated, “Whatever comes with having great quarterbacks is worth it,” this past year.
If you’re reading the tea leaves here, the Packers want to keep their options open before committing to a quarterback. If Aaron Rodgers plays 65 percent of the New York Jets’ offensive snaps this season, Gutekunst will have two first-round picks worth of ammunition to chase one of two star quarterbacks — USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye — in the 2024 NFL Draft. Should Love perform poorly enough that the team would want to move on from their four-year developmental project, Green Bay would likely be picking high enough in the draft that they’d either own one of the top two picks in the draft outright or they would be in striking range of being able to move up to one of those selections by packaging their first-round picks.
Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner, originally began his career at Oklahoma and transferred to USC when his head coach Lincoln Riley took over as the face of the Trojans’ program. Maye, a one-year starter who was named the ACC Player of the Year as a redshirt freshman, has the potential to push Williams for the top quarterback selected in the upcoming draft. Both are considered to be the highest-rated quarterback prospects since at least Trevor Lawrence in 2021.
While head coach Matt LaFleur has stated that people need to “temper expectations” with Love in 2023, it sure seems like the front office just paid short-term cap space to keep an in-case-of-emergency button ready for 2024. Love is an unknown and the team is taking a chance on him, but they’re not doing it without protecting themselves, either.