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How many Packers are playing for a contract in 2023?

Seven key contributors are set for a contract year.

Minnesota Vikings v Green Bay Packers Photo by Kayla Wolf/Getty Images

Generally, the 2023 season is thought of as a rebuilding year for the Green Bay Packers. The youth movement is in full swing, but there are plenty of players on the roster who can’t afford to wait a year or two to produce on the field. Packers in their contract year are looking at the immediate future to provide them with a life-changing payday.

According to Spotrac, the 2024 Packers will have $7.8 million in cap space to spend — as it stands today. Only nine players on the roster are set to have a cap hit of $4 million or higher next season, but the high-end cap hits — like David Bakhtiari’s $40.5 million — are the X factors for cap space clearance. Beyond Bakhtiari, Green Bay will likely have to restructure the contracts of defensive lineman Kenny Clark and cornerback Jaire Alexander next offseason, as well as figure out how outside linebacker Preston Smith’s contract fits on a team that just drafted Lukas Van Ness with the 13th overall pick.

This is all to say that the Packers will almost certainly have more than $7.8 million to play around with next offseason, but pinning down exactly what the number will be is unpredictable because of the number of different paths that Green Bay can take to free up cap space. Another factor for how the Packers might alter the contracts on their books next season is how their contract-year players perform on the field this year.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the key Packers contributors who are going into the final season of their contracts as we analyze where they stand with the team going into training camp.

OLB Rashan Gary

One of the biggest question marks for this season is how outside linebacker Rashan Gary will bounce back from his ACL tear that ended his 2022 campaign. Prior to his injury, Gary was on Pro Bowl pace and figures to be a key part of the team’s future moving forward. According to Spotrac, Gary’s market value is somewhere around a four-year, $104 million contract. The dirty little secret right now, too, is that extending Gary — which would lower his 2023 cap hit — is really the only way the Packers can create any significant cap space for this season.

There’s no reason to expect that the workout warrior’s rehab will turn south, but if it does, the team does have a few options at the position. The Packers just spent a first-round pick on Lukas Van Ness, return starter Preston Smith and have two other contributors coming off the bench in Kingsley Enagbare and Justin Hollins.

S Darnell Savage

After being benched mid-season last year, safety Darnell Savage is a virtual lock to return as a starter in 2023. Many believe that Savage’s fifth-year option is an overpay for the defender, but since it’s fully guaranteed, there’s nothing that the Packers can do about it now.

Whether or not Savage is worthy of an extension remains uncertain. Savage was drafted to play coverage in Mike Pettine’s man-heavy scheme and the safety hasn’t really adapted well to Joe Barry’s quarters-heavy defense, either in coverage or as a tackler. The Maryland product’s 2023 performance is going to be a massive fork in the road for Savage’s career.

RG Jon Runyan Jr.

Earlier this offseason, the Packers’ coaching staff stated that second-year offensive lineman Zach Tom — who got in games as an injury replacement as a rookie — was going to work out at right tackle, right guard and center during camp. Through minicamp, though, Tom has mostly worked out at right tackle during media-open practices, meaning that Jon Runyan Jr.’s right guard position isn’t being pushed much.

Runyan, a solid guard who is best known for his lack of penalties, is one of general manager Brian Gutekunst’s best draft picks. The former sixth-round pick has now started 33 of the team’s 34 regular season games over the last two years and should earn another full slate of games in 2023. At only 25 years old, Runyan is also the age of some of the incoming rookies in the NFL — as sixth- and seventh-year college prospects become more common in the post-Covid seasons. Behind Gary, Runyan might be the number two extension priority for the Packers.

RT Yosh Nijman

This is a big one. The Packers have been playing with house money on Yosh Nijman for a few years now, as the bookend has only made $2.8 million over his first four seasons with the team. In 2022, Nijman made $965,000 as an exclusive rights free agent, well below the going rate of even a swing tackle at the NFL level.

Currently, Nijman is on a one-year restricted free-agent contract that will pay him $4.3 million. On top of that, Nijman — a 27-year-old — is competing at right tackle with Zach Tom — a recently-turned 24-year-old — for playing time. Just reading the tea leaves here, it seems unlikely that the Packers would hand out a big multi-year contract to someone who they’re having fight for playing time as an incumbent starter.

Maybe I’m wrong here, but the most likely scenarios I envision for Nijman — barring Tom taking a significant step backward this season — involve him either being traded during the 2023 season or him leaving as a free agent in 2024.

RB A.J. Dillon

On paper, A.J. Dillon is a “backup” running back, but few teams have used an RB2 as much as the Packers play Dillon. On top of that, Dillon’s more powerful game compliments starter Aaron Jones very well. Jones is under contract with Green Bay through the 2024 season, but after this offseason’s restructure, the cost to keep Jones will jump from an $8.2 million cap hit in 2023 to a $17.7 million cap hit in 2024. Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Jones isn’t getting any younger and we all know how gunshy teams are about paying aging running backs in this era.

Dillon’s future, in a similar vein to Savage, is a true wait-and-see scenario. Depending on how Dillon and Jones look on the field in 2023, I could see this situation going one way or the other. The sneaky X factor here is that the Packers haven’t really had a consistent RB3 since Jamaal Williams left in free agency, opening up the door for Dillon to jump up to RB2. Last year, it wasn’t uncommon for Green Bay to go into games with just two running backs. If bigger backs Patrick Taylor and seventh-round rookie Lew Nichols look like they can complement Jones as RB2-caliber players, maybe that’s what ends up deciding if the team moves on from Dillon after the season.

CB Keisean Nixon

Keisean Nixon was a First-Team All-Pro kick returner in 2022, but the league just changed its kickoff rules for the 2023 season to incentivize more fair catches (and therefore disincentivize the kick return game.) Based on where Nixon has lined up through minicamp, the team plans on playing Nixon exclusively in the slot on the defensive side of the ball this year, where he’s taking reps inside of Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas.

What’s unknown right now, though, is what that cornerback unit will look like once Eric Stokes returns from his ankle injury that ended his 2022 season. When they’ve all been healthy, Alexander, Stokes and Douglas played ahead of Nixon with Douglas coming off the bench to play in the slot. Will that continue in 2023, or will Nixon crack the defensive lineup?

Between the defensive questions and the unknown that comes with the kick-off rule changes, Nixon is in a true prove-it season this year. This is another one that can break either way.

P Pat O’Donnell

The final player on our list is punter Pat O’Donnell, who was brought in during special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia’s first season on the job. O’Donnell, from a metrics standpoint, is somewhere between a middle-of-the-road and above-average punter. The problem is that the 32-year-old is a veteran who will probably cost north of $2 million per year to retain, if the team keeps him in 2024. For perspective, O’Donnell will be among the top-10 active punters in career earnings following the 2023 season, which leaves the door open for a younger, cheaper replacement next year depending on how well O’Donnell performs this season.