If the Green Bay Packers want to free up some salary cap space for the 2020 season, there are two obvious players who could find themselves on the chopping block. Heading out of 2019, the Packers are projected to have just shy of $28 million in cap space for next season, a number that will drop to somewhere around $25 million or so after the 2020 NFL Draft class is factored in.
(Last year’s draft class required $4.7 million to sign, and that was with the 12th overall selection in addition to pick #30. Thus, the 2020 class will project to have a somewhat smaller effective cap hit, likely in the $3 million range.)
The Packers have some critical items to check off on their to-do list this offseason, however. In all likelihood, the most costly of those will be a contract extension for nose tackle Kenny Clark. The highest-paid 3-4 nose tackle, Eddie Goldman of the Chicago Bears, is currently receiving around $10.5 million per year, a number that Clark could well eclipse with a new contract. He is still just 24 years old, turning 25 in October, so age is in his favor here.
Thus, even if the Packers backload some of Clark’s contract, expect an extension to take up at least a few more million dollars. If the team then elects to spend in free agency, whether at the linebacker, wide receiver, or any other position, they suddenly are leaving themselves with limited options and cap space.
That is where Jimmy Graham and Lane Taylor come in. These two players are each entering the final years of their contracts in Green Bay. And as such, both could free up significant cap resources for the Packers in 2020 if the team were to release them this offseason.
Graham’s remaining contract has the following details for 2020:
Base salary: $7.45M
Per-game roster bonuses: $300k
Workout bonus: $250k
Prorated salary bonus cap hit: $3.67M
Graham’s cap hit for 2020 is a terrifying $11.67 million if he stays under the Packers’ employ. That number would give him the third-highest cap hit of any player at his position, trailing only Greg Olsen ($11.8M) and Zach Ertz ($12.23M).
However, if the Packers release him prior to offseason workouts beginning, they would be on the hook for only the $3.67 million left over from his signing bonus, freeing up a total of $8 million of cap space for the 2020 season. The Packers simply cannot afford to carry the extra $8 million cap hit by keeping Graham, a player who contributed only 38 receptions for 447 yards and three touchdowns a year ago.
While Graham still maintained a starting role through most of the 2019 campaign, Taylor did not, landing on injured reserve with a torn left biceps muscle. He was already fighting off a hard-charging rookie in Elgton Jenkins for the starting left guard job, however, and Jenkins seemingly would have taken the job from him even if Taylor had not been injured.
Now, Taylor enters the final year of his contract without a clear place on the roster. If he stayed, he would in all likelihood back up Jenkins and right guard Billy Turner, and the Packers just paid Lucas Patrick a decent amount over the next two years to be their primary backup interior lineman. Here’s how Taylor’s 2020 contract looks:
Base salary: $3.8M
Per-game roster bonuses: $500k
Workout bouns: $250k
Prorated signing bonus cap hit: $1.375M
That all totals up to jut under $6 million on the cap, an untenable number for a backup. But the Packers would save $4.55 million in cap space by releasing Taylor, which seems inevitable.
Also working against Taylor — in addition to his recent injury and the fact that he was not seen as a great fit for Matt LaFleur’s zone blocking scheme — is that he is 30 years old. Believe it or not, Taylor is just six months younger than Bryan Bulaga, despite entering the NFL in 2013, a whopping three years after the Packers’ right tackle. The Packers have moved on from other guards at a similar age: T.J. Lang was about to turn 30 when he signed with the Lions in free agency in 2017 and Josh Sitton had just hit 30 when he was surprisingly released after 2016’s training camp. Expect Taylor to end up looking for a new team this spring as well.
Ultimately, the release of these two players would free up $12.55 million more in salary cap space for the Packers, money that would certainly more than pay for the added cap space required to extend Kenny Clark this offseason. In total, the Packers would be up to about $40 million in cap space if Brian Gutekunst cuts these ties, giving him enough money to try to bring back a player like Bulaga or to go towards a free agent linebacker or other contract extension.
It is unfortunate sometimes that the business side of football always takes precedence, as both players have been excellent presences off the field for the Packers. But given the numbers, it should only be a matter of time before these two players are looking for another place to play in 2020.