“I would think we would know something before (March 16th).”
That’s the comment from Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst on Tuesday at the 2022 NFL Combine as he discussed his hopes for when he learns of Aaron Rodgers’ decision for the upcoming season. But as the Packers and their fans wait with bated breath to find out what Rodgers will do — and therefore what the Packers will look like next season — Gutekunst is as always balancing the present with the future.
Rodgers’ status will tip those scales of course, and the Packers have already begun to work towards getting under the 2022 salary cap by restructuring a handful of deals. Those contracts have shifted significant salary cap money into 2023 and beyond to get the Packers closer to the 2022 cap number, but for Gutekunst, there is no mortgaging the future for the sake of the present.
“It all matters,” Gutekunst said Tuesday. “If I said it didn’t matter, Russ (Ball) might come over the table and grab my throat. It matters greatly....you’ve got to be mindful of what we’re doing in the future, even though sometimes right now feels like all that matters.”
That right now takes on some added focus in light of the team’s recent successes and Rodgers’ impending decision. Gutekunst said that regardless of Rodgers, the team still looks at the salary cap in three-year windows. For now, that view takes the team out to 2024, when many NFL analysts expect the salary cap to increase considerably as a result of added revenue from the league’s new television deals.
“I do think we recognize what kind of football team we have and the opportunities in front of us. You’re always kind of making sure you can field a competitive team year in and year out.”
Through the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the salary cap, the Packers have had to navigate some difficult financial waters in the last two years. The Packers recently restructured three veteran contracts, using void years to move nearly every possible dollar of Kenny Clark’s, Aaron Jones’, and David Bakthiari’s deals out into future years. Still, Gutekunst is not taking any potential cap increases for granted, saying that there is always uncertainty about what might happen down the road.
“We feel good about it moving forward, but there’s things like pandemics that hit you and you just never know. Those were great lessons for all of us,” the GM said. “We were kind of living a certain way with expectations, and when that hit it changed our way of thinking. It’s changed we’ve done business and contracts and how we’ve managed our team. I think we feel good about it, but there’s always unexpected things.”
One of the impacts of being much tighter against the salary cap is having less wiggle room to work with during the season. That in particular is something that Gutekunst said he and the Packers found difficult the last two years, as the team has had to scratch and claw for every cap dollar after the regular season begins:
“It would be nice to get back to a time when we have a little bit more flexibility during the season, but it’s like anything, as you grow and you’re forced to go through different things, maybe you can look at things differently. But it would be nice to get back to where we had more flexibility, which we did not have a lot of this past year.”
Still, the Packers have their work cut out for themselves over the next few weeks just to stay compliant with the salary cap for the 2022 offseason, let alone when the Top 51 rule goes away after final cuts. Aaron Rodgers’ decision will have a major impact on how the team approaches the roster for this fall, but this front office’s definition of “all-in” still keeps finds them keeping one collective eye on the team’s ability to stay competitive two and three years out.