After a flurry of moves on Monday, the Green Bay Packers are much closer to getting under the 2022 salary cap than they were a few hours ago. Brian Gutekunst and Russ Ball entered Monday about $44 million over the cap for the upcoming season, with the NFL’s deadline to be compliant fast approaching at 4:00 PM Eastern on Wednesday.
By Monday afternoon, Gutekunst and Ball sliced that number in half, doing so with a pair of releases, a big contract extension, and a surprising but exciting re-signing of a critical player who earned All-Pro honors in 2021. Here’s a look at the Packers’ cap moves today and what they have yet to do this week by Wednesday.
Za’Darius Smith release
The widely-expected release of Za’Darius Smith was the largest move to clear cap space that the Packers could have made this week, and they did it on Monday morning. With the release of the 29-year-old, Green Bay knocked a massive chunk of money off the 2022 books; with a cap hit of $12.38 million still applying to this season from Smith’s previous signing bonuses, the Packers still freed up $14.576 million in cap money (the net effect with a minimum-salary player getting added back into the Top 51).
That’s a huge number, which on its own brings the Packers to within about $30 million of the cap, as they were projected to be about $45 million over after franchise-tagging Davante Adams last week.
Billy Turner release
The more surprising release of the two is Turner, who will cost the Packers $5.81 million in dead money this year. Interestingly, however, the release is being reported as coming with a failed physical, which may explain why the team did not try to simply restructure Turner’s contract, as we at APC predicted last week they might.
The release frees up another $3.43 million in cap space, $2,725,000 after accounting for another minimum-salary player on the Top 51. That is not a huge batch of money, but medical issues lingering with Turner could certainly help explain the Packers’ willingness to move on now rather than restructure Turner’s deal. Furthermore, it is a similar amount of money saved against the cap compared to a maximum restructure, and it ends up bringing the Packers down to around $27 million over the cap.
One additional item: by filing the release as a failed physical, the Packers could end up getting another $1.2 million in cap benefit through an injury protection claim against Turner’s future signing bonus proration. Time will tell whether that claim would be approved by the league, however.
Preston Smith extension
This deal is a big one for the “other” Smith, who played his way into a massive 4-year extension to sign him up through 2026. Smith’s cap hit was just shy of $20 million before today, sitting at about $19.7 million. The reported deal for Smith has a $12.2 million signing bonus and reduced workout and per-game roster bonuses this year, and it lowers his cap hit to approximately $11.46 million.
That savings of about $8.3 million brings the Packers to something in the neighborhood of $18-19 million over the cap prior to any additions. And add (or renew) they did later on in the afternoon, bringing back their All-Pro linebacker.
De’Vondre Campbell re-signing
Campbell’s return to Green Bay gives the Packers stability at the inside linebacker spot without breaking the bank, though the team will have a lengthy commitment to a player who will turn 29 this summer. Still, a 5-year deal worth $10 million per year is a lower average value than even former Packer Blake Martinez received two years ago from the Giants (3 years, $10.25M/year).
Add in a favorable year-one structure, and you have the potential for a big win for the Packers on Monday. According to Tom Silverstein, the Packers were able to work Campbell’s cap hit in 2022 down to around $5 million, meaning he will likely have a signing bonus in the range of $15-17 million, depending on how the team structures his workout and per-game roster bonuses.
With this kicking one of those minimum-salary players off the Top 51, that puts the net cap effect of the re-signing at about $4.3 million, bringing the Packers back up to around $22 million or so over the cap with a little less than 48 hours left to get compliant.
The Packers have a few major items on their to-do list between now and 4 PM Eastern on Wednesday. First is getting a few players tendered, most notably restricted free agent Allen Lazard and exclusive-rights free agents like Yosh Nijman, Krys Barnes, and a few others. A second-round tender for Lazard will be the big item relative to the cap, adding about $3.3 million net to the team’s cap to bring them to about $25 million over.
At that point, the Packers will absolutely need to get a deal done for Aaron Rodgers, which could knock as much as $18 million or so off the cap. A contract extension for Davante Adams or Jaire Alexander could also help the 2022 cap as well, perhaps making up the remainder of the $7 million difference, as would an outright release of Randall Cobb (which Silverstein has reported is a possibility, as is Cobb taking a pay cut from his nearly $8 million base salary for 2022).
Other options for reducing the Packers’ cap further from there include contract restructures for the likes of Dean Lowry and Adrian Amos, as well as a potential Mason Crosby release, none of which would make up that full $7 million alone, but which could get there in combination.
So while the Packers made a big dent in their cap crunch on Monday — while still managing to bring back one of their critical pieces on defense before he hit free agency — there is still some work to do in the next two days to get fully compliant prior to Wednesday’s deadline.