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A primer on the Green Bay Packers’ 2021 offseason needs and resources

With another season in the books, it’s time to look forward to 2021.

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Now that we Green Bay Packers fans have all had a week to wallow in our misery, it is time to look forward to what will be perhaps the most interesting off-season in recent memory. If you’re unfamiliar with why that is, hopefully this primer provides some clarity for you and answers some of the questions you may have.

NFL Cap Situation

Unclear at this time. It is expected that the cap will drop, but perhaps not quite to the floor of $175 million. Something in the neighborhood of $180M seems to be the expectation, though as Brian Gutekunst said in his press conference on Monday, it’s still an open question.

What would be ideal is if the cap could stay flat at around $197M and they borrow more cap space from future years than is currently being done for when the new TV deals hit around 2022-2023. The owners will probably be reluctant to give out what amounts to a loan, even if this makes the most sense from a team-building perspective.

Packers’ Cap Situation

This obviously will depend on what the final cap numbers end up being, but Green Bay will be over the cap no matter what the number is. They have a few tools to work with to get under the cap.

Potential Cuts (cap savings):

  • Preston Smith (8M)
  • Christian Kirksey (5.6M)
  • Dean Lowry (3.3M)
  • Rick Wagner (4.25M)

Re-structuring:

Restructures refer to converting a player’s base salary into a signing bonus. This is an accounting tool to push cap hits into the future. Green Bay will almost certainly need to do some re-structures to give them any ability to do anything in free agency. It is difficult to nail down specific cap savings on re-structures since it depends on the amount of money converted.

Restructure candidates:

  • Aaron Rodgers
  • David Bakhtiari
  • Za’Darius Smith

Davante Adams is also a spot Green Bay could create more cap space via an extension, since he is entering the last year of his contract.

Packers Draft Situation

Green Bay has their full assortment of draft picks this year. Their first round pick will be the 29th pick. Green Bay is also expected to receive three compensatory picks in this draft. It is not official yet, but the expectation is that they will receive a fourth-round pick for losing Blake Martinez in free agency a year ago, a fifth-rounder for Bryan Bulaga, and a sixth for Kyler Fackrell.

Bryan Bulaga’s case is kind of interesting, as the only reason he will not convey a fourth rounder is due to the “Ten Accrued Seasons” rule where players who have accrued ten seasons cannot net more than a fifth round pick in the compensatory process. This rule does not apply to quarterbacks.

Packers Free Agents

The Packers have a lot of free agents this off-season, but they fall into different categories. Click here for a more detailed primer on the differences between the types of free agency before continuing on here for some predictions on which players may be back for 2021.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

These players may as well not be called free agents at all. This is for players with fewer than three accrued seasons and who are out of contract. If the team offers them a league minimum deal, they cannot negotiate with any other teams. All of these four will likely be back at their league minimum salaries, at least for training camp.

Allen Lazard
Yoshua Nijman
Malik Taylor
Randy Ramsey

Restricted Free Agents

These are players with three accrued seasons who are out of contract. RFAs can negotiate with any team, but the team can “tender” them a qualifying offer which essentially offers a right-of-first-refusal for the team. These tenders are typically associated with a draft round and are the compensation for the team losing the player from the team acquiring the player.

Robert Tonyan
Tyler Lancaster
Chandon Sullivan
Parry Nickerson
Tim Boyle
Raven Greene

Tonyan and Sullivan will undoubtedly be tendered qualifying offers. What types those end up being will probably depend on the final cap numbers. Tyler Lancaster may get a right-of-first-refusal tender with no draft pick because he was a UDFA. I do not foresee Tim Boyle coming back, despite his popularity with the team. Raven Greene has been so injury-prone that I do not believe Green Bay will offer him anything above the league minimum.

Unrestricted Free Agents

These are the true free agents in every sense of the word. Given the cap crunch, Green Bay is in all likelihood not using the franchise tag. They rarely used it even when the cap was going up significantly every year, so there’s no reason to expect for them to use it now. I’m going to break this list into some different groups based on their likelihood of returning.

Very unlikely

Corey Linsley
Kevin King
Aaron Jones
Tavon Austin
Jared Veldheer
Damon Harrison
James Burgess
Billy Winn

Linsley will likely be too expensive for Green Bay to retain and they have some decent depth on the interior of the offensive line with Jon Runyan, Elgton Jenkins, and Lucas Patrick. Aaron Jones will almost certainly price his way out of Green Bay. Tavon Austin, Jared Veldheer, and Damon Harrison were all late-season adds who played virtually no role on the team.

Questionable

Tyler Ervin
Lane Taylor
Montravius Adams
Jamaal Williams
Will Redmond

Ervin’s return probably wouldn’t come at the start of free agency, but perhaps after the draft. If Green Bay can’t find a replacement gadget player, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come back for another season. Lane Taylor qualifies for the “Veteran Salary Benefit” which means he can be signed at the minimum for his accrued seasons but only hit the cap at the two-season league minimum. This little loophole may bring him back to Green Bay, especially if Linsley departs. Adams was largely invisible in his time in Green Bay. Jamaal Williams may return if the market just isn’t there for him. Will Redmond might be a guy who comes back at his league minimum, but is not a priority.

Likely back

Marcedes Lewis

The Packers only have one traditional Y on the team and it’s Lewis. He’s a locker room favorite, a strong blocker, and has good hands. Another ride on his league minimum is something I’m expecting.

Positional Needs

This is a primer on the needs of each position, not only in 2021 but also 2022 since the draft is typically not focused on immediate needs, but medium term ones.

Quarterback

No need here. Green Bay has the league’s MVP and just drafted Jordan Love with their first pick in 2020. They may draft a QB on day three, but I’d expect a UDFA as QB3.

Running Back

This really depends on the Jamaal Williams situation. If Williams were to leave, Green Bay would need to pick up a competent pass protector at RB. We could see the Packers delve into the cheap veteran market for that. Other than that, I would expect them to target a shifty RB on day three. Losing Aaron Jones isn’t great, but replacing running back production is pretty easy, and can often be done on day three. Green Bay also spent a second round pick on AJ Dillon in 2020. Pretty minimal need here, and it can easily be fulfilled with minimal investment.

Wide Receiver

Should I just toss a match into a shed filled with dynamite? Green Bay’s immediate need here for 2021 is probably not that large. Davante Adams is obviously WR1. Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling played pretty well this past year, despite some frustrations. The issue for Green Bay is that beyond 2021, this is a barren wasteland. The Packers currently have no wide receivers under contract for 2022. I expect that to change with an Adams extension, but Green Bay also needs to decide right now if they want to entertain extensions for Lazard (who is an ERFA this year and would be a RFA next year) and/or MVS, who like Adams goes into a contract year. I imagine Green Bay will spend at least a mid-round pick at wide receiver this spring, not for 2021, but for 2022. Green Bay also will likely be looking for a gadget player to replace Tyler Ervin.

Tight End

This one is incredibly interesting. Tonyan will likely be retained via tender, but it will be interesting to see if the league values him highly or sees him as a by-product of the Packers infrastructure. If Tonyan were to leave, there would be a gaping hole where he was. Jace Sternberger was a healthy scratch for a good chunk of the season, even after getting healthy following a concussion. Josiah Deguara will be coming back from an ACL injury. I don’t think Green Bay does anything major at tight end in the draft, since they have spent two decently valuable picks on the position and the development curve at tight end is long. If they don’t bring back Marcedes Lewis though, they will need to get someone in to fill that Y role, as that does not fit Robert Tonyan (former college WR), Jace Sternberger (former college big slot), or Josiah Deguara (H-Back).

Offensive Tackle

Get well soon, David Bakhtiari. The Packers’ off-season plan at the position will depend heavily on his rehab. Billy Turner likely played his way into another season with Green Bay, and the injury to Bakhtiari likely turned him into a must bring back player. Rick Wagner might be back because of the Bakhtiari injury, and he played pretty well outside of the Tampa Bay game. It looks like Jared Veldheer has turned into a late-season mercenary, but if Green Bay could get him for an entire season, that would help a great deal. In the long-term Green Bay probably needs to find something better than Billy Turner at RT. He did quite well this season by pass-block-win-rate, but as Justis Mosqueda says, he’s a shoulder-chip all-star.

Interior Offensive Line

Corey Linsley is likely gone, which probably means we’ll see some combination of Elgton Jenkins, Lucas Patrick, and Jon Runyan on the interior next year. It’s unclear who will be playing where, but that’s probably the crew. Depth on the interior looks far worse, but could be assuaged some with some draft capital. Green Bay has done a phenomenal job finding value in the mid-to-late rounds at the guard and center positions, and I would expect them to go back to that well this spring. Keep an eye on Lane Taylor for a possible veteran minimum return as well.

Defensive Line

Will someone please help Kenny Clark? Clark is a star, but has had virtually no help in his career. Dean Lowry is likely to be a cap casualty after his play plummeted in 2019 and 2020. Kingsley Keke has flashed some pass rushing prowess, but those have only been flashes across the two years. Outside of Clark, the team has put very few resources into this position in recent years. It will be interesting to see if whoever the new defensive coordinator ends up being wants to prioritize this spot more than the team did in the Pettine years.

Edge Defenders

Preston Smith is almost a sure-fire bet to be cut. Rashan Gary’s emergence made that decision pretty easy. Za’Darius Smith will be back, but behind Gary and Smith there is next to nothing. Green Bay will need to find a decent EDGE3, especially because Gary and Smith are both effective working over guards in obvious pass rushing situations. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find quality EDGE players later in the draft, as most of the good ones tend to flash the athletic qualities typically needed. Perhaps Green Bay picks up a veteran cap casualty here for one season.

Off-ball linebacker

With the play of Krys Barnes and the occasional flashes from Kamal Martin, I don’t expect Green Bay to invest much in this spot. Green Bay hasn’t invested here in any meaningful way since the A.J. Hawk selection in 2006, when football was practically a different sport and the Packers ran a 4-3 defense. The Kirksey signing turned out to be largely a waste of money as he was relegated to bench duty and then the complementary WILL role later in the season. Given that Green Bay rarely prioritizes the position and that they have two very cheap young players at the spot, I can’t see Green Bay perceiving any need here.

Cornerback

Another year, another first- or second-round pick spent on a cornerback. Jaire Alexander is a superstar, but the rest of the group leaves a lot to be desired. Chandon Sullivan probably returns as the nickel corner, but even he can be upgraded upon after a mediocre season. Kevin King was atrocious and is likely on his way out. Josh Jackson is MIA. Despite all of the investment Green Bay has put into the position in the past half-decade, they really only have Jaire to show for it. Teams are of course not going to hit on every pick, but stacking up the misses on Damarious Randall, Kevin King, Quinten Rollins, and Josh Jackson has done some damage. Green Bay will probably step up to the plate to take another corner early in 2021. When you see mock drafts sending wide receivers to Green Bay, just know that they probably should be sending corners.

Safety

This position is going to be heavily dependent on how dime-ish the new coordinator wants to be. Green Bay has two very good safeties in Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, but almost nothing behind them. Perhaps a position change for someone like Josh Jackson could add him to the mix, but Green Bay needs some depth here. If the new coordinator uses a dime backer, similar to what Mike Pettine often did, that spot will have to be filled, and hopefully by someone larger than the 190-pound Raven Greene.

Specialists

Mason Crosby is eternal. JK Scott had a pretty rough year, but punters are punters. The snapping issues with Hunter Bradley are likely to lead to Green Bay looking elsewhere for their long snapper.

The return game will also probably see new faces unless Tyler Ervin returns. I also hope I never have to watch Jamaal Williams or Malik Taylor return a kick again.

In Conclusion

Hopefully this primer gives you an idea of where Green Bay stands this off-season. This team should be a contender in 2021, even if it is getting a facelift on the edges of the roster. They return all of their impact position blue-chippers, and hopefully the coordinator changes on defense and special teams bear fruit.

Green Bay is in a pretty tight cap position, as is most of the league. They have their entire draft available. Their top needs are something like: CB, IDL, WR, OT, EDGE.

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