Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst didn’t try to conceal the obvious in February. He knew he’d have to push money into the future to keep his team together in 2021.
Here’s what Gutekunst said about borrowing money from future years: “We’ve done that in the past, we’re going to have to do that this year, for sure. The situation that our football team is in now, I think we have one goal in mind. And if there’s an opportunity to take some risks to help us win now, we’re certainly in that mode.”
Gutekunst backed his words with actions over the last month and a half. Six major restructures for veteran players all involved pushing money into the future. According to Ken Ingalls, the Packers have now kicked over $28 million of salary cap dollars into future years, including over $15 million into 2022.
Here’s the breakdown:
Updated: #Packers “Kick the Can” Salary Cap Tracker:
🥫D. Bakhtiari: $8,304,044
🥫Z. Smith: $7,380,000
🥫A. Amos: $4,328,000
🥫B. Turner: $3,560,000
🥫P. Smith: $3,250,000
🥫M. Crosby: $1,340,000
🦶Total Kicked: $28,162,044
📆Kicked into 2022: $15,705,015 https://t.co/Z9HWvie5kh
— Ken Ingalls – Packers Cap 💰 (@KenIngalls) March 23, 2021
The Packers, who entered the offseason in some salary cap trouble, needed to push money to future years to retain players and avoid gutting the roster. Gutekunst released linebacker Christian Kirkey and offensive tackle Rick Wagner, but restructuring contracts did the majority of the work on managing the cap.
Bakhtiari’s contract had a built-in mechanism for creating immediate salary cap, and the Packers used it early in the offseason, converting a roster bonus into a signing bonus.
This was a common tactic for the Packers. Turning base salary or roster bonus into a signing bonus allowed the team to prorate the money over several years and take pressure off the cap this year while adding more money to future caps. The team also used void years on Adrian Amos and Mason Crosby to further extend the proration window and create bigger chunks of savings in 2021.
The moves created flexibility, even if the team hasn’t been active (at all) in free agency. The Packers lost center Corey Linsley, who signed the NFL’s richest contract for a center, but were able to retain running back Aaron Jones, tight end Robert Tonyan, receiver Allen Lazard and cornerback Kevin King.
Kicking the can down the road always has a price, however.
According to Over the Cap, the Packers already have over $200 million worth of contracts on just 29 players for the 2022 season. The takeaway here is that the team will have to do more salary cap gymnastics this time next year, but the NFL’s new television contracts should cause a cap spike in 2023, so pushing more money into the future is likely again.
The Packers haven’t yet touched Aaron Rodgers’ contract, which could help create more cap space. However, the risk of pushing too much money into the future looms large, especially for a team that has already committed so much new money to future caps.
Considering the circumstances, Gutekunst and the Packers have done well to keep last year’s roster together without significant losses. The cost was future pain managing the cap, especially next year.