Packers Pull Off Cap Magic

Team thriving in salary cap jail.

Make no mistake, the Green Bay Packers, according to the figures, should be in salary cap hell.  In 2023 the team was forced to carry a whopping $57 million in dead cap money.  $40 million of that amount came from the trading of Aaron Rodgers.  Fully twenty-five percent of Green Bay’s entire cap allotment was dead money. 

This year is almost just as bad.  According to Overthecap.com, the Packers are currently saddled with just under $50 million in dead money.  That's still roughly twenty percent of their total space.  Most of it comes from the release of players such as Aaron Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, David Bakhtiari, and Darnell Savage, plus the trade of Rasul Douglas.  Only seven other teams in the NFL have a larger figure. 

In addition, Green Bay will carry some stout cap numbers for several players this season, including Kenny Clark ($27.4 million), Jaire Alexander ($23.4), Elgton Jenkins ($14.4), Preston Smith ($14.1), and Rashan Gary ($11.1). 

Then, of course, a significant hit will come when Jordan Love gets his extension, which should be cap friendly in the early years but monstrous in seasons down the road.  Considering all of these factors, one would expect the Packers to be salary cap broke, unable to sign free agents or grant extensions to other core players.  That’s a recipe for a losing team with a long rebuilding stage in front of them. 

But, incredibly, as of this writing, Green Bay is listed as having $28.4 million in cap space.  That’s eighth highest in the league.  Spotrac has them listed even higher at seventh most.  That’s even taking into account the signings of two of the top names on the free agent market in safety Xavier McKinney and running back Josh Jacobs, plus the signing of all of their 2024 draft picks.  Far from rebuilding, the Packers finished 2023 with a winning record, made the playoffs, and won a playoff game. 

How is this possible?  The answer lies deep in the Lombardi Avenue offices of General Manager Brian Gutekunst and Director of Football Operations Russ Ball.  Gutekunst has engineered two superbly productive drafts in a row in 2022 and ‘23.  He and his scouting staff have also uncovered and signed several qualified street free agents.  Ball has worked his contract magic in the restructuring of several veteran deals. 

Gutey’s 2022 draft produced an impressive seven starters, assuming you consider Christian Watson and Sean Rhyan to be starters, along with Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt, Romeo Doubs, Zach Tom, and Rasheed Walker.  That draft also includes Kingsley Enagbare, a rising contributor at edge.  The effort was followed in 2023 with the addition of starters Luke Musgrave and Jayden Reed, and productive subs Lukas Van Ness, Tucker Kraft, Colby Wooden, Dontayvion Wicks, Karl Brooks, and Carrington Valentine.  Kicker Anders Carlson is also among that class. 

The quality of those two drafts have enabled the Packers to fill several important starting positions at an astonishingly low cost.  For example. Green Bay’s top eight receivers on this year’s team will have a collective cap hit of around $10 million.  The total cap hit of their top three tight ends, Musgrave, Kraft and Ben Sims is around $4 million.  While the Packers are paying big money to Jenkins to play left guard, the other four projected starters on the offensive line (Walker, Josh Myers, Rhyan and Thom) will collectively cost less than $7 million in cap space this year.  The two back-up quarterbacks, Sean Clifford and Michael Pratt, together will count under $2 million. 

Russ Ball negotiated deals with free agents McKinney and Jacobs that are super cap friendly for this season.  McKinney will count just $7.8 million and Jacobs $5.3.  Ball has also reworked deals to create cap space with Preston Smith, Kenny Clark and Rashan Gary. 

Now here comes another promising draft class marching into training camp at minimal cost.  If the likes of Jordan Morgan, Edgerrin Cooper, Javon Bullard and Marshawn Lloyd develop into productive players, Green Bay could be a Super Bowl contender while still retaining the cap flexibility to add more talent. 

If all goes as expected, the dead cap nightmare should end after this season.  Overthecap lists Green Bay’s 2025 dead money hit at just $7.9 million.   

Hmmm. A very good team with money to spend.  I sure like the sound of that.  

 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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Comments (33)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
LambeauPlain's picture

July 05, 2024 at 12:59 pm

Gutekunst has built a solid team...in his Personnel Room. His scouts have found outstanding talent with three common traits in their assembly of the "Yutes":

1. Thick resume of on-field college results
2. Athletes
3. Leaders and team captains

I think #3 is a secret ingredient...and makes it hard to keep focused, athletic leaders with skills, off the field.

The youngest team in the NFL has been created on purpose due to the cap monster. Great article Ken...showing how they quickly have tamed it.

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

July 05, 2024 at 08:34 pm

More reasons to be excited for this season! While "I can't wait," I actually CAN. I would not want to short-circuit one day of the process ...

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Turophile's picture

July 05, 2024 at 01:26 pm

The Packers have only made one really big misstep in recent years (not moving on from Rodgers a year earlier and pushing so much of his huge salary into the future), but it was a real doozy.

I suspect it wasn't what Gutekunst wanted, but one or both of LaFleur and Murphy wanted to keep him for one last push - and we know how that worked out.

Still, this is a pessimistic take, because apart from that admittedly big error, the Packers have got things right. They seem to have chosen the right successor to Rodgers, drafted well in 2022 and exceptionally well in 2023 and (I'm guessing) have done pretty well in 2024 too. This influx of cheap starters was essential to overcome the monstrous dead cap hits of 2023 and this year.

All franchises will make mistakes, but fortunately this Packers organisation has the talent and experience to overcome a big miss-step when they make one. A less talented and experienced team, especially one with a meddling owner, would not have fared as well.

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CanPackFan's picture

July 05, 2024 at 03:39 pm

Good take Turo. And I feel the biggest thing that came out of that mistake, and the 2023 draft, was that Gutes is FAR better in handling the team building without the interference of Mark Murphy. I lost a lot of respect for Murphy over how he cow towed to Rodgers over his last 2 years. That final, ridiculous contract was it for me. Hopefully, Ed Policy will have the good sense to let Gutes be a true GM and not be hamstrung by poor, executive football thinking...

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TheTaxiSquad's picture

July 05, 2024 at 06:11 pm

I read this assertion often, that MM has control over contracts and personnel, but I’ve never seen it. Where have you seen or read that MM made the Rodgers contract decision against BG’s wishes? And Russ Ball doesn’t make decisions, he advises and makes things work. But, if it is a 3-headed monster making decisions, what’s wrong with that collaboration of knowledgeable minds?

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Turophile's picture

July 06, 2024 at 03:19 am

Yes. I have also heard many people blame Murphy for many things because he was the CEO, but such assertions, as TheTaxiSquad said, were almost always without any proof that he actually interfered.

The retention of Rodgers might simply have been an argument between Gute and La Fleur with LaFleur persuading Gute for at least one more year of Rodgers. We have no real clue how this went down and Murphy's greatest crime might only have been that he endorsed the prevailing view. You can make an assumption that Gute was for moving on, since that would be a reason for fragile relations with Rodgers in his (Rodgers) last year or two in Green Bay.

This is why I was careful with how I phrased the blame for the decision..........and with the decision turning out badly, no-one will now admit to be the driving force to retain Rodgers. Maybe years later someone will write their memoirs and we will learn the truth.

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sporkov's picture

July 06, 2024 at 04:39 am

Murphy's greatest crime always has been and always will be keeping Ted Thompson around too long. Most of TT's drafts post SB win were bad to worse, and he kept McCarthy around longer than anything justified. (Yes, Gute kept him around too. Two wrongs don't make a right).

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Turophile's picture

July 06, 2024 at 01:12 pm

True enough. I'd forgotten the TT degeneration. That one really was down to Murphy.

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GregC's picture

July 06, 2024 at 04:55 pm

Yes, TT was kept too long, and that's on Murphy. It must have been a really difficult situation for Murphy and the entire organization though, because TT had been there since 2005, had won a Super Bowl, and followed it with several winning seasons. Also, his deterioration was gradual, which would've made it difficult to notice, and I'm sure he had a lot of staunch supporters at all levels within the organization. Although Murphy had the power to fire TT, TT was probably more powerful than him in a lot of ways. Firing him would not have been a popular move.

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Coldworld's picture

July 06, 2024 at 08:02 am

Ball controls contracts and explicitly reports direct to Murphy. Apart from Murphy’s express statements describing his revised structure, it’s also reflected in the official job descriptions of Balm and Gute. If you haven’t heard or seen it, you haven’t been listening or looking.

It is fair to wonder if, unofficially, that changed sometime between Rodgers’ extension and the trade to the Jets a year later to get us out from under that as best we could.

I prefer to think that this is a sign of the then unofficial but strongly rumored heir apparent, Policy, having the wisdom to indicate that a return to the Harlen approach of a GM leading football with non executive oversight in football decisions from the President is the way he will go.

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Untylu1968's picture

July 06, 2024 at 07:03 am

That's all speculation with no proof on Murphy! Enough people went crazy after dumping Rodgers when they should've. Imagine how nuts they would've been if they got rid of him after an MVP year! Which they definitely should've done!!

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Oppy's picture

July 05, 2024 at 01:49 pm

"Then, of course, a significant hit will come when Jordan Love gets his extension, which should be cap friendly in the early years but monstrous in seasons down the road."

I think its a massive assumption that will probably prove to be untrue. I think if Gute has gained more control over the operation, we'll likely see more front-loaded contracts (ala Ted Thompson style cap management.)

Big, up front cash bonus. Perhaps due to this year's dead cap most of the big damage happens in year 2, but then the last few years are actually the most cap friendly.

We'll see if Russ Ball is still out in these streets doing stupid stuff with contracts, or if Gute has more control as I expect he does. My assumption is smarter, front-loaded contracts will be the defacto 'norm' again in Green Bay as they were frequently during TT's time.

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Coldworld's picture

July 06, 2024 at 08:16 am

I don’t see cap magic. I see a team that got out of a ludicrous mega extension of Rodgers and lost Bakh’s cap hit through the misfortune of injury while going young. We have yet to pay Love, we are paying only one skill player notably, which is a fleeting window.

Our WRs and TEs are ridiculously cheap in absolute terms and in terms of talent. On D we pay Jaire, Gary and Clark and now McKinney, but everyone else is cheap at this point except Nixon, and Smith whose contracts are not blockbusters in league terms. That too is not a long term position, but a window allowed by youth. The surprise is not the cap space but that we’ve as much talent as it seems in the roster at that price so quickly firm recent drafts.

It’s the combination of those things that give us the cap space we have. That space is itself misleading as Love needs to be signed and well as perhaps an extension for Clark.

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LeotisHarris's picture

July 05, 2024 at 02:02 pm

Really nice piece, Ken. Ain't it funny that the Packers went from hamstrung and handcuffed in Salary Cap Hell to eight highest in the NFL in cap space. I'm sure Russ Ball's new version of Microsoft Excel played a role in this, as well as the online Dale Carnegie course he took, but somehow that darn dumpster fire that was burning last year seems to have flickered and gone out. Boy howdy, that's something!

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Leatherhead's picture

July 05, 2024 at 05:23 pm

The Triumph of The Clownshow. I remember that.

Here's the nightmare scenario for some "Packer Fans". Packers win the Super Bowl. Murphy rides off into the sunset, leaving behind world champions and a healthy financial situation (plus all the Titletown stuff he was part of).

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Bitternotsour's picture

July 05, 2024 at 05:35 pm

Oh please. Not one person has a "nightmare scenario" of the Packers success, that is just ridiculously stupid. Also regardless of the final chapter, those of us who decidedly dislike Mark Murphy will be satisfied that he simply rides off into the sunset. In fact, that's all we really are interested in seeing.

Thanks for sledding hill Mark, here's your hat, what's your hurry.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 06, 2024 at 11:20 am

BNS, if we win the Super Bowl, LaFleur gets coach of the year, Gutekunst gets Exec of the year, Love wins MVP, etc. there won't be enough crow to go around.

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Bitternotsour's picture

July 06, 2024 at 02:30 pm

What color is the air is on your planet.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 05, 2024 at 03:11 pm

Whatever happened to the "it'll be back to the 70's and 80's again" crowd?

I haven't heard from them lately. I hope they're ok.

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LLCHESTY's picture

July 05, 2024 at 03:28 pm

"Whatever happened to the "it'll be back to the 70's and 80's again" crowd?"

Stockholder posts almost everyday?

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stockholder's picture

July 05, 2024 at 03:33 pm

Love hasn't been signed yet-

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Oppy's picture

July 06, 2024 at 12:37 pm

...and most attentive Packers fans haven't expected to hear the announcement until the eve of training camp.

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LambeauPlain's picture

July 05, 2024 at 03:35 pm

His glass is rarely half full. Mostly the glass is on the floor in pieces and shards.

I hope it is an act. I cannot imagine being so negative and such a malcontent as a supposed Packer fan.

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Johnblood27's picture

July 05, 2024 at 04:26 pm

Thanks for slamming the shutters and blackout curtains on this decidedly sunny positive article.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 05, 2024 at 04:47 pm

Miss your nap today?

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Johnblood27's picture

July 06, 2024 at 05:57 am

LH is right about you.

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jurp's picture

July 05, 2024 at 10:04 pm

I'm doing just fine, thanks for asking! :)

I am EXTREMELY HAPPY that I was totally wrong about this team and that I can't call MLF "Scooter" anymore!

I'd rather be wrong and happy than right and miserable any day.

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SpikeHyzer's picture

July 05, 2024 at 04:50 pm

Great piece and shows the planning that goes into it all on the administrative end.

One caveat. While it's true that Love's hit will be huge soon, the current projection of $7.9 million is not static. After all, the six players mentioned as being most of the $50 million for this year were moved within the last 6 months for the most part.

Despite the relative--and growing, since this class looks to be as good as the last two--youth of the squad, there will be some decisions next year that contribute to a fairly significant increase in that number, even if I suspect the Pack will try to limit that because of Love's contract.

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bossofallbosses's picture

July 05, 2024 at 06:05 pm

They still have some work to do:
1.) Cut Rolls Royce Newman (3mil)
2.) Trade P. Smith (15-17 mil and get a 3rd round pick).
3.) Do not resign 27 million dollar baby Kenny KO Clark. He'll be 30 years old for the following season. NO thanks.

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TheTaxiSquad's picture

July 05, 2024 at 06:17 pm

Newman yeah. He can go. P and Kenny no! Absolutely no! Good players cost $. They both more than earn it.

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

July 05, 2024 at 08:40 pm

Get rid of your two best players. Dorkus Malorkus.

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marpag1's picture

July 05, 2024 at 06:08 pm

What? An article that doesn't portray Russ Ball as if he were the spawn of Satan? Imagine that...

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

July 05, 2024 at 08:41 pm

MM is still leaving, so there's hope ...

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