Keep them or dump them? Packers face decisions on high-priced vets

Will Jordy Nelson be chasing passes somewhere else next season? Adam Wesley/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via USA TODAY Sports

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The NFL's waiver system reopened Monday, the morning after Super Bowl LII. Although the Green Bay Packers stood idle, that could change soon.

It was this week last year when then-general manager Ted Thompson moved on from two veterans with sizable salaries and injury/performance issues: running back James Starks on Feb. 7 and cornerback Sam Shields on Feb. 8.

The moves saved the Packers $12 million in salary-cap space ($3 million on Starks and $9 million on Shields).

They were no-brainers for Thompson. Starks had one year left on a two-year, $6 million contract. In the first year of that deal, he played in nine games and averaged just 2.3 yards per carry. Shields sustained a concussion -- the fourth known concussion of his career -- in the 2016 season opener and never played again. Both players were waived with the "failed physical" designation.

New GM Brian Gutekunst will have to take a look at several veterans with high salaries. If he's going to make any moves, they could come anytime now.

Here's a look at whom he might consider moving on from and what might happen:

Jordy Nelson

  • Why keep him: Aaron Rodgers loves him and has a rapport with him like no other. Nelson was off to a fast start, with six touchdown catches in the five games before Rodgers broke his collarbone, so it isn't that success is too far in the rearview mirror. Plus, Nelson could reinvent himself as a slot receiver, at which his declining speed might not be as noticeable.

  • Why dump him: He will turn 33 in May and has been surpassed as the No. 1 receiver by Davante Adams. Even though he played in all but one game last season, Nelson had his worst season as a starter, with just 53 catches for 482 yards, and he never caught a touchdown after Rodgers got hurt.

  • Financial ramifications: Nelson is scheduled to make $10.25 million in 2018, with a salary-cap charge of $12,518,750. The Packers could wipe all but $2.3 million of that (the remaining signing bonus proration) off their cap if they release him.

  • Prediction: Keep him, but at a reduced salary.

Randall Cobb

  • Why keep him: Beyond the Adams-Nelson-Cobb trio, the Packers don’t have much proven depth at receiver. Cobb is also the most natural slot receiver they have. Even though Cobb is entering his eighth NFL season, he won't turn 28 until August.

  • Why dump him: He hasn't come close to matching his production from his breakout season of 2014 (91 catches, 1,287 catches and 12 touchdowns). He has just 14 combined touchdowns in the three seasons that followed. He also could be expendable if the Packers move Ty Montgomery back into a receiver role, where he could play in the slot.

  • Financial ramifications: Cobb is scheduled to make $9.5 million in 2019, with a cap hit of $12,718,750. The Packers would eliminate all but $3.25 million of that (the remaining signing bonus proration) if they release him.

  • Prediction: Keep him.

Bryan Bulaga

  • Why keep him: When healthy, he's a top-10 starting right tackle, and there's no surefire replacement for him on the roster. Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy are too big of unknowns, and there are too many draft needs to spend a high pick on a tackle.

  • Why dump him: Recurring knee injuries have plagued him. He missed the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL in his left knee and played in only five games last season before he tore his other ACL. He'll turn 29 next month, and it isn't certain that he'll be ready for the season opener.

  • Financial ramifications: He has two years left on a five-year, $33.75 million contract, so the Packers would have to count two years of signing bonus proration ($1.6 million in each year) on their cap. However, the $3.2 million in dead money would be offset by clearing Bulaga's $6.75 million in salary and bonuses from both 2018 and 2019.

  • Prediction: Dump him.

Clay Matthews

  • Why keep him: He played in all but two games last season, led the Packers with 7.5 sacks and was second in quarterback hits. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said the first thing that jumps out at him is Matthews' versatility, which could mean that he has designs on having Matthews play some snaps at inside linebacker.

  • Why dump him: Matthews hasn't posted double-digit sacks since 2014 and isn't one of the NFL's feared outside pass-rushers anymore. He missed six games the past two seasons combined and has the highest salary-cap figure of anyone on the Packers' defense for 2018. He will be 32 in May.

  • Financial ramifications: Matthews is entering the final season of a five-year, $66 million deal and is scheduled to make $11.4 million in 2018. There's no signing bonus proration left on his contract, so there would be no dead money if the Packers cut him. They would clear the entire $11.4 million off their cap.

  • Prediction: Keep him, and play him more at inside linebacker.

Nick Perry

  • Why keep him: He's just one year removed from his best season (11 sacks in 2016), and other than Matthews, the Packers don't have any other proven pass-rushers from the outside linebacker spot. In just 12 games, Perry managed to lead the Packers in quarterback hits and finish second in sacks to Matthews, with seven.

  • Why dump him: He returned to his injury-prone ways in 2017, missing four games. He has never played every game of a season since the Packers took him in the first round of the 2012 draft.

  • Financial ramifications: The five-year, $60 million contract he signed in March was structured so the Packers could move on well before it ends if necessary. Perry is owed a $4.3 million roster bonus on March 16, but his total pay in 2018 is only $7.2 million. The Packers would have to designate him as a post-June 1 cut in order to save salary-cap space. Otherwise, they would have to wait until after the 2018 season to move on. However, if Perry has another season like he did last year, it's hard to imagine the Packers bringing him back in 2019, when his salary and bonuses total $11.1 million.

  • Prediction: Keep him for one more season.