GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Brian Gutekunst described the salary cap as a puzzle, but the problem is the Green Bay Packers' first-year general manager doesn’t have room for many pieces.
With the salary cap set at $177.2 million for the 2018 season, the Packers don’t have much wiggle room at this point.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers have a little more than $16 million in available cap space. That ranks 23rd among all NFL teams.
In reality, however, they have less than that.
With 12 draft picks, beginning with the 14th overall pick, they will need $9,260,960 in 2018 cap space to sign those picks, according to OverTheCap.com’s projections. Its projected cap number for the 14th pick is $2,507,504. Some of those draft pick contracts won’t factor into the salary cap because only the top 51 contracts count on the cap until the start of the regular season.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t leave Gutekunst with much room to maneuver at this point.
“It’s a big puzzle,” Gutekunst said last week at the NFL scouting combine. “I think as the information comes in and as we get closer to the free agent time period and we get through the combine and kind of get a better feel for the draft, some of those things will come into play.”
If Gutekunst wants the Packers to be players in free agency -- and he used the word “aggressive” when asked about his approach to free agency -- then he might not have any choice but to make a move with either receiver Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb or perhaps even both. Their combined salary-cap charge for this season stands at more than $25 million.
Gutekunst indicated last week that he preferred to keep both Nelson and Cobb, saying “you need to keep really good players, and you don’t let them walk out the door just for that reason.”
That could be code for asking one or both of the veteran receivers to accept a pay cut, especially if Gutekunst wants to sign veteran defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who is scheduled to visit the Packers on Wednesday.
Neither Nelson’s agent nor Cobb’s agent returned messages asking whether their clients would be open to such a scenario.