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Packers hand out bonus money to start year

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The new NFL year not only meant the start of free agency but also a pay day for several Green Bay Packers players already under contract.

Three players have bonuses tied to the start of the league year in their contracts.

One was due on Tuesday.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers received a $9.5 million roster bonus as part of the five-year, $110 million contract extension he signed on April 26, 2013. Rodgers received the same bonus on the first day of the league year in 2014.

The rest of Rodgers' roster bonuses over the remaining length of his contract, which runs through 2019, are tied to the number of games he's active in each season.

Two other bonuses are due later in the week.

The Packers owe outside linebacker Mike Neal a $1 million bonus on the third day of the league year and cornerback Sam Shields a $2.5 million bonus on the fifth day of the league year.

The only way to avoid paying those bonuses would be to release those players before the bonuses are due.

The Packers won't release Shields; that's a given. He signed a four-year, $39 million contract last March.

But would they possibly release Neal, who signed a two-year, $8 million contract last March?

It can't be ruled out.

If the Packers cut Neal before Thursday, they would save $3 million in salary-cap space. Neal played in every game last season but was pushed out of a starting job by the addition of pass-rusher Julius Peppers, who the Packers are bringing back for another season. Still, the Packers liked the four-man rotation of Peppers, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Neal at outside linebacker last season.