Two years ago, they didn’t wait nearly as long to move on from two veterans with significant money left on their contracts, James Starks and Sam Shields. Both were released in the week immediately after the Super Bowl.
So anytime between now and the start of the new league year in March, when free agency opens, the Packers could make similar moves.
They’re in a solid salary-cap situation; at this point, they’re about $35 million under their projected salary cap for the 2019 season.
The situation was similar when they released those three veterans the last two winters – but that still might not prohibit them from deciding some veterans aren’t worth their current prices. In releasing Nelson, they saved $10.2 million in salary-cap space (although they counted $2.3 million in dead money). They picked up $12 million in salary-cap space the year before when they moved on from Starks and Shields.
In his second offseason in charge, general manager Brian Gutekunst will have several decisions to make on high-priced veterans, some of them he signed himself and some of them he inherited from his predecessor, Ted Thompson.
Here’s a look at the players he might consider releasing:
Why keep him: Perhaps new coach Matt LaFleur will have bigger plans for Graham, who suggested late last season that his role in the offense was different from what he thought it would be, saying “I’ve got a lot of responsibilities – just not running routes and out here catching the ball like a receiver. ... I’m just trying to do my job and do what I’m told.” Graham said late in the season that “my numbers suck,” but his 636 yards (on 55 catches, second on the team) were the most by a Packers tight end since Jermichael Finley’s 667 in 2012. Aaron Rodgers seemed to like Graham. The other two veteran tight ends on the roster last year, Lance Kendricks and Marcedes Lewis, both will be free agents and neither one is likely to return, leaving Robert Tonyan as the only other experienced tight end on the roster.
Why cut him: Graham, who turned 32 in January, showed a significant decline in athleticism. He misjudged or mistimed passes that he once made look routine. He wasn’t the red zone target that many thought. He led the NFL with 10 red zone touchdowns for Seattle in 2017 but managed just two last season. Jared Cook, the tight end the Packers let get away after the 2016 season, is scheduled to become a free agent. Perhaps the Packers would bring him back if the Raiders don’t re-sign him.
Financial ramifications: The three-year, $30 million deal Graham signed last March could easily be transformed into a one-year, $13 million deal. Graham is owed a $5 million roster bonus on March 16. His base salary ($3.45 million), workout bonus ($250,000) and per-game roster bonus (up to $300,000) total another $4 million. If the Packers released him before March 16, that $9 million would come off their books. So would next year’s $8 million in salary and bonuses. They would have to count the remaining two-thirds of his signing bonus ($7.333 million) as dead money on their cap (either all of it in 2019 or half in each year if they designed him as a June 1 cut).
Prediction: Keep him for one more season.
Why keep him: Bulaga started 14 of 16 games last season, missing two because of a knee injury. When healthy, he’s a top-10 right tackle. He ranked second among all tackles in ESPN’s pass-blocking win rate. The Packers also don’t have a ready-made replacement on the roster.
Why cut him: Although he only missed two starts, he failed to finish four other games because of injuries and ranked just fourth among Packers O-linemen in snaps played. He will turn 30 next month and has a lot of miles on his body.
Financial ramifications: He’s entering the final season of a five-year, $33.75 million contract. He’s due $6.75 million in salary ($5.8 million) and bonuses (up to $700,000 in per-game roster bonuses and $250,000 workout bonus), all of which would be wiped off their cap if they released him. The remaining $1.6 million of his prorated signing bonus would count as dead money.
Prediction: Keep him.
Why keep him: The Packers don’t have much in the way of edge rushers, especially if they let Clay Matthews leave in free agency. Kyler Fackrell came out of nowhere to lead them with 10.5 sacks, but who knows if that was a fluke? Even if the Packers use one of their first-round picks on an edge rusher, they won’t have much in the way proven pass-rushers.
Why cut him: He can’t stay healthy, and it looks like his 11-sack season in 2016 was a fluke. He has missed 11 of a possible 32 games the last two seasons. He lasted only nine games (and just 1.5 sacks) last season because of a knee injury.
Financial ramifications: He already has collected $28 million of a five-year, $60 million deal. He’s due a $4.8 million roster bonus in March. If they cut him before that, they would wipe that off their books along with his $5.2 million base salary and $800,000 in additional bonuses. They would have to count three-fifths of his remaining signing bonus proration – a total of $11.1 million in dead money – on their cap, but they could break that up if they designated him as a post-June 1 cut. Even if they didn’t use that designation, they would still save $3.337 million on this year’s cap.
Prediction: Cut him (unless he’s willing to take a big pay cut).
Why keep him: The veteran defensive back proved versatile (he played outside cornerback, slot cornerback and safety) and dependable (he missed only five snaps all season). The Packers still don’t know if cornerback Kevin King will ever stay healthy. Even if he does, Williams could help at safety, where they’ve moved on from veterans Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix the past two years.
Why cut him: He will turn 36 next month and could fall off significantly at any moment.
Financial ramifications: Williams’ base salary jumps to $3.25 million (from $1.5 million last season) and would be guaranteed if he’s on the roster for the opener. He’s also due a $1 million roster bonus next month. Along with another $500,000 in bonuses ($100,000 workout and up to $400,000 in per-game roster bonuses), the Packers would save $4.75 million in cap space if they cut him before March 16. They would have to count only $1.625 million in dead money.
Prediction: Keep him.
Why keep him: The Packers don’t want to get into a revolving door at kicker, and it’s difficult to find someone who can handle kicking in the elements at Lambeau Field like Crosby has done since 2007. Despite a couple of poor games, he still managed an 81.1 percent conversion rate on field goals last season and is over 80 percent (80.4) for his career.
Why cut him: Crosby, 34, had a horrific game in Detroit last season, when he missed five kicks (four field goals and an extra point) in an eight-point loss, and missed a game-tying field goal in the final seconds at home against Arizona in the loss that cost Mike McCarthy his job.
Financial ramifications: Crosby doesn’t have a March roster bonus, so there’s no immediate need to make a decision. He’s due $3.6 million this season in salary ($3.2 million) and bonuses (up to $250,000 in per-game roster bonuses and a $100,000 workout bonus). All of that would come off the Packers’ cap if they released him, and they would only have to count $1.25 million in dead money.
Prediction: Keep him (but bring in competition).