David Bakhtiari's mega-contract means tough 2021 decisions, cuts for Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Get ready for an offseason unlike any other when it comes to salary-cap moves for the Green Bay Packers.

David Bakhtiari's four-year, $103.5 million contract extension combined with the pandemic-induced reduction of next year's cap will force general manager Brian Gutekunst and director of football operations Russ Ball to make some unprecedented moves for an organization that has rarely -- if ever -- entered an offseason over the projected salary cap.

Now that Bakhtiari's deal is on the books (see the breakdown below), the Packers have $199,678,104 in salary-cap charges for the 2021 season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The problem is, the cap is expected to be well below that. The league and the NFL Players Association agreed to drop it to no lower than $175 million to offset financial losses the owners will incur because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That means Gutekunst and Ball must create cap space through a combination of contract restructures, trades or flat-out cuts before 4 p.m. ET on March 17, when the 2021 league year officially begins.

Ball has kept the Packers in such good cap position that in recent years Gutekunst and his predecessor, Ted Thompson, only had to make performance-based cuts (see Nick Perry in March 2019). Yes, they saved cap space, but the move was more to ensure they didn't throw good money after bad.

This time will be different. The Packers will need to shed more than just the $24 million or so that they're currently over a $175 million cap. They'll need additional space to sign their draft class -- typically around $8 million -- plus with some exclusive rights or restricted free agents such as receiver Allen Lazard.

The Packers will almost certainly turn Bakhtiari's $11.072 roster bonus due next March into a signing bonus, which would allow them to prorate that over the 2021-24 caps. That would save them $8.304 million on next year's cap, reducing Bakhtiari's charge from $19.447 million to $11.143 million. Kenny Clark's four-year, $70 million deal signed in August doesn't contain a 2021 March roster bonus, so the Packers can't adjust his number.

They will have to come up with more cap space somehow, whether it's by releasing players or restructuring existing deals.

The most likely candidates for a straight release include: Preston Smith ($8 million in cap savings/$12 million if post-June 1), Dean Lowry ($3.3 million/$4.8 million), Rick Wagner ($4.25 million), Christian Kirksey ($6 million), Adrian Amos ($4.3 million/$7.3 million) and perhaps even Mason Crosby ($2.5 million/$3.5 million). Up to two players can be cut before June 1 and still receive the post-June 1 cap benefit.

The most likely candidates for restructuring include: Za'Darius Smith, who is due a $5 million roster bonus in March that could be spread out if converted to a signing bonus; and Aaron Rodgers, who is due a $6.8 million March bonus.

Then there's the question of Rodgers' status altogether. The cap savings from moving on would amount to $4.796 million (or $22 million post June-1). But there's little or no reason to think rookie Jordan Love will be ready to take over next season.

There are other options as well, including legitimate contract extensions to help spread out cap charges over the length of deals with someone like Davante Adams, who has a $16.6 million cap charge in 2021 (the final year of his deal), trades, pay cuts and even converting base salaries into bonuses that can be prorated over multiple years.

The Packers likely will use a combination of all of the above while trying to stick to their long-standing principle of not moving on from players they believe can help them win at a fair price.

The Packers won't be the only team forced to make these kinds of moves; it will be league-wide, and Gutekunst suggested this week that there will be some good bargains available after that.

However, none of this bodes well for the key remaining Packers free agents: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Corey Linsley and Kevin King. Sure, the Packers could make it work with one or more of them -- there's always a way. But at what cost both financially and at the expense of others?

With that in mind, here's a year-by-year breakdown of Bakhtiari's deal:


  • Signing bonus: $30 million

  • Base salary: $6,052,942

  • Roster bonus: Up to $500,000 ($31,250 per game active).

  • Workout bonus: $500,000

  • Salary-cap charge: $16,252,942

  • Total cash: $36,959,192

  • Notes: Base salary under the previous contract was $10,500,000 and he collected $5.58 million of that, meaning his remaining base salary will be paid as if it were $1.2 million for the season. ... $500,000 in Pro Bowl and playoff escalators available.


  • Base salary: $1,075 million

  • Roster bonus: $11,672,059 ($11.072 million due on third day of league year; up to $600,000 - $37,500 per game active)

  • Workout bonus: $700,000

  • Salary-cap charge: $19,447,059

  • Total cash: $13,447,059


  • Base salary: $3.2 million

  • Roster bonus: $10.1 million ($9.5 million on third day of league year; up to $600,000 – $37,500 per game active)

  • Workout bonus: $700,000

  • Salary-cap charge: $20 million

  • Total cash: $14 million


  • Base salary: $6.7 million

  • Roster bonus: $10.1 million ($9.5 million on third day of league year; up to $600,000 – $37,500 per game active)

  • Workout bonus: $700,000

  • Salary-cap charge: $23.5 million

  • Total cash: $17.5 million


  • Base salary: $20.2 million

  • Roster bonus: Up to $600,000 – $37,500 per game active

  • Workout bonus: $700,000

  • Salary-cap charge: $27.5 million

  • Total cash: $21.5 million