GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The text had more exclamation points than words.
In response to a message asking how happy he was on Tuesday afternoon, after Aaron Rodgers had announced his return to the Green Bay Packers and receiver Davante Adams had been retained on the franchise tag (for now), a member of the coaching staff replied:
And now the offseason can really begin for the Packers.
There’s no more worry about whether they have to implement Plan A, B or C.
General manager Brian Gutekunst can narrow down his list of players to keep, cut or restructure and make his plan for free agency, which begins in a week.
And vice president of football operations Russ Ball can figure out how to make it all work within the salary cap.
There’s no way to know exactly how much work Ball still needs to do on the cap until Rodgers’ contract is finalized. Before Tuesday’s developments, the Packers were $27.5 million over their salary cap for this season. Add another $20.145 million to that -- the value of Adams’ franchise tag.
At this point, Rodgers and Adams combine to account for 25.4% of the Packers’ 2022 salary cap.
So how can Green Bay field a competitive roster when it's 47-plus million dollars over the cap a week before free agency? Those numbers don’t matter until March 16, when teams must be under their cap.
Whatever the terms of Rodgers’ new deal are when it’s finalized, it will lower his cap number significantly from the $46.144 million that is currently on the Packers’ books in what is the final year of his old contract. The Packers are stuck with the $19.173 million signing bonus proration from his last contract on this year’s cap, but Ball can structure the deal so that the cap charge comes in well below that $46.144 million mark, perhaps even cutting it by 40%.
And ideally, Adams will agree to a long-term deal that would come with a lower cap charge than the franchise tag.
The structure of both deals might offer hints about whether Rodgers is just playing year to year or will play out the deal and retire in Green Bay at the end of it.
Last July, when Rodgers returned from his offseason of discontent, he said he wanted to be “involved in conversations that affect my ability to do my job.” He rattled off a list of veteran players – from the likes of Charles Woodson to Julius Peppers to Randall Cobb – who were released or not re-signed at various points in his career and believed he could have offered consultation about those decisions.
As last season progressed, Rodgers repeatedly praised Gutekunst for his moves and he said after the season that they had regular meetings to share ideas.
Which brings the Packers to this point where, with Rodgers back, they will try to reload rather than rebuild. Remember, Rodgers said immediately after last season that he did not want to be part of a rebuild.
Still, they might have to do it without several veterans. A source said outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith believes he will be released. Smith, who played only 18 snaps last regular season, has the second-largest cap number on the team ($28.1 million), and the Packers would gain $15.75 million in cap space by cutting him.
Cobb ($6.8 million in cap space if they released him now or $8.25 million if they released him after June 1), offensive lineman Billy Turner ($3.142 million in cap savings now or $5.812 post-June 1), tight end Marcedes Lewis ($2.95 million in cap savings or $4 million post-June 1), and kicker Mason Crosby ($2.9 million or $3.4 million after June 1) would offer the most cap savings.
They might not have to release them all, and they also could restructure several of their deals. Veterans likely not in danger of being released -- such as outside linebacker Preston Smith and safety Adrian Amos -- also could be candidates for restructures. Then there’s cornerback Jaire Alexander, who is currently scheduled to play on his fifth-year option of $13.294 million but will almost certainly sign an extension that would lower his cap number before the start of the season.
All of that should allow the Packers to retain at least some of their key free agents: linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, cornerback Rasul Douglas, tight end Robert Tonyan and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. According to agents familiar with the market, Campbell should attract a contract worth $10 million per year, Tonyan $7 million, Douglas $5 million and Valdes-Scantling $5 million. Also, receiver Allen Lazard is a restricted free agent who likely would receive a second-round tender of $3.986 million.
Whether there’s any room left to sign free agents from other teams won’t be known until after all this work is done. But now at least it can get started.