This week in NFLTR Review, we’re looking ahead to a pivotal 2022 offseason for the Packers and much, much more:
- What does the crystal ball say about Rodgers, Adams and others?
- An upcoming negotiation that could be sneakily difficult for GB
- Is LeSean McCoy a Hall of Famer?
The Big Picture: Future Of The Green Bay Packers
After an offseason of uncertainty, Aaron Rodgers is back in Green Bay firing off laser beams and leading last-minute drives like we’ve become accustomed to seeing his entire career. If there were ever any legitimate doubts about Rodgers’ personal investment in this season, his exuberant reaction to Sunday’s game-winning field goal dispelled those like Packers fans dispel opposing players who try to Lambeau Leap.
But the future for Rodgers and the Packers remains as mysterious and opaque as it was this summer. The franchise is barreling toward an inflection point in the 2022 offseason that will define the next era of football in Green Bay, and potentially longer. There’s one decision that obviously looms over the rest, but what the Packers decide to do with Rodgers will have a cascading, domino effect on the rest of the roster.
For instance, WR Davante Adams is in the final year of his contract, playing like the best receiver in the league and looking to be paid that way. Packers CB Jaire Alexander will be entering the last year of his deal in 2022 and will demand a top-of-the-market deal. So will OL Elgton Jenkins, whose versatility will be as much of a sticking point in contract negotiations as it has been a blessing to the Packers on the field.
There are more key players who are up for new deals like S Darnell Savage, TE Robert Tonyan and OLB Rashan Gary. There are the Smith Bros — the fearsome but high-dollar pass-rushing duo of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith who would have broken up this year if Preston hadn’t taken a pay cut. And all of this wouldn’t matter so much if Green Bay wasn’t projected to be nearly $40 million in the red already for 2022.
We’ve seen teams dig out of holes that are far bigger but it will be a complicating factor as the team charts a course next offseason that could include massive changes.
What happens with Rodgers?
Boil it down to the basics and there are only really three things that can happen between the Packers and Rodgers. After he pressured the team into voiding a year off of his deal and giving him a no-tag clause, there is theoretically nothing standing between him and unrestricted free agency in 2023. Therefore:
- The Packers can trade him this offseason, get what they can, and move on to the quarterback they traded up to draft in the first round to replace Rodgers — Jordan Love.
- They can sign Rodgers to an extension that, via structure and guaranteed money, ensures they are committed to him through the remainder of Love’s rookie contract, assuming Rodgers has not already burned that bridge and closed himself off from returning.
- If they think Love needs more time and another year of contending with Rodgers in 2022 is worth more than the bounty of picks they’d surely get back in a trade, they can do nothing, let Rodgers play out the final year of his deal, then watch him leave for nothing in 2023.
Two out of three of those scenarios end with Rodgers somewhere else besides Green Bay in the next year or two, and really, that should be no surprise given that as soon as the Packers made the call to take Love, they stamped Rodgers with an expiration date. The only thing that’s unforeseen, at least by the Packers front office, is how Rodgers fought to take back control of his destiny.
To me, a trade next offseason seems like the most likely result assuming the team still sees Love as the quarterback of the future. That gives the Packers the benefit of a major trade package to build up the team around the youngster and protect him as he grows. Anything else requires more swallowing of pride than NFL teams are typically comfortable with.
Another benefit of a trade is that it clears a massive amount of cap space from the books and makes everything else Green Bay needs to do in 2022 a lot easier. It’s not impossible for them to dig out of their cap hole and keep Rodgers but given he’s set to count $46 million against a $208 million cap, they will need to do something one way or another with his contract.
However, we’re still not at a point where any of these three options can be discounted. Rodgers loves Green Bay and until the team drafted Love, he envisioned finishing his career in a Packers jersey. I don’t think the door is completely shut just yet. But there’s probably only a crack left.
Can they find common ground with Adams?
It’s not great that the Packers are in disputes with their two best players right now but that’s the situation. Adams and Green Bay both agree that he should be paid like the NFL’s best receiver. The issue is where they draw that line.
NFL contracts are a little funny in that the total amount announced is often vastly inflated, including incentives and non-guaranteed money the player often never sees. But traditionally, the way deals are gauged is by new money over new years. By that standard, Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins is the NFL’s highest-paid receiver with the two-year, $54.5 million extension he signed after being traded to Arizona. That works out to $27.5 million a year and that’s the mark Adams is trying to beat.
However, Hopkins still had three years left on his contract at the time, making it effectively a five-year, $94 million contract for the team and allowing the Cardinals to spread the load a little bit more. The Packers front office has instead pointed to the three-year, $66 million deal the Falcons gave to WR Julio Jones as a more realistic barometer for the receiver market at $22 million a year.
Splitting the difference between the two lands the Packers and Adams somewhere around $24-$25 million a year on an extension if they can work things out. There are other obstacles to overcome as well, like the Packers’ organizational precedent of not guaranteeing anything beyond a signing bonus
Green Bay does have a powerful piece of leverage in these discussions, as a franchise tag for Adams would probably be in the range of $20 million and change. At the age of 30, Adams does not want to be tagged and shoulder a year of injury risk. But the Packers need to be aware of the fallout if they go the tag route and learn from the mistakes they’ve made with Rodgers.
They’d also be dedicating a huge chunk of their available cap space if they tagged Adams, whereas an extension would have a lower hit in year 1. And Rodgers himself is a key factor in these discussions — will Adams want to come back if the Hall of Fame passer is gone?
What’s left in the budget for everyone else?
Rodgers and Adams are the two biggest dominoes that will determine if Green Bay end up reloading for another championship push or hitting a mini-reset with an eye on transitioning to the future. There’s a long list of other contracts the Packers need to address, though, from stars to lesser, but still valuable, starters.
Let’s start with their first pick in 2018, CB Jaire Alexander. He’s quickly become one of the best cornerbacks in the league and will be just 25 at the start of the 2022 season. Though the interception numbers are low with just five in his career, he has the fourth-most pass defenses of any defensive back since he entered the league in 2018. He was PFF’s top-rated corner in 2020.
At a bare minimum, Alexander deserves somewhere in the $19-$20 million range that Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey and Saints CB Marshon Lattimore signed for. Perhaps he has a chance to top Rams CB Jalen Ramsey and reset the market if he has a standout season in 2021 and argues inflation because of the rising cap. Either way, he won’t come cheap.
Had the Packers left Elgton Jenkins at center, their negotiations would have been much simpler. The top of the center market is just $13.5 million a year. But Jenkins not only plays guard at a high level, Green Bay has also used him as a fill-in at left tackle with great results. He’s the rare five-tool NFL offensive lineman, and as a result is now set to cash in big-time.
Going just off guard salaries, the current top of the market is Chiefs G Joe Thuney at $16 million a year. He also filled in at times for the Patriots at multiple spots on the offensive line, including left tackle, so that’s a good parallel. Washington G Brandon Scherff is at $18 million on the franchise tag and he’ll probably sign a deal in free agency that will give Green Bay and Jenkins another data point.
If we start to factor in tackle salaries, though, that $18 million starts to look more like a floor, especially if Jenkins continues his strong play on the left side in relief of David Bakhtiari. New deals for tackles this offseason included Panthers RT Taylor Moton ($17 million APY), Raiders LT Kolton Miller ($18 million), Vikings RT Brian O’Neill ($18.5 million) and Rams RT Ryan Ramczyk (19.2 million).
Right off the bat, that’s two players who could be in the $19-$20 million a year range in Alexander and Jenkins. That’s a ton of cheddar for Green Bay to be handing out in extensions and we haven’t even discussed guys like TE Robert Tonyan, S Darnell Savage and OLB Rashan Gary, all of whom will be up for new deals either next year or in the coming years. Their performance the rest of this season will have a major hand in what their next deal looks like but earmarking somewhere between $10-$15 million apiece is probably a good conservative estimate given what we’ve seen already and the state of the market at their respective positions.
General managers love to say you can’t pay everyone, especially ones with a more traditional approach like the Packers have had. So that suggests the Packers will have some hard decisions to make on some of these guys.
Looking ahead to future roster needs
Peeking around the corner, it’s evident the Packers have a few places where they’re going to need additional help. There’s the pass rush, where both Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith are scheduled to have massive cap hits in 2022. The former will count $28.13 million against the cap, and while he’s a strong candidate for an extension, it’s not guaranteed given he’ll be 30.
Green Bay already leveraged Preston Smith into a pay cut this past offseason and could save $12.5 million of his $19.75 million cap hit by cutting him outright in 2022. He’ll be 30 as well, and the Packers don’t have a long history of signing guys to third contracts. Odds are they’ll need at least one more rusher to pair long-term with hopefully Gary.
The list of Packers pending free agents in 2022 also offers clues as to what roster needs are on the horizon.
- WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
- CB Kevin King
- CB Chandon Sullivan
- LB De’Vondre Campbell
- OL Lucas Patrick
- DL Tyler Lancaster
I’d also add to this list potential cap casualties like WR Randall Cobb and DL Dean Lowry. So that makes receiver a need if for nothing else than they’ll be running out of bodies even if they keep Adams. They have third-round rookie WR Amari Rodgers and can bring WR Allen Lazard back as a restricted free agent. Valdes-Scantling though is a sneaky candidate to get a nice deal as an unrestricted free agent given his size, speed and steady development.
Green Bay’s defensive line has largely offered little obstruction to opponents and the potential for both Lancaster and Lowry to be gone gives the Packers a chance to upgrade. Guys like Campbell and Patrick shouldn’t be too hard to bring back but those can add up. And even though first-round CB Eric Stokes looks good, the Packers can use more help in the secondary.
In 2022, the Packers could be staring at the loss of their two best players, a transition at quarterback and potentially as many as six more starters walking out the door with a long list of players with contracts that need addressing.
This Week In Football
- During the preseason, the general consensus was that the Buccaneers roster didn’t really have a weakness. Three games into the season, that’s no longer the case, as injuries have hit the secondary pretty hard. To shore things up, the Buccaneers recruited and signed CB Richard Sherman to a one-year deal. Sherman’s older but he can still play, even if he’s not going to be a lockdown corner anymore. The hope is Tampa Bay’s pass rush also starts to make things easier for the back end.
- There are a ton of outside observers who are quite concerned by what Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has put on tape through three games. But even people inside the organization are starting to become concerned — and that’s quite notable. With how broken the offense has looked, and with Roethlisberger already banged up, it might be a question of when, not if, Roethlisberger is benched this season.
- When it comes to big-time NFL scoops, Jay Glazer does not miss. So when he reported Sunday before kickoff that the Texans’ stance on trading QB Deshaun Watson is starting to soften, then bumped that report midweek, it’s eyebrow-raising. Nothing has changed with Watson’s legal situation but if Houston is budging on its asking price, that could set the gears of a deal in motion.
- There was a fairly major trade that did go down this week between the Jaguars and the Panthers, as Jacksonville rid itself of CB C.J. Henderson and got back a third-round pick and TE Dan Arnold from Carolina. It’s hard to spin this as much of a positive outcome for the Jaguars, but it was pretty clear the former No. 9 pick was on his way to busting if he stayed. They at least managed to get a decent pick and fill another need on the roster. For the Panthers, though, this fills a big need at cornerback for them, especially after first-round CB Jaycee Horn’s injury last Thursday. They had a big grade on Henderson last year and have connections to him on the coaching staff, so the hope is the fresh start will rejuvenate Henderson and give Carolina a pretty fearsome young duo at cornerback.
- Despite some buzz, the Lions were unable to find any takers for LB Jamie Collins and had to release the veteran. Detroit will continue with its youth movement on defense while Collins tries to catch on with another team. He has ties to the coaching staff at a number of different places. The Saints are a contending team that could use some linebacker help, while the Giants have a massive need at the position they might be willing to pay to address.
- Jaguars WR DJ Chark caught a horrible break when he was rolled up from behind while blocking on Jacksonville’s first drive Thursday night. He ended up with a fractured ankle, which will knock him out for the rest of the season. Besides being a serious injury, it also cuts short the final year of Chark’s rookie deal when he really needed a big season to cement his status going into free agency in 2022. This injects a major dose of uncertainty into Chark’s outlook going forward.
- In a sign of just how desperate the Chiefs are for another receiving threat to take attention away from Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, Kansas City signed WR Josh Gordon to a practice squad spot in the hopes that he can work his way into being that guy. Gordon hasn’t played since 2019 and he was just a role player for the Patriots and Seahawks that year. But perhaps enough of the physical talent is still there. There’s zero risk and at least some reward.
- Veteran RB LeSean McCoy calls it a career Friday, signing a one-day contract to retire with the team that drafted him, the Philadelphia Eagles. McCoy walks away with more than 11,000 rushing yards, nearly 4,000 yards receiving, 89 touchdowns, six Pro Bowls, two All-Pros and two Super Bowl rings. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s all-decade team for the 2010s, which begs the question of whether he’ll be inducted into the Hall after his five-year waiting period is up. He’s 22nd on the all-time rushing list behind guys like Fred Taylor, Corey Dillon and Steven Jackson who have been waiting a while with little momentum toward induction. He’s 18th all time in yards from scrimmage, but again has guys ahead of him on the list like Jackson, Warrick Dunn and Tiki Barber. But in Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame Monitor, McCoy looks to be in the same company as other HOFers like Curtis Martin, Tony Dorsett and Jerome Bettis. Ultimately I don’t think McCoy is a first-ballot nominee. He deserves to be in the Hall someday, though.
Nickels & Dimes
Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…
I forgot to mention this in last week’s section on what Cam Newton needs to find another NFL job. And it’s kind of a big deal given how important availability is at the position. He needs to get vaccinated…
— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) September 26, 2021
Not even Sean Payton can coach all of the Jameis out of Jameis Winston…
This play won’t make a highlight reel, but this is outstanding quarterbacking from Teddy Bridgewater. On a 2nd-and-7, he has the savvy to snap his head to his checkdown in the flat, which moves the hook defender, then fire a pass to the hook route for a first down with an edge rusher coming free. This type of game management is why Bridgewater got the nod ahead of Drew Lock…
QB grades versus efficiency through week 3.
As we get further into the season these tend to move closely together, but there's a lot of variation right now pic.twitter.com/dR59VheON8
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) September 28, 2021
For as much hype as this rookie class got, it’s been quite the inauspicious start. As a group, the five first-round picks have just one win, coming from Mac Jones in New England against the Jets in Week 2. He has two passing touchdowns, three picks and is averaging just 6.1 yards per attempt…
49ers QB Trey Lance isn’t starting, Bears QB Justin Fields was taken down nine times in his first start, and Jets QB Zach Wilson and Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence are tied for the league lead in interceptions with seven apiece…
The common thread with Fields, Wilson and Lawrence is that the supporting cast right now, including coaching and play-calling, is just not putting them in situations that are conducive to success and the rookies are not transcending their situation like some of their predecessors have in other years. The talent is still apparent and they’re not busts by any stretch of the imagination yet. They need a lot more help though…
Bears HC Matt Nagy has taken a ton of grief for his game plan that did nothing to avert the disaster that was Fields’ first start. The Ringer’s Ben Solak has a great dive into what exactly was so awful about it, but you can also see it in the difference between what the Bears were asking Fields to do in the preseason. When your preseason play-calling is more diverse and plays better to your rookie quarterback’s strengths than his first-ever start, you have an issue…
I'm glad you asked.
Since 2015, league-wide 4th-and-1 conversion success rate:
All plays: 65%
If previous play gained 0 yards: 66% https://t.co/rYPFm1vuaM
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 30, 2021
We’ve arrived at a clear tipping point for in-game, analytically-driven decision making by NFL coaches, as there’s been a clear shift toward embracing aggression and going for it on fourth down. There are still some holdouts, though, and it’s just going to be more and more obvious from here how much those coaches are actually hurting their teams by not properly factoring in the stats…
Another trend I’ve noticed is how effectively defenses are tearing apart protections, especially in empty sets, through three weeks. Some of it is from watching the Panthers wreak havoc every week but it’s not just Carolina, a number of teams across the league have had success in this area and people are noticing. PFF’s Diante Lee has a great explainer of what’s happening. It’s also helped generate a lot of great discussion in an under-discussed facet of the game — how protection schemes work. Now that more people are understanding different coverages and how they work, it feels like offensive line play is the next frontier to be explored by more casual fans…
To wrap things up, a story in three tweets…
Jack Del Rio: "We don't hand out trophies after 3 weeks. It hasn't been the start we wanted or expected. … We deal with it. Man up, take responsibility and accountability. It starts with me."
— John Keim (@john_keim) September 30, 2021
The very next breath…
Del Rio wasn't happy with the pass interference call on William Jackson and the non-pushoff call in Cole Holcomb's TD pass allowed.
"Those are two touchdowns you can take off the board," Del Rio said.
— John Keim (@john_keim) September 30, 2021
And to finish the coachspeak sandwich…
Del Rio said any type of defensive miscommunications are on him to clean up… Also asked about having a new group together and if it handcuffs a bit what they can do now (as far as disguises). Del Rio said, "I'm not an excuse maker…. We need to play better."
— John Keim (@john_keim) September 30, 2021
Bottomline, a Washington defense that was expected to be one of the league’s best has been shredded through three games. Not great for DC Jack Del Rio…