If you’ve spent any time at Lombardi Ave, you’re surely aware that the Green Bay Packers are set to negotiate three major contract extensions – B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, and Aaron Rodgers – over the next 12 months. Those extensions have been treated as a package deal in many ways, as all three players are represented by the same agent, David Dunn.
Because Raji and Matthews were drafted in the first round of the same year, they’re entering the final year of their rookie deals. Rodgers, having signed an extension midway through his first year as a starter, is under contract through 2014. Thus, the expectation for several years has been that Raji and Matthews will receive their new deals first, and then Rodgers’ extension will fall soon thereafter.
However, if recent reports are to be believed, a Rodgers extension could be in the works now prior to any extension for Matthews or Raji. This may be very telling, as even though Rodgers is by far the team’s most valuable and indispensable asset, he has two years left on his contract. He’s not the biggest worry the Packers have in terms of contract negotiations. So why would the Packers hammer out an extension with Rodgers ahead of the sooner expiring Matthews and Raji deals?
The answer may very well be that Green Bay doesn’t anticipate room for all three contracts, and thus will let Raji test the open market.
As currently constituted, the Packers have about $20 million in cap space. Part of that figure is already earmarked for the incoming rookie class with some space reserved for free agency and emergencies. However, most of that figure will go toward extensions. Next year’s salary cap doesn’t figure to increase very significantly, and with even more contract negotiations coming into view after 2013 – James Jones, Bryan Bulaga, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb chief among them – the Packers already have an idea of which deals they want to pursue and which ones they’ll pass on.
As we discussed as part of this week’s mock draft analysis, Raji presents all sorts of problems for Green Bay. His dominant 2010 season suggested he’d be one of the league’s best nose tackles for the foreseeable future, but Raji struggled to repeat that performance in 2011. This past year was even more confusing, as Raji returned to a high level of play but did so at the five technique position rather than the nose.
While there is value in a 3-4 end, a nose tackle is considerably more important to Green Bay’s defense. Furthermore, Raji will likely demand to be paid like a fulltime nose tackle rather than an end.
With just as much good tape as bad, no defined position, and limited cap space, how much can the Packers afford to invest in a Raji extension?
Reading the tea leafs, it appears that Green Bay is letting their other extensions decide that question for them. Depending on how much it takes to re-sign Rodgers and Matthews, the Packers will know if a lengthy extension with Raji is reasonable.
They don’t want to be caught in a situation where they’ve extended Raji and don’t have enough cap space for either Matthews or Rodgers. Thus, Green Bay has prioritized their negotiations to prevent that scenario.
It’s unclear at this time what the end result will be, but it’s time to start wondering if this is Raji’s last season in the Green and Gold.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Lombardi Ave. He has previously written for Hail to the Orange, College Hoops Net, Mocking the Draft, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JBHirschhorn.