The legal tampering period of free agency has started and teams have already begun flinging the cash around. The Green Bay Packers have a unique opportunity on their hands and should part ways with Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.
If the first few hours of free agency told us anything, it’s that Brian Gutekunst is quite different than Ted Thompson. Within hours, the rookie general manager registered his interest in three offensive skill players that would make a world of difference in Green Bay.
The team was reportedly in for free agent wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson. Needless to say however, they were always going to have significant competition for his services.
Typically in free agency, agents will put out feelers to teams merely to gain some leverage at the negotiating table. However, the team has “serious” interest in free agent tight end Jimmy Graham, who apparently has the Packers on his list of finalists.
The simple fact that the team is making calls shows a philosophy change in Green Bay. Gutekunst appears willing and able to make some hefty investments during the free agency period rather than sitting in an empty office and attempting to solve the world’s most difficult Rubik’s cube a la Ted Thompson.
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The Packers will have to make some uncomfortable cuts for this to work however. Sitting at under $20 million in cap space, according to Spotrac, the team must part with both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in order to help get the team’s offense back to what it once was. The team theoretically has far less than $20 million, as their draft class of 12 picks will eat into that figure considerably.
Nelson’s four-year contract for just under $40 million was well deserved. But now at the age of 32 and clearly on the decline, the Packers should pull the plug. Nelson’s contract is extremely backloaded, as he made only $3.3 million of the contract in the first two years of the deal, which amounted to cap hits of a combined $9 million.
The 2017 season along with this coming season, however, carry a far different cap hit for Nelson. He played on a cap number of over $11 million last season, and will count over $12 million this season. That type of number simply isn’t worth it for a declining player at a position in need of improvement. Cutting Nelson would conjure up $2.3 million in dreaded dead money, but would give the team $10 million in needed cap space.
Cobb has had a far more disappointing couple of seasons than Nelson. His athleticism has cratered, and his contributions on special teams have disappeared. The Packers have seen their lack of speed on the boundary repeatedly cost them on crucial third downs, and simply have to find themselves a faster receiver than Cobb. Cobb will carry a gargantuan $12.7 million cap hit for this coming season.
Cutting Cobb would clear $9 million more in cap room, while adding $3 million to the dead money pile. With these two moves, the Packers suddenly have around $40 million to spend, before Aaron Rodgers signs his highly anticipated new contract. The deal could add a further $15 million in cap room, meaning the Packers can essentially pursue anyone they want with the expectations of signing two or even three of their targets.
With so many needs on the roster and the clock ticking on Rodgers’ career, it is time to devote the resources to his supporting cast.
While there was always no chance the Packers would be able to secure a trio of Graham, Robinson and Watkins, the team needs to be pursuing better skill players so the offense’s shortcomings can stop being covered up by the best who ever played at quarterback.
With new skill players the Packers would finally see their receivers get open on schedule and would return to the days when Aaron Rodgers would pick defenses apart with even decent receivers finding separation. Cutting Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb may tick off a few sentimental Packer fans, but the finances would be there to make some splashes in free agency.