Have we gotten over the NFC Championship loss that saw a promising 2020 Green Bay Packers team fail to reach another Super Bowl?
Well, regardless if you have or not, GM Brian Gutekunst has done all he can in terms of keeping a team that reached back-to-back NFC title games and 13-3 seasons mostly intact for 2021.
Once the dust settled on the 2020 season and the sting of defeat had faded, a new problem arose in Green Bay: the salary cap.
Green Bay Packers and finding money
There were a number of free agents-to-be that given the incredible amount of strain on Green Bay’s salary cap, there were going to be some tough decisions looming. As of this writing, All-Pro center Corey Linsley has departed to the Los Angeles Chargers ensuring a line change in protecting Aaron Rodgers in 2021.
However, Rodgers will have his main running back thanks to Aaron Jones and Green Bay reaching a four-year, $48 million contract. A significant player returning to Lambeau Field has emerged as one of the top backs of the league over the past two seasons.
But with every lucrative offer comes departures. Fan-favorite Jamaal Williams has signed with the divisional-rival Detroit Lions. Christian Kirksey — who despite playing well towards the end of the season — is also heading elsewhere.
Tyler Lancaster, Montravius Adams, and Tim Boyle are also some of the early departures that have freed up cap space. While every new season will always see players come and go, the next act in attacking the salary cap comes by restructuring high-value contracts.
Restructuring to help the Green Bay Packers run it back
Za’Darius and Preston Smith — more popularly known as The Super Smith Bros. — appeared to be heading towards a split after two seasons. The initial reports indicated that perhaps Preston would become a cap-casualty due to a decline in his performance in 2020 after coming off a double-digit sack season in 2019.
However, with both Smiths restructuring their contracts, this gives Green Bay the option to free up cap space and sign a free agent or two by saving nearly $15 million. This also gives Preston a chance to return to a dominant form along the line in 2021 proving this was the right move.
While word’s the mum with Rodgers’ contract and a pending extension for Davante Adams, Green Bay avoids any cap space headaches as we enter the start of the 2021 NFL season.
Let’s run it back
So, with Green Bay taking care of a few star players while addressing some severe cap hits, the 2021 team should mostly look like the team that played in back-to-back NFC Championship Games.
There’s still the deadly duo of three-time league MVP Rodgers and Adams torching defenses, AJ Dillon is poised to take that next step as a bulldozing running back, Jaire Alexander will still shut down No. 1 opposing receivers, and Lambeau Field will be one of the greatest home-field advantages with fans in the stands.
Not to mention, the NFC North still hasn’t done much to dethrone Green Bay within the division. With Drew Brees also retiring after 19 years in the league, the scales of balance dip a little bit. While some NFC powers have come and gone, Green Bay has been consistent in the NFC under head coach Matt LaFleur.
SInce 2010, Green Bay has the most NFC Championship Game appearances at five joining Atlanta, Seattle, and San Francisco to have multiple appearances.
Eventually, hopefully, one of these games will have a positive ending for Green Bay before Rodgers calls it a career, but thanks to Gutekunst and Co. they’ll at least have a strong chance in 2021 to return to the Promised Land.