Packers: How the salary cap has hurt this offseason

Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

The salary cap is a system put in place to keep all 32 NFL teams in a competitive space to ensure that both franchises and players have a chance to operate finances that — for a lack of a better term — keep everyone happy.

Whether that’s rewarding a successful player a huge payday or asking a star to reduce their salary to remain competitive, the salary cap is a tricky system for teams every offseason. And the Green Bay Packers are no different.

Entering the new league year on Mar. 17, 2021, Green Bay found themselves woefully lacking in cap space to either sign their own free agents or the free agency pool of players.

The Green Bay Packers and cap space

Green Bay entered tight on cap space that already saw a number of players leave elsewhere such as All-Pro Center Corey Linsley. With free agents departing counting against Green Bay’s cap space, it did free up money to re-sign Aaron Jones for the next four seasons.

While the jury’s still out on what GM Brian Gutekunst has planned for the new league year, it’s clear that freeing up cap space has been a priority. However, don’t let the cap space fool you like the moves to restructure contracts such as Aaron Rodgers and Za’Darius Smith as a ploy to sign a big free-agent name.

The lack of lucrative contracts has already hurt Green Bay in losing out on some key players. With the defensive line desperately needing help, a match made in heaven reuniting J.J. Watt and Wisconsin blew up a mere days later after leaving the Houston Texans.

The former Wisconsin Badger — who would’ve been an instant fan-favorite — elected to forgo Green Bay and sign with the Arizona Cardinals. You can debate championships and money until the end of time, but Watt also saw a team offering a huge contract with promises of competition and took it.

It’s not to say that Green Bay isn’t a Super Bowl contender, but it came down to brass tax and they could never offer a huge contract to lure Watt to Green Bay.

Then it happened again with Patrick Peterson signing with the Minnesota Vikings. There’s a huge need to be addressed to stop the Tom Bradys of the world from heaving it to receivers running past you.

Peterson, 30, is still a top-level cornerback who would’ve paired beautifully with Jaire Alexander on the other side. But, again, due to money restrictions, was never a choice for Peterson in 2021.

Is Green Bay a free agent destination?

For a team that has appeared in one Super Bowl, five NFC Championship Games, and has one of the most gifted quarterbacks and receivers in the NFL in the last 10 years, it hasn’t been enough for free agents to sign there even on one-year contracts.

While every team has struggled with cap space issues — which usually leads to cap casualties galore across the league — there haven’t been too many teams that have continued success such as Green Bay.

What’s more perplexing is that even division rivals such as Allen Robinson and Kyle Fuller — both excellent players in the Chicago Bears-Packers rivalry — have passed on playing in Green Bay for reasons that are hard to comprehend.

Green Bay must navigate the salary cap better

The philosophy in Green Bay helmed by the late-great Ted Thompson has always been draft and develop. And, for the most part, it has been a great success. But what hasn’t worked is managing cap space with contracts and extensions in the Rodgers-era.

And to Thompson’s credit, it did bring in a championship, but the league drives on finding that missing player through free agency — even if for just one season. Do you think Bill Belichick has sleepless nights after Darrelle Revis left after helping New England win a Super Bowl? Or Denver feeling empty after Peyton Manning retired after winning Super Bowl 50?

While the level of the window varies for each team, sometimes the window opens all the way after a key free-agent signing or two. Something that has eluded the Packers due to the salary cap dictating financial flexibility.