Packers' priorities clear in salary-cap calls

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY – If you want to find the strength of any NFL team, follow the money.

General manager Ted Thompson has spent the most money on his wide receivers. Davante Adams is the third-highest paid wide receiver on the team.

The more a team has invested in a position, the more they value the players who are there and the more they paid to keep them there.

The Green Bay Packers are a good example.

If you guessed that quarterback was the position where they are spending the most cap dollars, you’d be wrong. You’d be pretty close, however, and you might be right before the season ends if the Packers try to extend Aaron Rodgers’ contract.

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The position where Packers general manager Ted Thompson has invested the most money is wide receiver. The eight receivers on the roster take up $28,227,429 of the Packers’ adjusted cap of $176.3 million, led by Randall Cobb ‘s $12,656,250 and Jordy Nelson’s $11.55 million.

(Using cap numbers instead of 2017 cash earnings better reflects the cost of the entire contract, not just one year of it.)

It’s no wonder the Packers spend so much on receivers. When you have a quarterback as good as Rodgers you’re smart to invest in guys who can catch his passes.

Thompson paid a premium to keep Cobb from hitting free agency in 2015, handing him a four-year, $40 million contract. At the time, Nelson was six months removed from signing a four-year, $42 million deal, giving the Packers two receivers in the top tier in average salary at the time.

Over the course of his three seasons, Davante Adams’ salary has climbed and so has his cap number. He will make $956,373 in cash this year and count $1,251,537 against the cap.

This probably will be the last season the Packers will have Adams at that price. He is a free agent after this season and if he builds on the season he had last year (75 catches for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns), he could wind up in the $6 million-to-$7 million-per-year range, meaning to retain him the Packers would have to jack up their investment significantly.

Unlike some teams, Thompson’s highest-paid players are ones he drafted and decided to sign to a second contract. There are no blockbuster contracts belonging to high-priced free agents from other teams; the money stays in-house and goes to draft picks who perform.

Thompson has admitted he hates to see really good players he drafted playing for other teams.

“I’ve never made bones about that,” Thompson said in 2015. “Guys who have played for us, guys who have helped us win world championships, things like that, you don’t let go of those players lightly.”

In evaluating the Packers’ payroll, you can come to some reasonable conclusions about Thompson’s roster.

» He regards offensive tackles way more than he does guards.

» He hasn’t done very well drafting defensive linemen or inside linebackers.

» He feels he can win with just about any running back and doesn’t value them much in free agency or the draft.

» He has responded to coach Mike McCarthy’s wishes that the tight end position be more than an extension of wide receiver.

» He would have loved to allot around $20 million total to his cornerback position, but $9 million of it walked out the door with Sam Shields, whose numerous concussions resulted in the Packers letting him go.

After wide receiver, the Packers have devoted the most cap money to outside linebacker ($23.7 million), quarterback ($21.5 million), defensive line ($19,385,160) and tackle ($15,729,876).

The bulk of the outside linebacker money belongs to Clay Matthews ($15,075,000) and Nick Perry ($5,925,000), both of whom were first-round picks and are on their second or third contract. In Dom Capers’ defense, there is no more important position than outside linebacker so it makes sense that much money is devoted.

But if Thompson had not come up short on many of his defensive line picks (Khyri Thornton, Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Jerel Worthy, Justin Harrell), the money devoted to that position would be a lot higher. Only Mike Daniels, Thompson’s best defensive line find in the draft, is playing on a lucrative second contract.

The secondary could have been much better with Shields at one corner spot, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett at safety and some combination of LaDarius Gunter, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins filling the other spots. Now, the only players on a second contract are Burnett and Davon House, who accepted a one-year deal for $2.8 million after spending the last two years in Jacksonville.

On offense, Thompson wants his quarterback protected and he has paid good money to secure the perimeter. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga and left tackle David Bakhtiari account for $14 million of cap space and if second-round pick Jason Spriggs develops he’ll be in line to increase the total even more in 2020.

Guards, on the other hand, are not going to strike gold in Green Bay. Both Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang made it to second contracts and accounted for $13 million in cap space going into last year, but when push came to shove Thompson gave Bakhtiari $12 million per year and let both Sitton and Lang go.

Despite the fact McCarthy loves tight ends, Thompson never has spent big on them, even when Jermichael Finley was rounding into a very good player and in line for an extension. But Thompson took note this past season of the difference in the Packers’ offense with Jared Cook in the lineup and decided to go a step further.

With the addition of free agents Martellus Bennett ($3.85 million) and Lance Kendricks ($1.775 million), the Packers have more than $8 million invested in tight ends. Compare that to last year when Cook, Richard Rodgers and Justin Perillo combined for $3.9 million and you can see a change in philosophy.

At running back, Thompson chose not to re-sign Eddie Lacy and go with Ty Montgomery, Christine Michael and Don Jackson, who together account for $1.94 million in cap space. It’s a good year for running backs in the draft and it has been proven in the NFL that rookies can have an impact at the position right away, so it’s understandable why he has gone in that direction.

The salary structure Thompson has created with this roster likely won’t change much until next year when he’ll have a new crop of players set to test free agency. Now, it’s bring on the draft and don’t look back, even if it turns out he made some miscalculations.

“There’s always the unknowns,” Thompson said last year.  “There’s always the, ‘We think this, but we’re not certain about this.’ I understand that, but that’s just part of the personnel business. You have to keep marching forward. You have to keep going and you can’t worry about every bump in the road."

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