Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith could be out of Packers' price range
GREEN BAY - As the Green Bay Packers look forward to the 2022 season, hard personnel decisions must be made in the spring. Free agents could be extended or sent to a new team. Contracts can be restructured to help the Packers adjust their salary cap, which is $40 million in the red. And in short, the organization will have to weigh the cost of going all-in now with a handful of stars, versus spreading the money and talent around.
The first move came Wednesday when Green Bay restructured the contract of defensive tackle Kenny Clark. While they wait to hear what decision quarterback Aaron Rodgers will make, and possibly consider the franchise tag for receiver Davante Adams, there are plenty of other names on the roster to take care of as well. Perhaps the biggest decision facing general manager Brian Gutekunst, after the aforementioned duo, is outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith.
While meeting with a small group of local beat writers Wednesday, Gutekunst was asked if Smith could feasibly be a part of this team moving forward.
“He could be,” Gutekunst said. “I think obviously, we're gonna have to do something there. That number is pretty high.”
The number being referenced is Smith’s salary-cap hit, which sits at $27.66 million, second-highest on the team behind Rodgers, but only if he remains on the roster for the 2022 season, according to OvertheCap.com. If cut before June 1, the Packers would incur a dead money hit of $12.4 million. This decision comes after a season in which Smith only played in two games, the first and the last; the season opener versus the New Orleans Saints and the divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Smith was reportedly dealing with a non-football related back injury through training camp and the near entirety of the season.
There were also questions about Smith possibly being upset with his contract situation. While Gutekunst said Wednesday that he has “always been in a pretty good place with Z,” the general manager admitted to some early season conversations between the two.
“We had to do some things early because he was a little frustrated as we were going through this, you know, and we did that and like I said, I think we're in a good place,” Gutekunst said. “It’s disappointing we weren't able to get him out there more this year with the injury. But obviously you guys know how impactful he is out there as a pass rusher. And so we'll kind of see, again, it's one of those things where there's gonna be some tough choices to make as we move forward. And that's one (contract) we're going to have to look at.”
Bakhtiari’s knee not a concern
Left tackle David Bakhtiari played a mere 27 snaps during the 2022 season, all in the first half of the last regular-season game against the Detroit Lions. This after he spent much of the season rehabbing from an ACL tear suffered during practice before last postseason. A setback midway through the season pushed his rehab back even further. His snaps versus the Lions provided another setback and Bakhtiari was unable to play in the divisional playoff game versus the 49ers.
Still, when asked if Bakhtiari’s knee was a long-term concern, Gutekunst said it wasn't.
“Obviously was a big, big injury that he went through. And that guy, the effort he put into coming back and working his tail off, I mean, almost overdid it to a certain extent, and he just worked so hard to get back and so disappointed for him,” Gutekunst said.
The plan is for Bakhtiari, who has a $22.2 million cap hit for 2022, to remain a Packer.
“Long term I think I feel really good about him as our left tackle,” Gutekunst said.
Elgton Jenkins started in Bakhtiari’s place for half the season before suffering an ACL tear in Week 11. Gutekunst said Jenkins' rehab progress is encouraging.
“Elgton's progress has been great so far … we're midway through kind of his thing, but he's been doing great so far. And again, another guy that just does stuff the right way and I can't say enough about his ability to play all five spots in the National Football League at a high level.”
New kicker doesn’t spell end for Crosby
The Packers made offseason waves by hiring Rich Bisaccia as the new special teams coordinator. Upon his suggestion, the team recently signed kicker Dominik Eberle, who spent his entire rookie season on the Las Vegas Raiders practice squad under Bisaccia. According to Gutekunst, this is a byproduct of the spring roster and not necessarily the end of the road for longtime kicker Mason Crosby.
“We're in that offseason period where we get a chance to take a look at a lot of guys and as you guys know, what our 90-man roster is gonna look like when we enter training camp, you know, could be vastly different than where we're sitting right now,” Gutekunst said, before confirming “yes,” he could see Crosby returning.
“Where our football team is, having a championship kind of kicker, a guy who can compete at that level is important. So again, there will always be competition and everybody's got to hold their own.”
Alexander, Tonyan, Savage and Gary among other decisions
Many other players are still waiting for a decision from Gutekunst. Half of them have injuries to be considered. But the general manager reiterated other dominoes must first fall before these latter positions can be determined.
Of cornerbackJaire Alexander, Gutekunst said, “Obviously Jaire’s a premier corner in the National Football League, we'd like to keep him around here for a long time, so we'll kind of see where that goes. So again, kind of like we were talking a little bit before, there's a lot of dominoes that are going to have to fall as we go through this, and he's one of them.”
Tight end Robert Tonyan, who tore his ACL midway through the season, is up for a new deal.
“We know Bobby, he's been here a while. We know his work ethic,” Gutekunst said. “He’s working his tail off and we feel pretty good about his recovery…there's not like a timing thing, where we need to see something before we decide that.”
Both Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage has extension options that can be exercised this offseason. Those decisions will have to wait, at least for now.
“We’re not there yet,” Gutekunst said. “Obviously, both those guys have done a really good job for us. And they're kind of coming into their own and becoming leaders of our defense. So, again, we haven't made any decisions on that yet, but, again, both pretty good players.”