Green Bay Packers have decisions to make on Aaron Jones, David Bakhtiari and Mason Crosby
GREEN BAY − General manager Brian Gutekunst has said multiple times he wants everyone back from this season's Green Bay Packers team, but the nature of NFL contracts and salary caps won’t allow that to happen. Instead, Gutekunst will spend the foreseeable future evaluating his current players, those around the NFL and college prospects to help build next season's roster.
While much of the future of the Packers will center yet again around offseason decisions from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the subsequent salary cap ramifications, there are decisions on other key players as well. The 2023 salary cap has not officially been decided upon, although it is estimated to exceed $220 million.
Running back Aaron Jones is set to make $16 million in salary and bonuses for the 2023 season, with a cap hit of more than $20 million. Jones restructured his contract ahead of the 2022 season to help the team and Gutekunst isn’t shying away from that possibility again this offseason.
“With the way we’re doing things lately, we’ll probably restructure everybody, keep trying to make some room,” Gutekunst said Friday. “But we’re working through all those things and there’s all those dominos. So you’re looking at everything, the timing of those things. There’s certain things you might do, then you don’t have to do that. So we’ll work through that over the next month or so.”
The 28-year old Jones will be entering his seventh season in 2023 and is coming off one of his most productive seasons, finishing with 1,121 yards on the ground (averaging 5.3 per carry) and 395 yards through the air. Where Jones dipped this season was scoring, collecting seven touchdowns (two on the ground and five receptions). Those issues, though, were more team wide, courtesy of an offense that had its worst red zone conversion rate (51.85%) in more than 15 years. Jones also had five fumbles, losing three.
Jones told reporters Monday that he isn’t worrying too much about his future with the team or what a contract restructure might entail. He just knows where he wants to be next season.
"Control the controllables. Control what I can control, that’s what I’ve always been taught,” Jones said. “I control what I can control. I’d love to be here, so hopefully they feel the same way about me.”
Gutekunst on Friday echoed the sentiment: "Certainly we expect to have him back. He's a dynamic player … for a guy his size to bring it every day, he rarely misses a practice, rarely misses a rep, the way he leads our team, just his consistency is amazing.
“In this league, you can't have just one and obviously having AJ (Dillon), it's nice to have that one-two punch. When we first got him, you're kind of thinking 'this won't last long,' because of how he's built and his size, but he keeps defying the odds.”
Dillon finished his third year with 186 carries for 770 yards (averaging 4.1 per carry) and became the bruising rusher near the end zone, with seven touchdowns. He also added 28 receptions for 206 yards. He will be entering his fourth season, which means a decision on his future is on the horizon.
David Bakhtiari is under contract but with a big salary cap hit
Left tackle David Bakhtiari is under contract for two more seasons. He is set to make just over $17 million in 2023, and carries a cap hit of just over $29 million. This comes on the heels of Bakhtiari missing a bunch of games due to injury during the 2022 season, for both his knee and following an appendectomy; and missing the entire 2021 season while recovering from an ACL tear suffered in December 2020.
It was Bakhtiari’s performance when he was back on the field for 10 games that gives Gutekunst hope for the future of his all-pro left tackle.
“I would hope (he’s here)," Gutekunst said. "We’re hopeful that he’s kind of cleared some of those injury hurdles he’s had the last few years … I think he got into a really good rhythm in learning (how he needs to) practice to get to the games. And I'm hopeful that as we get beyond this season, that rhythm will serve him well.”
Mason Crosby is not under contract and turns 39 before next season
Kicker Mason Crosby is not under contract for next season, something that could factor into the decision on whether to re-sign the 38-year-old. He will turn 39 before the 2023 season.
“These are all decisions we'll work through this offseason,” Gutekunst said. “David's under contract, Mason's not. We're working through all that stuff. Mason had an astounding year this year, was really clutch in a lot of ways. So it’s, he’s performing at a high level for a long time and obviously having Rich (Bisaccia) come in and him adapting to a new special teams coach for I don’t know how many years in a row now, but he carried us in a few of those games, no doubt about it.”
Crosby finished with an 86.2% make rate on field goals, with a long of 56 yards in January at Lambeau Field. He made 37 of 39 extra-point tries. The Packers kept Ramiz Ahmed on the practice squad the entire season.
Packers add 'futures' players roster and training staff member
The Packers signed 13 offseason free agents to "futures" contracts this week. These contracts do not count against the 2022 salary cap and all contracts don't officially take effect until the new league year begins in March. These do count toward the offseason 90-man roster for the 2023 offseason.
Of those 13 signed, 10 spent time during on the Packers practice squad. The 13 are tight end Austin Allen, wide receiver Jeff Cotton, tackle Jean Delance, quarterback Danny Etling, corner Tyrell Ford, corner Benjie Franklin, running back Tyler Goodson, tight end Nick Guggemos, linebacker La’Darius Hamilton, defensive lineman Chris Slayton, corner Kiondre Thomas, kicker Parker White and safety James Wiggins.
Ford, White and Wiggins are the three new faces. Ford spent the 2022 season in the Canadian Football League with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, finishing his rookie season with three tackles on defense and 10 tackles on special teams.
White left the University of South Carolina as its all-time leading scorer and ranked among the top three in school history in field goals made with 72 and PATs made with 152. Wiggins was selected in the seventh round of the 2021 draft by the Arizona Cardinals. He appeared in three games as a rookie, spending most of the year on the practice squad. He spent part of the 2022 season on the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad.
The Packers also added to their athletic training staff this week, hiring Erin Roberge as an assistant athletic trainer. Roberge, who is the first female full-time athletic trainer in franchise history, has been an intern with the Packers since 2020.
“Through the internship experiences over the last few years, it became apparent to us that Erin would be a great addition to our staff,” Packers director of sports medicine/head athletic trainer Bryan Engel said in a release. “She shares a passion for the athletic-training profession and is dedicated to providing our players with the highest quality health care in the NFL.”