Packers rework Jaire Alexander, Preston Smith contracts to get $6 million under salary cap
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers have tapped into four of their top players for salary cap help and are working on a fifth to get them well below this year’s $224.8 million limit.
Several weeks ago, the Packers were $22 million over the cap, but after a series of contract restructures they were about $6 million under the cap as of Friday.
After reducing running back Aaron Jones’ cap hit from $20.1 million to $8.2 million earlier this month, the Packers reworked the contracts of outside linebacker Preston Smith and cornerback Jaire Alexander to the tune of another $28 million in cap savings, according to several NFL sources.
In addition, the Packers were working on reducing nose tackle Kenny Clark’s cap number of $23.9 million with either a restructure or extension, and left tackle David Bakhtiari’s $28.79 million cap number with a restructure, a source said.
By the time they are done reworking the five salaries, it’s possible executive vice president of finance Russ Ball will have cut the Packers’ salary cap by $50 million, giving general manager Brian Gutekunst somewhere around $30 million of cap space going into the start of free agency.
That number would remain the same if quarterback Aaron Rodgers returns and would drop to about $20 million if he were traded.
The Packers have locked up most of their own top free agents, but still must make decisions on players like receiver Allen Lazard, safety Adrian Amos, tight end Robert Tonyan, tackle Yosh Nijman, returner Keisean Nixon and kicker Mason Crosby, all of whom become unrestricted free agents March 15.
The Packers were about $22 million over the cap when the offseason began, but after reworking Jones’ contract for a $12 million savings, they converted salary into signing bonus on the Alexander and Smith contracts for another $16 million of relief.
In Alexander’s case, they converted an $11.45 million roster bonus plus $370,000 in salary into a signing bonus, which allows them to spread all that money evenly over the course of the remaining years of the contract for cap purposes. They added a voidable year to the deal so they could spread it over five years instead of just four.
The result was a $9.456 million reduction from $20.2 million to $10.75 million.
In Smith’s case, they lowered his cap number from $13.04 million to $6.37 million by converting a $7.5 million roster bonus and another $800,000 in salary into a signing bonus and adding a voidable year. Thus, they were able to spread the $8.3 million signing bonus over five years for cap purposes.
The details of the Clark negotiations were not available, but with a $13 million base salary and $2.55 million roster bonus, the Packers had the potential to clear more than $11 million in cap space, raising the potential cap reduction total for Jones, Alexander, Smith and Clark to $39 million. It’s possible that with just two years left on his deal, the Packers decided to extend Clark, but a restructure is more likely.
The Bakhtiari deal could save them another $12 million or so, depending on how far they go with the conversion to signing bonus or a straight salary cut. The Packers cut Jones’ salary by $5 million and with Bakhtiari having played just 24 regular-season games over the past three seasons due to a torn ACL and complications that followed, the Packers may want him to take a cut, too.
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They could also convert some of the salary into not-likely-to-be-earned incentives that would lower Bakhtiari’s massive cap number. Cutting or trading Bakhtiari before June 1 would result in him counting $23 million against the cap; after June 1, it would be half that.
With all the cap maneuvering, the Packers are well-equipped to deal with Rodgers’ cap number regardless of whether he stays or is traded. If he stays, his cap number is $31.6 million; if he is traded, it jumps to around $40 million.
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If he stays, the Packers may be able to rework the deal to help them gain even more cap space so they can be active in the free agent market.