Dougherty: Packers positioned to clear cap space by shedding some big-name players
Brian Gutekunst is looking at a roster teardown in a few weeks, but the Green Bay Packers general manager will have plenty of salary-cap room for the rebuild as well.
Some of the departing names will be big, though not much of a surprise. Age and injury eventually get everyone.
Randall Cobb. Nick Perry. Bryan Bulaga. Jimmy Graham. Clay Matthews, too, unless he’s willing to return for about half the pay he’s making now.
But Gutekunst figures to have about $55 million in cap room in 2019 to replenish his roster for a new coach as well. He needs a quick rebuild to get the Packers back into championship contention for the final few years of Aaron Rodgers’ career.
First, here’s a closer look at the big-name players Gutekunst figures to walk away from after this season, and how each will affect the team’s 2019 cap:
The Packers’ overhaul at outside rush is overdue, and Matthews will be a free agent after making $11.4 million this year.
He’ll be 33 next season and obviously isn’t the pass rusher he used to be – he has 3½ sacks in 13 games this year and hasn’t had a double-digit season since 2014.
Maybe another team will sign him to play only on obvious passing downs, thinking less will be more (he has played 77 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps this season). Maybe. It only takes one.
But Matthews still is a viable player for the Packers at a reduced price, too. At this point in his career he’s best suited to playing primarily inside linebacker in their 3-4; the guess here is at a contract in the $5 million to $6 million range, plus incentives. Then they could play him inside most of the time and as a complementary rusher on occasion.
Maybe Matthews would go for that. Maybe not. We’ll have to see how his market shakes out.
A no-brainer. Cutting him will save the Packers $10 million in cash and $3.37 million in cap room.
Perry, 28, has been a capable outside rusher when healthy. The problem is, he’s rarely healthy. He has never played 16 games in a season and been ineffective when he has played through various hand and leg injuries. He has only one double-digit sack season in his career.
This year was all too predictable. He never fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery, then landed on IR after nine games after injuring his knee. He has 1½ sacks.
He has served the Packers with distinction, but it’s time they move on from a player whose contract runs out this season.
The 28-year-old Cobb has endeared himself to the coaching staff by playing through injuries and as a veteran receiver who’s in tune with Rodgers. But he’s also a small target and has taken a physical pounding that has robbed him of athletic ability and left him more prone to injury – he missed four games last season and four so far this year.
The Packers also have three young receivers (Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown) who will be ready for bigger roles in 2019. It will be time to get them on the field.
The Packers can save $6.75 million in cash and cap space by releasing him. Simply stated, his body is giving out after a series of serious hip and knee injuries dating to 2012. Since 2017 he has missed 12 games and mostly played hurt when he has been on the field. He has been on the injury report (knee) much of this season. The Packers just can’t count on him to stay healthy as a 30-year-old next year.
Cutting him will save $9 million in cash and $5.33 million in cap room. Gutekunst took a shot that Graham would be a difference maker playing with Rodgers after he caught 10 touchdown passes with Seattle in 2017. But Graham has hit the wall, so Gutekunst should cut his losses.
Graham’s 46 receptions rank No. 2 on the team, but he hasn’t made game-changing plays. He’ll get consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame five years after he retires, but he’s not nearly the athlete he was.
The Packers also should move on from his backups, Lance Kendricks (age 31 next season) and Marcedes Lewis (35 next season), whose contracts run out this year. It’s time to get younger at tight end.
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As for Tramon Williams, at age 35 he’s ancient for a defensive back, and the Packers would save $4.75 million in cap and cash if they let him go. But he’s worth keeping around for one more year as a stopgap at safety and cornerback. and a veteran worth emulating for the team’s young defensive backs.
If Gutekunst makes all the moves described above, he’ll save about $15 million in cap room, which would give him about $55 million in cap room entering the 2019 offseason (based on the NFL’s cap projection of approximately $190 million), according to Over The Cap. He also doesn’t have a must-sign free agent of his own to eat into that.
Besides Matthews at a reduced price, the only other free agent worth bringing back is cornerback Bashaud Breeland. Breeland missed only four games in his first four seasons in the league, but an offseason foot injury cost him a lucrative contract in free agency, and hamstring and groin injuries have sidelined him for six of 10 games since he signed with the Packers. He’s a good candidate for a one-year deal to prove he can get back to full health.
Either way, Gutekunst will have cash to work with and can pursue a big-money player if he wants. He can fill multiple roster holes with mid-level players, too. Besides outside rushers, he’s in the market for starters at safety, right tackle, guard and tight end.
Things are changing fast with this team. In a couple months it will have a new coach and shed some former stars. Then it will be time to add the players in free agency and the draft who could make or break this franchise for the next few years.