The breakdown of Kenny Clark’s new contract extension with the Green Bay Packers has been read by some like a roadmap for when the team could be looking to move on from veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Insiders aren’t buying it.
Clark signed a four-year, $70 million contract extension on the first day of training camp that will keep him with the Packers through 2024, but his record-breaking deal was shown to be strikingly backloaded when the financial details were made available on Tuesday.
The Packers’ star defensive tackle will carry a combined cap hit of just $13.79 million over the next two seasons — $6.69 million in 2020 and $7.1 million in 2021 — before his earnings jump to more than $20 million per season over the final three years of his contract. As salary cap specialist Ken Ingalls noted, Clark’s pay structure adds further evidence the Packers are expecting for 2021 NFL salary cap to be “dramatically reduced” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some, however, are interpreting Clark’s costs rising in 2022 to also suggest the Packers are planning to clear some serious cap space from their books — such as, say, the $39.852 million cap hit that comes associated with Rodgers’ contract. Packers pass rushers Za’Darius Smith ($20.75 million) and Preston Smith ($16.5 million) also carries hefty cap numbers in 2022.
The Packers invested in life after Rodgers during the 2020 NFL draft when they traded up in the first round to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, a developmental piece who is now considered the presumptive heir to their two-time MVP. Naturally, some have spent the months since trying to pinpoint when exactly the baton could be passed with the 2022 season coming up often as the nearest sensible opportunity.
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Clark’s Contract Cost About Cap Space, Not Rodgers
At first glance, Clark’s rising contract appeared to lend substance to the theory that the Packers are looking to move on from Rodgers during the 2022 offseason. There are aspects of the timing that would make sense, such as Love entering the third year of his rookie contract after (presumably) spending two years learning and developing behind Rodgers.
A direct connection between Clark’s contract structure and Rodgers’ eventual departure gets pretty weak, though, when put into context of the NFL’s shifting landscape concerning annual salary caps over the next few seasons.
Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel challenged the notion that Clark’s contract structure has anything to do with Rodgers and instead pointed to the anticipated rise of the 2022 salary cap, tweeting “everyone I’ve talked to thinks the NFL will be swimming in money once the new TV deals are on the books” for the 2022 season.
Silverstein acknowledged the Packers could get cap relief if they moved on from Rodgers ahead of the 2022 season, but he also clarified he believes Rodgers’ performance over the next two seasons will determine his future with the team. Ingalls agreed and added that anyone trying to tie Clark’s contract to the Rodgers/Love situation “are looking for connections that do not exist.”
Rodgers Looking Sharp in Recent Camp Practices
If Rodgers can play his way to staying in Green Bay, the veteran quarterback is off to the right kind of start with less than three weeks remaining before the start of the 2020 season.
Packers reporters have admired how sharp Rodgers’ performances have been in recent practices after throwing a handful of interceptions last week, something that isn’t uncommon for him during a point in the season where testing things matters most. According to ESPN’s Rob Devovsky, Rodgers followed up a 10-of-13 passing performance during Saturday’s team drills with a “perfectly executed” two-minute drill on Sunday.
“I thought he was extremely sharp, and I also think the guys around him were a lot better, too,” LaFleur told reporters after last Saturday’s practice. “A lot of times that takes a big role in the way quarterbacks perform.”
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