The Green Bay Packers have taken another step toward getting under the 2022 salary cap after reworking the contract of another key starter.
According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the Packers have restructured the contract of star running back Aaron Jones to create about $3.08 million in 2022 cap space, converting $3.85 million of his 2022 salary into a signing bonus and adding two void years (2025 and 2026) onto his deal to push money into future seasons.
The restructure for Jones comes just one day after NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported the Packers had also tweaked the contract of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kenny Clark. The Packers converted $7.2 million of Clark’s salary and $6.4 million of his roster bonus into a signing bonus and, like with Jones, added two voidable years to his deal.
The Packers freed up roughly $13.88 million in cap space for the 2022 season with their two restructures. According to cap specialist Ken Ingalls, though, they have now restructured “every single eligible non-rookie contract on their 2022 roster in either 2021 or 2022 solely for cap space” and will face some tougher decisions in the coming weeks — such as cuts and extensions — to get cap healthy for 2022.
The Packers are still about $39.66 million over the 2022 salary cap, according to figures from Over the Cap, and will need to get back in the black before the new league year and free agency begins on March 16.
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Jones’ Restructure Creates Massive 2023 Problem
It is hardly a surprise that the Packers decided to rework the payout of Jones’ contract given how limited they were on in-house restructure options. Pushing money down the road into future seasons is one of the easiest ways for teams to keep together a quality roster, as they demonstrated during the 2021 offseason. The problem with restructuring Jones’ deal, though, is how quickly the cost of keeping him will rise.
While the Packers have reduced Jones’ cap hit by about $3.08 million for the upcoming year, the consequence is that Jones will now carry a massive $20.013 million cap hit for the 2023 season — which is nearly triple his original cap hit and would be the largest cap hit of any NFL running back. That’s an absurd amount of money for a running back, especially with a 2020 second-rounder in AJ Dillon waiting in the wings to become the primary starter.
Now, that doesn’t mean the Packers couldn’t figure out a way to keep Jones beyond the 2022 season, but it also means there can be no indecision with him in 2023. They will need to either sign him to a new extension that reduces his overall cap charge or move on from him altogether, the latter of which could save them between $10.4 million and $16 million depending on if/when they release him during the 2023 offseason.
What Cap-Saving Moves Could Come Next?
The Packers have begun the process of getting cap healthy for 2022, but there is still quite a bit of work to do for them to shave off about $40 million more from their books. Here are three possible moves that could create a notable amount of cap space:
Extending or trading quarterback Aaron Rodgers: This is the big one on everyone’s minds. With Rodgers set to carry a cap hit of more than $46 million into the 2022 season, the Packers will need to make some sort of cap-saving decision with their four-time MVP quarterback. A new contract — one that guarantees Rodgers’ future in Green Bay for several more seasons — seems to be the most likely route at this point, but money could also be saved if Rodgers requests a trade and is dealt to another squad. Whatever happens, Rodgers will be the biggest piece of the puzzle this offseason.
Extending cornerback Jaire Alexander: The Packers have already exercised the fifth-year option for their star cornerback and will have him back for the 2022 season regardless of whether they adjust his contract, but an extension would both reduce his 2022 cap hit of $13.294 million and lock down the top player in their secondary for the long-term future. While the details will need to be right for both sides, a decision to extend Alexander seems inevitable at this point.
Releasing outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith: Smith is heading into the final year of his four-year contract with a massive cap hit of $27.66 million. He is also coming off a season in which he played just 18 defensive snaps in Week 1 and missed the remainder of the year with a back injury that required him to get midseason surgery. While Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst admitted recently Smith still “could be” part of the team’s future plans if they can lower his cap charge, it could be simpler for Green Bay to release him and create roughly $15.28 million in cap space.