The Green Bay Packers are keeping with their trend of the last decade and will not place a franchise or transition tag on star running back Aaron Jones, setting the stage for him to hit free agency next week.
The NFL’s deadline for tagging players came and went at 3 p.m. CT Tuesday without the Packers using one on Jones, who gained more than 3,000 scrimmage yards and scored 30 touchdowns over his past two years in Green Bay. The 26-year-old rusher will now become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins on March 17.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, though, the Packers are still attempting to re-sign Jones before he officially hits free agency next Wednesday. They had reportedly made Jones a substantial contract offer toward the end of the 2020 regular season, but he rejected it due to a low amount of guaranteed money and switched agents.
Schefter’s is the first report of any contract discussions between Jones and the Packers since he hired Drew Rosenhaus as his new representation.
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Packers Avoid Using Tag Once Again
The franchise-tag route would have allowed the Packers to retain Jones on a one-year deal worth about $8.1 million, according to Over the Cap, but they have resisted using tags since 2010 when they franchise-tagged defensive tackle Ryan Pickett. He ended up getting signed a contract extension less than a month later.
The Packers could have also placed a franchise tag on veteran center Corey Linsley, but only technically — as retaining him would have cost somewhere in the range of $13.6 million for 2021 and been far too unreasonable given their current cap restrictions.
“It’s very much a case-by-case (basis),” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst told reporters on March 2 during a Zoom conference call. “It’s not an organizational philosophy not to use it. I think every situation is different. It is a tool that is out there for us to use if it makes sense for the football team. Whether it’s the franchise tag or transition tag or some of the other avenues to retain players, it’s always something we’ll look at.”
What Happens Now With Jones & Linsley?
The Packers’ decision to avoid tagging either of their top two free agents is not surprising, but it does mean two valuable offensive starters will be heading into free agency next month with a good chance neither will stay in Green Bay for 2021.
Jones figures to be one of the most sought-after skill position players on the market this offseason. The former 2017 fifth-round pick is coming off his second consecutive season with more than 1,000 rushing yards and played on a measly base salary of just $2.133 million last year. Now, it’s time for Jones to chase the bag with Spotrac estimating his avenue annual market value to be worth $14.6 million — which is far beyond what the Packers can afford to fit into the budget for 2021.
Linsley will expectedly have a smaller market than Jones with a Spotrac market value of $9.7 million annually, but the Packers could also be hard-pressed to bring him back for his desired price range. Linsley told reporters as recently as late February that no contract talks had taken place between his camp and the Packers and that he was bracing to spend the 2021 season elsewhere.
According to Over the Cap, the Packers still have about $11 million in cap space to clear before next Wednesday to get beneath an estimated league cap floor of $180.5 million; however, they could get lucky if the NFL’s final cap number ends up being higher than expected.