Packers Part Ways With Pair of 2020 Free-Agent Signings

Packers Cut Wagner/Kirksey

Getty Robert Quinn #94 of the Chicago Bears rushes against Rick Wagner #71 of the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on January 03, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Packers defeated the Bears 35-16.

The Green Bay Packers‘ two most significant free-agent signings from the 2020 offseason will not be following the team into the new NFL year.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst announced Friday afternoon the releases of inside linebacker Christian Kirksey and veteran offensive tackle Rick Wagner, moves that — according to salary-cap specialist Ken Ingalls — clear about $8.54 million in cap space for the 2021 offseason.

Kirksey and Wagner each made numerous starts for the Packers in 2020 after signing two-year contracts during free agency last year, but their inconsistent play and cap charges for next season made them both predictable cuts this offseason with the team in cost-saving mode.

ALL the latest Packers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Packers newsletter here!

Join Heavy on Packers!

Kirksey started 11 games and finished with the team’s third-most tackles (78), but he missed five games with a shoulder injury that included a stint on injured reserve. The emergence of rookies Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin also hurt his chances of returning for a second season with them offering the Packers a strong, young and affordable base for the future.

Meanwhile, Wagner failed to win a starting job coming out of 2020 training camp and, despite playing in every game, only stepped into a starting role when injuries became a problem for the Packers. While the 31-year-old mostly held up with his increased responsibilities, he hardly presented them with a viable, long-term solution for their right-tackle problem.

The Packers have 61 players under contract for the 2021 offseason after the cuts.

Follow the Heavy on Packers Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!

How Much Do Moves Save Packers?

Kirksey was due to carry a cap hit of about $7.6 million in 2021 and will now cost $2 million in dead cap, while Wagner drops from a $6 million cap hit to $1.75 million in dead cap. To the untrained eye, the moves would seem to create about $9.9 million in cap space. But as Ingalls noted, the Top 51 rule means two players (at a minimum cost of $660,000 each) must be included in the calculations as replacements for Kirksey and Wagner given they were two of the Packers’ 51 most expensive contracts, bringing the total savings to about $8.54 million from the moves.

The Packers took their first steps toward reducing their salary-cap burdens for 2021 last week when they converted All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari’s roster bonus ($11.072 million) into a signing bonus, a move that allows them to spread the money out over the next four seasons of the record-breaking contract he signed back in November.

The Packers still have about $12.55 million in salary-cap space to clear before the start of the new league year on March 17, so Kirksey and Wagner are likely only the beginning of the cuts (or trades, potentially). The Packers can also pursue more contract restructures (Aaron Rodgers or Za’Darius Smith) or extensions (Davante Adams) to reduce their 2021 cap number.

Packers’ Need for New Tackle Rises

The Packers’ tackle position was already considered one of their top needs coming into the 2021 offseason after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers exploited the absence of Bakhtiari in the NFC Championship Game. Now, with Wagner confirmed gone and doubts about whether Bakhtiari will be ready for the start of next season, the Packers have to seriously consider reinventing themselves at the tackle position.

It helps the Packers to have versatile linemen like Elgton Jenkins and Billy Turner who can play at both guard and tackle — and center, in Jenkins’ case — but at least one significant addition in either free agency or the draft would seem necessary to keep the quality of the offensive line from dropping in 2021. Given the surplus of Day 3 picks the Packers are projected to net from compensatory payouts, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Gutekunst double-dip on offensive tackles in the draft rather than pursuing an expensive free-agent option.

READ NEXT: Packers Meet With Record-Setting Oregon State RB: Report

Read More
Comment Here
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x