Corey Linsley is still holding out hope that he hasn’t played his final snaps for the Green Bay Packers, but the All-Pro veteran center may have no choice but to test the free-agent market this offseason based on how contract discussion — or lack thereof — have been going for him.
Linsley is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins on March 17 and will be one of the most valuable pieces in flux for the Packers alongside star running back Aaron Jones. Unlike Jones, however, Linsley revealed his agent has had no discussions with the team about a possible contract extension.
“My agent hasn’t had any talks with the Packers,” Linsley told reporters Monday. “That’s obviously not to say something couldn’t happen, but up to this point, it’s kind of been complimentary but nothing of substance. So we’ll move forward with that, it is what it is. Again, I felt like I personally had a good year. We obviously get the goal that we wanted to, but I felt like I put out some good film and hopefully a team values that. We’ll move into free agency with that in mind.”
“Good film” might be an understatement. While Linsley missed three games on injured reserve with a sprained MCL, the 29-year-old allowed just a single sack on the 2020 season and finished the year as Pro Football Focus‘ top-graded center (88.9) in the NFL. According to ESPN metrics, Linsley also touted the best run-block win rate (78%) and fifth-best pass-block win rate (96%) across 734 total offensive snaps.
The problem, as always, is big-time players cost big-time money.
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How Much Will Corey Linsley’s Next Contract Cost?
Linsley, a 2014 fifth-round pick, just played out the end of his three-year, $25 million contract extension and carried the Packers’ fifth-highest cap hit through 2020 at $10.5 million, behind only Aaron Rodgers ($21.64 million), Za’Darius Smith ($17.25 million), Davante Adams ($16.475 million) and Preston Smith ($13.5 million).
The Packers would almost certainly be able to reduce that number in 2021 if they signed him to another multi-year extension given the back-loaded nature of modern contracts, but the overall cost of a new deal will be predictably higher. According to Spotrac’s calculated market value, Linsley’s next contract is projected to be worth $9.7 million in average annual value, using a model that would see him sign a three-year, $29.13 million contract and make him the 10th-highest-paid center in the league.
The price may seem worth it to keep Rodgers’ reliable center installed in the center of their offensive line, but the Packers may have trouble justifying it depending on what other moves they plan to make this offseason.
Based on estimates from salary-cap specialist Ken Ingalls, the Packers will need to shed about $30.26 million in cap costs in the next 50 days (by March 17) to reach a healthy number, and any deal for Linsley would only push things further in the wrong direction. Getting on done, though, is still doable if the Packers create the right amount of savings with roster cuts and contract restructures. It all depends on what they want.
Options for Replacing Linsley are Limited
The last time the Packers changed their starting center, there were years of back-and-forth history between their incoming and outgoing players. J.C. Tretter was drafted in the fourth round one year before Linsley, but Tretter’s frequent injuries saw them battling for the starting job for three seasons together before Linsley took over for good in 2016.
The Packers don’t have the same luxuries in 2021. There is no discernable replacement available if Linsley is allowed to walk as no centers are currently committed for next season. It is possible they will bring back Jake Hanson, a 2020 sixth-round pick, after he finished the postseason on the practice squad-injured reserve list, but he failed to even make the initial 53-man roster coming out of training camp.
Without adding free agents or 2021 rookies, the Packers currently only have one viable option at the position — and his name is Elgton Jenkins. The 2019 second-round pick was an All-Rookie selection in his debut season for the Packers, proving to be a formidable left guard over 14 starts, but Jenkins’ legacy reached a new level in 2020 when he made injury-relief starts at both tackle and center.
The real question is whether the Packers want to go all-in on converting their elite guard into a full-time center, a move that could come with unforeseen consequences.