The Green Bay Packers have now entered the summer lull between offseason workouts and the start of NFL training camp on July 27 where next-to-nothing of substance is going to happen to shake up the status quo of the current roster — unless, of course, they work out their troubles with Aaron Rodgers.
In the meantime, though, the Packers have some long-term questions to consider about their 2022 free agents that could influence how they go about building their roster for the 2021 season. Fifteen of their current players are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next March, including a handful of starters. They will also have two restricted free agents and 11 exclusive rights free agents.
Here’s a closer look at which five 2022 free agents are most important for the Packers heading into this year’s training-camp competitions:
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Davante Adams, WR
There’s no question that Adams will be the Packers’ most important free agent in 2022 after emerging as one of the NFL’s elite over the past few seasons. He reached career-high receiving marks in 2020 with 115 receptions and 18 touchdowns and could outdo himself again in the upcoming season if Aaron Rodgers is back as their quarterback. There are a couple of reasons to question whether their union will last beyond the 2021 season, though.
For starters, Adams will cost a
large massive amount of money to sign him to a third contract. The 28-year-old wide receiver is at the top of his game and could command top-tier money on the open market next offseason. Spotrac projects he could earn as much as $24.9 million per season, which would make him the NFL’s second-highest-paid wideout beyond DeAndre Hopkins. That’s far from ideal with Green Bay currently set to be more than $30 million over the 2022 salary cap.
Adams might also not be interested in returning if the quarterback situation changes. He has said he has no intention of holding out from training camp to motivate contract negotiations with the Packers, but a rough-through-it season with an inexperienced quarterback at the helm could make free agency more appealing. Likewise, another season where Adams misses time with an injury — he has missed six games over the past two years — could devalue his elite talent in the eyes of the front office.
Robert Tonyan Jr., TE
Tonyan is undoubtedly another big one for the Packers in 2022 given his current status as their starting tight end. After a core-muscle injury restricted him in 2019, he broke out to be one of the league’s top receiving tight ends in 2020, showing remarkable efficiency (52 receptions on 59 targets) as he collected a career-best 586 yards. The former undrafted free agent also caught 11 touchdowns, tying Kansas City’s Travis Kelce for the most among tight ends.
Now, Tonyan is back for 2021 on a second-round restricted free agent tender (worth $3.34 million) and poised to take another step forward in his progression. If he remotely delivers on what the Packers think he can be, it would be hard to argue against him earning a new contract during the 2022 offseason, especially with no clear-cut options on the roster to immediately take his place.
Tonyan’s case for re-signing, as with Adams’, will be largely dependent on cost. While regression or an injury would hurt his chances, it might end up out of his hands if the money doesn’t work with the other pieces. The Packers have also spent two third-round draft picks on tight ends in the past three years, so the raw material for finding a cheaper option is certainly there between Jace Sternberger, Josiah Deguara and other non-draftees such as Dominique Dafney, Isaac Nauta and Bronson Kaufusi.
Chandon Sullivan, CB
Things get a little more prove-it from here on out on this list. While there are expectations that Adams and Tonyan will both play featured roles for the Packers in 2021, Sullivan is looking for redemption after struggling in his first full season as their primary slot cornerback. He played twice as many defensive snaps in 2020 with 10 starts, but opposing passers were far more successful when throwing his way, a shift in completion percentage from 35.5% (11 of 31) in 2019 to 67.9% (38 of 56) in 2020.
The Packers clearly believe in Sullivan’s ability to do bounce back given the $2.1 million restricted free agent tender, but the circumstances could necessitate a breakout year from him. There are two new rookie cornerbacks behind him looking to earn a long-term role in Green Bay, including first-rounder Eric Stokes. There will also be competition from Josh Jackson, Ka’dar Hollman, Kabion Ento and Stanford Samuels, at least one of whom should make the 53-man roster in September.
If Sullivan can get in the good graces of new defensive coordinator Joe Barry and live up to his role as their starting slot corner, a new contract shouldn’t be too difficult to work out in 2022; although, King and Jackson will both be looking to do the same thing before all three of them hit unrestricted free agency next March.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR
The Packers have not one but two of their starting wide receivers set to hit free agency in 2022, and while an extension for Adams would likely spell doom for Valdes-Scantling’s chances of getting a new deal, he could just as easily become a critical part of their long-term future should they decide not to retain Adams.
MVS came into his own in 2020 as a legitimate deep-threat receiver, catching 41 passes for 838 yards and seven touchdowns and leading the NFL with 20.4 yards per reception. Things finally seemed to click between him and veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers after some growing pains, much like with Adams, and it led to some truly devastating plays for the Packers, including touchdown receptions of 45, 50, 52, 72 and 78 yards.
If MVS can take another step forward in 2021 or even just take a little more of the focus for himself to help him near 1,000 yards the Packers may feel less inclined to pay an exorbitant price to retain Adams when they could build their receiving corps around a younger and more affordable option. Green Bay’s offense no doubt would lose a major weapon if Adams hit the open market, but it isn’t hard to envision an effective trio consisting of MVS, Allen Lazard and Amari Rodgers.
Lucas Patrick, OG/C
Patrick is a tricky one. Like Tonyan, he was originally an undrafted free agent who has since worked his way into the Packers’ starting lineup. He made a career-high 15 starts in 2020 at right guard after injuries forced the team to make some adjustments and now heads into his sixth NFL season as one of the veterans of an extremely young group. There’s also his versatility as both a guard and center that fits the mold of what the Packers want in their offensive line.
And yet, the Packers have devoted a third of their draft assets to beefing their O-line over the past two years. They grabbed three developmental sixth-rounders in 2020 (center Jake Hansen and guards Jon Runyan Jr. and Simon Stepaniak) and got even more aggressive in 2021, spending a second-round pick on center Josh Myers and a fourth-round pick on guard/tackle Royce Newman. They also added another guard/tackle option in the sixth round with Cole Van Lanen.
At this point, there are enough moving pieces in the Packers’ O-line room that Patrick might be thrust into free agency sooner than next spring. If more than one newcomer outperforms him in training camp, they could save a chunk of cap space ($1.9 million) by cutting him loose prior to the start of the 2021 season. A healthy David Bakhtiari could also help grease the wheels on that front, as that would allow Elgton Jenkins to focus his Pro Bowl talents on the interior.
Either way, every rep from here on out will be vital for Patrick if he wants to stay with the Packers.
Other pending 2022 free agents for the Packers (as of June 22): CB Kevin King (UFA), WR Devin Funchess (UFA), ILB De’Vondre Campbell (UFA), CB Josh Jackson (UFA), DE Tyler Lancaster (UFA), QB Blake Bortles (UFA), FS Will Redmond (UFA), ILB Oren Burks (UFA), P JK Scott (UFA), LS Joe Fortunato (UFA), WR Equanimeous St. Brown (UFA), LS Hunter Bradley (UFA), OT Ben Braden (RFA), WR Allen Lazard (RFA), WR Juwann Winfree (ERFA), QB Kurt Benkert (ERFA), QB Jake Dolegala (ERFA), WR Malik Taylor (EFRA), OLB Randy Ramsey (ERFA), ILB Krys Barnes (ERFA), S Henry Black (ERFA), TE Dominique Dafney (ERFA), WR Reggie Begelton (ERFA), CB Kabion Ento (ERFA) and OT Yosh Nijman (ERFA).