Sammy Watkins looks to be even more of a bargain than initially expected for the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers finally went out and got themselves a veteran wide receiver last week when they signed Watkins to a contract that ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported was for one year and worth as much as $4 million. While not quite the big splash some had hoped after Davante Adams was traded to Las Vegas earlier this offseason, it still seemed like a good deal for a 28-year-old veteran with plenty of mileage left on him.
Turns out, it’s even better than that.
According to Over the Cap’s official contract details, Watkins will only count for $1.772 million against the salary cap for the Packers in 2022 with a base salary of $1.12 million and a signing bonus of just $350,000. His contract also includes a $330,000 per-game roster bonus and a $50,000 workout bonus with a total of just $350,000 guaranteed, which is an absolute steal for a receiver under 30 with nearly 350 career receptions and more than 5,000 receiving yards.
The Packers have also structured the deal in a way that there is no guarantee Watkins will make their 53-man roster at the end of training camp this summer. They could release him anytime between now and training camp and only be left with $350,000 in dead cap, meaning they won’t be stuck with him if others outshine him or he underperforms in camp.
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Incentives Allow Watkins to Max Out at $4 Million
Watkins will still have the opportunity to push the value of his contract to the originally reported $4 million in 2022 based on incentives for playing time, receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Here is a closer look at how those incentives break down, based on contract details that Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette disclosed on April 19:
Playing time: Watkins will earn $150,000 if he plays at least 55% of offensive snaps in 2022. The bonus raises to $350,000 if he plays at least 65% of snaps and can max out at $525,000 if he is able to play on 65% or more of snaps on the year.
Receptions: Watkins will earn $150,000 if he catches at least 50 passes in 2022. The bonus raises to $350,000 once he has at least 60 receptions and can max out at $525,000 if he hauls in 70 or more receptions on the year.
Receiving yards: Watkins will earn $150,000 if he finishes with at least 550 receiving yards in 2022. The bonus climbs to $350,000 at the 650-yard mark and can max out at $525,000 if he finishes the year with 700 or more receiving yards.
Receiving touchdowns: Watkins will earn $150,000 if he scores seven receiving touchdowns in 2022 with the bonus jumping to $350,000 on his eighth receiving touchdown and maxing out at $575,000 — his highest-paying incentive — if he scores nine or more receiving touchdowns.
Because Watkins performed under the standards of these incentives during his 2021 season with the Baltimore Ravens — in which he finished with 27 receptions for 394 yards and one touchdown — his incentives with the Packers are considered “not likely to be earned.” That means that if he hits any of his incentives, the cost of paying them out will not count against this year’s salary cap.
Packers Need to Create More 2022 Cap Space
The Packers appear to have a good amount of spending room at the moment with about $14.1 million in cap space for the 2022 season, but that number is a little deceptive without proper context. Before they can consider themselves in the clear, they will have to appropriately budget for a number of other upcoming cap charges, including signing their haul of 2022 draft picks and fielding next year’s practice squad.
The draft picks will be the first task. The Packers currently have 11 selections in the 2022 NFL draft with two picks in both the first and second rounds, where the costs of contracts are more expensive. Now, the Packers might not take a new player with every pick and could instead move a few selections for the sake of a trade; however, if nothing changes and the Packers use all of their picks as they are, Over the Cap estimates they will need about $13.625 million to sign all of them to the roster.
The math on the cap space isn’t as simple as subtracting roughly $13.625 million. In accordance with the Top 51 salary cap rule, teams only count their 51 most expensive contracts during the offseason with the costs of Nos. 52 and 53 being added later. So, for example, when the Packers added 2021 first-round pick Eric Stokes to the books last year with a cap hit of roughly $2.167 million, he took the place of one of their lower-valued contracts in the Top 51 formula, increasing the cap burden on the Packers.
In 2022, independent cap specialist Ken Ingalls estimates it will cost the Packers a little more than $5 million in cap space to add their 11 rookies to the books once the Top 51 contract offsets are properly calculated. He also budgeted for a few other regular-season cap items that will cost the Packers, including signing their practice squad (about $3.5 million), adding contracts 52 and 53 ($1.65 million) and creating an in-season piggy bank for necessary spending ($5 million).
In the end, Ingalls’ estimations would leave the Packers about $1 million over the cap for the 2022 season, meaning there is still work to be done to reduce cap costs. An extension for Jaire Alexander could solve everything, but they might also look into adjusting their contracts with Allen Lazard, Dean Lowry or Mason Crosby to create savings.