Which Players Should Green Bay Retain?
By: Dylan Parkes
The Green Bay Packers season again ended in defeat in the NFC Championship game, this time to the eventual Super Bowl winners, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The loss was an agonising defeat for all the players and coaches involved, in particular Aaron Rodgers — who knows his window for winning another Super Bowl is slowly closing.
After the defeat, the now three-time MVP quarterback faced the media and offered a blunt but accurate assessment of the Packers upcoming future.
“[There are] a lot of guys’ futures that are uncertain, myself included.”
While Rodgers himself is safe in Green Bay for the foreseeable future, the same can’t be said for a number of high quality free agents who the team will be unable to re-sign.
With the projected salary cap decreasing to roughly $180 million, the Packers find themselves in a position where they will have to create salary cap space at the expense of current players and free agents. According to Over The Cap, the Packers are projected to be $22.2 million over the salary cap for the 2021 season, the fourth-highest of any team in the NFL.
When factoring in the salary cap issues and the long list of free agents the Packers have to re-sign, it is apparent that the window of opportunity to deliver Aaron Rodgers another Super Bowl is right now. GM Brian Gutekunst will need to navigate a tricky off-season and make some franchise altering decisions on whether to re-sign or let go a long list of upcoming free agents if the Packers want to deliver Rodgers a second Super Bowl ring.
Aaron Jones – Walk
Free agent status: Unrestricted free agent
Expiring contract: 4 year, $2,601,937 contract
Over the course of his four year career Aaron Jones has developed into an elite running back in the NFL. He found considerable success under Matt LaFleur and has become one of the main weapons on the Packers offence.
Over the last two seasons, Jones has ran for 2,188 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground and caught 829 yards and five touchdowns through the air. His 29 rushing touchdowns over the two-year span ranks him third in the NFL, behind only Derrick Henry’s 35 and Dalvin Cook’s 31.
So why let someone go who has been so productive?
The simple answer is the Packers can’t afford him. The two sides have throughout the year tried to get a deal done but it just never materialised. The Packers offered Jones an extension that would make him one of the top five highest-paid running backs in the NFL, but he declined the offer and instead fired his agent just before the playoffs started.
According to Sportrac, Jones’ value on the open market is an estimated four-year, $56.17 million deal, where he would make roughly $14 million annually. That would rival the extensions of fellow running backs from the 2017 draft Christian McCaffrey, (four-year, $64 million) Alvin Kamara ( five-year, $75 million) and Dalvin Cook, (five-year, $63 million) who set the market for Jones’ extension before the season started.
Given the risk that involves giving running backs large, long-term contracts e.g. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliot, it is impossible to see the Packers offering Jones a large deal. Although he has publicly stated his desire to stay with the team that drafted him and both sides have shown significant interest in making a deal happen, it just doesn’t seem likely, especially with second round pick AJ Dillion waiting in line.
It will be hard for the Packers to let go of Jones but it is a move that both sides must make.
Corey Linsley – Re-sign
Free agent status: Unrestricted free agent
Expiring contract – 3 year, $25,500,000 contract
Corey Linsley is a player the Packers would definitely love to re-sign if the two sides could agree on a new contract. The former Ohio State Buckeye played some of the best football of his career in 2020 and developed into the best centre in the league, earning himself his first All-Pro honor.
Linsley appeared in 15 of the Packers 18 games in 2020, allowing only one sack and seven total pressures without committing a single penalty. Pro Football Focus ranked Linsley as the sites highest-rated centre overall with the top run-blocking grade and third best pass-blocking grade available.
Linsley possesses elite quickness and awareness at the centre position and can be a dependable lead blocker in multiple offensive schemes at the point of attack. He is able to quickly identify defensive fronts and understand where blitzers are coming from and set the correct protections to keep the quarterback upright. Linsley, along with David Bakhtiari, were two of the main reasons the Packers offensive line was second best in the NFL a season ago, per Pro Football Focus.
Linsley’s value on the open market would be the only issue for the Packers. According to Sportrac, Linsley’s estimated market value would be a 3 year deal around the $30 million mark. A contract like this would be out of the Packers current price range, but it doesn’t mean the Packers can’t re-sign Linsley.
If the two sides can work out a back-ended, incentive driven deal that doesn’t cost much for the Packers in the immediate future, then expect Linsley to be back with the Pack in 2021. However, if Linsley wants a guaranteed deal that would make him one of the highest paid players at the position, then expect the Packers to go with either Elgton Jenkins or Lucas Patrick at the centre position next season with Jon Runyan Jr stepping up to play guard.
Kevin King – Walk
Free agent status: Unrestricted free agent
Expiring contract – 4 year, $7,080,884
Kevin King will forever be remembered in Green Bay for all the wrong reasons. It is a shame because during his four years with the team he has been a respectable starter as an outside corner when he was able to stay healthy.
Injuries plagued his time with the Packers from the moment he arrived in Green Bay. The former second-round pick missed 17 games over his first two NFL seasons then missed a further five in 2020. The only season which he stayed healthy for was in 2019 when he had his best year as a
pro, starting in 15 games while recording career highs in interceptions, passes defended and tackles.
That form made King an outside chance of being re-signed. Unfortunately for him, that level of play did not carry over to 2020.
King failed to record an interception last season and allowed a passer rating of 115.0 when he was the primary defender in coverage. To put that into perspective, among NFL cornerbacks that played at least 400 snaps, King allowed the 14 highest passer-rating in the entire NFL.
Opposing quarterbacks targeted King during games due to the fact that Jaire Alexander locked down the other side of the field. Alexander finished as Pro Football Focus’ number one rated corner, compared to Kings’ rating of 134th.
Finding another corner to pair with Jaire Alexander will be high on the Packers priority list this off-season with King likely out the door. He’s departure is in best interest for himself and the team after injuries and inconsistent play dominated his four-year career as a Packer.
Robert Tonyan – Re-sign
Free agent status: Restricted free agent
Expiring contract – 2 year, $1,320,000 contract
This is a no brainer decision for the Packers this off-season. After showing glimpses of his talent in his first two years as a pro, Tonyan burst onto the scene in 2020, catching 52 passes for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 11 touchdowns were tied for first at the tight end position alongside first-team All-Pro Travis Kelce.
Tonyan’s emergence was the final piece to the Packers number one scoring offence and became a go to receiver for Rodgers over the middle of the field. He caught just about everything that was thrown his way, catching 52 of his 59 targets for a completion percentage of 89.7%.
Re-signing Tonyan becomes easier because he is a restricted free agent. The Packers can either lock him up on a long-term, multi-year deal or simply sign him to a one-year, qualifying offer. If they went the second approach, other teams would be able to offer Tonyan a contract and the Packers would have the ability to match the offer.
If no offer came through, the Packers would take the cap hit through either a ‘right of refusal tenure,’($2.13 million) ‘second round tenure,’ ($3.38 million) or a ‘first round tenure’ ($4.77 million), per Over The Cap. Off the back of Tonyan’s impressive season, it is safe to say he will most likely receive a second round tenure and be back on the squad for season 2021. Keeping Tonyan will be important going forward for the Packers who have some question marks at the tight end position, with Marcedes Lewis’ retirement looming and Josiah Deguara recovering from a torn ACL.