By: Cody Molla (Twitter: @Cmolla1)
The Matt LaFleur era in Lambeau has ended on the doorstep of the Super Bowl for two straight years. Most recently a controversial coaching decision left the MVP of 2020, Aaron Rodgers, on the sideline and in a familiar spot of displeasure going into the offseason. I say familiar spot as last year the Green Bay Packers used a first round pick on quarterback Jordan Love. This decision was questionable with one of the greatest signal callers of all time slated to be the starter for the next couple of years and not adding to a super bowl ready roster immediately.
In regards to adding players to a Super Bowl ready roster, the Packers have been relatively quiet in free agency. This is likely due to the team being in a tough position with the salary cap. Before the new league year kicked off, ESPN reported the Packers were estimated to need to clear $9 million in cap space. The Packers have yet to sign a player from another NFL roster thus far. With lots of restructuring and reworking of contracts, the Packers have resigned some pieces to their team. The front office has managed to resign the biggest name on the running back free agency list Aaron Jones, breakout tight end Robert Tonyan, slot corner Chandon Sullivan, and earlier today cornerback Kevin King.
These moves did come at the cost of losing some talented players but nonetheless below are the grades of Brian Gutekunst, Packers general manager, resigning’s thus far.
Aaron Jones (RB, 26, 5th year)
The biggest name and best available free agent in the running back market took a home team discount and very team friendly deal to return to the Packers. The details of the contract according to Spotrac are, “4 years, $48,000,000 contract with the Green Bay Packers, including a $13,000,000 signing bonus, $13,000,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $12,000,000. In 2021, Jones will earn a base salary of $1,000,000, a signing bonus of $13,000,000, a roster bonus of $200,000 and a workout bonus of $50,000, while carrying a cap hit of $4,500,000 and a dead cap value of $13,000,000”. The deal also includes a team option after two years which will more than likely be exercised by the Packers. At that point, they will have to decide whether Jones is worth the $19 million cap hit.
Jones was an integral part of the offense last season. He totaled 1,104 rush yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He also caught 47 passes for 355 yards and two scores. Despite missing two games Jones rush yards notched a career high. Since 2019, PFF ranks him fourth in pass catching of all running backs.
Jones has become amongst the leagues best at running back in the LaFleur scheme. Having Rodgers at quarterback and Adams at receiver takes a lot of defenses attention. Despite this Jones has proven his worth with his power and speed combination. He’s able to take any play to the house and rack up yards after contact. His ability as a receiver is used from the backfield and at times lined up in the slot or outside the numbers. We should see some interesting concepts with him and Dillion together on the field at once.
I am not a huge fan of giving big money to running backs on their second contract. The Packers made this work with their cap situation and retained a great player and piece needed to reach the super bowl. They got a long term deal done while avoiding the franchise tag. Because of the committee approach, Jones still has lots of tread on the tires and will be very effective and will likely build on his career highs going forward.
Final Grade B+
Robert Tonyan (TE, 26, 4th year)
Big Bob Tonyan had a breakout year in 2020. Tonyan was snubbed of a pro bowl spot after posting a career year with 52 catches for 596 yards and 11 touchdowns. Tonyans hands were a reliable option for Rodgers who completed nearly 90% of pass attempts targeting Tonyan. None of the incompletions were drops on Tonyans part according to Pro Football Focus either.
Tonyan was given a second round tender. The decision to give Tonyan this may have been a tad expensive but it’s a move that brings a play maker back to the offense and keeps depth at a position recovering from injury.
Tonyan will be back for one year and guaranteed $3.384 million. The tender allowed the Packers to match any offer made to Tonyan. However, the compensation of a second round pick is likely to keep Tonyan a Packer. A team like the Titans or Chargers who lost their starting tight ends could offer a larger contract to poach Tonyan.
This move allows the Packers to have a stable playmaker and pass catching option for Rodgers going into 2021. Although it stressed the salary cap problem a bit more it’s an overall solid move for the Packers.
Final Grade B
Chandon Sullivan (SLCB, 24, 4th year)
Sullivan was active and played in all 16 games in 2020. He started in 10 and one interception returned for a touchdown. The Packers used a right of refusal tender on Sullivan. The tender is worth $2.133 million and the Packers don’t get any compensation if the offer is not matched.
The slot corner brings experience back for the defense and a player in a position group that is underwhelming outside of Alexander.
Final Grade C
Kevin King (CB, 25, 5th year)
A surprise to most, a second round pick in 2017 is back in green and gold for another year. The veteran corner is returning on a one year deal worth $6 million.
King has missed many games in his first couple of years due to injuries and has misplayed many coverages. A majority of football fans can vividly remember his mistakes in his last game. The NFC championship was turned on plays all targeting King.
King has never played an entire NFL season. His best season was 2019 in where he played 15 games. Despite the struggles and health concerns with King, he is likely resigned to bring back the entire starting secondary from last season. The corner market is also limited and the Packers may feel the familiarity with King is better than the unknown and limited options in free agency.
The Packers certainly will target this position in the draft but for now, they return their 2020 starters in the secondary and will move forward with a new defensive coordinator in Joe Barry.
A move certainly not pleasing for Packers fans but King gets to prove it with the team that drafted him and hopefully build on a bad last impression.
Final Grade C
The Packers free agency has been full of keeping their roster intact and maneuvering contracts to retain players. The Aaron Jones signing was made possible with the restructuring of Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith contracts. Other players the Packers have restructured contracts with include Adrian Amos and Mason Crosby. A huge contract with Aaron Rodgers is under talks of restructuring as he is the highest cap hit on the roster.
The off season moves will ultimately be judged by getting to the Super Bowl and winning. They haven’t done anything really to add to the team via free agency but they haven’t destroyed the team either. The losses on the offensive line will surely be addressed in the draft. No added weapons to the offense in pass catchers will surely be addressed after much scrutiny from the quarterback and fans. Defensively corner and linebacker will get depth via the draft as well. The Packers are still a good team with elite players at key spots. They will be good and the draft should be exciting for them.
Overall Free Agency Grade C