Packers Rumors

Latest On Aaron Jones, Corey Linsley

The Packers have not dusted off their franchise tag in a while, last using it on nose tackle Ryan Pickett in 2010. They may be on the verge of a change in offseason strategy.

Beginning his fourth offseason as GM, Brian Gutekunst has top-tier free agents Aaron Jones and Corey Linsley barely a week away from being able to negotiate with other teams for the first time. An All-Pro center, Linsley expects to test the market. This would leave Jones in the tag crosshairs.

We certainly could (tag Jones). I think it’s something we’re working through. Again, it’s not a philosophical thing to avoid it,” Gutekunst said of using the tag, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. “I do think there’s usually better ways to go about it, but certainly if I think as we get down the road here over the next week or so, if that becomes what is in the best interest of the Packers, I think we’ll do that. But at this point, we haven’t done that.”

It cost the Titans $10.3MM to tag Derrick Henry last year, though the sides reached an extension agreement on deadline day last July. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s anticipated impact on the 2021 cap, the Packers may have the opportunity to tag Jones at barely $8MM. This would be a difficult scenario for Jones, who saw fellow 2017 draftees Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon cash in — all on deals worth at least $12MM annually — last year. But it would allow the Packers an unusual way to retain one of the best players.

The Packers and Jones negotiated extensively last year, and the 25-year-old running back changed agents during the process. An offer that would have paid Jones at least $12MM annually did not result in a deal. That proposal was light on guarantees, however. The team has until March 9 to tag Jones. Green Bay RB2 Jamaal Williams is expected to depart via free agency, which would seemingly elevate 2020 second-round pick A.J. Dillon.

A 2014 fifth-round pick, Linsley agreed on a Packers extension that ran through 2020. Coming off an All-Pro season, Linsley appears poised to approach or surpass Ryan Kelly‘s market-topping contract ($12.4MM AAV, $25MM fully guaranteed). It does not sound like the Packers will extend him to keep him off the market by the time the legal tampering period begins March 15.

Finding a way to bring him back would be ideal, but at the same time obviously, at the level of compensation that he’s at, he’s earned that,” Gutekunst said. “We certainly would never close the door on someone like Corey Linsley. We’ll see as we get down what’s possible and what’s not.”

Going into the spring tag deadline, the Packers have work to do before being free to tag Jones. They are more than $11MM over the projected salary cap, even after a David Bakhtiari restructure and the releases of Rick Wagner and Christian Kirksey. The Packers are discussing a restructure with Aaron Rodgers, Demovsky adds.

A $6.8MM Rodgers roster bonus could be converted to a signing bonus without the quarterback’s approval, creating $4.5MM in 2021 cap space. And the Packers could also move some of Rodgers’ 2021 base salary ($14.8MM) into a signing bonus to free up more room. This would, of course, complicate matters down the road. But the NFL’s post-2021 future is unlikely to include any further cap reductions, likely making present restructures easier to stomach for teams.

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Packers’ Corey Linsley Doesn’t Expect To Return

Packers center Corey Linsley tells SiriusXM that “all signs are pointing to” a change of teams this offseason. Linsley, a pending free agent, made similar comments after the Packers’ playoff ouster.

[RELATED: Mutual Interest Between Dolphins, Aaron Jones]

We’re not closing the door for anything,” Linsley said (via PFT). “Obviously we’d never do that for any team, especially the Packers, but yeah it definitely feels weird. It looks like all signs are pointing towards snapping the ball somewhere else next year.”

Linsley, has spent his entire career in Green Bay since being selected in the fourth-round of the 2014 draft. Fresh off of his first All-Pro nod, he’s now positioned for free agent riches. The Packers, meanwhile, have other matters to address and limited resources to work with. Their own free agent list includes running back Aaron Jones, who could be on track for the franchise tag.

Linsley, 30 in July, has a chance to top Ryan Kelly‘s new high-water salary mark for centers with a deal worth more than $12.4MM per year on average.

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Could Packers Franchise RB Aaron Jones?

We heard earlier today that the Dolphins and Packers running back Aaron Jones, who is eligible for unrestricted free agency in March, are interested in joining forces. But Green Bay might not let Jones get away.

The Packers and Jones have been negotiating a long-term pact for about a year now, but it doesn’t sound as though the two sides are particularly close to an agreement. The club did offer Jones a contract that would have paid him like a top-five RB in terms of average annual value, but the offer was unappealing to Jones because it was lacking in significant guaranteed cash.

Nonetheless, the club is expected to bid adieu to RB2 Jamaal Williams, and given Williams’ impending departure and Jones’ importance to Green Bay’s offense, Jones might be a franchise tag candidate. Indeed, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network suggests that because this year’s franchise tag value for running backs is so low ($8MM), the Packers may be willing to carry that cost on their books if it means keeping Jones in the fold for at least one more year (video link).

Jones, an explosive playmaker as a runner and receiver who has averaged over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 15 TDs over the past two seasons, would certainly not be happy about a franchise tag. But while the Packers still have work to do just to get under the cap, to say nothing of a potential re-up for center Corey Linsley, they have to at least give the matter some serious thought.

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Packers Likely To Restructure Aaron Rodgers’ Contract

The Packers cleared over $10MM of cap space by releasing Christian Kirksey and Rick Wagner several days ago. However, Green Bay is still about $13MM above the cap floor of $180MM, so there is plenty of work to do before the 2021 league year officially begins on March 17.

According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, the Packers will almost certainly restructure quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ contract in an effort to create additional cap room. The 37-year-old signal-caller is due a $14.7MM base salary in 2021, along with a $6.8MM roster bonus that will come due in March. Green Bay could convert some of that base salary into a signing bonus, a common maneuver that the club already executed with left tackle David Bakhtiari.

Of course, Rodgers said shortly after the Packers’ NFC Championship Game defeat in January that his future with the Packers was “uncertain,” which naturally led to plenty of speculation. Some reports suggested that his comments were an effort to secure a new contract that would represent a strong commitment from the franchise, whose selection of Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 draft clearly irked Rodgers. And another report indicated that the comments — which Rodgers later tried to downplay — were not contractually-motivated and that player and team were headed for a bitter divorce.

Meanwhile, Packers brass has insisted that Rodgers is not going anywhere, and Demovsky says the club certainly could undertake a more comprehensive restructuring of Rodgers’ contract beyond a simple base salary-to-bonus conversion. Green Bay selected Love on the heels of three consecutive “down” years from Rodgers (by his standards), but in 2020, Rodgers was nothing short of sensational. He set career highs in completion percentage (70.7%), QBR (84.4), and TD passes (48), so it makes sense that the team would be amenable to a new contract that gives its superstar additional security (financially and otherwise).

Demovsky also names OLB Preston Smith and DE Dean Lowry as potential cap casualties.

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Latest On Packers, J.J. Watt

The Packers have been listed as a potential suitor for J.J. Watt, but at least one reporter is skeptical of the connection. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets that the Packers “are not going to sign Watt.”

Silverstein specifically cites the team’s financial situation, noting that the organization has several of their own free agents who they need to re-sign. “Unless the market somehow collapses,” Silverstein believes the Packers wouldn’t be able to match Watt’s ultimate price tag.

The Packers have been mentioned as a potential match for Watt since November, long before he was cut by the Texans last week. Since he hit free agency, we’ve heard both pundits and bookies point to Green Bay as a landing spot, and SI’s Bill Huber definitively stated that the Packers “are one of the teams interested” in Watt. ESPN’s Ed Werder also tweeted this week that Watt’s “most important consideration” in choosing his next team (and winning a Super Bowl) was quarterback, making the Packers and Aaron Rodgers a natural fit. And, to top it all off, Watt is from Pewaukee, Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

While the Packers may not be a realistic suitor for Watt, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year isn’t struggling to find his next gig. The Bills, Browns, Titans, and Steelers have all been linked to the 31-year-old over the past week-plus.

While Watt’s getting up there in age, there are still some signs of encouragement. Sure, he finished with five sacks, his lowest total in a 16-game campaign … but the fact that he managed to appear in 16 games (for the second time in three seasons, no less) is encouraging on its own. He also graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 7 overall edge defender in 2020, with the advanced metrics site praising the veteran’s work against the run and pass.

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Packers Cut Christian Kirksey, Rick Wagner

The Packers turned to street free agents Christian Kirksey and Rick Wagner to plug lineup holes last March. A year later, both are out of the picture.

Both veterans received notice they are being released. The Packers announced the cuts Friday. They released Kirksey with a failed-physical designation, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter).

Green Bay will create just more than $10MM in cap space by making these moves. Wagner is considering retirement, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.

This is familiar territory for both. The Browns dropped Kirksey after six seasons in 2020; this move came around the same time the Lions cut Wagner after three seasons. The Packers scooped both up and turned to them as regular first-stringers. Wagner started nine games; Kirksey started 11.

The Packers recently created $8MM in cap space by restructuring David Bakhtiari‘s contract. They are now close to $20MM in savings over the past week, which should lead to speculation they are eyeing a certain Wisconsin native. J.J. Watt remains a free agent and has been connected to the Bills and Browns thus far. But the Packers make sense as a Watt landing spot, given the superstar defensive end’s ties to the area and Green Bay having qualified for the past two NFC championship games.

Pro Football Focus graded Wagner well last season, slotting him as the No. 23 overall tackle. While he struggled against Shaquil Barrett in the latter’s three-sack NFC title game, Wagner should draw interest — if, in fact, he chooses to play in 2021. Wagner has played eight NFL seasons, doing so after being a fifth-round Ravens draftee in 2013. With Wagner gone and Bakhtiari suffering an Achilles tear on New Year’s Eve, the Packers have a major need at tackle.

The Browns acquired Kirksey in the 2014 third round. He began his career as a high-end cog on bad Cleveland teams, but his early work prompted the Browns to give him a deal worth north of $10MM annually. However, Kirksey struggled with injuries in 2018 and ’19. His 11-game 2020 season, which featured 77 tackles and two sacks, continued the injury theme to the latter part of his career but also doubled as his most extensive work sample in years. Kirksey will turn 29 just ahead of the 2021 season.

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Browns Lead NFL In Salary Cap Carryover

Earlier today, the NFL Players Association announced (via Twitter) the salary cap carryover amounts for all 32 NFL teams for the 2021 season. Effectively, teams are able to rollover their unused cap from the previous season. So, when the 2021 salary cap numbers become official, they can be added to each team’s carryover amount to determine that individual club’s official cap for 2021.

This follows news from earlier today that the NFL has raised its salary cap floor to $180MM for 2021. This total could clue us in to the salary cap maximum, which could end up landing north of $190MM. The salary cap was $198.2MM for the 2020 campaign.

As the NFLPA detailed, the league will rollover $315.1MM from the 2020 season, an average of $9.8MM per team. The Browns lead the league with a whopping $30.4MM, and they’re the only team in the top-five to make the playoffs. The NFC East ($68.8MM) and AFC East ($65.3MM) are the two divisions will the largest carryover amounts.

The full list is below:

  • Cleveland Browns: $30.4MM
  • New York Jets: $26.7MM
  • Dallas Cowboys: $25.4MM
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: $23.5MM
  • Philadelphia Eagles: $22.8MM
  • New England Patriots: $19.6MM
  • Denver Broncos: $17.8MM
  • Washington Football Team: $15.8MM
  • Miami Dolphins: $15.2MM
  • Detroit Lions: $12.8MM
  • Cincinnati Bengals: $10.8MM
  • Houston Texans: $9.2MM
  • Indianapolis Colts: $8.3MM
  • Los Angeles Chargers: $8.1MM
  • Chicago Bears: $7MM
  • Los Angeles Rams: $5.7MM
  • Kansas City Chiefs: $5.1MM
  • Arizona Cardinals: $5MM
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: $5MM
  • New York Giants: $4.8MM
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $4.6MM
  • Minnesota Vikings: $4.5MM
  • Carolina Panthers: $4.3MM
  • New Orleans Saints: $4.1MM
  • Buffalo Bills: $3.8MM
  • Green Bay Packers: $3.7MM
  • Las Vegas Raiders: $3.6MM
  • Tennessee Titans: $2.3MM
  • San Francisco 49ers: $1.9MM
  • Atlanta Falcons: $1.8MM
  • Seattle Seahawks: $956K
  • Baltimore Ravens: $587K

Latest On Packers RB Jamaal Williams

While Aaron Jones will set the market for running backs this offseason, another major member of the Packers backfield will also be entering free agency. As Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal writes, running back Jamaal Williams “never received an in-season offer from the Packers” and is set to hit free agency. Wilde also reports that Williams recently changed representation, hiring agent Bardia Ghahremani.

The 25-year-old running back has had a consistent role in the Packers offense since entering the league in 2017. This included a 2020 campaign where he ran for 505 yards and two touchdowns on 119 carries while adding 31 receptions for 236 yards and one score. He compiled another 110 yards from scrimmage in the playoffs.

Perhaps most importantly, Williams has also served as Aaron Rodgers‘ top blocking running back, with the quarterback praising the production of the fourth-year pro.

“Obviously I’m a big Jamaal Williams fan, not just his play but his energy and the person he is,” Rodgers said (via Wilde). “He’s a do-it-all guy. He’s a slasher, he hits the hole, he’s also great out of the backfield, he’s got really good feet.”

The Packers have leaned heavily on the Jones/Williams tandem in recent years, but the team could be forced to look for cheaper alternatives to fill out their depth chart. In the event that both running backs end up leaving for big-money deals, Green Bay would likely give the reigns to 2020 second-rounder AJ Dillon.

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Packers, David Bakhtiari Rework Contract

The Packers converted David Bakhtiari’s $11MM+ roster bonus into a signing bonus, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. With a little help from the left tackle, the Packers will save $8.3MM against this year’s salary cap. 

[RELATED: Packers HC Says Rodgers Staying “For A Long Time”]

The adjustment won’t impact Bakhtiari’s income. Instead, his payout will be dispersed over the length of the contract, which runs through 2024. With that extra cash, the Packers will have better odds of retaining their own free agents, including running back Aaron Jones and center Corey Linsley.

Pro Football Focus ranked Bakhtiari as the league’s No. 2 tackle in 2020 before his ACL tear in December. His protection helped Aaron Rodgers secure the MVP award and the top seed in the NFC. Throughout his career, the 2013 fourth-round pick has been a rock for Green Bay, starting in all 118 of his games.

Between Bakhtiari, Linsley (PFF’s No. 1 center in 2020), and Pro Bowl guard Elgton Jenkins, the Packers have one of the stronger front fives in the NFL. The Packers now have the capital to keep the band together, though some of their available cash could go towards a Rodgers extension.

 

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Packers To Hire Joe Barry As DC

The Packers have identified Mike Pettine‘s defensive coordinator successor. They intend to hire Joe Barry, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com (on Twitter).

This will continue a busy offseason for Barry, who made a previous move in going from the Rams to the Chargers. Barry spent four seasons with the Rams, coaching with Matt LaFleur in 2017, but agreed to follow Brandon Staley to the Chargers last month. Those plans will change.

After Jim Leonhard indicated he will stay on as Wisconsin’s DC, the Packers job came down to Barry and Rams safeties coach Ejiro Evero, Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets. It appears Leonhard was the favorite for the position, Silverstein adds (on Twitter), with Barry and Evero being the top backup options. Both were Rams staffers from 2017-20, with Evero still on Sean McVay‘s staff. Barry previously agreed to bolt with Staley and become the Chargers’ defensive passing-game coordinator.

Barry brings defensive coordinator experience to Green Bay, but his previous units mostly struggled. Barry worked as the Lions’ DC from 2007-08. Both seasons ended with Detroit’s defense ranking last in points and yards allowed, with the second ignominiously concluding with an 0-16 record. Barry resurfaced as a coordinator in Washington from 2015-16. While both those defenses landed just inside the top 20 in points allowed, each ranked 28th in total defense. Washington fired Barry after the 2016 season.

The Rams interviewed Barry for their DC post last year, but Staley wound up landing the job. Barry will be tasked with elevating a Packers defense that has come up short in big spots in the past two postseasons. The Packers ranked first in offensive DVOA but 17th on defense. Each of Green Bay’s coordinators is now a LaFleur hire, with Pettine being held over from Mike McCarthy‘s final Packers season.

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