Packers Short On Cap Space Heading Into 2012

How much money do the Packers have dedicated to players under contract for next season? And how much cap space can they carry over from this season? An NFL source provided Packer Report with the Packers' financial picture.

To expect Ted Thompson to fortify the Green Bay Packers' roster via free agency is to ignore history.

Just look at the Packers' final 53-man roster at the end of the season. On it were just two players signed as unrestricted free agents: Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson. Since then, Thompson has had five years to tinker with his roster. Other than linebacker Brandon Chillar, who is no longer with the team, Thompson has avoided free agency as if it were a live grenade.

To expect that to change this year, with a team coming off a 15-win season on the heels of the Super Bowl championship, is silly, even though there are some glaring holes to fill on defense.

Beyond history, it comes down to dollars and cents.

A source this week provided Packer Report salary data for the Packers and the other 31 teams.

In terms of salary cap dollars, the Packers have $116.691 million dedicated to the 60 players they have under contract for 2012.

What does that mean?

The salary cap for next season has not been set, though Scout.com NFL insider Aaron Wilson believes the final cap figure will be about $124 million, while former Packers front-office executive Andrew Brandt, now at National Football Post, said the cap will be about $125 million.

This year and next year, teams are allowed to roll over any unspent money from the previous year's cap. According to the information provided by our source, the Packers finished 2011 about $6.627 million under the cap.

For the sake of this story, we'll say the 2012 salary cap will be $124 million. Adding in the unused money from 2011, the Packers' cap for the upcoming season would increase to $130.627 million.

Thus, the Packers would have $13.936 million of cap space.

That won't last long. Among the Packers' eight unrestricted free agents are center Scott Wells and tight end Jermichael Finley, both of whom will not be re-signed on the cheap. If the Packers wind up using the franchise tag on Finley, that will run somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.5 million. Wells counted $3.1 million against the cap this season, the final year of a deal signed back in 2006.

Jarrett Bush, the heart and soul of the improved special teams, had a cap charge of $1.733 million this season, the final year of a deal inked in 2009. Ryan Grant, who counted $3.797 million under his reworked deal, played well enough down the stretch to merit consideration for a one- or two-year deal, as well. Quarterback Matt Flynn, defensive lineman Howard Green, cornerback Pat Lee and outside linebacker Erik Walden are the team's other unrestricted free agents.

It goes beyond the decisions on those players, though.

With 60 players under contract, the Packers need to add 20 players to get to the offseason limit of 80. They figure to have 12 draft picks — one in every round, free-agent compensatory picks for losing Daryn Colledge, Cullen Jenkins, Brandon Jackson and Korey Hall, plus a sixth- or seventh-round selection as compensation for trading Caleb Schlauderaff to the Jets. Thompson will then add enough undrafted free agents to fill out his roster.

Moreover, signing a free agent now has ramifications on the roster down the line.

The most noteworthy of the Packers' 2012 free agents is receiver Greg Jennings. Clearly, the Packers will make him their No. 1 priority for an in-season contract extension, which means they need to stay far enough below the cap to strike a deal. Left guard T.J. Lang (unrestricted), cornerback Sam Shields (restricted) and punter Tim Masthay (restricted) also will need new deals after 2012.

And is it ever too soon to consider Aaron Rodgers, whose deal expires after 2014?

To create cap space, Thompson faces tough decisions on Chad Clifton (cap figure of $5.703 million would be totally eliminated) and Donald Driver (cap figure of $5 million would be totally eliminated). Nick Collins, with an uncertain future because of a neck injury, has a cap figure of $5.05 million for 2012 and $5.95 million for 2013, though the team would be on the hook for $2 million of his prorated signing bonus.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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