Thompson Keeps Cap Alive and Kicking

Because Ted Thompson has consistently given big signing bonuses to the right players, no team in the NFL has less "dead money" cluttering its salary cap than the Packers. Because of that, it's little wonder why the Packers are perennial contenders while others are perennial pretenders.

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has done a remarkable job of building a roster built to compete over the long haul.

Not only is he among the best talent evaluators and drafters in the league, but he's continually invested money in the right players. Between Thompson and numbers guy Russ Ball, the Packers are investing their salary cap dollars on talent rather than voided contracts.

According to a source who provided all of the Packers' contract data to Packer Report, the Packers have merely $97,697 in "dead money" – players on the books for prorated signing bonuses and guaranteed money who no longer are on the team.

Based on dead money, the Packers have the best-managed cap in the league. San Francisco has the second-fewest cap dollars invested in players no longer on the roster at just shy of $1 million. Oakland, Jacksonville, the Jets, Kansas City and Arizona — five of the worst teams in the league — have the most dead money. Coincidence? Yeah, probably not.

CLICK HERE for all 32 teams' dead money.

Credit Thompson and Ball for their pay-as-you-go approach and their tendency to steer clear of declining players with injury issues. There is no greater example of that approach than how they structured Charles Woodson's contract. When they gave Woodson a new deal in September 2010, he didn't get a penny of signing bonus. Knowing they were dealing with an aging player, Woodson was given large base salaries and roster bonuses. Thus, he was paid handsomely with a $7.85 million base salary and $3.05 million roster bonus in 2011 and a $6.5 million base salary and $5 million roster bonus in 2012.

Salaries and roster bonuses, however, aren't guaranteed, so the Packers were able to wipe their financial slate completely clean of Woodson's $6.5 million base salaries and $3.5 million roster bonuses for 2013 and 2014.

That, of course, is the major reason why Thompson has stayed away from high-stakes unrestricted free agency. Unrestricted free agents – whether they're impact, in-demand players or middle-of-the-road role players – get signing bonuses. Find the right player — a player able to contribute for several years — and that guaranteed money is easy to swallow.

Sign the wrong player, however, and it can sink a team.

There is no such thing as a sure thing. Mike Sherman signed a proven playmaker, Saints defensive end Joe Johnson, to a six-year, $33 million contract. Nobody could have predicted that Johnson would fall apart like Humpty Dumpty. When the Packers cut their losses in 2004, they had to swallow $3.25 million in dead money on the 2005 cap.

Contrast that to Thompson, who with Ball has kept the Packers' slate clean. Half of their dead money is tied up in linebacker D.J. Smith, a sixth-round pick in 2011 who the Packers released last month. Smith counts $51,576 against this year's cap (prorated bonuses of $25,788 in 2013 and 2014). The other relatively big chunk is in Lawrence Guy, a seventh-round pick in 2011 who didn't make the roster last year. He counts $22,950 against this year's cap (prorated bonuses of $11,475 in 2013 and 2014).

The rest of the dead money is wrapped up in undrafted free agents who failed to make the club. There are 10 on the books, ranging from $5,667 for offensive lineman Tommie Draheim to $334 for Shaky Smithson, and including $2,834 for Vic So'oto.

That's nickel-dime stuff. According to team-by-team listings from, a whopping 69 players with cap charges of at least $1 million are no longer on that team's roster.

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

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