Monday was the deadline for teams to sign players to extensions but be able to count some of that money on the 2007 salary cap. Lee, who was making only $595,000 this season and would have been a coveted unrestricted free agent during the offseason, had his 2007 pay increased to $2 million.
Including a $1 million roster bonus to be paid in March, Lee's four-year deal is worth $11.9 million and runs through the 2011 season.
The Packers were $7.4 million under the 2007 salary cap. Because Thompson and vice president of player finance Andrew Brandt got the deal done before the deadline, the Packers were able to put Lee's $1.4 million raise on this year's cap. That's money that won't be on future caps, as Thompson continues to successfully manipulate the cap in the Packers' long-term favor.
Before signing Lee, the Packers were about $25 million under the projected 2008 cap of $116 million. Thompson made the first year of the deal worth $4.9 million, so $6.9 million will be on the 2007 and 2008 caps and the remaining $5 million will be spread out over the 2009, 2010 and 2011 caps.
That's what you call cap management.
The only gamble, of course, is whether Lee really is a legitimate tight end worthy of a long-term deal.
Lee caught only 10 passes last season and had almost half as many drops. This year, he's caught 29 passes for 382 yards and a touchdown — he ranks 10th among NFL tight ends in receptions and seventh in yards — while giving the Packers a big-play dimension at the position they haven't enjoyed since the days of Mark Chmura and Keith Jackson.
Based on Thompson's track record, chances are Lee isn't just a one-year wonder. If he is, though, Thompson's cap management has the Packers in good shape to swallow a bad contract or two.
Say what you want about Thompson's inactivity on the free-agent market, but the Packers' general manager has done a brilliant job of building a winner on a low budget.
At some point, of course, those small-dollar players' contracts are going to expire, and they're going to want market value. Thompson has the Packers in position to re-sign those players and keep the lion's share of a budding roster intact.
Thompson's cap-management strategy and his willingness to extend contracts of his young before players before they hit free agency are two of the biggest reasons why these Packers should be long-term winners.
Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org