Earlier this week, I discussed five upcoming free agents that would be a great fit for the Packers. I know Ted Thompson doesn’t like to dabble into free agency too much unless he sees a great fit, but he knows this 2015 Packers team has a real shot at a Super Bowl, so don’t be surprised if he brings in a guy to take this team over the top. Considering the cap space expected this offseason, there’s no question that the Packers could afford to bring someone in. But, in the interest of financial responsibility, the effects it would have on the 2016 offseason have to be considered.
The potential cap space the Packers will have this offseason has been discussed, but just because the money is there now, doesn’t mean you should go about spending all of it. That’s what the New Orleans Saints did last offseason. In the 2014 offseason, the Saints back-loaded contracts for big time free agents, mortgaging their future for a chance at a Super Bowl. Now, their cap situation is bleak at best, and they not only failed to win a championship, but they failed to make the playoffs altogether despite playing in a weak NFC South division.
So, in order to determine if it’s financially responsible, or even possible, to sign a free agent, here’s a look at the cap space available this offseason, followed by a look ahead to the ramifications it would have on the 2016 offseason.
Before having re-signed any of their own impending free agents and after releasing Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk, the Packers total cap number stands at $118,500,000. With the 2015 salary cap expected to be set $143 million according to NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, the Packers enter free agency with $24.5 million in cap space. You can add almost $8 million in ‘cap carry-over’ money. Since they came in under the cap by $7.79 million last season, it can be applied to this year’s cap, bringing the cap space number up to around $32.5 million.
After signing a draft class, which will cost about $5 million, Thompson is left with $27.5 million to play with. They can, and most likely will, restructure the contract of Julius Peppers, who represents a cap hit of $12 million next year. Realistically speaking, his cap number could be brought down closer to $7 million, saving the Packers $5 million more. If these two things happen, the available cap space moves from $32.5 to $37.5 million.
The most important part of the equation is re-signing the home-grown guys like Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga, Davon House, and BJ Raji. Cobb is projected to get $9 million per year, and Bulaga will probably get $7 million per year. Their actual cap hits would probably be a bit lower, but let’s project them to take about $16 million from the cap. The concern here is if there is a team out there that views Bulaga as a left tackle, and offers him left tackle money. There’s no way the Packers can afford more than $7 million for him.
Davon House is another concern. In spite of his injuries and inconsistencies, reports indicate that he is demanding between $6 – $7 million per year and a guaranteed starting spot. If he gets that offer, he will be gone. If he accepts an offer closer to $4 million, he will be a Packer. The alternative is giving Tramon Williams another year or two, and paying him about $4 million. B.J. Raji would probably take even less from the cap. He signed a one year, $4 million contract last offseason, but missed the entire season with an injury. He will probably sign another short term deal in hopes of signing a long-term, big-money deal next year. Expect his cap hit to be about $3 million. That leaves about $13.5 million in cap space to re-sign any other free agents and chase after an outside free agent. Another option is to sign Letroy Guion, assuming his legal trouble is behind him, and let Raji walk. Guion could probably get $2 – $2.5 million next year, giving the Packers an extra million to work with.
There are players that could be signed for $4 – $5 million per year that would have a big impact on this team. So, from 2015’s perspective, it’s very possible to add a player this year. Now the question becomes the long term effect. Would signing someone this offseason keep the Packers from being able to re-sign some key 2016 free agents? Worth mentioning, the Packers generally like to keep around $8 million free “just in case.”
As things currently stand, the Packers have a project cap number of $107 million next offseason. If you add the salaries I’ve projected, along with the 2016 draft class, it rises to about $132 million. Depending on the terms of a restructured Julius Peppers contract, that number would likely be lower. According to some reports, the 2016 salary cap could eclipse $150 million, so the Packers would have at least $18 million available to re-sign some key players.
Next year, the contracts of Mike Neal, Mason Crosby, Nick Perry, Casey Hayward, James Starks, and Mike Daniels all expire. The Packers may let a couple of them walk, but Hayward and Daniels especially will be due for big raises. Hayward will probably get $4 – $5 million and Daniels will get $8 – $9 million. That leaves a range of $4 – $6 million to re-sign Crosby, Neal, Perry, and Starks. I would bet that Thompson lets at least two of those players walk, and would not want to spend more than $8 million on the other two.
So, financially speaking, the Packers have the flexibility to add a player this offseason, and I think they will. It may cost the Packers one of their own free agents next year, but as long as the player they sign is better than the player they lose, the Packers still come out on top. What do you think? Can they afford to sign a free agent or is it too much of a risk to the future? Who would you like to see them bring in?