Green Bay, Wes. 2021 may not have been the Green Bay Packers’ “last dance”.
It definitely seemed that way at first, when quarterback Aaron Rodgers seemed hesitant about returning after his displeasure.
Still, the win covers a lot, and by the end of his third straight 13-game regular season that gave Rodgers his second straight player of the year and fourth overall, everyone seemed to be in their happy place.
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But did another early playoff come out, this time on the NFC tag team home tour against the San Francisco 49ers where Rodgers didn’t play well, decimating the atmosphere? The Packers think they can restart it with Rodgers and future Davante Adams, who will become a free agent next month if he doesn’t sign or tag him, but at this point, that seems to be up to Rodgers.
They have big problems with the salary cap, and Rodgers said he didn’t want to be part of the rebuild. But coach Matt LaFleur insisted they could make it work and compete for the Super Bowl.
Expected maximum salary area: $48,910,955 over expected maximum
The most important free agents: WR Davante Adams, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR Allen Lazard (Restricted Free Agent), TE Robert Tonyan, OL Lucas Patrick, LB De’Vondre Campbell, CB Rasul Douglas
Possible candidates for cutting: OLB Za’Darius Smith looks likely. He had back surgery after the season opener and didn’t return until the playoffs. They counted $28 million toward the 2022 salary cap, and they’d have $15.75 million in cap space if they moved. A Year of Recovery written by Preston Smith and the appearance of Rashan Gary makes him an expendable one. The Packers need to create more cover space, so guys like WR Randall Cobb, T Billy Turner, TE Marcedes Lewis, DT Dean Lowry, S Adrian Amos and K Mason Crosby could be on their way out.
The big question: What will Rodgers do? And when will he do that? He said it wouldn’t take long to make a decision. The start of the free agency on March 16 seems to be the most recent of all, but they probably need to know at least a week in advance so they can start restructuring contracts or terminating player contracts because they have to be under the salary cap when the free agency starts. No one knows for sure what and when Rodgers will do it, so the Packers almost certainly have one plan that includes Rodgers and another that doesn’t. But until he decides, they are basically at a standstill.
Best off-season scenario: Rodgers and Adams return, Packers retain as many veteran players as possible while still re-signing some of their core agents, Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisakia gives some players to work with, and everyone is happy. All this would seem to give the Packers a good chance of engaging a competitor as they did last year.
Worst case scenario off season: Rodgers retires or wants to be traded, and becomes the Jordan Love team. The Lakers clearly don’t think love is ready – and why would they, based on his uninspiring performances on his lone start in Kansas City and on an intense substitute role in Detroit at the end of the season? If they did, they probably wouldn’t be so sure about wanting Rodgers back. If they did, they would probably be more inclined to trade Rodgers and get as many quality shots as possible to help rebuild. This doesn’t mean that love won’t work out at some point, but it just doesn’t seem ready now.
An early look at the NFL Draft, from ESPN analyst Jordan Reed: Improving smaller depth along the defensive line and providing Rodgers with another perimeter weapon should be the first squares for general manager Brian Gutkunst to stop this season. The Packers identified Day Two as the perfect place to take pass hunters, and this trend could continue in a strong receiver class.
Most important needs: WR, EDGE, IDL
Best choice for: No. 28