Aaron Rodgers isn't getting any younger (he turned 34 in December), meaning the window for Green Bay's success with its star quarterback keeps closing a little more each year. While the Packers will get a healthy Rodgers back in 2018, there are still plenty of questions as the team heads into the 2018 offseason. We offer up a few.
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What will new GM Brian Gutekunst do in free agency?
Gutekunst charged up Green Bay's fan base when he intimated he'd be a little more active in free agency than his predecessor, Ted Thompson. Will he want to make a big splash in his first offseason? While signing a big-name free agent sure does sound interesting, there aren't a lot of huge names currently scheduled to be available (of course, salary-cap cuts could perhaps add some interesting players). Players like running back Le'Veon Bell and Demarcus Lawrence might be scheduled to be free agents, but the chances of their teams letting them actually hit free agency -- either re-signing them or slapping on a franchise tag -- is quite low. But that's not to say there won't be a few (again, depending on whether or not their current team retains them), such as tight ends Jimmy Graham and Tyler Eifert, defensive tackle Sheldon Richrdsonm, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and cornerbacks Lamarcus Joyner, Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler. Of course, the Packers have a big pending free agent of their own: safety Morgan Burnett, who would be a big loss if he went elsewhere.
Will the backup quarterback position be addressed?
Brett Hundley had an up-and-down season -- with mostly downs -- filling in for Rodgers. Head coach Mike McCarthy did not, however, ever throw Hundley under the bus and instead Green Bay will have a new offensive coordinator and quarterback coach in 2018. Does this mean Hundley will stick around? Will there be competition? Does Joe Callhan have a legitimate chance to usurp Hundley for the backup role? Or, will Green Bay try and find a solid veteran to be the No. 2, keeping in mind Hundley's contract expires after next season? That being said, backup QB options are backups for a reason. Some of the expected available free agents will be Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallet, Matt Moore, Brock Osweiler, Geno Smith, Drew Stanton … and on and on, you get the idea.
USA TODAY SportsScott R. Galvin
Can Aaron Rodgers be locked up to an extension without killing the salary cap?
There's already been talk that after re-signing Davante Adams and Corey Linsley that Rodgers, who is signed for two more years, is next up for an extension. Rodgers' salary for 2018 is $19.8 million and $20 million for 2019. With bonuses, Rodgers is averaging $22 million per season under his current deal, whichi is seventh among quarterbacks (amazingly, Joe Flacco is sixth). Matthew Stafford is No. 1 on the list with a $27 million average. Rodgers is clearly worth a lot to the Packers, but how much can they actually afford to pay him? According to Overthecap.com, Green Bay currently has just under $22 million in cap space for 2018 -- which is 19th in the NFL.
USA TODAY SportsJeremy Brevard
Who could be a cap casualty?
So speaking of creating some salary-cap space, who could be cut to give Green Bay a little cushion? Yes, cutting Aaron Rodgers and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would not give the Packers any dead money, but clearly that's not going to happen. After Rodgers, the next three-highest salaries for 2018 are wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson and linebacker Clay Matthews. Both Cobb and Nelson performed below expectations in 2018. Cobb had 66 catches for 653 yards and 4 touchdowns and is scheduled to have a $12,750,000 cap number next season (based on salary and bonuses). Cutting Cobb would give the Packers a cap savings of $9,500,000. Nelson will be 33 next season and had just 482 receiving yards in 2017. He has a cap number of $12,550,000 for 2018 with a cap savings of $10,250,000 if cut. Matthews had a decent season (7.5 sacks) but will be 32 and his $11,400,000 cap number can be wiped completely off the books if he's cut. Other potential players to be on the lookout for with their dead money and cap savings: kicker Mason Crosby ($2,500,000 dead money; $2,750,000 savings); tight end Lance Kendricks ($600,000; $1,625,000), running back Ty Montgomery ($151,536; $728,500) and cornerback Quinten Rollins ($245,466; $945,351). Of course, contracts can be redone as well to help lower cap numbers.
What will the Packers do at tight end?
Remember when Aaron Rodgers publicly stumped for Green Bay to bring back Jared Cook … and then that didn't happen (Cook signing with Oakland)? Thompson instead signed Martellus Bennett, which pundits saw as an upgrade … and then that didn't happen. Kendricks didn't exactly flourish either and Richard Rodgers, who had 58 catches in 2015, became an afterthought the past two seasons and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. There are some free agents out on the market -- we already mentioned Graham and Eifert, but also there's guys like Trey Burton, Virgil Green and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. There's also the NFL draft, where there are between 5-8 tight ends which could be selected in the first two days. Green Bay's offense is more efficient -- and the quarterback happier -- when the Packers have a good pass-catching tight end.