They’ve kicked the financial can into the streets in recent seasons.
They did everything to keep the band together for at least another year.
And they fully expected this group — which went 39-10 from 2019 to 2021 — to continue producing hits.
But nothing has gone the way the Green Bay Packers planned for 2022. And these Top 40 songs that Matt LaFleur’s teams have been putting out for the last three seasons have become the weird ballads of an unsuspecting band.
The Packers go to Chicago on Sunday with a 4-8 record, their worst at this point in the season since 2006. Green Bay lost seven of eight games for the first time since the 2008 season, which was also Aaron Rodgers’ first as Player was starter.
Only two teams in the NFC – Chicago (3-9) and the Los Angeles Rams (3-8) – have worse records than Green Bay. And if the NFL draft happened today, the Packers would hold the No. 8 pick overall.
“I think we’re all collectively frustrated,” said Packers coach Matt LaFleur. “Listen…there’s a lot of finger pointing going on right now. And I will always say it because I really believe in it. I mean it starts and ends with me. I need to get better for our boys, for our assistant coaches, and I’m disappointed in myself.”
He should be.
But so should Joe Barry and his disastrous defense. So should Rodgers, the highest-paid player in NFL history, who was the picture of mediocrity this season — even before thumb and rib injuries arose. And so should general manager Brian Gutekunst, who compiled this mind-blowing list and has declined to answer questions about it for the past three months.
Now comes the remarkably sobering news for Packer Nation.
Things could get worse in 2023 — and beyond.
According to Spotrac.com — a website that breaks down professional team contracts, salaries and salary caps — the Packers will enter the offseason about $2.3 million above the projected salary cap of $225 million.
Just five players – quarterback Aaron Rodgers ($31.6 million), left tackle David Bakhtiari ($29.1 million), nose tackle Kenny Clark ($23.9 million), running back Aaron Jones ( $20 million) and cornerback Jaire Alexander ($20 million) — accounts for approximately $125 million, or 55.6% of the Packers’ 2023 salary cap.
Green Bay’s five highest-paid players – outside linebackers Preston Smith ($13 million) and Rashan Gary ($10.9 million), inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell ($8.25 million), safety Darnell Savage ($7.9 million dollars) and cornerback Rasul Douglas ($6.77 million). ) – gobble up almost $47 million in cap space.
That means Green Bay’s 10 highest-paid players will account for $172 million in salary caps — or 76.4% of the pie.
Only the top 51 contracts count towards your salary cap. That leaves the Packers with just $53 million left for the last 41 players on the roster.
That means the Green Bay roster will be littered with young players, rookie contracts, and a ton of minimum-wage work — at least by NFL standards.
The Packers will have 16 unrestricted free agents this offseason, including starters like offensive linemen Elgton Jenkins and Yosh Nijman, safety Adrian Amos, defensive linemen Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed, kicker Mason Crosby, wideout Allen Lazard and tight end Robert Tonyan.
In all likelihood, the Packers will not have the salary cap to make a competitive offer to most of these players. Green Bay may also need to restructure — or fire — players at the top of its payroll food chain.
It all means that some of Green Bay’s top players today will be in different uniforms in 2023.
Good luck chasing a Super Bowl – or even an NFC North title – with these kinds of salary cap challenges.
How did the packers get here?
It’s really easy. They mortgaged the future in hopes of immediate gratification.
Now it looks like this could be a lose-lose deal for Green Bay.
Over the past two offseasons, Executive Vice President/Director of Football Operations Russ Ball has reworked the contracts of several of Green Bay’s standout players. Ball cut his salary cap hits and pushed the money into the future.
Those moves were logical given that the Packers won three straight NFC North titles between 2019 and 2021, reached the NFC Championship Game in both 2019 and 2020, and have won more games than any other team in football over the past three years.
However, like any credit card, the bill will eventually come due — and the interest payments are a beast.
During February’s NFL Combine, Gutekunst explained why the Packers are revising contracts and pushing so much money into the future.
“We have a really good football team,” said Gutekunst. “We’re disappointed that we haven’t made it over the past two years, but there’s no reason to think we can’t go right back there and knock on the door and get there. So yeah I think we’re full ahead.
“I think we have as good a chance as anyone of winning a Super Bowl (in 2022). That’s our goal. I think we have the opportunity to do that now.”
But that hasn’t happened yet.
Green Bay’s offense has been listless for half the season, and while it has shown signs of life in recent weeks, it still sits just 23rdapprox in points per game (19.6). The defense, which should have won while the offense found an identity, is in 31st placeSt against the barrel and 22nd in the rating (23.6).
The Packers made Rich Bisaccia the highest-paid special teams coordinator in football at $2 million a year. But those units were still lousy and rank 30th overall according to footballoutsiders.com.
And LaFleur, who’s had the Midas touch with his team for the past three years, hasn’t found the right buttons to push in 2022.
“Obviously the execution wasn’t up to par… and when you see repeat failures, you always have to look at yourself first,” LaFleur said recently. “I have to make sure I’m doing my part to hold everyone accountable.
“What’s frustrating is the repeated mistakes. If you get players to do this and we don’t execute it or communicate properly, you need to look at that part and make sure we have the right people in game so that doesn’t happen. We have to give ourselves a chance.”
The Packers have no chances in 2022 as their playoff odds are now down to 2%.
And it’s going to get even trickier in the future.
While the Packers are facing salary cap hell and a possible rebuild, many teams have the kind of cap space available in their own division — and conference — to make a big leap.
Chicago is expected to have a notable $125 million salary cap room this offseason. The Bears also picked up second-, fourth- and fifth-round draft picks after selling defensive standouts Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn in October.
Essentially, this gives Chicago general manager Ryan Poles an opportunity to completely overhaul his roster and add star power across the board when free agency begins in March.
NFC rivals Atlanta ($72m), New York Giants ($59m) and Seattle ($58m) rank in the top five for available cap space and could all improve dramatically if they sign the right free agents.
And NFC North rival Detroit, currently ahead of Green Bay overall, sits 11thth with $29.5M available cap space. In addition, the Lions own the Rams’ first-round draft pick — which looks likely to be in the top five — as well as their own.
Meanwhile, the Packers are faced with countless tricky decisions just to get their books in line.
Are they fooling themselves into believing that with Rodgers on the list, they still have a shot at greatness – even though he’s a declining player who will be surrounded by an underperforming supporting cast? Are they finally starting the Jordan Love era? And can they get players like Bakhtiari or Jones to revise their deals – or will they be fired?
The Packers have done what many fan bases are asking their teams to do and have gone “all in” for the past two years. For a variety of reasons, this decision blew up in Green Bay’s face.
Now the bill is due – and it will be difficult to swallow.