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Brian Gutekunst described the salary cap as a puzzle, but the problem is the Green Bay Packers’ first-year general manager doesn’t have room for many pieces.
With the salary cap set at $177.2 million for the 2018 season, the Packers don’t have much wiggle room at this point.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers have a little more than $16 million in available cap space. That ranks 23rd among all NFL teams.
In reality, however, they have less than that.
With 12 draft picks, beginning with the 14th overall pick, they will need $9,260,960 in 2018 cap space to sign those picks, according to OverTheCap.com’s projections. Its projected cap number for the 14th pick is $2,507,504. Some of those draft pick contracts won’t factor into the salary cap because only the top 51 contracts count on the cap until the start of the regular season.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t leave Gutekunst with much room to maneuver at this point.
“It’s a big puzzle,” Gutekunst said last week at the NFL scouting combine. “I think as the information comes in and as we get closer to the free agent time period and we get through the combine and kind of get a better feel for the draft, some of those things will come into play.”
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If Gutekunst wants the Packers to be players in free agency — and he used the word “aggressive” when asked about his approach to free agency — then he might not have any choice but to make a move with either receiver Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb or perhaps even both. Their combined salary-cap charge for this season stands at more than $25 million.
That could be code for asking one or both of the veteran receivers to accept a pay cut, especially if Gutekunst wants to sign veteran defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who is scheduled to visit the Packers on Wednesday.
Neither Nelson’s agent nor Cobb’s agent returned messages asking whether their clients would be open to such a scenario.
The Green Bay Packers have several roster holes, and compared to other teams in the NFL, very little cap space. To get more money to spend, the Packers have a few options, but most of the clamor revolves around cutting or releasing either Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, or both.
But a third option could have just materialized.
According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Miami Dolphins are looking to trade receiver Jarvis Landry after applying the franchise tag on him last week.
The franchise tag will place a $16.2 million salary cap obligation on Landry, who was reportedly seeking a four-year, $58 million contract.
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The tag doesn’t make a whole lot of financial sense for the Dolphins. According to Spotrac, they will need to clear upward of $7 million in cap space before the new league year begins.
“If the Dolphins manage to trade Landry, the likely compensation, multiple NFL people are saying, would be perhaps a third-round pick. Or maybe a low second-rounder. Or maybe a player,” Salguero wrote.
If those ranges are true, the Packers could leverage the Dolphins with a similar trade offer. Cobb has one more year on his contract with just shy of a $13 million cap hit.
Cobb (5-foot-9, 190 pounds) and Jarvis Landry (5-11, 200 pounds) are similar in both size and use. What has made the Cobb debate so difficult is not that he’s a bad player, it’s that the Packers have so much money allocated to one position.
Nelson looks poised to take a pay cut to stay on for another season or two. Cobb, on the other hand, is still in his prime years (27) and can flash separation here and there. He’s also a reliable target with a penchant for being a difficult tackle.
Teams looking to make a trade for Landry – Salguero listed the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers as needing a wide receiver – could hedge their bets with a cheaper option.
Assuming the value is true – a low second-round pick to a third-rounder – the Packers should, in theory, be able to get somewhere around a fourth- or fifth-round pick for Cobb – at worst.
Moreover, the Packers could offload their second-most expensive contract (by cap hit) in order to free up cap space.
If the Packers plan on asking Cobb to take a pay cut, or if they want to release him outright, they should first seek a trade.
Teams may like Landry, but they may also like a cheaper version of him.