The tetrad of NFL teams which comprise the NFC North Division enter the offseason with more questions than answers. The Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings sacked their respective general managers and head coaches, looking to rebuild after years of peaking at mediocrity. Meanwhile, the Lions continue their identical rebuild they began last offseason when they brought Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell onboard.
Even the Packers are loaded with questions, as star quarterback Aaron Rodgers contemplates everything from retirement, playing for another team, and returning for another year in Wisconsin. It doesn’t help that they’re staring down the barrell of salary cap hell the likes of which not even New Orleans can give advice from which to escape.
It’s no stretch to say the West is the toughest division in NFC. With at least 2 playoff teams chasing Super Bowl aspirations for the fourth straight season, the NFC West is a dominant group.
The North, meanwhile, features 3 teams struggling to stay above .500, and the poster-child for postseason collapse, the Green Bay Packers.
As Bears fans, we often see the on-field product of our beloved’s division rivals, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the offseason moves of the Vikings, Lions, and Packers. There’s a complete rebuild running parallel with the Bears’ own cooking up in Minnesota. There’s an emotional rollercoaster of incompetence masquerading as an NFL team on the other side of the lake in Detroit. Then there’s popcorn ready for those who would like front-row seats to the downfall of a dynasty in Green Bay.
The headlines are dominated by #12, but the Packers enter this offseason with a wagon full of upcoming free agents, some of them looking for gigantic paydays. The biggest one besides quarterback is wide receiver Davante Adams, who’s five-straight Pro Bowls should command the largest contract of any NFL free agent at receiver.
Perhaps a name overlooked in most discussions is linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who was named 1st-team All Pro this past season after signing a one-year contract in Green Bay. At 28 years old, he’s due for a huge pay day.
While they’ve been dominating the NFC North with 7 of the past 10 division crowns, it looks like the salary cap will force some youth onto the field in a quasi-rebuild, one potentially with a new quarterback under center.
There will be a sweet spot in the offseason to make a bet on the NFC North champ for next year, when the uncertainty reached a fever pitch, but even now it’s hard to predict who that will be. The Packers remain the team to beat, but a long offseason could prove fruitful for the rest of the North, or else devastating for the green and gold.
If Justin Fields takes a massive step forward, as he should in his second year, new Bears’ GM Ryan Poles can make good on his promise to “take the North and not give it back.”
If you were the Packers’ GM, how would you address the salary cap, keeping in mind the impact of Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams? What are two other offseason moves you make?
Jack R Salo: Brian Gutekunst has been in Green Bay since 1998, so it’s not like he’s new around here and willing to part with the past so easily. If Jordan Love was such an exciting young perspective, then the Packers would be trying to divorce #12 instead of the other way around. See: Brett Favre. It must be plain to see to everyone in the building that Rodgers still has it. The play on Sundays could very well earn Rodgers a second consecutive MVP award, after all.
I get Jordan Love the heck out of here as soon as possible. Apologize profusely to #12, and ensure he never has to complain about another quarterback making more money than him.
As far as Davante Adams? You can’t afford both. If you blow up the team to franchise-tag Adams, then #12 will be upset you blew up the team. If you let Adams walk to keep the roster, then #12 will be upset that you let Adams walk. I tip my cap to Adams as he walks out the door.
For my next two moves, I negotiate a deal to keep De’Vondre Campbell in town, as long as it doesn’t ruin my already destroyed salary cap. The defense played well in our playoff loss, don’t let the offensive stars blind you to that. Then I target wide receivers in the draft as heavily as ever before.
Erik Christopher Duerrwaechter: Pray. Seriously, it’s as bad as it gets. Being over (now) $50 million in the red despite all 32 teams receiving a $30 million boost to their cap space. Aaron Rodgers alone would cost Green Bay over $46 million against the cap to keep him thanks to the modifications made into his contract late last summer. They’re essentially forced to trade him if he doesn’t retire. Davante Adams, meanwhile, is a free agent. Tagging him would likely exceed over $20 million this year. If I were dead set on keeping Davante Adams, at all costs, the cost itself would be massive. The only alternative I would have besides letting him walk would be to release any combination of Za’Darius Smith; Kenny Clark; Adrian Amos; or David Bakhrati. And that’s... just for tagging Davante Adams. There’s only one true reality Green Bay faces this year - trade everybody.
Basically everyone on the roster is to be placed on the trade block. Aaron Rodgers should bring in a good haul from the Denver Broncos, and I’m sure I can get takers for any of the candidates in line for a cut. Even if the picks received aren’t ideal. Either way, they have a bunch of players that need to be removed, and any continuation of restructuring their contracts like last year will only delay this until 2023. The cap is a thing. And it’s a thing that will likely set the Packers back for many years.
Ken Mitchell: Honestly, if I were them, I would figure out a way to keep both AR12 and Adams next season, whatever it took. Kick the bucket down the road cap-wise, whatever it takes... because you can do a rebuild later through the draft after Rodgers is done, and there’s simply no replacing him. This year’s college QB class is uninspiring to say the least, and even if there was a stud “can’t miss” type, he would be going to Jacksonville, Detroit or Houston. You have a 2X MVP QB, you do whatever it takes to keep him and his top weapon.
I’m also thinking I would find a better special teams coordinator like, say, ANYBODY other than the guy they have. Maurice Drayton is officially gone (as well he should be), and a guy like Thomas McGaughey from the Giants makes a lot of sense for Green Bay.
Lester Wilftong Jr: They did a good job navigating the all the Last Dance drama surrounding the team in 2021, but at some point the franchise has to pull the bandaid off with Aaron Rodgers. They did it with Brett Favre, but the difference this time is whether or not they believe in Jordan Love. If I were running the team, I’d do whatever it takes to move money around to keep Rodgers and Adams. As long as #12 is under center they have a chance, and Adams is one of the best wideouts in the game today.
When it comes to offseason moves, it’s all about Rodgers. If he wants to stay, you figure it out by any means necessary, but if he wants to leave, then I’d start a mini-rebuild and see what Love is all about.
Josh Sunderbruch: If Rodgers is willing to stay, then this is the year to mortgage the future. It is highly unlikely that Jordan Love is it. The team would be best served by cutting any high-priced defensive player unwilling to sign an extension while prioritizing keeping together Rodgers-Adams-Bakhtari. There will be a financial accounting, but if you time things right that can wait until after Rodgers is gone and the crash year can earn a top draft pick with which to select the next guy.
I’ve played with the numbers enough to know that if they kick the can down the road a couple of years they can keep the offensive core together at the cost of the defense. They should do that.
Evan “Tex” Western (Of Acme Packing Company): As I see it, this Packers team has two clear options: (1) trade Rodgers, rebuild around Jordan Love, and go through growing pains in 2022 to build towards 2023 and beyond, or (2) sacrifice at other positions to extend Rodgers and re-sign Adams, and push as much money as possible into 2023 and beyond to keep the team’s competitive window open a while longer.
Now, the NFC still feels wide open for the taking if the Packers can keep the band together for another year (and figure out how not to trip over their own feet in special teams for once). “The band” of course refers mainly to Rodgers and Adams, as having an elite combo at those positions still gives you a much better shot at a Super Bowl than having mediocre QB/WR play with a good defense.
Make no mistake - to go this route, Green Bay will have to make big sacrifices. The Packers are about $50M over the 2022 cap at present. Here’s a look at what they probably need to do to get under the cap and keep enough room to fill up a roster with draft picks and league minimum salaries:
Extend or trade Rodgers; extend Jaire Alexander to buy out his first-round option year; cut Preston Smith, Randall Cobb, and Mason Crosby (or talk Crosby into retiring); and convert roster bonuses into signing bonuses for Kenny Clark, David Bakhtiari, and Aaron Jones. Then if they’re keeping Rodgers and franchise tagging Adams, they need to find another 20 million or so, which probably means Za’Darius Smith is out.
Losing two of your three viable edge rushers is a lot to sacrifice to run it back with Rodgers and Adams; plus this doesn’t allow room to re-sign key players like De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas. And yet, from a football perspective, I still think that’s the best option, especially given Brian Gutekunst’s hit rate early in the draft. Plenty of money can move off into 2023 and beyond when the cap starts to balloon once again, and the chances of making a Super Bowl run are better with that group than with this year’s defense but Love as your QB and (insert player here) as your WR1.