The Green Bay Packers and the 2011 Salary Cap: What Ted Thompson Might be Thinking

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Packers GM Ted Thompson might have to make some tough calls if the Packers are over the 2011 salary cap.

Brian Carriveau of Cheesehead TV raised an interesting question recently: How will a salary cap in 2011 impact the Green Bay Packers?

The Packers had one of the highest payrolls in the NFL last season. The new collective bargaining agreement likely will include a salary cap, which could require the Packers to trim payroll.

Of course, the Packers have people on staff whose main duties include managing payroll and maneuvering within the salary cap. The Packers probably would not have to purge half their roster like the Chicago Blackhawks did after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, but a few moves may be necessary.

Zach Kruse’s recent post examined possible cuts for the Packers in 2011. Lets expand on that a bit. If the Packers had to make cuts to fit under the salary cap, who could they spare? Of course, it would depend on several factors, but if Ted Thompson approached the issue using a categorized list, here is how I think that list might look.

Untouchable
Aaron Rodgers, QB
BJ Raji, NT
Charles Woodson, CB
Greg Jennings, WR
Clay Matthews, OLB
Josh Sitton, OG

These players should stay with the Packers no matter what. There is no way they should be cut. They should only be mentioned in trade talks if a team is dumb enough to propose a Herschel Walker to the Vikings type of deal (even that would not be good enough to get Rodgers).

I debated if Woodson and Sitton should be on the untouchable list, Woodson because he’s old and Sitton because he’s due for a mega contract after 2011. I kept Woodson in the untouchable category because even though he’s not the cover corner he once was, he does so many other things at a high level that I’m not sure how the Packers would replace him.

Sitton will probably get a megadeal sometime soon, which made me think Ted Thompson would listen to trade offers if someone called with the right deal. But you can never have enough elite talent protecting Rodgers, so Sitton makes the untouchables.

Keepers
Nick Collins, S
Tramon Williams, CB
Sam Shields, CB
Jermichael Finley, TE
Chad Clifton, LT

The keepers category is for players that are extremely important to the team, but are slightly more expendable than the untouchables due to high salaries or lack of track record.

Some of you may be wondering why Collins and Williams are not in the untouchables column. I don’t have a problem putting them there, but I knocked them down a level because both are coming off career seasons. Their trade value is probably as high as it ever will be. If you need to dump a high salaried player for maximum return, Collins and Williams would be good options. I’m not saying Thompson is, or should be, actively shopping either, but if absolutely forced to make a trade involving a high impact player, Collins or Williams would be good places to start.

Some of you also may be asking why the old and injury-prone Clifton is in the keeper category and not a category or two lower. Remember, even if the Packers have to dump salary to fit under the cap, 2011 is still a win-now season. Do you trust Bryan Bulaga or Derek Sherrod over Clifton to protect Rodgers’ blind side for 16 games when the Packers are in win-now mode?

Good Players
Ryan Pickett, DE
Scott Wells, C
Bryan Bulaga, T
Desmond Bishop, LB
Jordy Nelson, WR
Tom Crabtree, TE
James Starks, RB
CJ Wilson, DE

Good players are highly unlikely to be cut or traded, but you never know. Guys like Bulaga, Bishop, Nelson and Starks appear to have bright futures and form a nice nucleus to support the superstars like Raji, Rodgers and Jennings. You don’t want to lose players like this, but if you have to cut ties with one of them, you might consider Pickett due to his age and high salary.

You might be wondering why Wilson is on this list. He played some good snaps for the Packers in 2010 and I think he has a chance to do it again on a thin defensive line in 2011. I think Thompson recognizes this and likes him.

Crabtree makes the good list because he’s fun on Twitter and appears on fan podcasts. We all know that Thompson appreciates Twitter and fan podcasts.

Good Players, but Overpaid
AJ Hawk, LB
Donald Driver, WR
Ryan Grant, RB
Nick Barnett, LB

Now we’re getting into categories where we have the most realistic chances of seeing a current or former impact player get cut or traded. The good players, but overpaid category is self-explanatory. You see these player’s names and you think their jobs are safe. Then you see how much they make and you change your mind.

Actually, Hawk has already been cut and re-signed, so I don’t expect him going anywhere. Even though Thompson is not known for being sentimental, I doubt Driver is going anywhere. I hope they keep Grant around (unless he looks significantly slowed from the injury). Barnett is as good as gone, in my opinion.

Don’t Know How Good They Are Yet
Morgan Burnett, S
Mike Neal, DE
TJ Lang, OL
Matt Flynn, QB
Andrew Quarless, TE
Marshall Newhouse, OL

These players are supposed to have the talent to be contributors, but because of youth and/or injuries, we’re not exactly sure how good they are. Teams are usually reluctant to get rid of this type of player, but sometimes an undrafted rookie can sneak up during training camp and knock one of these guys off the team.

I actually think Barnett would get cut before anyone in this category, but I wasn’t sue how to reflect that. Maybe I just should have given Barnett his own category.

Lets talk about Matt Flynn real quick. For some reason, I’m sensing growing sentiment among Packers fans that Flynn should not be traded under any circumstances and I can’t understand why. Yes, he led a spirited effort against the Patriots last season, but if someone is desperate enough for a QB and offers Thompson a second round pick based off one halfway decent game, he better take it.

Depth Players
Frank Zombo, OLB
Brad Jones, OLB
Charlie Peprah, S
Jarrett Bush, CB

Depth players are the types of guys you need around, but are also replaceable. Keep an eye on Bush (I know, I know). He had a redeeming 2010 season, but he makes a lot of money. You’re telling me that Pat Lee or Brandon Underwood couldn’t do what Bush does?

Roster Fillers
Pat Lee, CB
Brandon Underwood, CB
Quinn Johnson, FB

It’s easy to sit here and say that this category contains the easy cuts. I guess it depends how much salary you need to dump. These players don’t make all that much, which brings us to…

Prime Cuts
Brandon Chillar, LB
Mark Tauscher, T
Brady Popinga, LB
Justin Harrell, DE

These guys have a high cap number and suffer from some combination of being over the hill, not very good or injury-prone. If Thompson’s salary cap gurus come into his office one day and say he needs to cut salary, I believe Thompson starts by examining this list. That doesn’t necessarily mean that any of the players in the prime cuts category are locks to be off the team, just that the entire process would begin with this list.

Obviously, I did not address any free agents. Free agents merit their own post, and since we don’t have a new CBA, we’re not sure which players are unrestricted or restricted. I didn’t want to address free agents when so much remains unknown.

I’m looking forward to reading the comments section to see where you all might think I’m off-base. Remember, I am not advocating that any of these players should be cut or traded. I am simply arguing that if Thompson used categorized lists to make salary cap cuts, this is what those categorized lists would look like.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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  • ScottS

    I think Matt Flynn should be a prime cut because he is set to be a free agent next year and has more value than most of the players listed after him.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      I do believe Adam intended the “Prime Cuts” to be players that will be cut outright. So Flynn doesn’t belong in that group.

  • packbuck

    I never thought of Driver ’till recently, but I would rather spend his cap money on a younger, healthier James Jones. Driver can’t stretch the field at all anymore and is injury prone. He will be running at 40% strength when the playoffs roll around. Spend the money on Jones.

  • Chad Toporski

    After this next year, Ryan Pickett moves into the good but overpaid category.

  • Mark

    Derrick Martin has been cut already was cut along with Donald Lee back in March.

    • Adam Czech

      Fixed. Thanks.

  • PackersRS

    “Crabtree makes the good list because he’s fun on Twitter and appears on fan podcasts. We all know that Thompson appreciates Twitter and fan podcasts.”

    BINGO.

    BTW, 2 errors.

    Shift CJ Wilson with Mike Neal.
    And Flynn is in the untouchable category. In fact, the only reason Rodgers plays is because Flynn lets him, for pity.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      I agree with your Wilson/Neal swap…

  • aaronqb

    Salary cap is not going to be an issue in 2011. Over $20 million is coming off the 2010 payroll – Barnett (6m), Jenkins (4m), Tauscher (3.4m), D Lee (3m), Poppinga (2.3m), Bigby (1.8m), and J Harrell (1.2m). The only guys that will be getting paid in 2011 that weren’t in 2010 are T Williams (5m), Bishop (3.6m) and Peprah (1.1m).

    Next year, room will have to be made for 2 or 3 big contracts – Sitton, Finley, Nelson.

  • Oppy

    Underwood and Lee have PROVEN they can’t do what Jarret Bush does, and that’s why Bush gets a mil a year..

    What Bush does is terrorize the ST squads

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      THE Jarret Bush fan club checking in…

      • Oppy

        But he’s such a nice boy.

  • Oppy

    This is completely off the cuff, I have not looked at any numbers- but isn’t Justin Harrell relatively cheap?

    And I was pretty sure that when Grant held out and got his deal, it was weighted very, very heavily on the performance/incentives based side of things?

    • Chad Toporski

      Justin Harrell’s contract, from Rotoworld:

      7/27/2007: Signed a six-year, $14.507 million contract. The deal contains $8.1 million guaranteed, including a $1 million first-year roster bonus and a $5.3 million option bonus in the second year.

      2011: $650,000 (+ $575,000 roster bonus)
      2012: $1,536,750
      2013: Free Agent

  • Oppy

    Random:

    I definitely see Tramon WIlliams as an untouchable. more than half the teams in the league are still looking for a true lockdown corner; most teams spent more than one pick a year in the draft looking for one. When you find one, you keep him around as long as possible…Especially one that has great character and personality as well as being in a very reasonable contract when considering the level of performance he has displayed.

    Crabtree, while very likeable, should definitely be placed in the depth players column, or we need to start a “Special Teams” category as well. He’s the kind of player you like to have around, but he’s definitely replaceable. Sorry Tom.

    Where would Mason Crosby fit? I don’t know. Due to circumstance, I’d say he’s a keeper. But outside of circumstance, he’s definitely replaceable. He is running out of time to show that he can actualize his upside.

    Oh, would it be fair to list the oft-invisible Brett Goode as “Untouchable”?

    • Adam Czech

      Are we convinced that Williams is a true lockdown corner? He’s only had one great season.

      He probably is, and I’m not trying to argue against Williams’ worth, but these are the types of questions that TT asks himself. I don’t believe TT is actively looking to move Williams (nor should he be), but if forced to make a move, at least exploring a deal involving Williams makes sense because his value his sky high right now.

      I’m sure Crosby comes back if the price is right.

      • http://cheeseheadtv.com/lounge John Rehor

        “Are we convinced that Williams is a true lockdown corner? He’s only had one great season”

        Oh Adam, please tell me you said this in error.

  • marpag

    Your “untouchable” category is fine. Sitton DEFINITELY belongs there, since he could arguably be considered one of the best guards in the entire league. Upcoming contract or no, you don’t give guys like that up.

    Now add ALL of your “keepers” except Clifton to the untouchable list and it will be better. None of those guys are going anywhere. As far as “trade value” is concerned, no team gets ahead by trading away young talent. I consider that a binding principle of the universe.

    The next rule is “You don’t trade away rookie contracts to save money.” So forget about dumping Bulaga, Nelson, Starks or Wilson. Are you really going to find someone cheaper who can do the job as well?

    Crabtree is completely expendable and should not be in the “good player” category.

    Hawk is obviously staying.

    Driver, Grant, and Barnett should be moved to the Prime cuts (or trade) section.

    Your entire “Don’t Know How Good They Are Yet” section is rookie contracts. There no money to be saved there.

    Flynn will never be cut. Traded maybe. Cut no.

    If Zombo and Jones are “depth”, who is our starting OLB? If you are thinking we can get someone cheaper, Zombo is and undrafted free agent and Jones – I think – was a later round pick.

    You say, “You’re telling me that Pat Lee or Brandon Underwood couldn’t do what Bush does?” Yes. Lee and Underwood aren’t half the special teamers that Bush is. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Bush won’t get cut.

    The only one of your “Prime Cuts” who stands any chance of being back is Chillar.

    Overall, nice article.

    • PackersRS

      While I agree with you, the author is looking through the eyes of TT, what he would consider untouchables for 2010.

      One could make a very compelling case that no player is untouchable in the eyes of TT.

  • Adam Czech

    “no team gets ahead by trading away young talent.”

    In football, you are probably right. But it happens all the time in other sports. Smaller market teams trade young talent when their value is at its max, right before the player is due for a big payday. It’s a weird combination of rebuilding and reloading.

    • PackersRS

      In soccer, specially in South America, it is mandatory. A team cannot sustain itself without selling at least 1 promising young player per year.

      And it’s a shame, and it’s a disgrace. That’s why European teams have so much more stars than the south americans. The monetary disparity is incredibly unfair.

      South American teams can still contend, as evidenced by the draw between continents in world championships (25 each, including intercontinental cup. 4-3 Europeans in FIFA club world cup championships)

      Anyway, selling young talent is a move only made when there’s deep monetary disparity between teams. It is not a good team building, and is evidence of a flawed league (or sport, in soccer’s case).