Despite the Green Bay Packers recently inking two big-time contract extensions for Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, they have only suffered a net loss of . . . wait for it . . . $4.1 million in cap space. They held roughly $17.5 million in cap room prior to the contracts, and yet they still have over $13 million left to work with. And we have one major person to thank for that: Russ Ball.
His official title is Vice President of Football Administration/Player Finance, but that long moniker doesn’t even begin to honor his work (or its worth) for the Packers. According to the team’s official website, “He is responsible for negotiating player contracts and managing the salary cap, in addition to the daily supervision of football-administration departments including athletic training, equipment, video, corporate travel, player development, family programs and public relations.”
What he has accomplished, though, is allowing Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy to do their work without having to worry too much about the financial complications.
He is the wizard behind the curtain, despite being handed praise from the local media. In the early half of 2011, Brian Carriveau of CheeseheadTV examined how Ball’s work helped propel the Packers to their first Super Bowl in 14 years. Bob McGinn added to this praise a few months later with an article about Ball being “a key cog in Packers machine.”
Russ Ball even interviewed under the radar for a general manager position with the New York Jets earlier this year.
It’s not hyperbole to say that, since taking the job with the Green Bay Packers in 2008, Ball has had his biggest contract negotiations to date. Clay Matthews’ 5-year, $66 million contract extension is tops among 3-4 outside linebackers, while Aaron Rodgers now commands the biggest contract among NFL players to date.
Nevertheless, the financial control remains with the Packers organization. Russ Ball has managed to negotiate deals that don’t sacrifice the team’s salary cap for any single player. Even Rodgers’ mega-deal is, at its core, a win-win situation for both sides. Take a look at the numbers below, and you’ll see why:
The Packers never incur a cap hit of more than $21.1 million for Rodgers, and even that is at the tail end of his contract. In all likelihood, they’ll be renegotiating before the 2019 season even rears its head. The cap number is fairly steady from year to year, and yet they still managed to guarantee Rodgers $54 million, or 49.1% of his contract.
If you remember Joe Flacco’s contract, he was guaranteed only $29 million, or 24% of his $120.6 million total. The Ravens also got fleeced in that deal, in that their salary cap hit for Flacco balloons to 28.55 million in 2016, yet their dead money in that same year stays at $25.85 million. In short, if Flacco doesn’t continue to shine, then Baltimore is screwed.
So Rodgers gets more money, the Packers get more financial stability, and the fans can feel good knowing that Green Bay can continue to build a solid team around their two star players.
This doesn’t happen by accident, either. Russ Ball makes his moves in the most calculated fashion possible, such as getting Rodgers to sign his first contract extension in 2008, then hammering out another one with two years left to go. The players know they will be taken care of if they perform well, which helps to build a trust between the players and the front office. Even in the world of “it’s a business,” the Packers will take care of their own.
Part of the equation has also been being able to carry over salary cap space from the previous year. In 2013, the Green Bay Packers carried over $7 million in cap space from 2012.
That leaves them with plenty of options for the upcoming season. While the recent rookie class will chop about $5-$6 million from their remaining cap room, they will still have about $7 million remaining to work with. Brian Carriveau recently suggested some players who could benefit the most from this remaining money, such as B.J. Raji, Mogran Burnett, Sam Shields, James Jones, and Jermichael Finley. However, none of those contracts are immediately pressing.
What the Packers could easily do is play it slow. Let training camp reveal who still has the juice, and as the season progresses, let the players determine their own value on the field. While it would behoove Green Bay to lock up some players before free agency, there’s nothing that says they have to do so right now in the offseason. They’ve made mid-season deals in the past, and it’s likely they’ll do the same in 2013.
Whatever the case, Packers fans should feel extremely confident in Russ Ball’s ability to get the best deal available, especially when some other teams are digging themselves deeper and deeper. If he can negotiate his way through a Super Bowl team and two of the year’s most prominent contracts, then the rest should be a walk in the park.
As a variation on the recent adage, “In Russ we trust.”——————Follow @ChadToporski