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.”——————
Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporskiFollow @ChadToporski
13 thoughts on “Packers’ Russ Ball Works His Magic With Rodgers, Matthews”
Absolute magic. Ball knows how the modern NFL works and he has aligned the Packers accordingly. While I don’t always agree with TT’s choices, he has made sure footed moves with players and for the most part avoided costly mistakes. Russ Ball can’t do his job properly when the GM is a dummy. They make a good team. Trying to do this job with the Jets would be a nightmare.
Lucky to have this man, but as success breeds attention which in turn breeds attrition, the question is when will the brain drain the Packers have experienced with Schneider, Dorsey and McKenzie and probably Ball next year start to affect them? At what point do all of those losses start to materially impact the effectiveness of the Packers front office?
Or, is TT as good of a draft and develop guy for the front office and he is for the playing field?
“as he”, not “and he”. Write much?
Don’t be so hard on yourself Savage. You make me feel bad for not spending the time correcting my many errors.
Maybe Not! 🙂
You (and others) keep saying that the
signing of the draftees will chop about
5-6M off the available cap. It appears
to me that is not the case. For every
draftee signed, a player currently on
the roster (and top 51) will have to be
released, thereby reducing/replacing
some, or all of the cap space lost.
Depending on who gets released, it
could actually add to cap space when
it is all completed.
You know what… This is a great question, and it appears that I’ve been taking some secondary information for granted.
The team currently has a cap number of $116,333,402 for their top 51 players.
Their top 40 players add up to $110,554,073. So the beat writers must be leaving off the last 11 players entirely to account for the draft picks, until they get signed.
Does that help explain things?
I think Spotrac lays it out in a way that is easier to understand. They also use
the actual, current cap figures, which is
where you have to start. They say the
current cap available is 15,235,762.
To cut off the bottom 11 is not realistic.
What is D Jones replaces CJ Wilson, or
Lacy and Franklin replace Green and
Starks. They are not on the bottom of
the top 51.
Well, once the season actually starts and the roster is trimmed down to 53, then all the players are counted. It’s only in the offseason when they use the top 51, since there are so many players on the roster.
And in reality, the cap numbers are so fluid right now that you can’t really start talking in definite numbers. It’s mostly generalities.
I was just cutting off the bottom 11 since it’s from that point on that things could change once contracts are signed. (At least for offseason purposes.)
Agreed. However, I stick with my point which is the cap hit for signing the draftees will/could be substantially less than 5-6M regardless of number of players depending on who gets released.
In addition, Finley (if extended) will have his current 8 million (3 plus 5) used to minimize the cap hit! (I think).
After a somewhat slow start in his job, he has come on strong. And in this day and age the “Financial Wizard” is by necessity, a integral component of the team. He has really done his job well the last couple of years.
So that means some team will try and get him in a higher management position. TT sires GM’s and othe high level managers like Holmgren did head coaches.
He has interviewed for the jets GM job already. I’m sure another team owner will soon be calling to make him a GM.
But not to worry as I believe that Ball has the team set for the next 5 years (or so will). By December he will have the core players tied to contracts. I’m sure we will hear that he has groomed an understudy which is the GB Packers way!
This is the most brilliant, albeit now obvious, way to handle Rodger’s contract.
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