2021 Free Agents: Would Vikings Strategy Work for Packers?

Gutekunst will keep sharp eye on rivals to the west.

By now you know the names at the top of the list. The list of Green Bay Packers who are in the final year of their contract. You know about Kenny Clark, David Bakhtiari, Aaron Jones, Corey Linsley and Kevin King. What you may not know is that list is much longer and contains several other significant contributors.

It includes at least three other presumptive starting players: Tyler Lancaster, Raven Greene and Allen Lazard. And then there is a string of folks who will be important reserves like Jamaal Williams, Robert Tonyan, Tyler Irvin, Marcedes Lewis, Chandon Sullivan and Will Redmond. It also includes players who could well become key contributors, such as Jake Kumerow, Lane Taylor, Devin Funchess and Montravious Adams.

It's a list that has to give general manager Brian Gutekunst a major headache. He is already limited by expensive commitments to Aaron Rodgers, Zadarious Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, Billy Turner and Davante Adams. There are multiple stategies available.

One is to squeeze every penny he can get out of what should be a moderately expanded salary cap and resign as many of the top guys on the list as possible. Rather than go into a long, technical breakdown of how that would work, suffice it to say there would likely be enough money to bring Clark, Bakhtiari and possibly Jones back. Linsley and King would probably have to be allowed to walk, along with anybody else who could not be brought back at a bare bones salary.   Others may have to be cut or restructured to create cap space.   If players like Lazard, Williams, Irvin, Funchess and Greene have productive years they would no doubt find greener pastures somewhere else.

Sullivan, Redmond, Lancaster, Lazard and Kumerow will be restricted free agents. That would provide right of first refusal, but there wouldn't figure to be much money to match offers from other teams. Nor would there be money for any significant free agents from other teams.

Another path would be a model similar to what the Minnesota Vikings have done this off season. The Vikes were up tight against the cap and looking at a similarly long list of players at the end of their deals, as well as others with contracts the team could no longer afford.  Rather than trying to squeeze a few more of their stars into their cap, they decided to gamble on a short list of core players already under contract to keep the team competitive in the present.   Then they went young.....very young.   They traded, cut or just allowed an army of contributing veterans to walk away, in the process building up a boatload of draft picks.

Among their bold moves, they traded unhappy Stefon Diggs, a top tier receiver still in the prime of his career, for four draft picks, including an extra first rounder.   When the dust cleared the Vikings had piled up 15 selections in the draft, easily the most in the NFL.   They waved goodbye to starters and contributors like Everson Griffen, Lindval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Andrew Sendejo, Stephen Weatherly, Josh Kline and Laquon Treadwell. They pushed money for quarterback Kirk Cousins into the future and extended him for two years. They franchised safety Anthony Harris. They extended a series of low budget veterans and then went bargain shopping for six low tier free agents to try to fill in the gaps.

Minnesota is hoping that a small nucleus of key players like Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook, receiver Adam Thielen, defensive lineman Danielle Hunter, linebacker Anthony Barr and safeties Harris and Harrison Smith can carry them for the coming year.  In the mean time they are loaded with promising rookies that will need a few seasons to develop.  The strategy, and the gamble, is to trust your core players are good enough to continue to win now, while still building for the future.

Would this approach work for the Packers? Here's what it might look like:   Extend Kenny Clark now, pushing at least some of the cap hit into the future (similar to what the Vikings did with Cousins).  After the season but before free agency begins, identify teams awash with cap money who can pay market value, but short on talent (there are always five or six of these losing teams at or near the top of the draft) and seek a first round pick, or at least multiple high picks for Bakhtiari or Aaron Jones, or both (similar to what Minnesota did with Stefon Diggs).    Let all the other free agents walk.  Bring back those who will come cheap and bargain shop free agency for the rest.  Like Minnesota, the strategy and the gamble would be that the core players still under contract, including Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, Jaire Alexander, the Smith brothers, Adrian Amos and Elgton Jenkins will carry your team and keep it competitive.

Take the chance that guys like Jace Sternberger, Rashan Gary, Kingsley Keke, Darnell Savage and maybe even Oren Burks and Josh Jackson will fill in the gaps.  Hope that A.J. Dillon succeeds in the running back role and Lucas Patrick moves in seamlessly at center.   Use those top picks you traded for to draft the best offensive linemen and receivers available. And there should be salary cap space for at least one or two above average free agent starters, perhaps a left tackle.

Risky? Scary? You bet.  But it might be a way to remain reasonably competitive now and get younger and more promising for the future. 

To be clear, I hate the Vikings as much as most Packers fans.   But I am intrigued by what Minnesota has done this off season.   I'm very interested to see how it works out.

I'm willing to bet Brian Gutekunst is as well.

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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Comments (34)

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TheBigCheeze's picture

June 07, 2020 at 06:35 pm

tip of the day......don't EVER follow what the vikings are doing.....

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mrtundra's picture

June 08, 2020 at 08:49 am

Damn straight, Big Cheese! Remember Herschel Walker! This off season, the vikings got rid of many of their defensive players and restructured other's contracts just so they could come in under the cap. Now, they drafted about 15 rookies, who have no experience playing together as a team. And with the pandemic, they may not get to gel in any kind of camp the virus allows to take place. They did, however keep O Linemen Reiff and Neill, both of whom Zadarious Smith blew up in our sweep of the vikings, last season. I like the Packers' chances against Minnesota, this season. Yes, they always play us tough, but I think all their personnel changes won't come to fruition for at least two years. Plus, you have to count on their turf to take it's toll on some of those rookies. GO, PACK, GO!!!

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mrtundra's picture

June 09, 2020 at 09:28 am

And now Dalvin Cook is holding out for a better contract. How will Spielman deal with this? He voided out Emerson Griffen's contract and let him walk. Who walks to save Cook's deal?

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Leatherhead's picture

June 08, 2020 at 09:29 am

Took the words right out of my mouth. Not just no, but hell no.

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Lphill's picture

June 08, 2020 at 11:07 am

Yes but the Vikings had a better draft than the Packers as did most teams.

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splitpea1's picture

June 07, 2020 at 08:11 pm

Those guys you mentioned like Sternberger, etc. better fill in the gaps. With the exception of Keke, they're all upper-round draft picks, and most of them need to produce. Need to do whatever it takes to retain Clark; Jones might cost too much. And that draft capital needs to spent, at some point, on a solid DL prospect to complement Clark!

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fordguy's picture

June 08, 2020 at 12:26 pm

I wonder if we are going to keep Clarke. His projected salary is 17 to 20 mil. a year. So the question becomes, Is Clarke worth more than getting 2 ten mil. a year DL and have 2 decent lineman instead of 1 good and 1 fill a spot guy?

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splitpea1's picture

June 08, 2020 at 12:34 pm

I wonder, too. That's a good question. I'd really hate to see Clark go because he's young and entering his prime; and he's proven he can play a lot of snaps. Whatever the case, they definitely need two solid starters on that line.

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murf7777's picture

June 08, 2020 at 01:12 pm

I’d say yes because successful teams have difference makers and he is one of them. He is at his prime and will make more pro bowls. I think they will sign him to an extension prior to him hitting FA.

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flackcatcher's picture

June 07, 2020 at 09:21 pm

Nah... Gute is already ahead of the curve when it comes to roster. Truth is, he has no real choice in the matter, Cap dictates all. Most of O line starters will be gone next year. Both RB could be outright cuts due to contract alone. Most of the starting DL and even both Smith bros could become Cap out. That's why this year draft in the O line was so important. Gute knows and drafted for next year, when the Cap Man comes.

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Duneslick's picture

June 08, 2020 at 03:01 pm

I think before you say both smiths being cut you need to look at their contracts. It may cost more to vut them than keep them.

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flackcatcher's picture

June 08, 2020 at 03:28 pm

I said 'could' depending on the Cap number. And we are not talking this season. But the next when the Cap will hit this roster. Do I think the Smiths will be cut, no. But the harsh reality of the Cap may force the Packers to release productive players before their contract is up. This last draft was as much about the Cap as it was about the future.

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wildbill's picture

June 07, 2020 at 10:18 pm

Gotta sign Clark and better not let Bak leave. The rest are replaceable.

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Since91's picture

June 08, 2020 at 12:09 am

Good article! This Packer team has a lot of talent just based on our potential free agents. This is a super bowl contending team no doubt! I kinda like the fact we have a few guys looking for a big pay day in free agency. This could lead to a couple of big years by guys we’re not expecting to break out. If the cap does not rise.... and all experts are saying it will not next year. Covid 19 will hurt the Packer’s chances at signing all of the guys they want to re-sign. So eff off again corona! Here is my opinions for next year’s free agency class. Look to extend some well paid core members to free space since Corona killed the rising of the cap. But if not here we go.....
Do everything to try and keep:
Bak
Clark
A Jones
Try to keep without breaking the bank:
Lazard (Restricted)
Sullivan (Restricted)
Williams
Probably get overpaid by someone else:
King
Linsley
Guys we have to replace:
Lancaster
Funchess (Unless he realizes his stats were good because of ARod)
Redmond
Kumerow
Lewis
Irvin
Greene
M Adams
L Taylor
Possible cap cuts:
Turner (Don’t like the dead money to cap save ratio)
Kirksey (Good cap saver)
Wagner (Good cap saver)

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Since91's picture

June 08, 2020 at 12:09 am

Good article! This Packer team has a lot of talent just based on our potential free agents. This is a super bowl contending team no doubt! I kinda like the fact we have a few guys looking for a big pay day in free agency. This could lead to a couple of big years by guys we’re not expecting to break out. If the cap does not rise.... and all experts are saying it will not next year. Covid 19 will hurt the Packer’s chances at signing all of the guys they want to re-sign. So eff off again corona! Here is my opinions for next year’s free agency class. Look to extend some well paid core members to free space since Corona killed the rising of the cap. But if not here we go.....
Do everything to try and keep:
Bak
Clark
A Jones
Try to keep without breaking the bank:
Lazard (Restricted)
Sullivan (Restricted)
Williams
Probably get overpaid by someone else:
King
Linsley
Guys we have to replace:
Lancaster
Funchess (Unless he realizes his stats were good because of ARod)
Redmond
Kumerow
Lewis
Irvin
Greene
M Adams
L Taylor
Possible cap cuts:
Turner (Don’t like the dead money to cap save ratio)
Kirksey (Good cap saver)
Wagner (Good cap saver)

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CoachDino's picture

June 08, 2020 at 02:35 am

How do you trade URFA-
Wagner and Kirksey are already great cap friendly picks- keeps them.
Agreed there is a cap issue but for every gy that walks you now have money for another.
Never Let your HOF LT walk.
I don't see to many studs that Minnlet walk and they paid big money to replace the ones that did (Joseph)
I think every team has their core guys and works around them - QB/LT/Corner/WR/Edge. No team can really take any other type of approach due to the cap. If Lazard Breaks out he migt be gone. #2 WR is not critical and there's a line of guys on the roster who will be cap friendly and should produce.
There's basically 2 guys - Jones and King. I figure it will be the "test FA market and then lets talk" approach with both.

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NickPerry's picture

June 08, 2020 at 05:59 am

"They pushed money for quarterback Kirk Cousins into the future and extended him for two years"

The Vikings extended Cousins and only pay him $21 million this year, $31 million in 2021, and then it JUMPS to $45 million in 2022.

In NO scenario is Kurt Cousins ever going to be worth $45 million so does this mean the Vikings extend him again before the 2022 season, OR do they cut him and save $35 million in cap space and start over in 2022? My guess is Cousins has 2 more years to win in Minnesota (Not happening) and then he gets cut.

When it comes to the Packers someone we don't want to lose is leaving. It just comes down to how many somebodies. The author has done a nice job breaking it down.

IF King stays healthy AND productive this year then King might stay and Jones is gone. I LOVE Aaron Jones but Dillion is insurance for Jones next year, Dillion and couple of draft picks next season. I'm also wondering if this isn't Rodgers last year in GB now. This draft was all about the future, not 2020.

I've got a headache thinking about this at 3:50 AM PST

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dobber's picture

June 08, 2020 at 09:15 am

"The Vikings extended Cousins and only pay him $21 million this year, $31 million in 2021, and then it JUMPS to $45 million in 2022. In NO scenario is Kurt Cousins ever going to be worth $45 million"

True, and that's backed up in the contract structure. His dead money hit in that $45M year is only $10M...it's one of the ways out from under his hideous guaranteed deal. It could be the Vikes will extend him again, but he'll be 34 and probably not done enough to inspire confidence that he's a QB who will win it all. Agree 100%: the Vikes will be looking for their next QB very soon, and I don't think Cousins sees the last year of that deal.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 08, 2020 at 01:03 pm

You are correct that the Biqueens will be looking for their next QB. Chicago, too. And the Lions.

You know who isn’t looking for their next QB?

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13TimeChamps's picture

June 08, 2020 at 06:41 pm

"Biqueens" Really?

As football opponents, I love beating Minnesota more than any other team. Close behind would be Chicago and Dallas. But when has common decency been replaced with vulgar name calling?

Bring on the down votes. It's where we are unfortunately.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 08, 2020 at 06:23 am

Yeah, I don't think so. Bakh and Jones are free agents in 2021. GB can't wait until the end of the season but before the start of free agency to trade them, not if GB wants any significant draft picks for them.

I don't know if the cap limit is going to substantially increase, but I would bet against it. I think the Packers are going to follow the Vikings' strategy (probably but not necessarily minus the blockbuster trade this August), but it will be wholly involuntary. I suspect that the failure to draft players at highly paid positions such as LT, WR, DL, CB was a massive mistake.

"Rather than go into a long, technical breakdown of how that would work" means I should risk writing an article even if some eyes will glaze over.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 08, 2020 at 11:43 am

TGR, before you write that eye-glazing article, consider this..

Maybe we’re changing the economics of the team. If we’re a running/quick pass team, do we really need a $15 million/year left tackle? Do we really need three or four highly paid receivers, or is one enough? Do we really need a $30 million/year QB?

I’m going to use Khalil Mack as an example. Great, great edge rusher. And the Bears paid out the wazoo to get him. So let’s just run at him 40 times and make him an overpriced run defender instead of giving him a chance to earn his money. Or the Vikings... they’ve got guys like Barr and Hunter and Kendricks, and they’re all good against the pass....but we’re going to run over their tiny, overpaid asses.

I think it’s the new economics as we transition from Rodgers to Love.

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murf7777's picture

June 08, 2020 at 12:59 pm

No matter if you want to run more, it is still a passing league. The QB and LT are the two most important positions on offense, while the QB is most important on the team. An example will be if Tannihill doesn’t have as good of a year as last year, I’d predict the Titans miss the playoffs. You still need “the man”, and you must protect him.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 08, 2020 at 02:42 pm

By attempts, only two top passing teams made the playoffs, whereas 10 of the top rushing teams did.

By completions, only four.
By Yards, only four

I’m challenging the assumption that it’s still a passing league. If you really need “the man”, then why did Garrapolo go to the Super Bowl and not Rodgers? Why are so many overall #1 QBs missing the playoffs?

It’s nice to have Mahomes at the top of his game. 31 teams have to find another way to win with somebody who isn’t as good. And every week, they do.

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murf7777's picture

June 08, 2020 at 07:01 pm

Because SF has an awesome D and overall maybe the most talented team.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 08, 2020 at 09:05 pm

Maybe? We might just find out. The possible plan is to let two fine pass-blocking OL in Bakh and Linsley walk (Bakh and Linsley - in a zone system - are pretty decent run blockers) and replace them with 6th round maulers. And if those three 6th round guys and or UDFA types don't work out, I suppose Gute will spend two higher picks, probably in the top 4 rounds, on OL next year.

If your best players are H-backs, centers, TEs, and guards, and that works, that could be cheaper, IMO. It looks to me like Pettine's system requires good CBs and OLBs, which are expensive positions, and probably safeties and nickelbacks, which are cheaper. They passed on all the DL prospects, but I don't know if that's because they didn't like those particular players, didn't think the DL was worth a big investment, or if they just like Keke, et al, more than fans do. Waited until the 5th for an ILB.

We really won't know for a few - quite a few - years about that philosophy. Perhaps not really until it is time to hand out 2nd contracts to these rookies.

[This won't save you from me writing the eye-glazing article - only you can save yourself by exercising your freedom not to click. Well, I suppose I could use sprightly prose and provide intensely interesting content....]

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nostradanus's picture

June 08, 2020 at 07:25 am

The only way I could see the Packers going the Vikings route is if they decided that Love was going to be the starting QB in 2021 and they traded Rodgers (which is VERY unlikely and risky).

Also there are other factors involved:

Team building Philosophy: the Packers like to reward their own, which keeps the locker room happy. They will sign as many of their core young players as possible.
The Packers however do not like to sign players to third contracts especially in the offensive line (Lang, Bulaga, Sitton) An exception may be made for Bakhtiari and they could actually gain cap space with a creative contract but will end up paying for it down the line. The bill always comes due eventually. They will have to choose between Bak and Linsley and the Packers drafted 3 interior linemen, so the writing is on the wall there.

Injuries: With an injury to a veteran in his contract year comes opportunity for a backup to emerge. When this happens and the backup “balls out” it makes the decision easier for the front office to cut bait or lowball the veteran coming off injury (Lane Taylor).

The market: Running backs are easily replaced and as much as we all love Aaron Jones, some other team with a boatload of cap space could swoop in and seduce him with an offer too good to refuse. That is today’s NFL and there is not much the Packers can do in a situation like that except sign him early to a contract friendly to both parties. The Packers may have to decide between Jones and King in which case King may be more valuable due to the position he plays. I personally would still choose Jones, he’s just too good to lose.

Player development: The Packers pretty much have a handle on who their up and comers are. They see them every day and practice in some of the guys that we fans don’t hear about much ball out every day on the scout team. Maybe this is the reason why CB Tramon Williams hasn’t been re-signed. A guy like Kabion Ento or Kadar Holman may just have too much talent to ignore and sometimes general managers have to gamble a bit.Lower priced guys on the back end of the roster are important factors in salary cap management.A team can never sign all of it stars it just doesn’t work that way.

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murf7777's picture

June 08, 2020 at 01:06 pm

“Running backs are easily replaced and as much as we all love Aaron Jones, some other team with a boatload of cap space could swoop in and seduce him with an offer too good to refuse.”

So true, also there’s a reason they selected Dillion and that is to keep SC $’s low for that position. You must put your dollars into the most important positions; QB, LT, pass rushers and CB. Coach up the remaining positions and draft well. I don’t care what happened with rushing teams last year the rules still support passing and I don’t see that changing.

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dobber's picture

June 09, 2020 at 10:47 am

Game flow does a lot to dictate play selection. Bad teams frequently find themselves on the wrong side of the game script...and they're on the bad side a lot more.

I think it's much harder for a one-dimensional team to win a title, unless that one dimension is nearly unstoppably elite. Why do good teams run the ball? Because they can.

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stockholder's picture

June 08, 2020 at 07:43 am

I prefer to keep King and Jones. It's the smart thing to do. I believe everything will work out. But Only if Gutey Franchises Clark! Bahk and Linsley are Done in GB. Gutey wants a trade offer for Rodgers. Love wasn't drafted for any other reason. If anybody gets traded it will be Rodgers.

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gkarl's picture

June 08, 2020 at 11:07 am

I'm sure the FO has a plan, but we can only speculate somewhat based on draft packs and contract structure who will remain and who will go. Performance TY will go a long way to determining who gets a second contract. You can't keep everybody so I wouldn't be surprised to see Clark or Bak get a franchise tag to buy some time. I also wouldn't be surprised if we have a new center this year, 8.5 in cap saving might be needed elsewhere. It will certainly be interesting and debatable as the choices unfold.

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Lphill's picture

June 08, 2020 at 12:40 pm

Runyun made 25 starts at left tackle , say goodbye to Bak.

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fish's picture

June 08, 2020 at 01:25 pm

I think the preseason performance of RB Patrick Taylor will greatly influence how the Pack deals with Jones and Williams. If the cap savings can be used elsewhere, next years RBs could possibly be Dillon, Taylor, Ervin (too valuable as returner to let go) and a draft pick.

There was talk that next years cap may even go down, so that would be 2 hits saved.

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saredust's picture

June 11, 2020 at 05:21 pm

Easy extra income for all. All is easy and free.

https://www.ysense.com/?rb=59429643

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