The Big-Money Players Have Not Been Productive

There is reason to think that most of the veteran players who earn more than average will play more snaps and/or play better over the rest of this season.

 

We knew from the start of the season that the young players likely would have their ups and downs, and we even could project how the journeyman depth guys would perform.  What has been so disappointing and devastating is the lack of production from players who are cashing big paychecks.  

OFFENSE:

Bakhtiari:  He was expected to lockdown the left tackle spot.  He is a great pass protector and a good run blocker, with a contract is worth $23M AAV.  Instead, he played one game (against the Bears), and is out for the season.  I am not assigning blame or casting aspersions on character; the fact remains that the Packers will get almost no production from him.

Jenkins: At $16M AAV, he was expected to be an above average starting left guard.  Moreover, in conjunction with Bakhtiari, many assumed that the Packers would be able to run behind the left side of their offensive line.  For an offense looking for an identity, that seemed to be something that they would be able to do consistently well.  Alas, I cannot think of anything the offense actually does consistently well, and thus, they have no identify. 

So far, Jenkins has played in 3 of the first 5 games including one game he left after playing just 18 snaps.  Jenkins has played 131 snaps out of a possible 304.   Moreover, he hasn't been particularly good when he has played.  He sports a very mediocre grade of 61.4 PFF grade.  There are many reasons to believe Jenkins will return for the bulk of the season and play better, including getting healthier after his MCL strain. 

Aaron Jones: At $11M, Jones has played one full game and one partial game in the first five contests.  He has played 48 snaps.  He has played very well when he played.  Jones practiced Monday, so the team can hope to get production from him going forward.

Jordan Love:  At $8.85M AAV, Love has been better than expected.  He has a 64.6 PFF grade, or high average.  He has played all the snaps.  While Love is putting out tape that opposing defensive coordinators can look at and try to attack any flaws or tendencies, it is reasonable to believe that Love is learning from the reps he is getting.  I have been agnostic on Love but I have considerable belief in LaFleur and Clements as teachers and Love seems to be an apt student.  

Nijman:  At $4.304M, he arguably isn't a big money guy.  Still, his cap number is 6.2% of the offensive spending.  So far, Nijman has played 4 snaps per game, or 20 so far.  There is a chance that Nijman gets a chance to produce later this season since he is healthy.  In limited play, he has a 65 PFF grade.  I have not been as high on Nijman as many others over the years; yet, it would not surprise me if he is at this time better than Rasheed Walker, who the Packers are trying mightily to develop for the future.

On offense, only one of the five more highly-paid guys is producing as much as expected, though it might be the most important player, long-term.  At least three of the five and perhaps 4 of the 5 players will play more snaps over the course of the remaining season and/or improve.  The real problem is the offensive line.  Walker (61.3 PFF grade), Jenkins (61.4), Myers (59.1), Runyan (54.3), and Tom (75.4) have not played well enough.  Based off just the PFF grades, the team ought to be looking for upgrades at four of the five offensive line positions, including one or two with some urgency. 

 

DEFENSE:

Alexander:  At $21M AAV, Jaire Alexander has played 3 of 5 games and 57% of the available snaps (202 out of a possible 356 snaps).  Opposing teams have shown respect by not targeting Alexander much (just 9 targets in those 3 games), but he has allowed some big plays.  PFR lists a 146.8 passer rating allowed for Alexander.  Moreover, he has been bad in run support, both in missed tackles (15.4% per PFR) and on some angles he took.  Alexander has a 63.5 PFF grade.  Availability and his quality of play have been disappointing.  He is young and hugely talented, so one can reasonably expect him to play more and better as the season progresses.

Clark: At $17.1M, Clark continues to regress when he is on the field.  Availability has not been the issue; if anything, one can argue that Clark plays too many snaps, though with that contract, 850 snaps is reasonable.  Clark still is a plus pass rusher but now has lapses against the run.  He simply gets moved far more often than in 2018, his last elite season.  Clark projects to have career highs in QB hits and sacks, yet has a 61.3 PFF grade.

Preston Smith: At $13M AAV, Smith is a complete player who does the dirty work.  A physical player who is pretty good at holding the edge and making the tackle (no missed tackles per PFR), his pass rushing numbers are down this season.  He has just 1 sack, 4 QB hits, 4 pressures and no hurries.  Given those numbers, Smith deserves to be on this list, but he is not the problem.  He had a 68.8 grade prior to the Raiders games, but dropped to a 62.7 PFF grade, after getting a 43 grade for the Raiders game.  PFF dinged him hard for giving up completions to slot receivers, including Davante Adams, the wide receiver most likely to break a cornerback's ankles.  I am using PFF grades in this article but they aren't gospel.  

Rashan Gary: At $10.89M, availability is the biggest issue, and one that can reasonably be expected to disappear as he returns to health.  So far, Gary has played 107 snaps of a possible 356 while the coaches keep him on a pitch count.  Playing mostly on obvious passing downs, his statistics are excellent with 4.5 sacks, 7 QB hits, 12 pressures and 4 tackles for loss.  That said, his missed tackle percentage is up (10%) and he has lost contain a few times this season.  He is on the list not due to fault but simply because his injury has limited his availability.  Gary has an 84.4 PFF grade.

Devondre Campbell:  At $10M AAV, availability is the big issue.  Campbell played the first two games and 11 snaps of the third game, and has been out since.  He has played 234 snaps.  I like Campbell a lot and think the defense is so much better when he is on the field and healthy.  Campbell has a 73.9 PFF grade.  Campbell has not practiced yet this week and there has been little indication of when he might return.

Darnell Savage:  At $7.9M AAV, Savage has held up better than expected.  He has a 59.9 PFF grade, which isn't great, especially for almost $8M, but it is light years ahead of Savage's 47 grade for 2022.  It helps that his running mate, Rudy Ford, has played much better than expected, posting a 73.7 PFF grade so far.  That's much better than Amos' 53 last year, so the safety group has been acceptable instead of the abyss I feared.  Amos, by the way, was thought to have lost a step, but has started 3 games for the Jets and played well, posting a 69.5 grade so far.  Either Amos doesn't need that step in New York or he found a way to regain it.

Rasul Douglas:  At $7M AAV, he has been a godsend.  His coverage and run support are both good.  He is smart (remember him not getting fooled by the flea flickers) and physical.  He has an 83.7 PFF grade (high quality) and has played all 356 snaps so far this season. 

Of these seven players, only Douglas has been available and playing at a high level.  Gary and Alexander should regain their full health and then play better since they have lots of talent.  Ditto for Campbell, who is not on the injured reserve, indicating that the Packers expect him to return sooner rather than later.  Smith might put up better pass rushing numbers with the return of Gary.  I would settle for Savage continuing to play at his present level while hoping for better.  I have been writing that the defensive line needs Clark to play at an elite level for so long that I no longer expect it.  

    

Photo courtesy of Jamie Sabau of USA Today Sports

  

 

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9 points
 

Comments (26)

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LeotisHarris's picture

October 17, 2023 at 09:36 pm

Thanks, TGR.

Even with reasonable expectations, sometimes you just don't get what you pay for, whether its a Dyson Animal 2 or a defensive tackle. Then again, vacuuming isn't a team sport.

Can't find Joe Barry's exact quote as to how Preston ended up covering Adams in the slot, but it was classic "it's on me" Joe.

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NFLfan's picture

October 17, 2023 at 11:25 pm

Love your wit.

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Tundraboy's picture

October 17, 2023 at 11:35 pm

I heard the Animal 7 kicks ass! Maybe Kenny or someone else might too.

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NFLfan's picture

October 17, 2023 at 11:24 pm

I often wonder if highly-paid players lose their edge and motivation after a big pay-out. I've witnessed it.

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Kevin Carpenter's picture

October 17, 2023 at 11:25 pm

So, pretty much everyone who's not on their rookie contract with the exception of Douglas. Got it

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 18, 2023 at 02:07 am

Big-money is only earned through 2nd/3rd contracts and tenders, so yeah.

As it happens, a bunch of journeymen guys on their umpteenth 1-year contract are playing up to their money. Those include Rudy Ford, Eric Wilson, Justin Hollins, and Ballentine, though they have to use Ballentine situationally.

I probably should have included Nixon at $6M AAV. He has had two good games and three iffier games. His PFF grade is 58.6. One of his bad games was against the bears, at least. A number of players posted high PFF grades against the Bears, and then lesser grades in the other four contests including Savage, Walker (92.1 PFF grade vs. the Bears!), Wyatt (82.5), Savage (73.5), Valentine (68.8), with their grades cooling off a lot over the rest of the season.

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Kevin Carpenter's picture

October 18, 2023 at 09:17 am

I understand the premise, but I was merely saying virtually all of our non-rookies are underperforming.

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Oppy's picture

October 18, 2023 at 12:05 am

"Jenkins: At $16M AAV, he was expected to be an above average starting left tackle. "

TGR, is this a typo (left tackle vs. left guard)?

If not.. who out there is expecting Jenkins to be an above average tackle?

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 18, 2023 at 02:18 am

I am not sure. I certainly meant to write guard, but I've long expected Jenkins to play left tackle for the Packers at some point after he played some of his best ball at LT filling in for Bakh in 2021 prior to his own injury. It has been a while now and my hopes that Jenkins could be a high quality LT are fading but they aren't extinguished. So, probably more my subconscious taking over rather than it being a typo.

Fixed now, at any rate.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 18, 2023 at 02:48 am

The Packers can expect some help on offense from the return of Aaron Jones and improved play and better availability from Jenkins as the season progresses. Otherwise, they are dependent on the the light coming on from some of the young guys. The offense really can't afford any additional injuries at any position, although perhaps Wicks could prove to be good or even very good depth at WR.

The defense can expect a lot more help as the season progresses. Gary should return to being a full-time player, and I rather think Campbell can be considered the glue that helps improve overall performance. Alexander is too talented not to have many fine performances this season. I have no idea what Eric Stokes will look like when he returns. Wyatt is improved and has the talent to become a quality player. Ditto for Walker, but I think this scheme does him no favors.

There are reasons for optimism. I picked GB to go 6-11, mostly because I figured a young team won't be able to win too many close (single score) games. GB plays Denver (terrible team), MN (no jefferson, might be trading some people), LAR (playing a little better than expected) and Pittsburgh. I can see GB being 4-0 or 0-4 against those four opponents. [Okay, losing to Denver would be pretty bleak news.] LAC, KC and Detroit follow, all very difficult games and then 5 more winnable games.

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T7Steve's picture

October 19, 2023 at 11:15 am

You say, "but I think this scheme does him no favors"

Can you name a player Barry's scheme favors? Seems to work against everyone. All against all instead of supporting each other and making each other better.

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GregC's picture

October 18, 2023 at 06:45 am

It's kind of cruel how the offensive line injuries have been in exact proportion to the quality of the players. The best O-lineman, Bakhtiari, played one game and his season was over. The second-best, Jenkins, missed two full games and most of another. The third-best, Zach Tom, missed parts of games and has played hurt at times. The fourth-best, Runyan, has been a little banged up but has been available. And the worst O-lineman, Myers, has been healthy as a horse.

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coolhand's picture

October 18, 2023 at 09:25 am

Well regarding Myers, when you don't block anyone it is easy not to get hurt.

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Coldworld's picture

October 18, 2023 at 06:46 am

I think there are differences beyond the fact of big pay. Leaving aside Love whose pay is really a probe it compromise and Nijman, who, well, goodness knows, there is the gamble in health of older players and then the question of how others are being used. Bad schemes and tactics make all players seem less good. Second contracts are traditionally where the best play comes from if you invest wisely, I agree we aren’t seeing the dividends, but why is less clear to me.

Bakh was a reasonable risk that backfired (I was skeptical of the wisdom of the duration at the time). Jenkins is paid as a T, but we haven’t seen him there on his favored side or healthy since his injury. He’s been playing this season with a mess in both sides. There is no way a G thrives with weak T and C play. He has of course been injured by an unfortunate impact from Dillon too.

Jaire is part of a D that is an overall question mark. The usage of players last year wasn’t helpful to him, I’m not sure it is this. He’s paid to be an island in coverage, but he’s not really used in the way that win him the contract.

Savage is on a one year deal out of perceived necessity. He’s not getting that much next year from anyone. He’s been better this year, but the saving grace has been Ford. Let’s hope he can keep that up.

In general, though, when teams are under performing, most stars are too. Is that on them or the schemes and tactics? Is Kenny Clark really good and mishandled or overpaid? Is the chaos around Jenkins the issue? Is Barry making Jaire swim up hill? Or, is he changed since his shoulder or lacking belief/motivation due to Barry or wealth?

I’m honestly not sure. Good investments that the players earned but since poorly used of overrated? It’s hard to tell with the lackluster and often chaotic D and impotent offenses of the last season and a bit.

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LLCHESTY's picture

October 18, 2023 at 01:05 pm

I've wondered if Clark's frustration with the run D ends up effecting his play. Last year before the season started he had an interview where he said they have to stop the run and then could really control the game with their pass D. The run D sucked from the get go and by mid season he was part of the problem. He said basically the same thing before this season started to no avail.

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jont's picture

October 18, 2023 at 03:36 pm

👍

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barutanseijin's picture

October 18, 2023 at 09:18 pm

Kenny Clark has a lot of miles on him. He’s played 70-80% of snaps for most of his career. He’s paying the price.

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ricky's picture

October 18, 2023 at 08:34 am

No doubt that especially on the OL, injuries have taken their toll. Bakh is out; Jenkins is presently playing hurt, therefore he is not at peak performance. Tom is also hurt, same with him. Meanwhile, the team needs to find a replacement for Myers, a draft mistake. And why is Newman playing instead of Nijman? Add in the loss of Jones, the most dynamic playmaker on the team, and the regression of Dillon, and you have a young team that was going to depend on the run game to help the young QB, and you have some problems. Add in a coaching staff that seems unable to come up with new strategies to deal with adversity, and things are looking bleak.
On defense, we always have Joe Barry to blame. But Gary has shown he can still excel, while Quay Walker has made a big second year jump in production. It seems the last time that "next man up" actually worked for the Packers was under Holmgren. Since then, they have made some head scratching decisions on the personnel they use on both sides of the ball.

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Packers2020's picture

October 18, 2023 at 08:37 am

Here is the thing:

First, Jordan Love and Nijman are not big money player. A total of 12M for a QB and a back-up tackle is nothing in the NFL. They should not even be included.

Bak was never going to come back from his knee injury after his 3rd surgery on the same knee in a two year time frame. I think we all knew this except for our HC's and GM Gute apparently. Jenkins has never been the same since his knee injury a year ago. He is an average guard but we have no one else to replace him.

Lastly, Campbell and Savage have never played up to expectations. Campbell had the one good year so he could get paid. Now he is in his 30's and over the hill. Savage was one of Gute's worst draft picks seeing they moved up in the first round to get him.

As far as I am concerned, Campbell and Savage can go away after the season as well as Bak. Preston Smith should be gone after the season but I guess it depends on Van Ness and if he can take the leap in his 2nd year. This team needs to be turned over some next year both with players and with coaches or we will be in the same position next year.

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barutanseijin's picture

October 18, 2023 at 09:20 pm

All-Pro doesn’t meet your expectations?

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Packers2020's picture

October 19, 2023 at 08:38 am

I said after Jenkins knee injury he has not been the same. Yes, his first year or two he was good. Now he has been average at best.

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RedMN's picture

October 18, 2023 at 12:33 pm

The run defense has been largely garbage for too long. While I sit and ponder why this is a recurring issue every season, I'm giving kenny clark some major side eye. He is the one who is in the middle of the defense since 2016. He has to do better and not get pushed around on running plays. I know at times he gets double teamed but at worst, don't let the O line move you where they want you to go. The lions ran 40 times and Kenny Clark, our "high dollar beast tackle" got.... 1 frickin assisted tackle all game. Hes gotta be a disruptor in the middle on run and pass downs.

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TXCHEESE's picture

October 18, 2023 at 04:14 pm

Well said. I wonder if KC's desire to be more athletic hasn't hurt his effectiveness. If you're a defensive lineman, you just need to be a big badass, not a great athlete. His desire to make splash plays rushing the QB took away his ability to handle the double teams, and get some push.

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stockholder's picture

October 18, 2023 at 06:30 pm

Kenny Clarke is a DE on the depth chart.
And guess who is the NT back up now.
Brooks!
And if you check the Sack list . Clarke is second.
And while the packers think they have a Gem in Reed.
The guy I wanted was Rashee Rice.
21 catches - 245 yds - 2 tds. avg. 11.7

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TXCHEESE's picture

October 19, 2023 at 12:55 pm

such brilliant hind-sight!

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bccoop's picture

October 19, 2023 at 08:41 am

Poor drafting all around Myers was stupid when the best center was right there they always think they are smarter then everyone . Always reaching to many examples to go into its funny three of their best on defense were found on the street despite all the high picks used on defense

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