The Economy Of Packers Team Needs

There's plenty out there suggesting the Packers' team needs, but very few look at the effect of money on team needs. 

This time of year, with the combine in the rear view mirror and with everyone’s attention on the draft, fans begin to wonder “what are the Packers team needs?”.  While there are plenty of draftniks and media prognosticators out there going on a hunch or perceived team needs, there never really is any evidence to back up any claims, and it’s almost assured that every prediction out there will be 95% wrong. 

My theory is that teams will need players where they are spending the least amount of money relative to the rest of the league.  The most important job of any NFL front office is to maximize performance over cost.  Given that the NFL has a salary cap, each team must try to optimize how efficiently they can spend money to gain the most amount of talent.  While individual teams will have players on contracts that are wildly inefficient, the NFL overall is fairly economically rationale. 

To put it another way, Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the league and Ted Thompson pays him as such.  Given Thompson is paying way above average at the quarterback position makes him less inclined to invest more money into the quarterback position.  Indeed, since Rodgers got his second contract, the Packers have not spent significant resources on another quarterback. 

On a larger perspective, teams with a very strong position group are less likely to add to that position, for instance, the Buffalo Bills have one of the most talented and expensive defensive line groups in the NFL (even after cutting Mario Williams).  Drafting or signing another defensive linemen would not only eat up more cap space that could be allocated to positions of need but having a glut of talent at one position often doesn’t markedly improve a team. 

Given all that, Thompson should look to invest in a tight end and running back.  Tight end is perhaps the most apparent; since the loss of Jermichael Finley, the Packers haven’t had even an above average tight end group.  On the plus side, the Packers get what they pay for and spend nearly $4.8 million less than the average team at that position.  Getting a tight end would allow the offense to really split the seams of a defense and present mismatches for the offense to exploit.  Next is the running back position; while Eddie Lacy is 1,000+ yard running back, this year his injuries and inability to lose weight derailed his season (and the Packers season as well).  The Packers have Lacy on the last year of his rookie contract and have not come to terms with his running mate James Starks.  At the moment, the Packers spend nearly $4 million less than the average team and it would make sense to find a replacement for Starks now and potentially Lacy in the future. 

Where the Packers shouldn’t invest more money is at wide receiver and linebacker.  While many fans have directly blamed the loss of Jordy Nelson to the Packers’ dismal offense in 2015, the reality is that the Packers have one of the most talented and therefore expensive wide receiver corps in the league.  At present the Packers spend $4 million more than the average team, with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb taking up a significant portion of that.  Add to that Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery as high draft picks and there simply isn’t enough space for another premier wide receiver.  The other position that the Packers shouldn’t draft is at linebacker.  While the Packers will naturally spend more on linebackers, since there are 4 starting linebackers instead of the standard 3, the Packers are spending nearly $10 million more than the average team.  Players like Jayrone Elliott, Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan will help lower that cost while letting Mike Neal and Nick Perry leave will also help balance the team.

Now is there more at play than simply just money?  Of course, projecting what rookies will make when they get their second contract, how well a team drafts and plays free agency and the overall talent available in the draft and free agency will all play their part in determining what a team does to address it’s needs.  

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Comments (20)

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rickarndt9's picture

March 04, 2016 at 12:19 pm

Definately need a TE and LineBacker for the future. Hey Ted, don't be scared to try free agency either !! It doesn't always fail! Help out Mike before he gets ran out of town. Defensive tackle might be an issue too!

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hobbes's picture

March 04, 2016 at 02:19 pm

The Packers have a lot of money invested in the linebacker position so it's probably not very likely that they address that need in free agency. During the draft is an option, another way they can address their LB corps is by drafting an ILB and letting Matthews shift back to OLB.

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Oppy's picture

March 04, 2016 at 01:26 pm

Need to open up the wallet and make a play for Manny Papoose.

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4EVER's picture

March 05, 2016 at 10:05 pm

OK, I'll bite? Maybe I'm not in tune or up with the social media craze or history in general.

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RobinsonDavis's picture

March 04, 2016 at 02:11 pm

I would not be surprised if TT & Company signs at least one more of their own (Raji, Perry or Neal, Starks, and Hayward) over the weekend. If Raji does not sign, I have my favorites at DL, TE, MLB, and/or RB. That points to the fact, I am not the Packers GM, nor have an idea of the asking price, so I doubt this will happen. As much as everybody is clamoring for TE (and I am one), we do have capable players and two unknowns in Backman and Henry that supposedly can stretch the field according to scouts. However we have holes to fill at LB and D-line. Utilizing high draft picks for impact D-lineman, has not proven to be Ted's forte in comparison to other positions, and thus I have no problem in upgrading this position through FA even though the draft is supposedly deep at this position. If Hayward can be signed, we should!....(never have enough good CBs on a roster). But I will trade the dollar-hit for a good MLB and/or D-lineman currently.

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hobbes's picture

March 04, 2016 at 02:21 pm

My guess is that the Packers have finished their priority resignings (Daniels), have gotten their easier contracts out of the way (Guion, Crosby) and are now waiting to see what the market is like for their remaining free agents. I'm a little surprised that Hayward is out there, he was a 2nd round draft pick, hasn't been a bust by any stretch of the imagination and might become one of the better slot corners in the league if he's healthy.

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EdsLaces's picture

March 04, 2016 at 03:44 pm

Randall and Rollins playing so well as rookies makes Hayward expendable.

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RobinsonDavis's picture

March 07, 2016 at 02:50 pm

Although, we are in general agreement on Rollins, Randall, and area of need,...Who filled in when Shields was hurt? Who blew the coverage in AZ with Larry Fitzgerald? I love Randall and he made a number of significant plays, and I am not touting the sign at all cost theory. Only, if the price is right, why not provide experience/insurance? We are losing some experience that I believe is helpful. James Jones is another one that fits this criteria, he uses his body extremely well, is in sync with Rodgers, is a great character guy, and his recent points need to be heard vs. other FAs. Admittingly, I too believe we have lost these two players due to the Packer's (TT's) depth/needs at these positions, and the potential elsewhere on the team or in the draft.

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4EVER's picture

March 06, 2016 at 12:17 am

Hopefully, Raji is past history, 3-4 defenses - Capers - requires a true NT. Raji consistently - too many times for my blood pressure - is push back 5 + yards. Check the tape, time in and time out, he is driven straight backwards at critical points in time, it’s as if he is not in sync with what is happening around him, why?

Baylor's Billings NT is a bust! Check the tape...how do analyst’s miss/ignore a round 1-2 NT giving ground multiple times on critical QB sneak plays. Check the tape against the following; Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia. Round 1-2 NT are super quick and low off the snap. Rarely, except for a number of times in the Oklahoma game, does he wow you with an explosion off the snap. Check the tape. I here he splits double teams, well in 4 ( 2015) games, not once does he split a double team, with the exceptions of a few OL blocking miscues or the perfect defense was called…check the tape. The dude takes entire games off! Combine stats mean notta if you take entire games off…Stay away…You finally see some signs of life in the Oklahoma game, yet, twice he gives ground on 3 and 1 plays run at him. The true version of a NT holds his ground - come hell or high water - on double teams, leaving LB’s free to roam. What I’m i missing…?

Now that I got that off my chest, TT, FA Ian Williams is needed badly…a true NT.

Recently posted:
“Because true nose tackles are rare, Williams is going to have a lot of value on the open market. Without one, defensive alignments like the 3-4 will have a difficult time being effective. At 6'1" and 305 pounds, he is a compactly built, immovable rock in the middle of a defensive line.
In other words, he's perfect for the nose tackle position.”

Wake up TT, poke Capers!

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The TKstinator's picture

March 06, 2016 at 05:02 pm

Astute analysis. You should be a pro scout.

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Razer's picture

March 04, 2016 at 02:36 pm

Interesting take on need and spending. Where you spend your money should give you a good indication of what you value. I don't think that the current cost of a position is an entirely complete picture. Player aging, development, drafting and injury all contribute to affect the need picture. It is a little too dynamic to boil down to what you spend today. By the time we re-up Bakhtiari, we will have a ton of money in the O-line and yet it is a position of need. The line is getting a little long in the tooth, too injury prone and once get past the starters the drop-off is steep.

Still, it is a good reflection of where we stand relative to our competition. Good work.

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MarkinMadison's picture

March 04, 2016 at 03:45 pm

Um, not buying it. I think the connection of $ to position would work better if we were talking about free agency. The draft is a relatively cheap way to get players. You don't cross off the Best Player Available when you pick because you already have too much money invested in a position* - especially not if the talent at the position needs to be improved. Take this $/position theory and apply it to FA, then it makes sense.

* Example - TT had Brett Farve locked up for a lot of money, and it didn't stop him from drafting #12 in the first round.

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dobber's picture

March 04, 2016 at 08:30 pm

"My theory is that teams will need players where they are spending the least amount of money relative to the rest of the league."

You're right on, Mark, with the draft. Rookie contracts are a boon to teams and their salary cap bottom lines. This is one of the chief results of draft-and-develop: you've gotta find young difference-makers and take advantage of their cheap first contracts. If you've just drafted Russell Wilson, and he's excelling prior to his extension, you're not going to draft a QB high just because you're fortunate to be underpaying at that position.

"* Example - TT had Brett Farve locked up for a lot of money, and it didn't stop him from drafting #12 in the first round."

I think one would argue that QBs, especially aging QBs, generate their own set of rules due to how important that position is. At the point when the Packers drafted Rodgers, Favre was already 35 and one couldn't reasonably expect he would play out Rodgers's rookie contract....could he?

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RobinsonDavis's picture

March 07, 2016 at 02:06 pm

Agreed!

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egbertsouse's picture

March 04, 2016 at 05:37 pm

I like AR as much as the next guy but, given his performance in 2015, he is NOT the best QB in the league. For the CHTV writers to keep saying that makes you look like a bunch of homer lightweights.

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Bearmeat's picture

March 04, 2016 at 06:21 pm

Sure, it's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, but let's not forget this is the same guy who was league MVP in 2014 and 2011. He's not declining from age - he just had a down year. (In which he still threw for over 4000 yards and over 30 TDs with under 10 picks. Not half bad).

I'd still take ARod over any QB in the league right now, with maybe a possible nod to Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck due to the age difference.

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barutanseijin's picture

March 04, 2016 at 07:43 pm

How do you know it's not age? All we know at this point is that a bunch of supposedly lesser QBs outplayed Mr. GOAT this year.

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Packer_Pete's picture

March 05, 2016 at 09:53 pm

The last time the Packers had an above average TE group was when Keith Jackson and Chmura played. Finley was a pretender. Reputation only, below average production

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lou's picture

March 06, 2016 at 10:04 am

Finley was better than what is on the roster today but was more promise than production and they won it all with Donald Lee and Quarless in his place. Yes, nothing close to Jackson and Chmura, both were Pro Bowl TE's and they lost both too soon, one with injury/off field issues and the other, Jackson retired in his prime, 40 catches and 10 for TD's and another trip to the Pro Bowl. Man, sounds like we are cursed at TE with Finley having a career injury also and then we draft the "John Mackey Award" winner, Williams who is an unmitigated BUST.

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RobinsonDavis's picture

March 07, 2016 at 02:12 pm

Yep! I agree with Lou. You need to compare Finley vs. the other TEs in the league at that time. Frustrating to watch the drops sometimes, but better than most and he was still improving before the injury.

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