Fa­mil­iar names may not re­turn in 2019

Packer Plus - - News - Pete Dougherty Colum­nist

Green Bay — Brian Gutekunst is look­ing at a ros­ter tear­down in a few weeks, but the Green Bay Pack­ers gen­eral man­ager will have plenty of salary-cap room for the re­build as well.

Some of the de­part­ing names will be big, though not much of a sur­prise. Age and in­jury even­tu­ally get ev­ery­one.

Ran­dall Cobb. Nick Perry. Bryan Bu­laga. Jimmy Gra­ham. Clay Matthews, too, un­less he’s will­ing to re­turn for about half the pay he’s mak­ing now.

But Gutekunst fig­ures to have about $55 mil­lion in cap room in 2019 to re­plen­ish his ros­ter for a new coach as well. He needs a quick re­build to get the Pack­ers back into cham­pi­onship con­tention for the fi­nal few years of Aaron Rodgers’ ca­reer.

First, here’s a closer look at the big­name play­ers Gutekunst fig­ures to walk away from after this sea­son, and how each will af­fect the team’s 2019 cap:

Clay Matthews

The Pack­ers’ over­haul at out­side rush is over­due, and Matthews will be a free agent after mak­ing $11.4 mil­lion this year.

He’ll be 33 next sea­son and ob­vi­ously isn’t the pass rusher he used to be – he has 4½ sacks in 14 games this year and hasn’t had a dou­ble-digit sea­son since 2014.

Maybe an­other team will sign him to play only on ob­vi­ous pass­ing downs, think­ing less will be more. Maybe. It only takes one.

But Matthews still is a vi­able player for the Pack­ers at a re­duced price, too. At this point in his ca­reer he’s best suited to play­ing pri­mar­ily in­side line­backer in their 3-4; the guess here is at a con­tract in the $5 mil­lion to $6 mil­lion range, plus in­cen­tives. Then they could play him in­side most of the time and as a com­ple­men­tary rusher on oc­ca­sion.

Maybe Matthews would go for that. Maybe not. We’ll have to see how his mar­ket shakes out.

Nick Perry

A no-brainer. Cut­ting him will save the Pack­ers $10 mil­lion in cash and $3.37 mil­lion in cap room.

Perry, 28, has been a ca­pa­ble out­side rusher when healthy. The prob­lem is, he’s rarely healthy. He has never played 16 games in a sea­son and been in­ef­fec­tive when he has played through var­i­ous hand and leg in­juries. He has only one dou­bledigit sack sea­son in his ca­reer.

This year was all too pre­dictable. He never fully re­cov­ered from off­sea­son an­kle surgery, then landed on IR after nine games after in­jur­ing his knee. He has 1½ sacks.

Ran­dall Cobb

He has served the Pack­ers with dis­tinc­tion, but it’s time they move on from a player whose con­tract runs out this sea­son.

The 28-year-old Cobb has en­deared him­self to the coach­ing staff by play­ing through in­juries and as a vet­eran re­ceiver who’s in tune with Rodgers. But he’s also a small tar­get and has taken a phys­i­cal pound­ing that has robbed him of ath­letic abil­ity and left him more prone to in­jury.

The Pack­ers also have three young re­ceivers (Geron­imo Al­li­son, Mar­quez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown) who will be ready for big­ger roles in 2019. It will be time to get them on the field.

Bryan Bu­laga

The Pack­ers can save $6.75 mil­lion in cash and cap space by re­leas­ing him. Sim­ply stated, his body is giv­ing out after a series of se­ri­ous hip and knee in­juries dat­ing to 2012. Since 2017 he has missed 12 games and mostly played hurt when he has been on the field. He has been on the in­jury re­port (knee) much of this sea­son. The Pack­ers just can’t count on him to stay healthy as a 30-year-old next year. Jimmy Gra­ham

Cut­ting him will save $9 mil­lion in cash and $5.33 mil­lion in cap room. Gutekunst took a shot that Gra­ham would be a dif­fer­ence-maker play­ing with Rodgers after he caught 10 touch­down passes with Seat­tle in 2017. But Gra­ham has hit the wall, so Gutekunst should cut his losses.

The Pack­ers also should move on from his back­ups, Lance Ken­dricks (age 31 next sea­son) and Marcedes Lewis (35 next sea­son), whose con­tracts run out this year. It’s time to get younger at tight end.

Tra­mon Wil­liams?

As for Wil­liams, at age 35 he’s an­cient for a de­fen­sive back, and the Pack­ers would save $4.75 mil­lion in cap and cash if they let him go. But he’s worth keep­ing around for one more year as a stop­gap at safety and corner­back.

If Gutekunst makes all the moves de­scribed above, he’ll save about $15 mil­lion in cap room, which would give him about $55 mil­lion in cap room en­ter­ing the 2019 off­sea­son (based on the NFL’s cap projection of ap­prox­i­mately $190 mil­lion), ac­cord­ing to Over The Cap. He also doesn’t have a must-sign free agent of his own to eat into that.

Be­sides Matthews at a re­duced price, the only other free agent worth bring­ing back is corner­back Bashaud Bree­land. Bree­land missed only four games in his first four sea­sons in the league, but an off­sea­son foot in­jury cost him a lu­cra­tive con­tract in free agency, and ham­string and groin in­juries have side­lined him for six of 10 games since he signed with the Pack­ers. He’s a good can­di­date for a oneyear deal to prove he can get back to full health.

Ei­ther way, Gutekunst will have cash to work with and can pur­sue a big-money player if he wants. He can fill mul­ti­ple ros­ter holes with mid-level play­ers, too. Be­sides out­side rush­ers, he’s in the mar­ket for starters at safety, right tackle, guard and tight end.

Things are chang­ing fast with this team. In a cou­ple months it will have a new coach and shed for­mer stars. Then it will be time to add play­ers in free agency and the draft who could make or break this fran­chise for the next few years.

WM. GLASHEEN / USA TO­DAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Vet­eran out­side line­backer Clay Matthews would likely need to take a re­duced con­tract to stay with the Pack­ers.

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