By Michelle Noyer-Granacki
The Green Bay Packers entered free agency on March 8 with $34.7 million in cap space, per figures from Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
As of March 26, they have allocated $20.8 million against the 2014 salary cap to eight players, detailed in the table below, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Those deals include $24.175 million in guarantees—80 percent of which was to Sam Shields and Julius Peppers, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.
That leaves the Packers approximately $14 million under the cap nearly three weeks into free agency.
Dougherty estimates that Green Bay will spend between $4 and $6 million to sign its incoming rookies. Assuming only $4 million of those signings will count against the 2014 cap, what might Green Bay do with its remaining $10 million in salary-cap space?
First of all, don't assume the Packers need to spend $5 million of that $10 million to hit the team minimum cash spend of 89 percent. That rule has been somewhat misunderstood; the Packers must spend an average of 89 percent of the salary cap over the four-year period between 2013 and 2016, not each season.
Still, it's likely that Ted Thompson takes advantage of the plentiful cap space to re-sign key in-house free agents and/or restructure players entering contract years.
Mike McCarthy said at the annual NFL meetings Tuesday that he was "hoping financially it works out" for the Packers to re-sign quarterback Matt Flynn, per Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin.
Green Bay was compelled to bring Flynn back last season after injuries to Aaron Rodgers and veteran backup Seneca Wallace, and Flynn helped the Packers hang on to the playoffs by a thread until Rodgers returned in Week 17. After all the deserved criticism the Packers took for not addressing the backup quarterback situation last offseason, McCarthy is setting his sights on it this year.
"I thought Matt was a good addition to our football team," McCarthy said, per Wilde, while noting that "the guy who really struggled, or had the biggest challenge, was Scott [Tolzien]."
Tolzien was thrust into the Packers' system after playing in San Diego and San Francisco, and while he'll continue to sit behind Rodgers and develop, McCarthy seems to understand that the Packers need someone with more veteran experience should Rodgers miss time in 2014.
But before they think about re-signing Flynn (who shouldn't be pricey, given his brief stint as a journeyman last season), the Packers should prioritize restructuring the contracts of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb—both of whom are entering contract years in 2014.
Even if potential new deals for Cobb and Nelson were backloaded in anticipation of the league salary cap rising by another $10 million in 2015 and in each season beyond, those two restructurings alone could eat up almost $10 million in cap room this offseason.
Expect the Packers to convert some portion of Nelson's $3.050 million 2014 base salary into a signing bonus and prorate it over the life of a new deal—a deal which will probably be lucrative for Nelson.
After agreeing to an extension worth $13.35 million over three years in 2011, with an average of $4.8 million a year, Nelson finished the 2013 season ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 2 wide receiver in the league due to his high catch percentage, low penalty rate and high number of touchdowns per reception (subscription required). He's earned his payday, and it's time the Packers gave it to him, with the bulk of the cap hit built into the last few years.
Though no Green Bay receiver is a true "X", "Z" or slot, Cobb's payday may not be as great due to recent precedent for receivers who play primarily out of the slot, most notably Victor Cruz. Last July, Cruz agreed to a five-year, $43 million extension with the Giants—well below what outside receivers (like Mike Wallace) got in that same offseason.
It wouldn't be surprising to see the Packers offer Cobb a four- or five-year extension worth less than $40 million overall.
If there's room in the budget, the Packers are also reportedly interested in re-signing fullback John Kuhn; as Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last Tuesday, the two sides are still in talks.
Kuhn's value blocking for Rodgers and Eddie Lacy was never more apparent than toward the end of the last season; it's not hyperbolic to say that he saved Green Bay's season against Chicago in Week 17.
As for unrestricted free agents Johnny Jolly and Jermichael Finley, neither has been cleared to play after sustaining respective season-ending neck injuries last season, so the Packers won't make a move to re-sign either unless team doctor Pat McKenzie clears them for contact.
With $14 million left to spend, and approximately $10 million of that available for outside signings, re-signings or extensions, expect the Packers to make a few more moves before the conclusion of free agency.
All salary information courtesy of OvertheCap.com, unless otherwise specified.
Michelle Noyer-Granacki is a featured columnist at Bleacher report.com and shares some content with us here ~ Please check out all the great Packer writing here http://bleacherreport.com/green-bay-packers