NFC North Reporter
The Green Bay Packers need to commit to edge rusher Rashan Gary; that much is clear. He’s homegrown talent, hasn’t hit his ceiling yet and is an integral part of the team’s defense.
But with his fifth-year option playing out this season, a new contract needed and his recent injury history all coupled with the salary commitments Green Bay already has for next year, can they afford him?
Because of the talent Gary has already flashed, a new contract won’t come cheap — even if it’s long-term. Spotrac estimates Gary’s market value at $26 million per year, in line with some of the NFL’s top pass-rushers. The Packers are projected to have just $3.3 million in cap space for 2024. That leaves them with decisions to make.
Gary’s impact can’t be overstated, though.
Though the Packers had a worse record with Gary on the field in the first half of last season, they were letting up just 17.9 points per game on average. Their record improved in the last eight games that Gary missed, going 5-3 in that span, but they allowed 22.9 points per game in the process. The offense just started scoring more points in the back nine. Green Bay’s first 30-point effort didn’t come until their Week 10 win over the Cowboys, the first game in which Gary didn’t play.
From 2020-2022, Gary ranked fifth in quarterback hits per game and eighth in sacks per game and pressures per game, according to TruMedia via the team’s website.
Before getting hurt in 2022, Gary was on pace for over 11 sacks on the season. He ranked in the top 10 among linebackers for quarterback hits with 12, sacks with six and pressures with a whopping 27.
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To keep one of their best draft picks of the last five years, Green Bay will have to take a long look at their roster sheet. The most obvious way to free up space centers around tackle David Bakhtiari. The long-time blind-side blocker is scheduled to have a cap hit of over $40 million next season. He’s suffered his share of injuries over the last few years, not playing a full season since 2019 and missing nearly all of the 2021 season. Bakhtiari is also without his best friend, Aaron Rodgers, who is now a Jet.
Trading Bakhtiari now, if New York could make it work, could be advantageous to the Packers. The Jets would need to do some creative accounting, but they do have a projected $11 million in available cap space, according to Spotrac — a benefit of their Hall of Fame quarterback taking a massive $35 million paycut. It would get Bakhtiari back with his bestie and give the Packers a lot more cap space to play with.
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They would, of course, be out of a left tackle in 2023. With a young developing quarterback, that doesn’t seem the wisest decision. But with the offensive line still not set in stone, there is some potential to find one among their crop already.
It would make re-signing Gary much easier. They could get a head-start on negotiating that long-term deal with $21 million being freed up from one transaction.
That brings us to what a long-term deal would look like for Gary. Fellow outside linebacker, and oft unsung hero, Preston Smith, signed a four-year deal in 2022 worth $52 million. That’s an annual salary of $13 million.
Now, Gary has been a more explosive and productive player. He’d undoubtedly command more than that. But the $26 million figure from earlier is probably not realistic. That would make Gary the third-highest-paid edge defender in the league, behind only T.J. Watt and Joey Bosa.
Gary was activated off the PUP list on August 7, which was welcome news for Packers fans and the team itself after he tore his ACL prior to Week 10 last year. Head coach Matt LaFleur has not committed to Gary being ready for Week 1 this entire offseason and Gary’s activation hasn’t changed that. It probably puts the Packers in wait-and-see mode with Gary. But the hotter he can start and the more he can show the organization he remains the same player he was, the closer to that $26 million a year number Gary will get.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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