One of the biggest storylines of the 2020 season has been which players the Packers will resign for next year and beyond. Going into this season, Kenny Clark, David Bakhtiari, Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Corey Linsley, and Kevin King were the players considered most likely to be brought back. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, revenue is down and, therefore, so is the 2021 salary cap. It is just not possible to bring them all back. Kenny Clark and David Bakhitari already have received extensions, but speculation remains regarding the remaining players. Most notable are running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Here, we look at the salary cap situation and what it means for each of the Packers’ running backs.
The 2021 Salary Cap
The NFL has set the 2021 salary cap at $175 million. This year, the Packers came in about $4.9 million under the cap, so that total will roll over to next year, giving the Packers a $179 million cap in 2021. It’s strange to think that a small market team in Wisconsin could even approach that number. However, as it stands, the Packers have over $201 million dedicated to contracts next year. In short, the Packers need to find a way to shed about $22 million just to make the finances work. Unlike the NBA and MLB, teams in the NFL are not able to go into a hard cap or luxury tax. The cap is set, and that is it.
Jamaal Williams’ Options in 2021
If the Packers bring back either Aaron Jones or Jamaal Williams, it will most likely be Williams. Williams, while a very good back, does not have the accolades or production that Jones has. It will be much easier for the Packers to convince Williams to take a team-friendly contract than it would be to convince Jones. However, even this is a tall order for the Packers given the 2021 cap situation. Say that they want to bring Williams back for just $3 million a year, which would be a slight raise for him in 2021. If that were to be the case, the Packers would need to shed $25 million and would not be able to sign any other players. Could they shed enough space and still resign Williams? They could. Will they? I tend to not think so.
Aaron Jones’ Options in 2021
Aaron Jones was just named to his first Pro Bowl and is 22 yards away from surpassing his 2019 rushing yard total (despite playing in two less games). The market value for a running back of Jones’ caliber is just over $13 million. Even if the Packers were to use the franchise tag on Jones, they would need to shed $35 million of cap space and would not be able to sign anyone else. Jones has said that he wants to be a Packer for life. As much as both he and the Packers may want that, I just do not see a scenario in which that is possible. Jones could play for $10-$12 million less than his market value, but I doubt that would happen. It is more likely that Jones will be playing elsewhere next year.
Who Will Be the Packers’ Running Backs in 2021
AJ Dillon is the obvious choice for the starting running back position in 2021. He is already under contract, so the Packers do not need to worry about extending him more money. It is possible that Williams comes back, and if he does, he would be the backup again. The rest of the depth chart will be made up of rookies, drafted or not, or very affordable free agents.