The Green Bay Packers made two moves yesterday to help free up cap space for the coming NFL season. GM Brian Gutekunst signed quarterback Jordan Love to an extension that meant the team didn’t need to exercise his fifth-year option, and they restructured safety Darnell Savage’s deal to free up another $5.46 million in cap space for this year.

But there is one more thing the Packers can do to both free up cap space for this season and help the team in the long run and that is sign edge rusher Rashan Gary to a new deal.

Gary is about to play on his fifth-year option. He is currently scheduled to earn almost $10.9 million as he plays the season on the one-year, fully guaranteed deal.

The former first-round pick out of Michigan has played better in each of his first four seasons with the Packers. He started off coming off the bench in his rookie season and registered only two sacks as he learned how to develop his technique and play in the NFL.

In 2020, Gary started four games and increased his sack total to five. The following season, he became a full-time starter when Za’Darius Smith was injured and recorded a career-high nine sacks while putting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In fact, he tied for third in the entire NFL in pressures which illustrated his impact on the defense.

Last season, Gary was off to the best start of his NFL career. He had six sacks before suffering a season-ending knee injury early in the Packers Week 9 loss to Detroit. He was on the road to a potential Pro Bowl berth when his season came to a premature end.

Gary has now clearly established himself as the Packers premier pass rusher. Coaches and teammates respect his work ethic, and he has been determined to take his elite athletic ability and turn it into production. He is also a positive influence in the locker room.

Head coach Matt LaFleur praised Gary’s work ethic last season. “It’s been really cool to watch his development from his rookie year to where he is now,” LaFleur said. “It hasn’t come by accident. It’s because he puts in the work. You can always count on that from Rashan, that he’s going to grind and push himself, which in turn ups the intensity of everybody around him. I love having him on our football team.”

After Gary was injured, LaFleur added, “It’s a tremendous loss. Not only from the production standpoint. He is a guy who competes at the highest level. He’s one of the grittiest guys on this team. The effort he brings on a daily basis will definitely be missed.”

As of now, it is not clear whether Gary will be ready to play in time for the start of the 2023 NFL season. A torn ACL usually takes at least 8-10 months for a player to return to action and maybe another year to return to full strength. That means if the Packers want to free up cap space this season, the team will have to decide on Gary’s future without knowing how well he’ll play post injury.

Edge rusher is considered a premium position in the NFL and a team can never have too many of them. The Packers almost certainly want to extend Gary and could save a little more than $3 million on the 2023 salary cap by signing the former Michigan star to an extension before this season gets underway.

Gary should be in his prime about now at the age of 25. The next four or five seasons should be the best of his career. With Preston Smith turning 31 during the upcoming season and Lukas Van Ness just getting started, Gary should be the team’s primary pass rusher for the next few seasons.

While the team may be taking a bit of a chance because of his injury, signing the former Michigan star to a long-term deal to lock him up for the prime of his career would be a wise move that would save the team some cap space this year and eliminate a major concern next offseason. The price of edge rushers will only go up if the Packers wait a year.

Signing Gary and freeing up another $3 million could also help the Packers to sign a veteran wide receiver, safety, tight end or kicker which would give the team more stability and experience at one of those positions.

An extension for Gary is a win-win. The player has earned it and the team will benefit from it in the short term and most likely in the long term. It should now be one of Gutekunst’s top priorities.




Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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