The Green Bay Packers have gone from roughly $50 million over the cap to approximately $15 million under the cap. Obviously, with the need to replace the departed Davante Adams and the need to sign their upcoming draft class, the Packers still the need to free up a little more cap space before the start of training camp.
One obvious way they can do that is to sign cornerback Jaire Alexander to a contract extension. The former Louisville star is about to start his fifth season in the NFL. Because he was a first-round draft pick, the Packers had a fifth-year option on his contract and exercised it. If no new deal is reached, Alexander’s cap hit this season will be nearly $13.3 million.
Alexander is one of the best cover corners in the league. He earned Pro Bowl honors in 2020 despite making only one interception all season. He has excellent speed, a lot of self-confidence and the ability to put those rare big plays he allows behind him and not let it bother him.
In 2020, opposing quarterbacks completed just 51.3 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Alexander according to pro-football-reference.com and their quarterback rating was just 67.4. Alexander developed into a classic shut-down corner and he had the ability to almost take away one side of the field for the Packers defense.
Unfortunately, Alexander suffered a serious shoulder injury in Week 4 of the 2021 season when making a tackle on Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris. He did not play again in the regular season but avoided surgery and returned in the Packers playoff game against San Francisco. He played only eight snaps in that game, showing that he was not fully ready to play a major role, even in late January.
The injury complicates the negotiations between Alexander and Packers GM Brian Gutekunst. According to multiple reports, Alexander wants to be the highest paid cornerback in the league. Right now, Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams holds that distinction with a $20 million per year deal.
The Packers and Alexander could sign a new deal that would be a win-win for both sides. Alexander could become the highest paid cornerback and the Packers could free up some more cap space for the coming season and lock up their top cornerback for the next several seasons. That could give the Packers an outstanding group of corners for at least the next three years since 2021 first-round pick Eric Stokes has at least three years left on his rookie contract and Rasul Douglas just signed a three-year deal to stay in Green Bay.
The injury gives the Packers a little more leverage in negotiations with Alexander, but not much. Both sides have reasons for hesitating and both sides have big reasons for getting the deal done.
The Packers still have several needs to fill. They should be looking for a veteran receiver who can be WR1 in 2022 or at least a reliable WR2. There are several free agents out there like Will Fuller, A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham, Jr. All those players have either age or injury issues. They can also trade for an experienced wideout but that would also take up significant cap space. However they do it, the Packers cannot go into the season without an experience and legitimate number one receiver.
Beckham was injured in the Super Bowl and probably won’t be available to start the season, so his short-term usefulness is limited. Fuller played only two games in 2022 while Jones missed seven games in 2022 and seven more in 2020 although he made the Pro Bowl in the six seasons before that. Green missed only one game in 2021 but is clearly slowing down and will be 34 before the start of the 2022 campaign.
The Packers have some other ways to free up cap space including restructuring Dean Lowry’s deal or maybe Mason Crosby’s, but either of those moves would lead to bigger dead cap hits down the road and the Packers already have some big ones coming up in Aaron Jones and of course Aaron Rodgers.
The next move for Gutekunst and the Packers front office should be to extend Alexander. Now it’s time for him to get the job done.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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