The Green Bay Packers have an eventful offseason ahead of them. The team needs to figure out what happens with Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love, they need to decide which players they are going to try to keep and who to move on from and how they’re going to get under the salary cap. But one move that can help the team keep some of their top talent and reduce the 2023 cap hit is signing edge rusher Rashan Gary to an extension.
Gary was off to a great start in 2022 before suffering a season ending knee injury in the Packers Week 9 game in Detroit. He recorded six sacks in nine games with 12 quarterback hits, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble while also recording seven tackles for loss.
He recorded at least one sack in each of the first four games of the season and was consistently getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. His run defense, while still not elite, has improved each year and Gary did a better job in 2022 at defending the run.
Many fans were disappointed in Gary after his rookie season that saw him be a rotational player behind Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith at edge rusher but the former Michigan star improved each season he’s been in the NFL and took on a bigger role each season. Gary was on a Pro Bowl pace in the first half of last season before he was lost to injury.
The coaching staff is well aware of Gary’s importance to the defense. “We’re going to miss 52 [Gary] and what he brings from a mindset and a demeanor and a grit factor, and we are also going to miss his production, there’s no doubt about it,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said after Gary was lost for the season. “You hope that you don’t have to completely change everything you do, but when you lose a player like that, you have to adjust.”
The Packers struggled to adjust and the pass rush clearly fell off after he was hurt.
Head coach Matt LaFleur also acknowledged how much the Packers would miss Gary after he was injured. “It’s a tremendous loss,” LaFleur said. “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.”
LaFleur also said that Gary has developed into a leader in the locker room in his fourth NFL season. “He’s just relentless,” LaFleur added. “He plays with a great motor and energy, and I think it rubs off on everybody. He makes everybody around him better.”
Gary is scheduled to play on his fifth-year option deal in 2023 which means he is guaranteed $10.892 million salary according to spotrac.com. His cap hit is identical since the fifth-year option is a one-year deal with no signing bonus.
GM Brian Gutekunst should not hesitate to sign Gary to an extension this offseason. That would be a win-win for player and team. The Packers would lock up Gary for the prime of his career which should be over the next 3-5 years. Gary is also one of the team’s top defensive players and their best pass rusher so they don’t want to lose him after 2023. Any modern NFL defense needs a strong pass rush and Gary provides the juice.
The big question about re-signing Gary this offseason is the questions surrounding his injury. Will he be able to come back at full strength and how long will that take? While Gary may not be ready to start the 2023 season on time, he should be back to full strength by the latter part of the campaign and certainly by training camp in 2024. One thing nobody has questioned is Gary’s work ethic. Each year since he was drafted, clips of Gary’s offseason workouts have been posted on social media. He is always working hard and trying to make himself better.
The Packers can also get short-term salary cap relief if they sign him to a long-term extension. Even if the deal makes him one of the highest paid edge rushers in the game, they could save approximately $3.5 million on the cap this season by giving him a large signing bonus. Gary would get his money up front and the Packers would retain one of their best players and free up cap space.
Gutekunst faced a similar situation with Jaire Alexander a year ago. The team’s top corner was coming off a season-ending injury and playing on his fifth-year option. The Packers should be quick to do the same with Gary.
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