The Green Bay Packers are currently above the salary cap and regardless of what the team and Aaron Rodgers decide to do, GM Brian Gutekunst will have to restructure some contracts and make some moves to free up cap space.

But there are still players who are part of the team’s core and who the team needs to keep on the roster in 2023 even though it will almost certainly mean restructuring their contracts to lower their cap hits for the coming season.

Running back Aaron Jones is one of those players. He led the Packers with a career-high 1,121 yards rushing and added 59 catches for 395 more yards while scoring seven total touchdowns.  The former UTEP star averaged 5.3-yards per rushing attempt and was the most consistent weapon on the Green Bay offense throughout the season.

Jones is the engine that makes the Packers offense go. He had five 100-plus rushing games this season and the Packers went 4-1 in those contests. When the Packers offense didn’t give him the ball enough is usually when they had their worst games.

His ability to catch passes out of the backfield and to break a long gain any time he touches the football helps the offense. So does his consistent ability to gain five or more yards on his rushing attempts.

Jones is close to the perfect running back for Matt LaFleur’s offense and he helps make the players around him better.

Rodgers knows how important Jones is to the offense. “Get him the ball more,” Rodgers said midseason when asked about Jones. “Every time that there is an L, any type of adversity, there is always going to be narratives that come out of it. Easy one for us is we’ve got to get the ball to 33 more. I mean, it’s true. When he touches the ball, good things happen. He breaks tackles, he’s probably our most elusive guy with the football in his hands.”

As of now, Jones carries a salary cap hit of $20.02 million in 2023. That’s too high a number for a team that is already over the cap.

Gutekunst has already said he will find a way to keep Jones in Green Bay next season. “Certainly, we expect to have him back,” Gutekunst told reporters after the season ended. “Obviously, he’s a dynamic player. It’s amazing. For a guy his size, to bring it every day, he rarely misses a practice, rarely misses a rep. The way he leads that football team, his consistency is amazing.”

The next player on this list is offensive tackle David Bakhtiari. The Colorado alum will turn 32 in September and when he’s in the lineup, he’s still playing at a Pro Bowl level. After missing nearly all the 2021 campaign because of complications from a knee injury, he finally returned to the lineup in Week 3 and ended up starting 11 games for the Packers this season.

Bakhtiari missed four games late in the season due to an emergency appendectomy but when he was in the lineup he played at a very high level. In fact, the Packers starting left tackle would have gotten serious Pro Bowl consideration had he not needed the late-season emergency surgery.

Gutekunst was straightforward when he said he wanted Bakhtiari back with the team next season. “I think we’re hopeful that he’s kind of cleared some of those injury hurdles that he had the last few years,” Gutekunst said. “He got into a really good rhythm of learning what he needed to practice to get to the games, and I’m hopeful as we get beyond this season that rhythm will serve him well as we go forward.”

Rodgers has also named Bakhtiari as one of the players he wants the team to retain if he plays in Green Bay next season.

As of now, Bakhtiari’s 2023 cap hit will be roughly $28 million although again the Packers could restructure his bonus and free up substantial cap space.

The key for Bakhtiari is staying healthy. When he’s been in the lineup, he remains one of the best pass blocking tackles in the NFL and he’s a very good run blocker as well. The question at this point in his career is can he stay healthy?

Both Jones and Bakhtiari also provide leadership on this team. They are experienced veterans who do things the right way and are students of the game. They add intangibles off the field as well as their talent on it.

Regardless of who the Packers quarterback is in 2023, the team will have a better chance of winning football games with Jones and Bakhtiari on their roster. The Packers should rework their contracts and keep them in Green Bay next season.



Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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