The Green Bay Packers have plenty of things to improve upon on the field as this young team struggles to play consistently. But one thing GM Brian Gutekunst needs to do off the field is to sign edge rusher Rashan Gary to a contract extension as soon as possible.
The Development of Rashan Gary with the Packers
The Packers selected Gary with the 12th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Packers had just signed Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith to big free agent deals so Gary was brought along slowly as a rookie. He didn’t start a game and played only 24 percent of the team’s defensive snaps while recording two sacks.
Each year since then, Gary earned more playing time. He started four games in 2020 and lined up for 48 percent of the team’s defensive snaps while recording five sacks.
In 2021, Za’Darius Smith suffered a back injury that caused him to miss 15 games. Gary stepped in and started every game that season and recorded a career high 9.5 sacks.
In each of his first three NFL seasons, Gary showed improvement. His football intelligence, work ethic, and dedication to the game stood out to his teammates and the coaching staff.
Gary Suffers a Serious Injury
Gary got off to a strong start in 2022. He recorded at least one sack in each of the team’s first four games. The former Michigan star was also among the league leaders in pass rush win percentage and pressures.
Unfortunately, Gary suffered a torn ACL in the Packers Week 9 loss to Detroit and missed the rest of the season.
Gary started to rehab the injury and work towards his return as soon as doctors gave him the go-ahead. Throughout the offseason, the Packers edge rusher posted videos of his workouts and rehab on social media.
The Current Contract Situation Between Gary and the Packers
The Packers had already picked up Gary’s fifth-year option, so the former first-round pick is playing on a one-year deal worth $10,892,000 this season. He is presently set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
The Packers do have a history of signing players they want to keep before their current deals expire. They did that with Kenny Clark back in 2020. Like Gary, Clark is a former first-round pick who became an integral part of the defense.
In 2022, Gutekunst inked cornerback Jaire Alexander to a four-year extension. The deal made Alexander the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL. Like Clark, Alexander is a former first-round pick who has earned multiple Pro Bowl berths and is a vital part of the Green Bay defense.
Why the Packers Haven’t Signed Gary Yet
The biggest reason the Packers haven’t signed Gary yet is because of the knee injury. No doubt the team wanted to know if Gary could return and play at a high level before making such a large commitment to him in the future.
Thus far this season, Gary has played in all five Packers games although he has been on a play count. He’s been on the field for just 107 plays thus far or roughly 30 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
Despite seeing limited action, Gary has recorded a team-leading 4.5 sacks. He has also recorded 12 pressures and five hurries. Four of his nine total stops have been tackles for loss.
Thus far, Gary has proved he is back and playing at a Pro Bowl level. He should be more productive once he’s no longer on a play count and can see full-time duty.
The Cost Will Only Go Up
Gary has proven himself to be a Pro Bowl caliber player. The other starter opposite Gary, Preston Smith, will only return if he agrees to renegotiate his contract as he carries a $16.5 million cap hit in 2024 according to overthecap.com.
Keeping Gary should be a priority for Gutekunst. They should try to sign him well before he hits the open market this offseason where another team will almost certainly offer him a blockbuster deal. By signing Gary during this season, the Packers would also be able to have another year to pro-rate his signing bonus and lower his annual cap hit over the life of his new deal.
Hopefully, the deal gets done sooner rather than later. Each year, the NFL salary cap goes up as do players’ salaries. Keeping a talented player like Gary around for the prime of his career would benefit the defense once the young players on the offense become consistent NFL players. It should be a top priority as the Packers build for the future.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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