The Green Bay Packers are still over the cap ceiling as we head into the new NFL league year. While there are ways to restructure contracts to get under the cap, GM Brian Gutekunst is unlikely to have a lot of cap space to work with to bring in big ticket free agents or even to re-sign the team’s potential free agents who may get better offers from other teams.

The Packers have three restricted free agents who require decisions by the organization. Restricted free agents can sign elsewhere but their present teams can place a tender offer on them that means the team that signs them will have to give up draft picks if they sign the restricted free agent or that the team could match the offer and have the right of first refusal.

The Packers have three restricted free agents on their roster right now, offensive tackle Yosh Nijman, inside linebacker Krys Barnes and tight end Tyler Davis.

The first decision Gutekunst must make is whether to make a qualifying offer to those three players. We will then break down the probability that the Packers bring back each of these players.

OT Yosh Nijman

Nijman has been a great story since joining the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He always had great size and athletic tools but he was considered a project who needed to work on his technique.

He played 16 games for the Packers in 2020 as a backup and then stepped in to start eight games in 2021 when Elgton Jenkins and David Bakhtiari were both injured.

Last season, Nijman started 13 games, predominantly at right tackle. He graded out as an average run blocker but a good pass blocker although very quick edge rushers often give him issues.

Nijman is coachable and has a good work ethic. His growth from undrafted free agent to solid starter is a great story and a credit to both the player and the coaching staff.

Bringing back makes sense for the Packers. Assuming Bakhtiari is back and starting at left tackle, Nijman will likely battle Zach Tom and possibly players the Pack add in the 2023 NFL Draft for the starting right tackle spot. With Bakhtiari’s injury history, having an experienced player like Nijman around as a swing tackle would make sense even if he doesn’t initially win a starting job.

Gutekunst is likely to place a second-round tender on Nijman which means he would earn $4.3 million next season. If they go with a right of first refusal on Nijman, his salary would be $2.67 million if he signs the tender offer but that also makes it more likely another team will try to ink Nijman to a deal.

Look for Gutekunst to try to retain the former Virginia Tech star.

ILB Krys Barnes

Barnes was a great story in 2020 when the Packers signed him as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA. He was cut, re-signed to the practice squad and then elevated and started in Week 1. He played in 13 games that year, starting 10 and gave the Packers a steady presence in the middle of the defense.

Barnes is smart and tough but lacks elite size and speed which is why he went undrafted.

In 2021, Barnes started 13 games and played in 16. He made a career-high 81 tackles, broke up four passes and recovered two fumbles.

In 2022, Barnes lost his starting job to first round pick Quay Walker. Injuries limited him to six games and he started one. He recorded one sack and made 29 total tackles while contributing on special teams and in a reserve role.

The Packers are unlikely to make a qualifying offer on Barnes as this would drive up his salary for 2023. They have De’Vondre Campbell and Walker as their starters and Isaiah McDuffie proved to be a reliable backup. They may welcome Barnes back to training camp if he can’t find a better offer elsewhere but it would be at or near the veteran minimum.

Barnes is likely to go elsewhere where he may get more money and a chance to play a bigger role on defense.

TE Tyler Davis

Davis had a dreadful preseason in 2022 but made the team anyway as the coaching staff likes his physical tools. He played in all 17 games, predominantly on special teams while playing 16 percent of the team’s snaps on offense.

The former Georgia Tech star caught four passes for 26 yards on seven targets. He has eight total catches in two years with the Packers. He also made 10 total tackles on special teams in 2022.

Davis will not likely receive a qualifying offer as the Packers won’t want to pay him an excessive amount. The team is thin at tight end with Josiah Deguara currently the only experienced player on the roster who is still under contract, so Davis may very well re-sign with the Packers, but it likely to be for less than a qualifying offer would necessitate.




Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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