Timing & Luck, Packers Have Neither

There’s nothing wrong with paying top dollar to keep your best players. What separates the candidates from the group are the star players. You can’t compete for the championship without them.

But this is a risky business. NFL teams spend millions of dollars and hundreds of hours in research and study planning how to spend their money. Despite all this preparation, much of their success depends on a few things over which they have limited or no control. Time and luck. Raising big bucks isn’t enough to keep your top players. You have to know ahead of time that it’s the right time and then hope they stay healthy.

In those two areas, the Packers have been hit twice over the past year and a half. Of course, the biggest and most obvious example is Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay signed him to a three-year extension last spring, making him the highest-paid player in league history, averaging more than $50 million a year. The guy played back to back MVP seasons and played the best football of his career. With the loss of their top two receivers, the Packers were forced to realize that they needed Rodgers to carry the team more than ever.

Looking back, we can see that the timing was wrong. The quality of Rodgers’ game has declined. He also had the misfortune of dealing with a thumb injury that affected his passing accuracy.

But Green Bay’s unhappiness runs much deeper than their quarterback. They have the best left tackle in the NFL. On November 14, 2020, they moved to keep him long-term. They signed David Bakhtiari to a four-year contract extension worth $92 million. Six weeks later he suffered a serious knee injury, DURING PRACTICE!! Not even in the game. He missed all but a handful of snaps in 2021 and didn’t return to the lineup until week three this year. He may be slowly improving his level of play, but he’s clearly nowhere near his All Pro form in years past.

De’Vondre Campbell, who is on the team to have an All Pro season in 2021, is out of the blue. Not only has he been playing great football, but he has also been injury-free, having not missed a game since his rookie season six years ago. Just 28 years old last spring, the Packers thought it was a good strategy to pay the man and signed him to a five-year, fifty million dollar deal. Again, timing and luck don’t seem to work here. Campbell didn’t play at last year’s level, then suffered a knee injury against the Bills in week eight and hasn’t played since.

Other high-dollar players like Jaire Alexander, Aaron Jones and even the reliable Preston Smith have missed games this season or been hampered by nagging injuries. Now there are at least two more worrisome cases next year. Linebacker Rashan Gary has developed into one of the best pass rushers in the game. He was on his way to a stellar season with six sacks when he sprained his knee on Nov. 6 against the Lions. The Packers picked up his fifth-year option for next season, which will cost them less than $11 million. But if they want to take him off the free-agent market at the end of next season, they’ll have to negotiate a long-term extension at some point.

Finding a referral is difficult. Someone will probably pay Gary top dollar if he hits the market. However, it usually takes nine months to a year to recover from a knee injury, and it usually takes longer to get back in shape. The Packers will have to decide if the time is right to pay Gary big, even though he won’t be able to play until mid-season in 2023. Gary is back in shape and healthy. You can’t blame them for being a little shy given their recent experiences.

Then there’s offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins. He is in his fourth year. He was one of the brightest and most versatile OL prospects in the NFL until a knee injury forced him to miss the final nine games of 2021 and the first game of this season. When he returned, it turned out that he was not the same player. He has struggled at right tackle and his play at his favored left guard position has been inconsistent. But his contract expires at the end of the season. Is the time right to extend it to a big deal? Do you expect him to return to a high level of play? And will he be healthy? Here again, other teams know about his versatility and upside and expect Jenkins to be paid as a play. It doesn’t come cheap.

All teams have injuries. But all teams’ highest-paid players are unlucky to be injured. One could argue that the Packers have limited control over time, but it seems hard to predict the sudden decline of players at the top of their game.

Time and luck. Let’s hope the Packers have good results in both.

GAME PREDICTION: Eagles 35 Packers 17

Player of the Game: Allen Lazard

Upset Special of the Week: Patriots vs. Vikings

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