GREEN BAY, Wis. — If you thought the Green Bay Packers already had a salary budget problem this year, wait until you see what awaits them in 2022.

Combine that with the fact that the Packers haven’t updated Aaron Rodgers’ contract yet, and the 2021 season could be their last, best chance to win another Super Bowl before handing everything over to Jordan Love, or whichever quarterback succeeds Rodgers.

Recall that the Packers had to amend the contracts of Adrian Amos, David Bakhtiari, Mason Crosby, Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith and Billy Turner in order to re-contract Aaron Jones, Kevin King and Marcedes Lewis without signing a single free agent from another team (and no, free agent Joe Fortunato doesn’t count).

Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith combined for $47.88 million on the Packers’ 2022 salary cap. Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Packers, as it stands, return 20 of their 22 starters from last year’s 13-3 NFC championship team, making it look like another chance with this group.

Perhaps that’s what general manager Brian Gutekunst had in mind when he made that statement just before the Packers began restructuring their contracts last month to get under the salary cap:

We’re going to do it this year, push the money to give us the best chance to win in ’21, Gutekunst said. but at the same time, we have a very good football team. I think the core of our football team will be very strong over the next few years, and we want to give ourselves every opportunity to compete for the championship during that time.

With the exception of Preston Smith, all of these departures were simple restructurings, meaning they paid out money in future pay years. Preston Smith is the only one getting a pay cut in 2021.

The top eight players under contract for next season have a combined salary for 2022 of $161.14 million. If the salary cap goes from $182.5 million this season to, say, $200 million next season, that means the Packers still have more than 80 percent of their salary cap in those eight players.

If, for example, the cap were to increase to $220 million due to the new TV fees (although some believe this won’t have an impact until 2023), these eight players would still represent 73.2% of the 2022 cap.

The Packers’ eight best players this season account for $109.13 million, or 59.8 percent of the 2021 cap hit list, not counting transfer spots from last season.

The Packers already have $204.192 million in cap space through 2022, and that’s without All-Pros Davante Adams and Jaire Alexander. Adams is entering the final year of his contract, and there’s no chance the Packers will let him go. Alexander can take advantage of the Packers’ five-year option through Week 3. It may need to be run. Alexander’s option will cost the Packers nearly $13.3 million in 2022.

Regardless of the 2022 cap hit, the Packers can’t operate with so little room for the rest of the roster.

Za’Darius Smith’s restructuring gives him an extension until next season if he continues to play at the same level, and the Packers could say goodbye to Preston Smith and save $12.225 million in cap space if he continues to regress in 2021.

Every year is different, Gutekunst says. There are so many things you can’t predict. There are so many variables that I think you should try to build a healthy, reliable, versatile football team that can handle any challenge that comes your way.

Yet all this makes you wonder: Why didn’t they touch the Rogers contract? Packers president Mark Murphy would not comment Monday.

Given the cap situation, how can the Packers retain both Aaron Rodgers and David Bakhtiari in 2020? Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

This would essentially force them to commit beyond 2021. They may want to see how Love performs in training camp and pre-games this summer before making a decision on a deal with Rodgers. They didn’t turn his $6.8 million signing bonus into a signing bonus when they had the chance in March. That would give them $4.5 million. However, the additional $8.5 million in cap space this season would also raise his ceiling for next year.

They can still convert a portion of his $14.7 million base salary for this season into a signing bonus that would boost his cap hit for 2022 to around $45 million.

Under the terms of the contract, the Packers would receive between $22 million and $25 million in cap space for 2022 if they part ways with Rodgers after this season.

It’s also possible Rodgers wants to go the Tom Brady route and try to win another Super Bowl somewhere else before retiring.

You’re talking about a guy who’s going to win the league MVP, Packers coach Matt LaFleur said just before Rodgers won the third MVP of his career. We’re not in this position without him. I couldn’t be happier with his performance, but also with the way he leads our football team, with all the little things he does in the locker room to make sure everyone is focused and ready. At least it will be there for a long time. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s been a long time.

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