The Green Bay Packers didn’t want another Davante Adams situation on their hands. That’s why they made Jaire Alexander the richest defensive back in NFL history.
Alexander signed a four-year, $84 million contract extension that will keep him in Green Bay through his age 29 season, ESPN first reported. It’s a fitting reward for a player who emerged as an All-Pro in 2020 while giving up a meager 4.7 yards per target. It was also a signal general manager Brian Gutekunst both is, and isn’t, willing to learn from the Packers’ past.
Adams left Wisconsin after eight seasons and five Pro Bowl selections as a Packer. The official reason for his departure via trade to the Las Vegas Raiders was to fulfill a lifelong dream by putting on the black and silver and team up with his former quarterback at Fresno State, Derek Carr.
Unofficially, it was because he couldn’t work out a timely extension before the four-year, $58 million deal he signed in 2017 expired. Negotiations between the two sides sputtered in 2021, leading Green Bay to place the franchise tag on him for 2022. When it became clear Adams wouldn’t re-sign long term, even at a price reportedly higher than the $28 million average annual salary Vegas wound up paying, Gutekunst had little recourse but to send his star wideout west and recoup some of his value in a deal with the Raiders.
Handing Alexander a market-resetting contract ensures that won’t happen again to another homegrown success story (at least not in 2023). While his new deal will pay him nearly $1 million more per year than any other cornerback or safety in the league, it’ll do so in fewer years than the Cleveland Browns gave Denzel Ward in his five-year, $100 million deal. More notably, it will reportedly come with significantly less guaranteed salary than several of his peers despite eye-catching overall numbers.
Top money in practical guarantees, current NFL cornerbacks/safeties, per Spotrac:
- Ward, Cleveland Browns: $71.25 million
- Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams: $71.2 million
- Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens: $67.3 million
- Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints: $58.1 million
- Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills: $55.3 million
The numbers aren’t final thanks to the still-reported status of Alexander’s deal, but he’ll clock in at seventh place on that list if Josina Anderson’s report of $45 million in guarantees paid out over 2022 and 2023 is correct:
[2/2] I'm also told the $31M that Jaire Alexander gets in 2022 ( a figure essentially combining his 5th-year option of 13.3M + his estimated tag figure for 2023) forces the team to keep him beyond next season. After making $45M through year 2, there's no more guaranteed money.
— IG: JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) May 16, 2022
That’s pretty reasonable for a player who PFF rated as the best cornerback in the league in 2020. It’s only about $10 million more than Derek Stingley Jr. — the third overall pick in April’s draft — will make over the first four years of his rookie contract.
Alexander’s deal clears a considerable chunk of the $13-plus million he was owed in 2022 from the team’s salary cap.
Jaire Alexander’s base salary this year will be $1.076 million to get his cap number as low as possible this season.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 16, 2022
The Packers had a little less than $11 million to spend under the 2022 salary cap before extending Alexander, per Over the Cap. This should bump them up to around $17 million to spend this season. With a lingering market for veteran offensive linemen capable of serving as stopgap options (Daryl Williams, JC Tretter, Billy Price, Ereck Flowers), veteran wideouts capable of adding depth (Odell Beckham Jr., Will Fuller, Emmanuel Sanders) and viable defenders (Akiem Hicks, Trey Flowers, Anthony Barr), Green Bay can be more adventurous when sifting through the bargain bin of leftover free agents.
Unfortunately for Gutekunst, the money saved in 2022 is going to land on future years where his team isn’t exactly flush with spending room. The Packers had only an estimated $12 million to spend next offseason before their Alexander extension. They’re projected to have the seventh-worst cap space in 2024 without factoring whatever money Alexander will be owed. There’s no chance of a 2019-style spending spree in the foreseeable future. This is what the Packers will be for the next two-to-four seasons, with the exception of inexpensive veterans who outplay their contracts and rookies picked up through the draft.
That lack of cap space and locked-in future helped contribute to Adams’ departure when the team refused to give him DeAndre Hopkins-type cash before the 2021 season. It shouldn’t be as damaging moving forward. The team’s most important pending free agent for 2023 is either Adrian Amos, Dean Lowry or Allen Lazard — each important contributors, but none of whom would devastate the roster if Gutekunst can’t find the funds to re-sign them.
Things get dicier in 2024 when players like Rashad Gary, Darnell Savage, AJ Dillon and Elgton Jenkins are set to hit free agency. Fortunately, there’s more wiggle room against an expanding cap two years from now and, as the New Orleans Saints have repeatedly shown, you can always restructure contracts to kick the can on your salary commitments down the road a year or two.
There’s also the fact of the matter Gutekunst has been really good at finding bargain playmakers recently. De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas each played at a Pro Bowl level in 2021 despite being signed well after the offseason’s free agent rush and at dirt cheap prices. Ricky Wagner was a key part of the league’s second-best offensive line after signing an inexpensive deal in 2020. Draft hits under Gutekunst include Alexander, Gary, Savage, Dillon, Jenkins, Jon Runyan and Eric Stokes.
By extending Alexander to record money at his position, Gutekunst is sending the signal he can continue turning underappreciated players into assets. Paying Aaron Rodgers $50 million annually kinda meant he’d always have to do so if he wanted to keep the stars from his perennial playoff team aligned. The Packers, without Adams, are going to run it back and try again despite a litany of postseason disappointments littering their short-term memory.
Given the alternative — another win-now departure from a decidedly win-now team — it was the only strategy that made much sense. The Packers have an opportunity to continue their regular season reign across a depleted NFC. A healthy Alexander is a major part of that.
Now he’s under contract for four more years at a reasonable number. That’s a win for Green Bay and Gutekunst. Now they need Alexander to help engineer a few meaningful postseason victories to go with it.