- Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When free agency began a month ago, the Green Bay Packers had the sixth-most salary-cap space among all NFL teams.
A month later, even after re-signing several of their own free agents and adding Julius Peppers, their salary-cap situation remains healthy.
They are currently $15,636,891 under their adjusted salary cap for the 2014 season. That ranks as the seventh-most cap space available, according to the latest figures from ESPN Stats & Information contract data.
The Packers will need about $5 million in cap space for their rookie salaries.
At this time of year, only the top 51 contracts count toward the salary cap.
With that in mind, here's a position-by-position look at the Packers' salary-cap situation under the top 51 rule. On Thursday, we looked at the offense. Today, we look at the defense:
Percentage of salary-cap space used: 7.56
Total cap charge: $9,648,919
NFL average: $12,840,629
Biggest cap hit: Mike Neal, $3,750,000
Biggest bargain: Mike Daniels, $645,146
Outlook: For the purpose of this exercise, we're putting Neal in the defensive end category along with Peppers ($3.75 million cap charge for 2014) because that's how the ESPN Stats & Information salary system has them categorized. In reality, though, Neal, Peppers and perhaps outside linebacker Nick Perry all will play a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position. Daniels made a jump from two sacks as a rookie to 6.5 last season and should get more opportunities this year. Peppers' salary-cap number spikes to $12 million next season. Also, Peppers currently counts nearly $8.3 million in dead money on the Chicago Bears' salary cap.
Percentage of salary-cap space used: 4.31
Total cap charge: $5,496,453
NFL average: $8,979256
Biggest cap hit: B.J. Raji, $4,000,000
Biggest bargain: Josh Boyd, $531,140
Outlook: Raji returned under a one-year deal after a disappointing 2013 season, but the Packers will move him back to his more natural position, nose tackle. Boyd, a fifth-round pick last season, saw increased playing time late in his rookie year and could have an even greater role this season. Letroy Guion, who signed to a one-year deal last month after he was cut by the Minnesota Vikings, would count $965,313 against the cap if he makes the team. If he doesn’t, only his $100,000 bonus would count on the cap.
Percentage of salary-cap space used: 19.96
Total cap charge: $25,463,640
NFL average: $15,493,188
Biggest cap hit: Clay Matthews, $10,943,750
Biggest bargain: Andy Mulumba, $496,666
Outlook: The Packers have five linebackers, including Matthews, that count more than $1 million against this year’s cap. The others are A.J. Hawk ($5.1 million), Brad Jones ($3.925 million), Perry ($2.045 million) and Jamari Lattimore ($1.431 million).
Percentage of salary-cap space used: 15.81
Total cap charge: $20,173,209
NFL average: $12,150,127
Biggest cap hit: Tramon Williams, $9 million
Biggest bargain: Micah Hyde, $539,527
Outlook: There was some doubt last season about whether Williams would be back under the terms of the final year of his contract, but he finished the season playing perhaps as well as he did during the Super Bowl run in 2010. The four-year, $39 million contract that Sam Shields signed last month has a moderate cap number this year ($5.562 million) but jumps to $9.125 million next season and $12.125 million in each of the following two seasons.
Percentage of salary-cap space used: 4.63
Total cap charge: $5,910,418
NFL average: $8,315,431
Biggest cap hit: Morgan Burnett, $4,843,750
Biggest bargain: Sean Richardson, $571,668
Outlook: There will be additions to this position, likely through the draft and perhaps even in the first or second round. The Packers also plan to use Hyde some at safety but haven't committed to him moving full time from cornerback. Richardson is a promising prospect who returned late last season from neck surgery.