By this point, the Green Bay Packers' quiet approach to veteran free agency should surprise no one. We've had endless debates about the pros and cons of their philosophy, but in the spring of 2012, I think we should all have a clear understanding of the "why."
In the next 12 months or so, the Packers will face contract negotiations with three of the best players at their positions in the NFL. Receiver Greg Jennings is entering the final year of his contract, linebacker Clay Matthews has two years remaining on his rookie deal, and there is a general understanding that quarterback Aaron Rodgers has outperformed the contract he signed shortly after taking over as the Packers' starter in 2008.
Free agent activity this week has offered us a peak at the numbers the Packers likely will hear, and to no surprise, they're going to be high. Let's start with Jennings, who has to be smiling ear-to-ear after watching the money thrown at receivers this week.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers set the market for the top receiver available by signing Vincent Jackson to a five-year, $55 million deal with $26 million guaranteed. If Jennings were to hit the open market in 2013, he could reasonably expect Jackson's deal to serve as a baseline for negotiations.
Both players have been fortunate enough to play with elite quarterbacks and in steady passing offenses. As the chart shows, Jennings is a bit younger than Jackson, and has produced at a much higher rate over his career.
We'll set aside the $132 million contract of Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, as well as the $120 million deal Larry Fitzgerald signed last summer with the Arizona Cardinals. Both deals were inflated by unique forms of leverage that Jennings won't have access to.
Rodgers, meanwhile, is the reigning MVP and could expect a contract that comes close to the $18 million annual average the game's top quarterbacks -- including Tom Brady and Peyton Manning -- have received in recent deals. Ongoing negotiations between Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints could raise that level, but Brees has the leverage of an expired contract.
Regardless, you can do the math. Rodgers said in November that he wants his next contract to be his last. If the Packers want to sign Rodgers to a new, say, seven-year deal, the total value could surpass $125 million. Nothing crazy there when it comes to quarterback salaries.
Of the three, Matthews might be the most difficult situation to assess. His sack total fell from 13.5 in 2010 to six in 2011, but it's fair to consider him one of the NFL's better pass-rushers. The top available pass-rusher on the market this spring is defensive end/linebacker Mario Williams, who has reportedly agreed to a deal with the Buffalo Bills for $100 million over six years, with $50 million guaranteed.
So we can be conservative and suggest that the combined contracts of Jennings, Rodgers and Matthews could surpass $200 million. That should give you 200 million reasons why the Packers are laying low, at least at the moment.