Don't Assume Outcomes in the Offseason

Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb have all enjoyed tremendous success in their Green Bay careers. That is undeniable.

And though they’ve been handsomely rewarded for their past performances, it’s equally undeniable to say that in 2017, none of these players produced at a level befitting their salaries.

I don’t think either of these statements is controversial, but as the offseason wears on, the debate over what to do with these three (and really, all players whose contracts don’t align with their performance), has become increasingly muddled. This is especially true among the people who would like to see one, some, or all three players released.

The Packers have three clear options for each one of these players: keep them at their current salaries, release them outright, or restructure their contracts to retain them at a lower price.

The illusion of clear solutions

The outcomes for each of these options are unclear. Each one could result in positive or negative outcomes for the Packers. There is plenty to consider when it comes to each option, and no decision is completely straightforward.

But among the people who advocate for cutting one of these players, it seems to be taken as a foregone conclusion that the Packers will find someone who is as good or better to replace the released player. This is a mistake.

Too often analysis of decisions like these only considers the positive outcomes. The Packers will release an underperforming player and replace him with a better option, simple as that. Yet every year, we see the opposite take place. Teams across the league, the Packers included, think they can do better than a player they already have and try to make a switch, only to have it blow up in their faces. The grass, it turns out, is not always greener in the shade of a less onerous contract.

Recent history shows the danger of assuming outcomes

There are several examples of this kind of decision playing out negatively in recent Packers history. The most recent good example is Micah Hyde, whom the Packers allowed to escape to Buffalo in favor of their potential-laden yet unproven group of young safeties. Hyde was a consistent if limited member of the Packers’ secondary for years, and the team clearly didn’t think he merited a big contract extension. 

A year later, Hyde is an All-Pro and the Packers are still wondering what they have in Marwin Evans and Kentrell Brice.

Of course, it’s certainly possible that releasing one of these high-priced veterans is the right call, but the point is that nothing is guaranteed. Choosing to move on from someone a year early rather than a year late is always good, but that doesn’t mean choosing to move on will necessarily yield a positive outcome.