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PACKERS

Jaire Alexander’s 4-year, $84 million extension brings security for star cornerback, cap relief for team

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GREEN BAY — Jaire Alexander tried not to get emotional. The Green Bay Packers were kicking off training camp last summer, and their emerging star cornerback had finally received the respect he always felt he’d earn.

The 2018 first-round draft pick, coming off a season in which he’d been named second-team All-Pro and been picked for the Pro Bowl, was finally getting his due. While the Packers had come up short in their quest for a Super Bowl berth, it wasn’t as if Alexander hadn’t done his part, intercepting legendary quarterback Tom Brady not once but twice in the Packers’ NFC Championship Game loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Now, Alexander was almost six months removed from that game, and he’d been asked to contemplate what all the honorifics from the previous season meant to him.

“I’m just thankful that everyone else gets a chance to see what I always thought I was,” Alexander said after a long, deep breath. “I love the love. Because that’s something that was rarely received to me. It’s cool, but at the same time, it’s also humbling, because I know where I came from, so it always pushes me.”

On Monday, despite a disappointing 2021 in which he spent more than half the season sidelined by a significant right shoulder injury, the kid who’d been lightly regarded coming out of high school in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, the undersized but tenacious defender whose fearlessness had led in part to that injury, got some more love — this time, in the form of a four-year, $84 million extension.

Based on the new money in the deal, Alexander becomes the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, with an annual average of $21 million per year. The deal includes a $30 million signing bonus while also including just a $1.076 million base salary for this season, allowing the Packers to whittle his salary-cap number down from the guaranteed one-year, $13.294 million he was set to earn on the fifth-year option year of his rookie contract.

And in addition to that cap savings of roughly $6 million it also averts a potentially acrimonious offseason showdown, had Alexander understandably held out of training camp in search a long-term deal and the security it would provide.

ESPN and NFL Network were first to report that the sides were closing in on a deal, and a league source confirmed that Alexander and the Packers were finalizing the extension. The Packers had not formally announced the deal as of Monday afternoon.

Asked in late March how immediate of a priority a deal with Alexander was, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst replied, “I mean, we’d love to. We’ll kind of see how that goes. He’s such a big part of what we’re doing, he’s been such a good player for us since the day he kind of arrived. We’d love for that to happen. Certainly, we’ve been in communication with his representation and we will continue to be as we go through the year.”

According to OverTheCap.com, the $21 million per year average surpasses the five-year, $100.5 million extension Cleveland’s Denzel Ward signed last month.

Alexander missed most of last season after suffering a right shoulder injury during a Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 3. Alexander eschewed surgery in hopes of returning sometime during the season, but he wound up missing the final 13 regular-season games and only returned to the lineup for the team’s divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 22.

He only played eight of the Packers’ 54 defensive snaps that night and was on the field for the crucial third-and-7 that the 49ers converted on their way to the game-winning field goal as time expired.

Nevertheless, the Packers clearly viewed the 25-year-old Alexander as absolutely vital to a defense where the team has made extensive investments on that side of the ball, from making Kenny Clark one of the NFL’s highest-paid defensive tackles, to extending edge rusher Preston Smith to investing a pair of first-round picks on two Georgia defenders — inside linebacker Quay Walker and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt — in this year’s NFL draft.

While rookie first-round pick Eric Stokes played well and midseason pickup Rasul Douglas was a revelation with a team-best five interceptions, the Packers clearly missed Alexander last season.

“Obviously, he’s a guy that’s really important to us, one of the premier corners in this league,” head coach Matt LaFleur said after Alexander’s injury, which came while tackling Steelers running back Najee Harris on a fourth-down play during the third quarter of that win over the Steelers.

“We’re hopeful to get him back but as far as the timeline, I just know it’s going to be a while. I know he’ll do everything he can to try to get back because he’s a big part of this football team.”

With the additional salary-cap room, the Packers have about $10 million to work with, even with most of their rookie class under contract. Whether they’ll use that money to bring in a veteran wide receiver to augment that group or squirrel away the cap space for a move during training camp or perhaps at the trade deadline remains to be seen.

“Roster building’s 365. I say it all the time,” Gutekunst said after the draft. “We’ll kind of see what opportunities are out there as we move forward.

“When you draft players at certain positions, specifically high, other players on other teams may become available. We’ll see what’s out there and if we can help our team. What we did in the draft wouldn’t prevent us from trying to help our team at wide receiver or anywhere else.”

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