The 2016 NFL season is officially in the books. The Green Bay Packers came up short of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl for the sixth straight year, and now the sense of urgency in Titletown continues to rise.
Just three days removed from the Patriots winning Super Bowl LI, it is time to look ahead to what steps the Packers must take to get back to the game’s biggest stage for the first time since 2010. Under Ted Thompson, Green Bay has placed a premium on drafting, developing, and retaining their own players.
This year, the Packers will face a number of tough decisions regarding their own players, as 11 members of the team are set to hit the open market on March 9. Green Bay will undoubtedly fill some of their roster gaps through the draft, and will hopefully bring in an outside free agent (or two) to fix a defense desperately in need of proven talent.
But the first item on the Packers’ 2017 agenda is figuring out what to do with their pre-existing personnel. From aging veterans to those coming off their rookie contracts, here’s who Green Bay has to address when free agency begins.
Peppers has reached the end of his three-year deal with the Packers after signing a contract before the 2014 season. The move paid dividends for Green Bay, as the veteran compiled 25 sacks in three years, the most on the team in that time frame. But Peppers is now 37 years old, and his durability remains in question. He showed that he still has something left in the tank when he is properly utilized, but his age means the Packers will be reluctant to offer a multi-year deal. If Peppers returns to Green Bay, which is lacking in established edge rushers, it would have to be for significantly less than the $10.5 million he made in 2016.
Perry was offered a one-year “prove it” deal last year, and he responded in a big way. He led the team with a career-high 11 sacks and finally flashed his former first round pick potential. However, he seemed to disappear at times, and once again struggled to stay healthy; he has yet to appear in all 16 games since being drafted in 2012. Still, the Packers are in desperate need of established edge rushers. While Perry may not be elite, his radically improved performance in 2016 will likely lead Green Bay trying hard to retain him.
Cook served as the sole “major” free agent pickup the Packers made last offseason. He started the season slow and missed almost two months with an injury, but brought a new dimension to Green Bay’s offensive attack when he was healthy. His speed and presence in the middle of the field opened up the passing game, and Aaron Rodgers seemed to trust Cook to make plays on third down–which he often responded to. The Packers could very well add a tight end in the draft, but re-signing Cook, an established veteran who became a major weapon, should be near the top of Green Bay’s free agent priorities.
The Packers had one of the best pass protecting offensive lines in the NFL, and Lang was a major part of that. He was solid at right guard all year on his way to earning a berth in the Pro Bowl. Lang did suffer an injury in the NFC Championship game, which does add a few question marks to his status moving forward. He is likely to be one of the more sought after guards in free agency, which could drive his price out of the range Green Bay is willing to spend. The Packers will want him back, but they have depth to shuffle on the line if he does depart.
Lacy remains a fan favorite, but his weight and injury issues over the last two years make the decision on him tougher than most. In 2013 and 2014, he established himself as a dynamic, punishing runner. He was off to a good start in 2016 before an ankle injury landed him on IR. After Starks was released Tuesday, only Ty Montgomery remains as a halfback on the roster. The Packers will most likely offer Lacy a prove-it deal similar to Perry’s in the hopes of building a strong Lacy/Montgomery backfield duo.
Michael had flashes of success in his limited time as a Packer, but could very well be playing elsewhere next season. A trio of Montgomery/Lacy/Michael remains possible, but Green Bay would likely prefer to hang onto Lacy if only one of the two impending free agents can be kept around.
Jones has recorded just nine sacks in his four years in the league. Those numbers may be serviceable for a mid- to late-round draft pick, but Jones was selected in the first round. If he’s brought back, and that’s a huge “if,” it would have to be on just a one-year contract. He simply has not shown he is capable of producing at the level the Packers hoped.
Hyde ranks up near Cook and Perry on the list of priorities. With the secondary wracked by injuries and players regressing, Hyde stepped up to fill in. His versatility allows him to play a variety of positions in the defensive backfield. For that reason alone, Green Bay would be wise to offer Hyde a new deal.
If the Packers are forced to move on from Lang, re-signing Tretter would become even more important. His injury history should drive his price down on the open market, and he can be shuffled around on the line. A relatively cheap deal should be enough to bring back Tretter.
Barclay proved to be a liability more than an asset, and will likely not receive a new contract. He is by far the weakest of the three free agent linemen the Packers have to address, and last year’s second round pick Jason Spriggs can fill the same role as Barclay at an even cheaper price.
Goode has been a reliable long snapper during his tenure in Green Bay, and the position does not usually require spending much money. The Packers recently signed long snapper Taybor Pepper, which could indicate the team is ready to move on from Goode, though it could also just be for training camp competition.
Overall, the Packers will have to make many tough decisions regarding their 11 free agents. Barclay, Jones, and Michael are expendable and will not be prioritized very highly. Goode won’t be a priority, but shouldn’t cost much if the Packers want him. Lacy and Peppers are players the Packers would like to have back, but only on team-friendly, short-term deals. Tretter or Lang could very well depart in free agency, though it would be incredibly surprising if the team loses out on both. Hyde, Perry, and Cook all proved their value to the team and should be Green Bay’s highest priorities among their own free agent players.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .