In 2016, the struggle of the Green Bay Packers’ defensive secondary illustrated the importance of solid veteran players to the success of an NFL team. After Sam Shields went down with a season-ending injury, the Packers were left with a smattering of young, inexperienced cornerbacks. Those young players could not alone carry the weight of their collective responsibility, and the Packers’ defensive secondary all but collapsed under its weight.
Obviously the Packers will need to address the cornerback situation this offseason, but it’s important that Ted Thompson play his cards right so as not to drive the Packers’ outside linebacker corps into the same position.
It’s already been reported that the Packers will likely not re-sign Julius Peppers. Both Nick Perry and Datone Jones are unrestricted free agents. Jayrone Elliott is a restricted free agent. That leaves the Packers’ currently very thin at the outside linebacker position.
Clay Matthews is under contract, but his pass-rushing abilities seem to have taken a nose dive over the past few years. The only other outside linebacker under contract with any NFL regular season experience is Kyler Fackrell, a second year player coming off of a somewhat disappointing rookie season for a third round pick.
The Packers could go either way with Datone Jones or Jayrone Elliott. Neither player is likely to command major money from other teams, but it only takes one suitor for the Packers to let either walk, deciding to cut bait with two players who have certainly not made themselves indispensable to the team.
Datone Jones has only 9 sacks over his four year NFL career, which is pretty discouraging for a first round pick. Datone was originally drafted as a defensive lineman but was to a converted a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker “elephant” rusher last year. The hope was that this would free up Jones, allowing the Packers to utilize him in multiple positions and formations to get after the quarterback. Unfortunately, Jones accounted for only a single sack in 2016.
Jayrone Elliott appeared to be an heir to one of the outside linebacker spots over the past few years. However, while flashing in preseason games, Elliott hasn’t really emerged as a starting-caliber player in his limited time on the field in regular season action. Elliott played in a total of 11 games last year but also notched only a single sack. With a young, sub-par secondary, it is vital for the Packers’ defense to get pressure on the opposing passer. They can’t rely upon Jones, Elliott, or Fackrell as a starter in 2017.
Perry hasn’t been a flashy player, especially for a first round pick. He has been quietly consistent, however, emerging as a solid run-stopping linebacker. Last year, Perry took a major step forward as a pass-rusher as well, overshadowing his original career-high of 4 sacks in 2013 with 11 in 2016.
At only 26, Perry is also likely to garner some significant interest on the open market. Spotrac estimates his value at about $8.5 million per year. Some teams may be willing to pay more for a young, premium position, former first round pick who is on the rise.
Still, the Packers have cap money to spend. I am not stating that Perry is worth, say, $9 million a year. However, if you want to remain competitive in the NFL, you can’t always let players walk as soon as they hit your determined value. Certainly the Packers should not get into a bidding war with a team willing to dish out exuberant amounts of cash. However, spending an extra $1 or $2 million is certainly better than immediately walking into the regular season without a reliable pass-rush.
If the Packers are going to go out and throw money at Melvin Ingram (they won’t), this perhaps changes matters. But short of a top-tier acquisition, the Packers need to retain Perry’s services in order to give themselves some insurance on defense. While it’s possible that D. Jones or Fackrell could step up and succeed as a starting outside linebacker, it shouldn’t be expected.
The Packers’ defense needs improvement if they’re going to make a serious run at another championship. Green Bay certainly can’t let one of the most important positions in Dom Capers’ defense backslide.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.