The Green Bay Packers lost two running backs to injuries and converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery to the position before being able to find a running game in 2016. They fell a game short of the Super Bowl after going on an eight-game tear to go from 4-6 to NFC North Champions, due in no small part to their revived running game.
As the team turns the corner to 2017, nearly the entire running back group is up for contract, and some intriguing options lie in free agency as well. This begs the question, what will the Packers backfield look like in 2017?
Montgomery is the favorite to retain a starting role, after an impressive pro debut at the position while averaging 5.9 yards per carry on 77 carries. However, concerns about his size and ability to handle a full workload arose down the stretch, as he sustained a rib injury that caused him to leave the NFC Championship game against the Falcons.
Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters at the NFL Combine this week that his interest in a Montgomery-Eddie Lacy 1-2 punch was “Very high.”
Although both were on the roster in 2016, the talents of Montgomery at the position were only discovered after Lacy’s ankle injury in Week 6 necessitated the position change. Lacy has quite opposite concerns about size, which no-doubt contributed to his ankle injury. He did prove effective early in 2016 however, rushing for 5.1 yards per carry on 71 carries.
“I think it’s important to recognize you always want some diversity between the running styles of your running backs and especially when they can both play all three downs,” McCarthy said, per Rob Demovsky. “That’s the most important component that I look for in running backs. They’re all different. It’s our job as coaches to take advantage of their skill set. But the fact that those can play all three downs and give you a different style runner is a huge benefit to our offense.”
Market value for Lacy according to Spotrac.com is $5.7 million over two years, and with lingering concerns about his weight, it would be surprising for the Packers to offer even that much.
Christine Michael showed Green Bay glimpses of what a Montgomery-Lacy tandem might look like, serving as the smash to Montgomery’s dash in 2016. Little has been reported on his status, likely because he pegs as a fallback in case Lacy is not re-signed. Expect their fates to be closely intertwined.
James Starks was released soon after an injury-plagued 2016 season. Though some have speculated the Packers bring him back on a cheaper deal, one wonders how cheap is worth bringing back a player that rarely looked like more than a role player beyond the 2010 playoff run. Now at 31, a younger and cheaper option than Starks will be out there in the late rounds of the draft or in undrafted free agency.
John Crockett and Don Jackson are exclusive rights free agents and still practice-squad eligible, which could be reason enough to try and keep them around.
Looking beyond the Packers’ 2016 roster, there is the man every Packers fan has at one point fantasized about teaming up with Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson. AP is very emblematic of the free agent crop of running backs available this year, in the sense that many were much more appealing options three to five years ago. The list of Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson, Rashad Jennings, LeGarrette Blount and even Reggie Bush, DeAngelo Williams and Darren McFadden reads like a who’s who of has-been’s. The only way Green Bay dips into this pool is if they lose Lacy to another team. That would put them in need of a hard-charger to compliment Montgomery, and of those listed, Peterson and Blount best fit that mold. Both figure to be highly sought after in free agency however, and the Packers would have to pitch themselves as a Super Bowl contender particularly to Peterson, who has seen them dominate his division for much of his career.
What 2016 running backs should be re-signed? What free agents should be pursued that I left out? Let me know in the comments.
——————Zac Bellman is a sports writer, experienced journalist and Marquette University graduate with a degree in journalism. You can read his current articles here on PackersTalk.com. To connect with Zac, follow him on twitter at @ZacBellman_WNY. or check out his Facebook page Zac Bellman-Sportwriter