With news that the Green Bay Packers are about $9 million under the salary cap for the 2016 season after signing all of their draft picks, we can begin looking at how that money will be used. Most, if not all, of it will go toward re-signing the long list of players ready to hit the open market as free agents in 2017. Below I will look at each player and consider how likely or unlikely it is that they are a member of the 2017 Packers team.
Julius Peppers – Unlikely
Peppers is 36 years old and would be 38 by the end of the 2017 season. No doubt he has made a significant impact on the defense since coming to Green Bay two years ago, but even Peppers’ freakishly athletic body has to slow down at some point. That being said, Peppers is chasing a title. If the Packers fall short this year but Peppers retains a high level of play, it’s not entirely unthinkable that he could be back. I wouldn’t bet on it, however. Very few NFL players have pushed their career to 16 seasons, and most that have been able to do so are punters, kickers, and quarterbacks.
Josh Sitton – Coin Toss Trending Toward Unlikely
Sitton is arguably the best left guard in the NFL. He could certainly garner a pretty penny on the open market. But he will turn 31 before the start of the 2017 season. Sitton will still have at least several Pro-Bowl type years ahead of him, but the question will be whether the Packers, who usually commit to staying young, will want to put up the money to keep a guy heading toward the end of his career. I think that Sitton and Lang’s futures are closely tied. The Packers will do everything they can to keep one of them around. Certainly the Packers would love to keep both, but whether they’ll be able to will be a different story. Still, with Aaron Rodgers turning 33 this year and GM Ted Thompson likely reaching the later stages of his career, if the Packers fall short of a Super Bowl championship, they may feel more pressure to bring back their most talented and experienced offensive lineman.
TJ Lang – Coin Toss Trending Toward Likely
If Sitton is perhaps a top 5 offensive guard in the league, Lang isn’t too far behind. Lang is also a few years younger, turning 29 early in the 2016 season. I have no doubts that the Packers will heavily push to keep at least one of their two starting guards. Lang may make more sense for the team given his age, but he could also leverage that into a bigger deal on the open market.
Nick Perry – Coin Toss
For a first round draft pick, Perry hasn’t necessarily lived up to the hype. He’s also had some problems with staying healthy. With that being said, Perry has shown himself to be an important role player in Dom Capers’ defense. With Peppers getting older, Perry will certainly see his fair share of snaps this season. If Perry maintains his normal average of about 3.5 sacks and 25 tackles, the Packers may be able to sign him back for a relatively cheap price.
Jared Cook – Coin Toss Trending Toward Unlikely
Originally I would have said that there would be no way that Cook would resign with the Packers. He was signed to a one year deal in order to give the Packers some speed and receiving help from the tight end position while they groomed a tight end of the future. However, with the Packers not drafting a single tight end in 2016, the story may be a little different. After Cook and Richard Rodgers, the Packers have only young question marks at the position, like Kennard Backman and Mitchell Henry. Cook has seen a lot of different QBs in his career. If he plays as well in Green Bay as many expect, he might find that he’s willing to take a little less pay in order to continue catching balls from Aaron Rodgers. As we saw in the 2016 offseason, however, the market is willing to pay big for pass receiving tight ends. Cook could easily use an up 2016 season to vault himself back into big money next year.
Datone Jones – Coin Toss
Jones is another former first round pick who hasn’t lived up to the hype. However, he’s looking to play his first full season at the specialized, hybrid elephant position on defense. So much of his future value will be determined at how he plays in 2016. You have got to think that Jones offer a little more versatility to the defense than Perry, and at 26, he could still be blossoming coming into the 2017 season. I think that it’s more likely that the team resigns Jones than Perry.
David Bakhtiari – Unlikely
Bakhtiari is a young, athletic left tackle who has proven himself to be a very good starter in the NFL. He stands to make major money in free agency. When the Packers traded up for Jason Spriggs in the second round of the 2016 draft, it certainly looked like they were drafting Bakhtiari’s replacement.
Micah Hyde – Coin Toss
Hyde is part of a bevvy of young talent at defensive back. While Hyde is a sure tackler and a big time contributor on special teams, he hasn’t shown himself to be great in coverage. That ability to play both safety and cornerback gave Hyde more value in Green Bay. Hyde feels like one of those players that the Packers might let test the waters, hoping that there isn’t much interest.
Tim Mathsay – Unlikely
It’s no secret that Mathsay hasn’t exactly been a stellar punter for the past few seasons. Many fans are hoping that rookie Peter Mortell unseats Mathsay in training camp this year. I think that that is highly unlikely. The Packers have not easily pulled the plug on slumping specialists who are still under contract. However, with Mathsay’s contract coming to a close, it’s hard to imagine the Packers taking the extra step and actually re-signing him.
Eddie Lacy – Coin Toss Trending Toward Unlikely
The best case scenario for the Packers this year may be that the question surrounding Lacy’s weight and effectiveness continue. If Lacy bounces back in 2016 with a solid season, he would stand to make much more on the open market than the Packers would probably be willing to pay him. It’s been awhile since the Packers have paid big money to a running back. Guys that play like Lacy tend to not last very long in the NFL. Historically speaking, you wouldn’t expect the Packers to match the offers that Lacy could get from teams that typically overspend on big name skill players like Lacy.
Lerentee McCray – Unknown
McCray hasn’t played a single snap for the Green Bay Packers. He is a free agent acquisition from the Denver Broncos. At this point, McCray is simply trying to make the team. It’s too early to say anything about his NFL career a year from now.
J.C. Tretter – Likely
Tretter is a young utility offensive lineman, capable of playing at multiple positions. He’s looked very good in limited play and likely would not command too high of a contract. The team may even wish to try him as a possible replacement for Sitton or Lang at guard.
Don Barclay – Unlikely
Barclay may also be fighting for his job in 2016. It’s hard to say with any certainty that he’ll even be with the Packers come next summer. The Packers have stuck with Barclay through injuries and some pretty poor performances, but like Mathsay, it’s hard to see them actually attempting to re-sign him.
Sam Barrington – Likely
It seems unlikely that both Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez will unseat Barrington at both of the two inside linebacker positions in 2016. The Packers are hoping that Barrington can make a jump from ‘competent’ to ‘able’ at the position. Right now, Barrington looks to be the most complete inside linebacker on the roster, a position which has been notoriously bad in recent years. Unless Barrington is displaced or struggles in 2016, the Packers simply can’t allow themselves to get even thinner at the position.——————
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.