I had a chance to stop by the Railbird Central podcast and talk about the Packers controlled free agents.  You can listen to that show with legendary host Brian Carriveau right here.  That is not today’s discussion.  Today’s discussion is to identify which of the Packers current unrestricted free agents can be expected to re-join the team.  This will help us identify potential street, unrestricted and draftable targets for GM Ted Thompson.

Thompson has released CB Sam Shields, continuing an unbelievable stretch of bad luck with concussions, neck and spinal injuries that have ended promising Packer careers, even just during the Thompson era.  They also released 2010 hero James Starks.  Starks is now on the wrong side of 30, and at 2.3 yards per carry was one of the worst backs in football a season ago.  Julius Peppers will also reportedly not be returning to Green Bay.  There’s a chance Peppers retires.

All of this together has created around $45 million in cap space for one of the last four teams left in football.

Let’s get started:

TJ Lang: Lang has been one of the very best guards in football for the last three seasons after a tumultuous beginning to his pro career.  A converted college tackle, Lang showed the ability to play both right and left guard during his time with the Packers.  He and Josh Sitton were an effective (and hilarious) guard tandem.

Lang is one of the very few Packers left with a Super Bowl ring.  He’s a veteran leader in the locker room and someone that QB1 would rather have on the team than not.  The Packers might benefit from Lang not being as attractive on the open market as the younger Kevin Zeitler.  The top player at a position on the market generates expensive and immediate interest.  Gut feeling: Lang returns on a ~3 year deal in the neighborhood of $7.5 million to get him in to his early 30s.

Nick Perry: Perry, like many pass rushers, took some time to realize his potential.  Perry was a playmaker this season, recording 11 sacks, an interception and four passes defensed.  It was easily his best season as a pro, despite playing much of it with a club on his hand.  Perry was not quite as effective when teams were game planning for him while Clay Matthews was injured.

There is perhaps no more valuable position in football (besides quarterback) than edge rushers, so Perry off an 11 sack season is not going to come back cheap.  He’s certainly not going to earn more than the $5 million he made this season.   Gut feeling: Perry moves on, securing ~$10 million in AAV over the course of a four or five year deal.  Folks are desperate for pass rush.  Desperate money is not something that Ted Thompson is willing to do.

Jared Cook: Cook was a revelation this season.  His play was impressive, especially down the stretch, but the offense was also much more impressive when he was on the field than when he was not.  Cook had a Finley-like effect on the Packers offense.  His ability to take coverage away from the other receivers is not something that Richard Rodgers or Justin Perillo.

QB1 immediately stumped for Cook’s return upon the ending of the season.  It was also clear that the 2009 draft pick was happy in Green Bay and excited to be playing winning football.  Gut feeling: Cook is 29, and I’d feel comfortable giving him the James Jones deal.  3 years, $10 million for Cook.  It’s a raise from his 2016 salary, but still a team friendly number.

JC Tretter: Tretter is a wonderful football player.  I’d feel comfortable with him as the primary backup at every position across the line and he’s a very capable starting center.  He’s also very injury-prone.  Tretter has struggled to stay healthy for 16 game seasons.  He and Corey Linsley are both starting caliber centers, which has been a coup for the Packers the last three years.

Someone, though, is going to fall in love with Tretter’s potential.  He’s a mid-round Ted Thompson pick and because of that other GMs, specifically those who’ve worked under Thompson are likely going to be interested. His ability to play all five positions will likely price him right out of Green Bay.  Gut feeling: Tretter moves on, and is replaced in Green Bay by 2016 1st round pick Kyle Murphy.

Datone Jones: Jones might not be a first round pick, but he’s a quality player.  His first season on the edge was not great from a box score perspective, but it was a good season, as my friend Zach Jacobson chronicled on Cheesehead TV.  He’s an effective player, and because his box score doesn’t make any jaws drop, might be affordable.

Jones seems to enjoy playing in Green Bay, and should be a part of the team’s future, at least for one more contract.  He’s part of the diversification of front line players, as his body type is not a replicable one on Green Bay’s roster.  Gut feeling: Jones returns on a one year, prove-it deal for $4 million, much like Perry did a season ago.

Eddie Lacy: Lacy, after a rookie of the year campaign has struggled to stay in shape and struggled to stay on the field.  He has been a very good player, though, when he’s been on the field.  He also does a good job in short yardage and is a willing pass blocker.  He would also be an outstanding complement to Ty Montgomery, whose transformation to full time back will be a rousing success.

Lacy needs the Packers as much as they need Lacy.  It has already been reported that the two sides seem likely to agree on a one year, prove-it deal.  I’m thinking $2 million.  RBs are devalued and Lacy is a devalued player.

Micah Hyde: Hyde is Green Bay’s swiss army knife.  He’s been able to play a little cornerback, a lot of slot, as well as some safety.  He’s also a very effective punt returner.  Hyde is a capable backup at all positions and probably contains more value to the Packers than any other team in football.

Hyde should remain a part of a Packers secondary that is clearly trying to rebuild.  It takes a great football mind to understand all the positions in a Dom Capers defense, and Hyde clearly has that. Gut feeling:  Hyde will return on a James Jones type deal as well.  3 years $9 million

Not returning: Christine Michael, Don Barclay

Bottom line: Green Bay re-signs Hyde, Lacy, Jones, Cook and Lang for a total of about $19 million in AAV.  This leaves Green Bay with $26 million in cap space to either sign free agents or use on their draft class and roll over into the 2018 cap.


Ross Uglem is a writer at PackersTalk.com. You can follow Ross on twitter at RossUglem