Moving onto the first look at the defense for the Green Bay Packers, their defensive line was filled with dominant play from certain individuals (Kenny Clark), some players came into their own but still are struggling to carve out a regular role (Tyler Lancaster, Dean Lowry), and others are just trying to break into the rotation on a regular basis (Montravius Adams, Kingsley Keke, Fadol Brown).
Of the six players, only Brown is not on the roster anymore, as the team cut him on Oct. 7 of last year. Clark is due to receive a huge extension, so the play of Lowry and Lancaster, above all else, will help offset the huge monetary investment this team should be gearing up to make.
Clark is one of the best in the entire league at what he does, snuffing out the run and clogging up the offensive linemen so the rest of the defense can attack and rush upfield. While Clark has put up pretty decent sack totals each season, especially for a player that mainly plays the role of the nose tackle, the stats that make him as efficient as he is are the ones that do not show up on the stat sheets after every game.
Adams was taken from Auburn and was expected to provide a solid interior presence for GB. While his presence on the defensive line has been nice, his three years in the NFL have been less than spectacular, especially for a third-round selection.
Keke’s rookie season was that of a non-existent fifth-round selection, as he produced three total tackles in his first season. While not exactly given ample playing time to prove his worth (94 total snaps), he obviously did not earn more of a shot, otherwise, DC Mike Pettine would have given him more run.
For both Lancaster and Lowry, they play the role of unsung role players quite well in the defense, yet their impacts in the game still present the Packers with the need to upgrade their line.
Clark’s new contract
Besides the fact that there reportedly is mutual interest between both the Packers and Clark to extend his stay as a member of the Packers, the fact of the matter is that Clark is at the top of his game and is one of the best at his position in the entire league. What remains to be seen, however, is what the going rate will be for Clark to secure his services for the next four-plus seasons.
Clark, who is only 24 years old at this point, would probably command a deal that averages out to be less than what Aaron Donald is making per season ($22.5 million) but higher than Grady Jarrett ($17 million). Even with how the GB front office likes to structure their extensions, with the CBA being up in the air at the moment, a deal with Clark should be on the backburner, just so they can make sure that all rules are followed and so the front office can see how much cap space they are actually working with.
A five-year deal worth around $17.5 million per season looks to be what Clark would be worth, with performance incentives, workout bonuses, and a signing bonus adding more money (potential and definite) to the deal. $87.5 million is what the base value of the deal would come out to be, with the performance escalators bumping it up to a potential of $95 million, roughly.
While a huge pill to swallow for Brian Gutekunst and Russ Ball, getting Clark under contract before he would reach the open market would represent a huge win for the team, especially since they would not need to worry about being outbid by another team.
Get some help for Clark
Besides extending Clark, he also is in desperate need of getting a running mate (or two) to help him on the defensive line, as the current crop of DE’s is not quite cutting it. While the group of Adams, Keke, Lancaster, and Lowry all operate in different ways alongside or in place of Clark, and the pass rush that is buttressed by both Za’Darius and Preston Smith, but there still needs to be at least one more piece added to that line.
Both free agency and the draft will produce its own unique options to choose from, but Clark is in need of a running mate that can help make his job easier. Michael Pierce of the Baltimore Ravens and Leonard Williams of the New York Giants are the two biggest inside lineman free agents this offseason, especially with the news that the Kansas City Chiefs are looking to put the franchise tag on DT Chris Jones, so there are a few options for this team if they want to go that route.
Adding either Pierce or Wiliams would provide a bit of speed alongside Clark, and for GB’s 3-4 scheme, pushing upfield and getting to the big hog mollies on the other side first is what is going to make this GB defense successful yet again.
The top item on the list is getting Clark extended, (almost) regardless of what it takes. His willingness to be the guy who lives in the trenches on a snap-by-snap basis and lives for the non-stat sheet statistics is exactly what this team needs and they need to show that by paying him as the one of the best to currently be doing it.
In the draft, defensive linemen look to be very high among some team’s draft boards, making Derrick Brown (Auburn), Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina), and Neville Gallimore (Oklahoma) big-time targets early on. Both Brown and Kinlaw are being looked at as consensus first-round selections, and early ones at that, but Gallimore, Ross Blacklock (TCU), Raekwon Davis (Alabama), and Jordan Davis (Missouri) would all be solid targets for the team, starting in the second round.
The defensive line for GB, while noteworthy because of how Clark has performed, is in need of one more playmaker to help Clark become even better. Regardless of if it is through free agency or the draft, the Packers need to upgrade this area, as well as provide Clark with a new contract, once the new CBA is voted on and put into place for the new league year.
Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23