Now that we’ve reached the first football-less Sunday of 2017 (I guess the Pro Bowl counts), it’s time to take a look at who the Packers should bring back for next year and who they should let walk and hit the open market. GM Ted Thompson is famous for bringing back his own drafted players on second and third contracts, but probably equally famous for not overpaying when a player’s value on the market exceeds his value on the field.
With 20 players set to hit free agency on March 9th, the first day of the 2017 season and when free agency begins, it’s a good thing Thompson has more or less $43 million in cap space to work with. Not everyone will return next year, but not everyone should.
Let’s take a look.
Eddie Lacy, Christine Michael, Don Jackson (ERFA), John Crockett (ERFA), Joe Kerridge (ERFA), Geronimo Allison (ERFA), Jared Cook, TJ Lang, JC Tretter, Don Barclay
The two biggest names here are Lacy and Lang, though there are good reasons for letting both of them walk, despite their name-recognition. After that, there’s a slew of supporting-role players that certainly helped the offense, but aren’t vital to it.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
First of all, there are four Exclusive Rights Free Agents on offense in Jackson, Crockett, Kerridge, and Allison. This means if the Packers want to keep any of these players, they can offer them a minimum tender, very roughly around $500,000 depending on a player’s experience.
The Packers will definitely give this to Allison as he showed a lot of promise late last year. As for Jackson, Crockett, and Kerridge, I’d give Crockett the best chance at returning next year, though Kerridge could justify a tender offer due to special teams play.
Lacy played in just six games this season after a tough showing in 2015, but he looked really good doing it. He averaged over five yards per carry for the first time in his career. He looked like he had more stamina and agility than the year before, likely thanks to his well-publicized offseason training program.
Lacy’s injury set in motion a revolving door at the running back position as each successive back the Packers tried out either also got injured or failed to produce. Finally, Ty Montgomery, who was originally a wide receiver if you hadn’t heard, proved capable and more.
Many will call for Lacy to be let loose due to his injury history and weight issues, but a two-headed monster of Lacy and Montgomery is a productive backfield. Look at how New England uses LeGarrette Blount. They let their other backs wear down the defense for two-and-a-half quarters and then bring in their big bruiser to lay the finishing blow. Lacy is a very good back, and using him like this will keep him better-rested, healthier, and more effective. It may take a 3-year, $15 million contract to keep him, but with so little invested in the running back position, that’s a fair price to pay.
Lang is the other offensive free agent that will require a large sum to retain. Thompson released fellow guard Josh Sitton just before the season began last year and showed that he certainly isn’t afraid to get younger on the line (Lang will be 30 in September). Lane Taylor stepped in and was a rousing success and, while there’s no clear backup guard to take over if Lang leaves, Jason Spriggs could fill in.
Lang has repeatedly said he wants to return and loves playing in Green Bay. He’s an emotional leader in the locker room and one of the team’s longest-tenured players (only Jordy Nelson, Brett Goode, Mason Crosby, and Aaron Rodgers have been there longer).
I think Lang would be willing to take a cheaper deal than he’d get on the open market if it meant he could stay in Green Bay. That said, he wouldn’t sign for free and Thompson may be hesitant to hand a 30-year-old interior lineman a three or four year deal. However, the temptation to bring back the same offensive line that was giving Aaron Rodgers up to nine seconds of time to throw has got to be too much. I anticipate the two sides meeting in the middle and settling somewhere around a three-year, $20 million dollar deal.
Cook was a late-season hero for the Packers as he made some of the most important grabs of the season, not the least of which allowed the Packers to kick the game-winning field goal against the Cowboys in the Divisional Round. While statistically his season wasn’t amazing, it’s important to remember that Cook’s value isn’t just his ability to catch the ball. He draws safety help away from other players and occupies a lot of space with his 6-4 frame. It’s no coincidence that the Packers were 10-3 in games Cook played in this season, including the playoffs.
Cook signed in Green Bay on a cheap one-year deal last offseason and I expect most fans want to see him back again next year. It will cost a big more money and will need to be a longer deal, but after eight years of THIS throwing you the ball, I’d rather stay very, very close to Aaron Rodgers. I think a 3-year, $13 million dollar deal will have both sides leaving the negotiating table happy.
Tretter was the team’s starting center to begin the season and performed very well. Then, a surgery-requiring knee injury ended his season as Corey Linsley stepped in and re-earned his starting spot. Tretter is a very interesting case as an unrestricted free agent this year. It’s very possible there is a team out there who saw Tretter’s skill at the start of the season and wants him as their starter in the middle. However, Tretter has proven to be injury-prone in his short career.
Linsley is likely going to stay at center assuming everyone is healthy, which means Tretter is most likely to find starting money with a different club. However, the other possibility is if the Packers decide to move Tretter to guard and let Lang’s more expensive name walk to save some cap room. I don’t think that is what will happen, but I’m not the GM.
What I think is best for both sides is probably to let Tretter go to another team and hopefully make a lot of money and play a lot of football. There’s no denying that he’s a very talented player, but he’s going to be too expensive to keep as just an injury-prone backup behind a very talented group.
This is an easy one because I think Don Barclay is bad.
That’s not entirely fair to a player who has been forced to play every position on the offensive line over the course of his career, often at a moment’s notice. But, when Barclay is in the game, the opponent knows where the Packers’ weak spot is. He’s okaaayyy anywhere on the line, but not very good at any one position. There are younger and better backups to take a look at next year that keeping Barclay would be irresponsible. I know he is very well-liked on the team, but it’s time to part ways.
The last offensive free agent is an interesting one. Michael was brought in after spending a few years on the Seahawks as “the next big thing” after Marshawn Lynch. The team kept waiting for him to break out and prove he’s a future star, but it just never happened.
A similarly lackluster stint in Green Bay left Packers’ fans wanting. Michael showed flashes of productivity, but rumors were that he was still struggling with the playbook even after several weeks in the organization.
I’ve never seen, held, or been read aloud an NFL Playbook. I don’t know really know how to read one and I doubt I’d be able to figure one out on my own. Perhaps I wouldn’t even recognize one if it were in front of me. But, if someone paid me $725,000 to learn one, you better be damned sure I’ll learn that playbook.
I think Michael won’t be missed too badly if Lacy and Montgomery are in the backfield next year. And with Aaron Ripkowski also taking a carry or two each game, there aren’t enough left to justify Michael on the roster. Let him go.