This is Part II of my assessment of the Packers’ expiring contracts. For Part I, see this link.
With the offensive side of the ball taken care of, it’s time to turn to the much-maligned defensive group. As a unit, it was far inferior to the offense, but that is to be expected when Aaron Rodgers is on your team. Still, it would be incorrect to say the defense wasn’t a disappointment this season, particularly the secondary.
The highlight was probably the first four weeks when the run defense didn’t allow more than 50 yards to any team. However, the 191 allowed to the Cowboys in Week 5 somewhat soured that achievement. The cornerback position was devastated by injury at a rate Packers fans haven’t seen since, well, the running back position this year. After the team released cornerback Sam Shields last week, the rest of the position remains under contract going into 2017.
Let’s take a look at all the impending defensive free agents.
Datone Jones, Christian Ringo (ERFA), Jayrone Elliot (RFA), Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Joe Thomas (ERFA), Jordan Tripp (RFA), Micah Hyde
With fewer important free agents on this side of the ball, is it possible GM Ted Thompson looks to free agency to shore up a weak spot in the lineup? The last big name he signed was Peppers, who he’ll have another decision on this year. The biggest name of the list is Perry who had a monster year and led the team in sacks. After a disappointing career up until this point though, how much faith does Thompson have in the former first-round pick?
Exclusive Rights and Restricted Free Agents
It feels like Joe Thomas has been around the organization for a lot longer than two years, and that’s because he’s been on the field a lot more often than you’d expect an undrafted free agent. He started as just a dime package linebacker, but eventually beat out Blake Martinez for a starting spot before Martinez’ injury. I fully expect the Packers to tender an offer to Thomas – it’s one of the easier decisions of the offseason.
Ringo could also be tendered as he’s still very young, but he hasn’t gotten on the field enough and has been beaten out consistently over the past two seasons. I wouldn’t be surprised if Green Bay wants another look, but I wouldn’t be sad to see him leave.
Tripp may come back as a contributor on special teams, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the organization let go of someone brought in so late in the season.
Elliot is a player I would like to see return. He doesn’t get a ton of attention on the team, but it seems like he’s good for depth on that defense. He affects the game quite often for someone who’s not regularly on the field. Because of the small-ish investment (~$1.67 million) an original round tender would require, I’d quite expect the Packers to bring him back.
Perry will be expensive. Quality edge rushers usually are. The problem with Perry is that this was the first year that he’s actually been productive since he was drafted in 2011. Perry played in 46 games over his first four seasons in the league and recorded just 12.5 sacks. He nearly matched that number in 14 games this season when he took down the quarterback 11 times to lead the team. In the NFL, you don’t pay for past performances, good or bad, but for what the player will accomplish over the length of the deal you’re offering. Perry was disappointing enough on his rookie deal for the Packers to not pick up his team option, but still promising enough to bring back on a 1-year “prove-it” deal. Perry proved what he’s capable of, but has also shown he can disappear.
Someone will offer Perry a big contract if the Packers don’t pursue him, and I don’t think he would be willing to return to Green Bay for a significant discount. That happens more often with veterans who have already gotten a big contract earlier in their career. Perry hasn’t made a ton of money yet and this could be his only opportunity to cash in big time – the NFL is cruel. If the Packers want him back, they’ll have to pay.
Edge rushers are some of the most valuable players in the league and are paid as such. I think Perry will want more than $40 million over five years… at least. Perhaps he’ll take a small discount and stay around that $8 million/year range and I think the Packers would be comfortable paying that – they have a lot of cap room this offseason. But if Perry decides to test the market, there’s always teams like the Jaguars who overpay for free agents and can inflate value.
I hope to see Perry back next year, and I think we will. The Packers don’t have a lot of talent on defense and it would be irresponsible to let one of their best players on that side of the ball walk.
Peppers is another interesting case. He’s 37, a legend who has stayed productive throughout his career. He was drafted in 2002(!!!!) and, as Robert Mays of The Ringer pointed out earlier this season, has at least 7 sacks in 14 different seasons.
But, he IS 37 and didn’t play nearly as many snaps as he has usually played. I have no doubt that Peppers can still be productive on the field, but I do have doubt for how many times he can get on the field.
It would be great to have Peppers return and perhaps finish his storied career in Green Bay, but I don’t see that happening. He was a good three year investment for Thompson, but perhaps it’s only right if he retires a Panther.
Hyde is a rare playmaker in the Packers secondary. Normally a safety, he was forced to play nickel corner quite a bit this year with all the injuries at that position. And he played it quite well! One of the plays of the season was Hyde’s anticipated interception of Dak Prescott in the Divisional Round. Hyde really came around in the second half of the year and earned himself some more money as a versatile defensive back and return man.
I’ve seen some reporting that claim it will take about $5 million/year to sign Hyde, but I don’t think he’ll cost that much. He’s only started 33 of 63 career games, and many of those are due to injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s a great, great player for mixing it up with different looks and depth purposes, but he’s not an every down starter. I would be happy with a 3-year deal at around $10 million, and I think Hyde would be too.
Jones was drafted the year after Perry and has provided a similarly disappointing return on that first round investment. He moved to the “elephant” position and replaced Peppers while he was off the field, but was underwhelming. He played over 53% of defensive snaps this season, but how many times can you remember him making an impact play? My guess is not many. He has a tendency to disappear. It’s difficult to give up on a first round draft pick, especially for Ted Thompson apparently, and especially-er when the first rounder from the previous draft just leapt forward last year. Maybe a similar “prove-it” deal that Perry got last season is in order for Jones.