For this post, it would be most effective if you cued up The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” while you read. Let’s look at the Pack’s ten unrestricted free agents (I threw out Bret Goode, because long snapper).
As you know, this represents about 85% of the Pack’s activity during free agency season. Thompson will always focus on resigning the guys he wants to keep. Mike McCarthy was in lockstep as he talked about how badly he wants to see Lang, Perry and Lacy return. Thompson’s level of success in bringing back the guys he wants will determine how active he is, once the funny money starts flying around.
Here’s the order I would prioritize the ten free agents from least important to most, and what I think Ted will do.
10. Christine Michael: There’s a reason he’s bounced around the league in his brief career. He shows you a nice burst every now and then but lacks the patience and vision to be consistent. He was a nice stop-gap pickup midseason, but the Pack will find his replacement in the draft. I doubt Ted brings him back, even if Lacy moves on.
9. Julius Peppers: The only way he returns, in my mind, is on a one-year incentive laden contract. The dude’s a Hall of Fame and he gave the Pack much more than we could have expected since Thompson shocked the world and signed an aging legend. He’s 37, just a baby compared to the Steelers’ James Harrison, who just inked a new two-year deal. Outside linebacker is a position in flux for this team, and having him as a situational guy on passing downs would be a nice luxury. My guy tells me that Thompson addresses this position in the first two days of the draft and looks for a younger, cheaper alternative.
8. JC Tretter: He’s a goner. His market value projects to an insane six-year $52 million contract (via spotrac.com). Someone is going to pay him like a top ten starting center and it won’t be the Packers. When healthy, he is deserving of being looked at as an upper echelon center. But he hasn’t stayed healthy and the Packers have Linsley as the starter. It would be great to have Tretter as a possible Lang replacement and backup center, but some team is going to roll the dice and pay him big bucks–it won’t be the Pack.
7. Don Barclay: I can’t imagine there’s going to be much of a market for Barclay, who has shown that he’s not a tackle, but could be a serviceable guard. If the market is dry for him, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Green Bay resign him on a modest deal.
6. Eddie Lacy: This is another situation that will be dictated by the market. If one team falls in love–he has more upside than any other running back out there–he could be on his way out the door (wouldn’t be surprised to see the Giants offer him a 3-4 year deal at about $5 million per). Thompson and his staff are likely hoping that they can bring him back on a one year ‘show me’ deal. I’m guessing one team steps up and Lacy and his appetite move on.
5. Datone Jones: He’s shown some life with his position change to outside linebacker and I don’t expect there to be a big market for him if he were to hit the open market. With Peppers likely moving on and Clay Matthews likely spending at least some of the time inside, the Pack needs bodies at outside linebacker. My guess is he signs a one to two year deal to return to the Pack, sometime in late March.
4. Micah Hyde: It’s hard to know how coveted the Pack’s Swiss army knife defensive back will be. With the question marks on the Pack’s roster at that spot, it’s hard to believe they’d let him get away. His pick against the Cowboys may have been the most impressive defensive play of the season. He’s proven to be a guy that can play all over the secondary, but he’s really a safety. The Packers have Clinton-Dix, Burnett and Brice at that spot and may feel like Hyde is a luxury they can’t afford. On the other hand, he proved he can be an effective slot corner and Green Bay is woefully thin at that spot. I think Thompson swallows hard and pays Hyde a little more than he wants to to keep him around.
3. TJ Lang: This is the guy most of Packers nation is gnashing their teeth about. You want Lang back. I want Lang back. The question is: will Thompson be willing to bring him back at $8 million a year? Because you can take it to the bank that Lang will get a deal at least that rich from either the Vikings or the Broncos. He’s 29 and coming off a serious foot injury and hip surgery. One year ago at this time it was unthinkable that the Pack would cut Josh Sitton and now most Packer fans feel the same way about the veteran leader of the offensive line. Thompson is very careful when it comes to offering a third contract to a player. His market value suggests a 4-year $33 million deal. I would pay him; I don’t think Thompson will. If Lang moves on, look for Spriggs to move in either at guard or at right tackle, with Bulaga moving inside.
2. Jared Cook: I’m guessing this is a deal that will get done before free agency opens. Cook was effusive in his thoughts on his 2016 season. Playing with Rodgers was a revelation for him and the Pack’s offense was at another level when he was healthy. Rodgers’ on the record stance when it comes to Cook’s future make this an easy call. Look for Cook and the Pack to agree to a deal somewhere in the four-year $15 million range and we will all hope he’s on the field for all 16 games next season.
1. Nick Perry: It took him a while to play like the first round pick he was, but he took his game to a different level in 2016, before a hand injury slowed him down. And that’s the thing with Perry–he can’t seem to stay on the field. Again, there’s a lot of uncertainty at this position and it might be where Thompson looks in the first round. McCarthy was vocal about wanting Perry back, but if the two sides don’t come to terms before free agency, he’ll likely be gone. I’d roll the dice and pay him more than I may want to. His market value is in the $8 million a year range. I think the Pack will offer him somewhere in that range. If he hits the open market that number could climb.
So my guess on who returns: Cook, Hyde, Jones and Barclay. Lacy and Lang are 50-50 propositions.
When the dust clears and the new NFL season opens for business, if the Packers lose out on guys like Lang, Perry and Lacy, they need to look long and hard at the top tier corners out there and consider getting in on the action. Even if Randall and Rollins bounce back in year three, the team needs a steadying veteran presence back there–something they’ve lost without Shields and Hayward. A guy like Stephon Gilmore is likely to get a 5-year $73 million deal. I can’t see Thompson stepping into those waters. But Rodgers is 33 and vocal about wanting to go all-in. A splash signing like Gilmore or A.J. Bouye would be a startling step in that direction.