In the back of our minds, we should all be preparing for a roller coaster ride of an off season (Which hopefully won’t begin until February). A good number of key players will be due for new contracts and not all of them will be back in the green and gold next fall. General manager Ted Thompson has always done a great job of knowing the right time to let a player walk. As a result, he has always had the funds necessary to re-sign his key players.

I’m not advocating, in any way, that we cut all, or any, of these players. Instead, I will focus on why each of these four players’ futures must be considered carefully. This article is working under the assumption that Ted Thompson will indeed be general manager and will not have retired.

Eddie Lacy

The Good: This was the year for Eddie Lacy to earn a second NFL contract. His weight was down, he was healthy, he was ready to go back to his early days of spin moves and leap frogging defenders. We saw some of those things, along with an Eddie Lacy that looked like he was having fun playing football again. He was running hard and hitting lanes with conviction. It looked like we had the old Eddie Lacy back.

The Bad: Then came the injury to his ankle, and reports that he had put on the weight he worked so hard to lose in the off season. Neither of those things are ideal for someone trying to prove they warrant a long term contract. With these factors in play, there’s little chance that Eddie is offered the long term deal he will covet next summer.

However, the option to give him a one year prove-it deal, much like the one Nick Perry received before the 2016 season, could prove intriguing to the front office. The production of Don Jackson will certainly be a factor in whether or not Lacy is re-signed next year, so keep a close eye on the rookie for the rest of the season.

James Starks

The Good: Starks has been a faithful servant to the Green Bay Packers for 7 years now. He was a key in their 2010 Super Bowl run, he knows the offense as well as anyone on the team, and he’s been a fantastic change of pace back for Eddie Lacy over the past few seasons.

The Bad: Unfortunately, his time in Green Bay may be up. He’s shown this year that he’snot the productive back up he once was. In 24 rush attempts this season, he’s only managed 42 yards, good for 1.8 yards per carry, and a fumble. I know the coaching staff loves him, and why shouldn’t they? But he’s due $3.75M next season, $3M of which could be put to better use by cutting him and moving on.

As with Eddie Lacy, production from rookie Don Jackson would certainly ease Ted’s mind and allow him to move in a new direction. The other player to consider here is wide receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery. He’s been spending the past few weeks proving to everyone that he can play out of the backfield, and is a valid option as a change-of-pace scat back.

Clay Matthews

The Good: There’s plenty of good to say about Clay Matthews. He’s a leader on this defense, an athletic freak, and is willing to play wherever he’s asked – as showcased by the last two years spent playing at inside linebacker. Trading up in the 2009 draft to select Matthews was one of the best moves Thompson has made during his tenure as general manager. Even if Clay isn’t putting up the stats he once was, opposing offenses still have to account for him and know where he is on every down.

The Bad: Clay’s old hamstring issues seem to be resurfacing, already causing him to miss two games this season. Everyone hoped a move back to outside linebacker would reignite his career, but that’s hardly been the case. He’s on pace to record 7 sacks and 30 tackles on the year. He’s due $15.2M next year, a difficult number to justify for a linebacker with 7 sacks and 30 tackles. $4.1 of that contract is dead money, so $11.1M in cap space would be freed up if the Packers decided to move on.

TJ Lang

The Good: I could probably write an entire column on all the great things about TJ Lang. He’s exactly the big, strong, tough mauler you want at right guard. Time and time again he’s gotten in fights, whether they be vocal or physical, in defense of his quarterback. He’s only missed 6 starts in his career, a very low number for an offensive lineman. He’s a leader on the field and in the locker room. All these things, and more, made it very difficult for me to include TJ in this list.

The Bad: I don’t even have anything bad to say about TJ Lang. All I’ve got are reasons Ted could move on, and there are enough reasons to justify putting him in this article. First, is his expiring contract. Moving on would save the Packers $6M in cap space, money that could go towards fixing positions much worse off than right guard. Second, is his position – of the five offensive line positions, right guard is the easiest to fill.

Finally, let’s consider the list of replacement options. JC Tretter, Kyle Murphy and Jason Spriggs all represent potential in-house replacements, and you can bet your house that Ted will draft an offensive lineman in April. None of these guys have proven what Lang has, but think back to week 1, when everyone was up in arms over the release of Josh Sitton. Eight weeks later, no one is even thinking about Sitton because Lane Taylor has filled in so well.

I’d be willing to bet that at least two of these four players will be Packers next year. Letting all four of them walk would free up about $22M in cap space for next year, but freeing that much money would only makes sense if Ted planned on using free agency to replenish the roster. Historically speaking, that’s not Ted’s style. But for now, it’s all worth thinking about. We might be watching a very different Packers team next season.

Which of these players do you think are most likely to be playing for a new team next year?