The Packers are probably the most notorious team in the NFL in attempting to keep their own guys from hitting Free Agency, and mostly avoiding somewhat uncertain commodities on the open market. At times, it’s frustrating as a fan to see the same old routine and no real ‘splash’, but it’s also hard to fault the Packers for sticking to their guns.

While there are certainly outliers for bad contracts Ted Thompson has signed players to in the past, there are many more solid moves that allow the Packers to continue to compete year in and year out. Thompson, with the help of Russ Ball, Vice President of Football Administration/Player Finance, help the Packers remain one of the few perennial playoff teams that never runs into Salary Cap Hell.

These two have a tall order this off-season, as the Packers have 12 Unrestricted Free Agents, 3 Restricted Free Agents, and 5 Exclusive-Rights Free Agents, each category of which has big names the Packers will likely want to keep around. Thankfully, this is the portion of Packers’ team management fans can rest easy about, as Thompson is so particular that even if a player doesn’t live up to expectations, the team is usually protected by a team-favorable contract.

2 things to note before we dive in – I am going under the assumption that the Packers will be without the services of Sam Shields and James Starks, so I am projecting will have around $43 million in salary cap room. Shields is still suffering from concussion symptoms and all indications are that he is done with football, and Starks was injured and ineffective most of the year, and the Packers are in line to save $12 Million in cap room by cutting both players. All of these numbers I roughly estimate from Sportrac and Over the Cap. Let’s dive in!

Unrestricted Free Agents

Julius Peppers

104 tackles, 25 sacks, 8 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions and 2 touchdowns in Peppers’ 3 years in Green Bay. That signing did everything Thompson hoped it would have and then some. However, anyone that watched Peppers play this season saw a man that clearly has slowed down, and the Packers defense definitely lacks much need speed on the outside. Father time is undefeated in the NFL, and it came at the worst time for the injury-depleted Packers defense. This team desperately needed a pass rush to slow down the Falcons potent offense, and came up empty-handed. To no fault of his own, Peppers did enough this season when they needed him.

Keep or Let Walk: Let walk.

This signing was seriously better than I could have ever hoped, but his price tag is probably too much to justify signing a 37-year-old edge rusher on a defense looking to improve. The Packers should look for a cheaper, more spry option either through the draft or Free Agency. He’ll probably catch on somewhere on a one year flier, and Packer fans will likely track his progress much like Hayward’s and Woodson’s, and I will say the same thing to them: it was still the right decision.

T.J. Lang

The heart beat of the Packers offensive line, which rated as the best Pass Blocking unit according to PFF. Lang battled a hip and foot injury all year and still turned in a borderline pro-bowl year. He’s a throwback offensive linemen who loves to compete and maul. The problem here is he’s going on the wrong side of 30 in September, and Thompson usually likes to cut ties with guys at this point. It’s also hard to fault him, because he finds interior linemen pretty easily. Lang will likely strike a lucrative contract in the off-season, in the ball park of $8.4 million a year.

Keep or Let Walk: Keep, but not long-term.

This might be a Franchise/Transition tag option. It essentially buys the Packers another year to find a replacement guard through the draft, and probably uses the last year of Lang’s prime years up. It won’t be cheap, but it effectively gives them another year to find a replacement so we don’t have to see emergency Guard Letroy Guion ever again…

Nick Perry

The Packers most effective outside linebacker in the run game and in the pass rush. He’s not a world beater in the pass rush, but he does so much dirty work in that regard, it’s tough to not like the guy. Most thought his season would have been derailed by his broken hand in a club, but he still turned 3 sacks in the last 2 games, and 11 sacks on the season. Pair that with 52 tackles, and 14 for a loss, and you have the Packers most indispensable linebacker.

Keep or Let Walk: Keep!

He was the only thing the Packers had going consistently in the pass rush. At $8.5 million a year, it’s more than affordable. Given his injury past and some unproductive years in the past, the deal will likely be more incentive based, which will only be more team favorable, and can open up the possibility to sign a free agent or 2. In any case, Perry was arguably the most important Packer defender, and is probably a pro-bowler if he didn’t break his hand.

Jared Cook

Is it any coincidence that the Packers went 2-4 in his absence, and in his return, he goes off for 105 yards and a touchdown and aid the Packers in a 8 game winning streak? Now, before we anoint him the second coming of Jermichael Finley, Cook still has issues with drops, isn’t much of a blocker and is surprisingly limited in his ability to run after the catch given his speed, but having someone open up the middle of the field with size and speed is something this offense missed in 2015 and desperately missed during the 4 game losing streak.

Keep or Let Walk: Keep for a long, LONG time!

His price tag is low, only about $3.3 million a year. He apparently loves it in Green Bay (minus the Buffalo Wild Wings), and I’d imagine he wants to continue to have Rodgers throwing to him, especially given these kind of dimes. He’s not the perfect tight end, but he’s the perfect one for the Packers. They will likely need to find a replacement, since Cook is turning 30 this year, but the Packers can still get 3 solid years out of the guy, so they can kick the can for a year or two.

Datone Jones

Datone Jones was the epitome of the adage “close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades.” Jones only had one sack on the year, but had 14 QB hits in a part-time role. That’s not bad. The hard part is the Packers spent a first round pick on him hoping he would be an effective pass rusher.

Keep or Let Walk: Let Walk

They will likely split Perry and Jones, and my pick is Jones. The Packers spent a first rounder on him hoping those 14 QB hits would be sacks. While the hope is he would have a similar revival to Perry in year 5, it’s tough to put $4 million price tag on hope and faith. I like Jones, but he probably won’t be back next year.

Brett Goode

He’s 32, plays arguably the steadiest job in the NFL if you’re okay at it, and he makes the veteran minimum. You have to make the occasional special teams play in stopping a returner, but he plays maybe 15 snaps a game, and makes 3/4 a million a year to be Mason Crosby’s best friend. Must be nice.

Keep or Let Walk: Keep, but I really couldn’t care less.

Seriously, this is going to be the least sexy signing they will do, but it costs them next to nothing for consistency.

Eddie Lacy

Everyone’s favorite fat running back. Packer fans really need to look past his weight, no matter how difficult that is. He’s averaged over 4 yards per carry every year in the NFL, including 5.1 last year before going on IR. The reason Lacy didn’t get 1,000 yards in 2015 was due to a lack of carries, approximately 78 less carries than his average from his first 2 years. While Ty Montgomery looked good in his return, Ty can’t take the abuse between the tackles like Lacy can. Regardless of the guy’s shape, he still ran like a wrecking ball, he just happened to look like one too.

Keep or Let Walk: Let Walk, but won’t find a suitor. Back on a 1 year “prove it” deal.

Enough teams are going to be scared off by his weight and injury concerns. His market value is approximately $5.1 million, which is a lot to risk on an uncertainty. The Packers are able to take on this risk better than most, and it will only make sense for a return. Plus, at least Lacy knows which way to run the ball, unlike…

Christine Michael

Too many Packer fans are infatuated with his talent that they look past the fact he regularly didn’t follow the holes in the offensive line, and REGULARLY ran the wrong running play. He runs with reckless abandon, and will hit the occasional home run, but there’s a reason he’s bounced from team to team – he’s not very intelligent.

Keep or Let Walk: Let Walk

There are enough RB’s coming in the draft that the Packers can find someone who fits their needs, hopefully a 3rd down back with a lot of speed. Michael hasn’t been able to stick with a team because he can’t learn the playbook quick enough, and often ad-libs. Coaches hate that, and the Packers don’t want to put up with it either.

Don Barclay

Often the punching bag when he comes in relief. Truth be told, he played better this year than last, and his versatility is underrated (playing every position across the line is pretty valuable). However, he’s truly a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s slow, short-armed, but a decent mauler. He only offers versatility, no stability.

Keep or Let Walk: Let Walk

You can find a player in the draft that is worth more to you that costs far less than a million per year. Just cut ties and move on.

J.C. Tretter

Tretter actually proved to be a much more solid Swiss Army Knife than Barclay. He played really well at center until he got hurt, and lost his job to Linsley. He played left tackle, guard and center last year and played admirably. He’s very athletic, but probably not big enough to be a guard, and will struggle to have a long career at center as well.

Keep or Let Walk: Let Walk

Wait…Sportrac has his market value at $8.7 mill a year?!? Packers wouldn’t spend more than $4 million on him, and someone is bound to overpay for him. He’s a decent player, but nowhere near that price tag. This will turn into another nice compensatory pick (love him or hate him, Thompson loves collecting these damn picks).

Micah Hyde

Hyde is a good-not-great slot corner who helped gel the secondary in the midst of the injury bug the Packers had. He also was a decent safety in relief of Burnett and Clinton-Dix, but again, good-not-great. He’s a little slow, is a decent tackler, and is a pretty good ball hawk, as seen by that interception in Dallas in the playoffs.

Keep or Let Walk: Keep

There isn’t a market value on Hyde in Sportrac, but I’d have to imagine it’s somewhere between 4-7 million a year. Having someone that versatile in the secondary is invaluable, especially in a secondary that was so decrepit. It might be a lot, but they can’t afford to let him walk with no corner backs on roster who have shown any kind of promise. He averages around 55 tackles, has 8 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 4 sacks, and 3 touchdowns on kickoffs/punts. This is a need, not a luxury.

Other Restricted Free Agents of Note

Jayrone Elliot (RFA)

Elliot can be so frustrating. He makes splash plays like the forced fumble in Seattle, or a crucial sack, and then he’ll disappear for several months, until the next splash play that makes you want to see more. There is a reason he was a UDFA, but those splash plays are still a necessity for a struggling Packers pass rush.

Keep or Let Walk: Keep

He still has some room to grow, and offers at least some value as a rotational pass rusher. He is also a dynamite special teamer, so that alone is probably worth the $1 million he will earn per year. The Packers can afford to take a chance here.

 

Jacob Schum (RFA)

Schum struggled early on this season. Flubbed punts, low hangtime, short net yardage, and Packer fans were pissed. Over the last 6 weeks of the season, Schum started to settle in and started putting up similar numbers to Masthay.

Keep or Let Walk: Keep

Honestly, $1 million for a punter is fine, and Schum seemed to figure it out as he got more acclimated. His contract is more of a distraction than it is anything else. Just sign him and focus elsewhere.

Joe Thomas (ERFA)

Undersized, sometimes overpowered, and often overlooked. Thomas was the 3rd stringer the first part of the season, and still posted 70 tackles, 5 passes defended and an interception. He took over the starting role when Ryan and Martinez were banged up. Pretty admirable for a guy who is only 227 pounds.

Keep or Let Walk: Keep

He’ll cost you less than a million dollars, and helped solidify an aching ILB corps. He’s not a world beater, but he’s a solid rotational guy who you aren’t afraid to throw out there.

Christian Ringo (ERFA)

He was drafted as a similar body type as Mike Daniels and many hoped for the same production right away. What people don’t realize is Daniels took 2 years to get to that point. Ringo isn’t Daniels, but he can still be effective in collapsing the pocket with his compact, low center of gravity frame. He also is the master of the delayed blitz.

Keep or Let Walk: Keep

According to APC’s blog, it will only cost $540,000 to tender him, and since he’s ERFA, he’s basically required to take it. You could do worse at the price.

 

Total Cap Used: ~$35.3 million of $43 available

So, that is just cap figures according to Sporttrac’s market value, it doesn’t include play incentives, guarantees, and other contract nuances that don’t count against the cap. That number is likely significantly less, probably under $30 million with those caveats. Ted Thompson and Russ Ball are masters at the cap and will make sure the Packers are not only in a good position to sign their draft picks, but also leave room for either cap room carry over, or sign their one free agent a year.

Packer fans likely won’t be pleased with this, but it could be so much worse, and really, if that one free agent makes any impact on the pass rush or secondary, could make a world of difference. Also, really looking at the list of guys leaving on that list, is anyone really that irreplaceable? I vote no, and really, the Packers are an edge rusher and a corner away from being the best team in the NFC. Hit on someone in free agency or the draft, and the Packers are in great shape.

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