By Jim Weidner. It is well known around NFL circles, and to many Packers fans who detest him for it, that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson avoids free agency like most people avoid telemarketers. Thompson rarely dips into free agency but makes it a priority to award Packer free agents he feels can help the team.
After the Packers lost to the Atlanta Falcons in this season’s NFC Championship game, Thompson and his front office staff went to work in reviewing which Packers players who are free agents will be brought back next season. The Packers have an interesting list of players who will be free agents, some on offense and some on defense.
Here is a list of the Packers top free agents, starting with the offensive players, who the Packers must decide on and TFG’s predictions if they will stay or go. For the full list of Packers free agents, click here.
Jared Cook, Tight End
Thompson rarely signs other team’s free agents, but last offseason, Thompson signed the veteran Cook to a one year “prove it” contract. The Packers offense needed a tight end who could stretch the middle of the field and Cook fit the bill. Cook missed five games this season due to a high ankle sprain, but when he returned, he formed a solid bond with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Cook finished the regular season with 30 catches for 377 receiving yards and 1 touchdown but made his presence felt most during the playoffs.
In the Packers three playoff games, Jared Cook caught 18 passes for 229 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cook had the most important catch for the Packers this playoff season when he caught a third and twenty pass from Rodgers to help set up the Packer game winning field goal against the Dallas Cowboys. Cook proved to be a solid pick up for Thompson and the Packers this past season.
Although he struggled with drops, Jared Cook gave the Packers a threat they haven’t had since the now retired Jermichael Finley played tight end for them. Not only were the Packers happy to have Cook, but Cook felt the same way. This was the first time Cook had played on a team that made the playoffs.
Prediction: Cook is re-signed
Eddie Lacy, Running Back
Eddie Lacy only played 5 games for the Packers this season as his season was cut short due to an ankle injury. After suffering a down season in 2015 due to poor conditioning, Lacy put in the time to get back into shape this season. Before the injury, Lacy was averaging 5.1 yards per carry. At one point, it seemed like Lacy might have played his last game in a Packers uniform with Ty Montgomery making his mark at running back in Lacy’s absence. But Montgomery struggled with injuries possibly calling into question whether he can be the main ball carrier for the Packers. Lacy may have luke-warm interest in the free agent market. If so, this will allow the Packers to re-sign him at a good price and then team him up with Montgomery next season.
Prediction: Lacy is re-signed
Christine Michael, Running Back
The Packers picked up Michael off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks before their game against the Philadelphia Eagles this season. Michael showed spark during his time with the Packers, but struggled with his cut backs and reading the holes. He also struggled learning the Packers playbook, so much so, he was constantly being told where to line up and still made mistakes on running plays. Michael also struggled to catch the ball, which is a big part of playing running back in the Packers offense.
Prediction: Michael moves on
TJ Lang, Guard
With the Packers cutting fellow guard Josh Sitton right before the season, Lang became the leader of the Packers offensive line. Even while missing time due to a broken foot and only playing 13 games, Lang arguably had his best season as a pro. He was voted to his first Pro Bowl this season. Thompson isn’t a fan of signing older free agents. He believes it is better to let a free agent go a season too early than keep one a season too late. But Lang might be the exception. Lang is sound blocking in the running game and his pass protection has become rock solid for the Packers. Usually Thompson would let a lineman walk who is 29 years old and has battled injuries, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Lang back in green and yellow next season.
Prediction: Lang is re-signed
JT Tretter, Center
When last season’s starter at center Corey Linsley wasn’t ready to start the regular season due to a hamstring injury, Tretter stepped right into the starting lineup and the Packers offensive line didn’t miss a beat. Unfortunately for Tretter, he fell to a knee injury after playing in 7 games and never returned for the Packers. Tretter has proven that not only can he play center, he can also play tackle. The knee injury he suffered last season might hurt him in free agency, but another team will probably give him a good contract due to Tretter’s athletic prowess and his ability to play several positions.
Prediction: Tretter signs with another team
Don Barclay, Guard/Tackle
If you are frequent reader of The Fantasy Greek, you know Barclay has never been a favorite. It was a surprise that Thompson re-signed Barclay last season after a horrendous 2015. But, give Barclay credit. When forced into action this season, Barclay held his own. Barclay showed that he is more comfortable inside on the offensive line and did a decent job when called upon. Barclay even saw time at center, showing he can play that position if called upon. If the Packers re-sign Barclay, they will need to have depth at tackle, because Barclay cannot play either tackle positions.
Prediction: Barclay is re-signed
Nick Perry, Outside Linebacker
Perry, a former first round draft pick of the Packers, has struggled staying healthy during his career. Last offseason, after his rookie contract expired, Perry signed a one year $5 million dollar prove it contract. This season, Perry proved his worth even while playing with a club on his hand after breaking it late in the season. Perry proved not only to be stout against the run, but also a threat rushing the passer. Before this season, Perry totaled 12.5 sacks during his career. But this season, he had 11 sacks. There has been talk of moving fellow outside linebacker Clay Matthews inside, so brining back Perry might be a priority.
Prediction: Perry is re-signed
Julius Peppers, Outside Linebacker
It was shocking when former Bear Julius Peppers signed with the Packers before the 2014 season. But, Peppers has been everything the Packers had hoped he would be. Peppers gave the Packers another pass rusher opposite of Matthews and during his three year Packers career, he has registered 25 sacks. But at age 37, Peppers is at most a situational pass rusher. With the Packers possibly moving Matthews around and using him more at outside linebacker only in obvious pass rushing situations, there might not be a spot for Peppers.
Prediction: Packers choose not to re-sign Peppers
Datone Jones, Outside Linebacker/Defensive Lineman
Jones is another former first round pick of Thompson and the Packers. Jones has been a disappointment for his draft status, similar to what AJ Hawk was when the Packers drafted him in the first round in 2006. Before this season, Jones made the position switch to outside linebacker after starting his Packers career as a 3-4 defensive end. Jones showed that he is solid against the run, but hasn’t provided the pass rush that the Packers were hoping he would after coming out of UCLA. Yet, there is a place for Jones on this Packers defense, with his ability to line up outside and inside, if Jones can be signed at the right price, he might be brought back.
Prediction: Packers re-sign Jones
Micah Hyde, Safety/Cornerback
Hyde has been the Packers “Swiss Army” knife, lining up all over the place in the Packers secondary. Hyde has seen time as the Packers backup safety, but when injuries depleted the Packers cornerbacks, he lined up at cornerback. Hyde isn’t blessed with blazing speed, but his knowledge of the Packers defense has been an asset. Some might describe Hyde as a true “football player” who lines up wherever he is needed. Hyde has also returned punts for the Packers. He might not be an asset for other teams, but he is for the Packers.
Prediction: Packers re-sign Hyde