By Jim Weidner. When former first round draft choice Nick Perry signed a one year $5 million dollar contract last offseason he was betting on himself to have a big 2016-2017 season. For Perry, the bet paid off.
Perry had a career season and proved to be the Packers best and most productive pass rusher. In one season, Perry registered 11 sacks, 35 tackles, and one interception. Even when Perry suffered a broken hand during the season, he was still able to produce, and produce at a high level.
Perry wasn’t just ‘a man among boys’ in the pass rush, but he was also the Packers best outside linebacker against the run. Perry used his 6’3”, 265 lbs. body to set the edge against the run which helped lead the Packers defense to become the top defense against the run for part of the 2016 season. Perry’s play this season was what the Packers had hoped for since they drafted him twenty-eighth overall in the 2012 NFL draft.
But even with Nick Perry’s career season, there might be some reluctance on Packers general manager Ted Thompson’s to hand over a multi-year big money contract to Perry. In Perry’s first four seasons in the NFL, he combined for just 12 ½ sacks, far below what you would expect out of a player drafted in the first round. To go along with Perry’s lack of production in his first four seasons, he was injury plagued. During that time, he battled shoulder and foot injuries, and this season, he broke his hand and had to play with a cast for the latter half of the season. In his five year career, Perry has never played a full 16 game regular season schedule. The injury history will be a factor in the Packers decision on bringing Perry back. But after posting 11 sacks this past offseason and being the Packers top pass rusher, Perry will find a big market for his talents on the open market.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com has Perry ranked as the 21st overall free agent in this season’s free agent market. From that list, Perry is the third ranked 3-4 outside linebacker, only behind the Arizona Cardinals Chandler Jones and Los Angeles Charger Melvin Ingram. If Packers General Manager Ted Thompson were to pass on re-signing Perry, there isn’t much doubt that he wouldn’t be on the open market for long.
What might force Thompson’s hand is the Packers outside linebacker corps has a lot of question marks going into next season. Along with Perry, fellow outside linebackers Datone Jones and Julius Peppers are also free agents this offseason. Peppers, who registered 7 ½ sacks this past season, is now 37 years old and Thompson is known for letting a player walk away a season too early rather than a season too late. For Datone Jones, his lack of production as a first round draft choice will also play a part in the Packers decision if they re-sign him. Jones is a solid role player in the Packers outside linebacker rotation, but hasn’t put up the numbers expected out of a first round draft pick. Even special teams standout and outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott is a restricted free agent and it isn’t a ‘sure thing’ he will return next season.
Without Perry, Peppers, Jones, or Elliott, this would leave Kyler Fackrell and Clay Matthews as the only outside linebackers who are under contract for next season. Fackrell just finished his rookie season for the Packers. Although the Packers are intrigued by Fackrell’s potential, he is an unproven commodity. For Matthews, it is a more complicated situation.
This past season the Packers moved Clay Matthews back to his natural position, outside linebacker, after he spent the past season and a half at inside linebacker. Matthews suffered through an injury plagued 2016 season, suffering hamstring and shoulder injuries. He played in just 12 games and only registered 5 sacks, a career low. It has been speculated Matthews might be moved around next season, playing most of his time at inside linebacker and rushing the passer only on passing situations. The toll of going against beefy offensive tackles every down as an outside linebacker might be damaging Matthews’ body and he might benefit playing inside and just rushing the passer on passing situations.
With so many questions at the position, Thompson might be forced to pay Perry this offseason. It will be a difficult task for Thompson, who is known around the NFL for being tight with the Packers money. If Perry can keep playing at the level he did last season, it would be a no brainer for the Packers to bring him back. But his track record has shown that he has a difficult time staying healthy. The situation for Perry and the Packers is far from certain.