512 games later, another NFL season is in the books and, once again, we find ourselves bracing for free agency.
For some teams, this is like Christmas Day, bringing new talent and promises of a competitive season. For the Packers, it's all about managing expectations and, usually, biding time until the NFL Draft.
Per Spotrac, the Packers currently have the 12th most cap space in the league ahead of free agency, with $43.5 million to play with. This is due in part to their recent decision to release veteran cornerback Sam Shields, wiping a salary of $8 million off the books, though they'll still carry a cap charge of $3.125 million from his signing bonus.
Green Bay has plenty of its own players set to become unrestricted free agents in March. The following is a list of them, as well as their average salary in 2016. Players who have already been released, such as Shields and James Starks, are not included.
|Player||Position||2016 Avg. Salary|
Perry didn't do enough for the Packers to execute the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, instead signing an additional one-year, $5,050,000 prove-it deal.
And did he ever prove it. The former first-round pick finally lived up to his billing, emerging as the team's top pass-rusher in 2016 with 11 sacks and an interception in the regular season.
Of course, now the problem for Ted Thompson and Russ Ball is that Perry is going to be looking for his big-money contract, which he's certainly earned. And given Peppers' status as a UFA as well as his age, as well as the fact that Clay Matthews continues to struggle with injuries and Datone Jones is also set to hit the market, the strength would seem to fall on Perry's side of the negotiating table.
However, Thompson isn't known for overpaying no matter the exigency at the position. So what do the Packers do? It's unfathomable that they would let such a pass-rushing stud walk, especially given their struggles in that area this season. But just how much will Perry's reps be demanding?
Spotrac uses comparative data from other players at Perry's position who have played for a similar amount of time, as well as statistical analysis, to calculate his approximate market value, which comes out to an $8.5 million average salary. Is a five-year, $42 million contract for Perry out of the question for Thompson and Ball, especially when you consider Perry's career as a whole rather than merely the 2016 season? We'll find out soon, but it's clear that the Packers would be worse off without him. And no one wants to see another Casey Hayward situation.
Cook has been waiting his whole career to play with a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, and when he got healthy in 2016, he showed us just what he can do in an offense of this caliber.
The Packers, meanwhile, have been missing an athletic pass-catcher to threaten the seam and move the chains, and at least this season, Cook filled that role nicely.
This is an instance where Thompson's draft-and-develop strategy could afford a little bending.
This year's draft class is deep at tight end, from the top-billed prospects such as Alabama's O.J. Howard to mid-round players like Michigan's Jake Butt. But the Packers arguably have bigger needs that could use addressing in the early rounds. They could select a tight end in Rounds 3-5, but that would put a lot on Richard Rodgers' shoulders in 2017 and, given a larger sample size, it now seems that Rodgers is best used as a red-zone threat. Cook carried the load in terms of moving the chains, and the Packers offense could benefit from him being allowed to do the same in 2017.
Cook need not sign a five-year deal, but having him around for another two years could certainly help the Packers' Super Bowl aspirations. Spotrac puts his market value around $3.4 million per year; a two-year, $7 million contract seems reasonable given his production this year.
In 2016, Hyde proved himself to be the Packers' most versatile defender. Hyde played each position in the secondary as the Packers continued to lose cornerbacks to injury, despite having not played on the perimeter in years and only sparingly in the slot.
Hyde finished the regular season with nine passes defensed, three interceptions and a sack, and added three passes defensed, an interception, and a sack in the playoffs.
Now that Hyde's rookie contract is expiring, the Packers may find themselves with less leverage given the events of the past season. Hyde proved his worth and effectiveness in this system. Green Bay may be able to bank on the fact that other teams won't think Hyde's jack-of-all-trades skills translate to their schemes, but nevertheless the defensive back is in a more competitive position now. Hyde has never earned an average salary of more than $1 million; now he would be within his rights to expect a new deal averaging $5 million or more.
Does Lang count as a re-signing priority? There's no denying that, when healthy, he's one of the best guards in the league. In fact, Lang allowed just one sack throughout the entire 2016 season, per the Washington Post.
However, the Packers have been mum on a new deal, as Lang revealed in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday:
— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) February 13, 2017
Lang's recent hip surgery could give some teams pause, but his track record speaks for itself. The veteran guard is coming off his first Pro Bowl and while he and his reps may not see the full return on a contract that his market value suggests ($8.4 million annually, per Spotrac), it's likely some team out there is willing to pay more than the Packers, especially given how many other players the Packers have hitting unrestricted free agency this spring.
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