If the opening day of NFL free agency 2017 proved anything, it was that even Ted Thompson’s most fervent detractors can’t predict what the Green Bay Packers general manager is going to do. Thompson, derided by many for being too predictable in how he handles player retention and acquisition, began the day by re-signing outside linebacker Nick Perry with a five-year, $60 million deal, a price many thought would be too steep for the Packers.
Later, Thompson again went against the grain of what most prognosticators thought he would do. As reports of Micah Hyde’s impending departure began to percolate, perhaps some felt Thompson was allowing an already weak secondary to get weaker. It wasn’t until the details of Hyde’s new deal with the Buffalo Bills (five years, $30 million) started popping up that the majority of those in Packerland began to agree that the price was too high.
But then, controversy! Later Thursday night, Hyde sent out a tweet thanking “Packernation” for their support during his time in Green Bay, while also casually letting slip that the Packers never even made an offer to retain his services. Cue the pitchforks once again.
While it may have come as at least a mild shock that Green Bay let Hyde walk without so much as a basement offer, while signing Perry to a pretty lucrative (yet team friendly) deal, the moves are likely an indication of how the team wants to build the defense going forward. What Hyde offered the Packers in versatility, he lacked in speed. Perry was the best pass rusher left on the market in free agency, and the Packers paid him as such.
Currently, the fastest 40-yard dash in the Packers’ secondary belongs to Damarious Randall, who ran it in 4.46 seconds at the 2015 Combine. At the 2017 event, there were 15 – FIFTEEN! – defensive backs who ran faster than that. The Packers’ lack of speed on the perimeter was painfully apparent during their blowout loss to Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game, and it would appear the brass has taken notice. Green Bay will almost surely attempt to find a speedy second-tier name in the later stages of the free agency craze, but most of the rebuilding work will likely take place via the draft.
Speed on the edge will be a major consideration as well. By signing Perry, the Packers solidified one side of the field with a young veteran. It wouldn't necessarily come as a shock if Thompson looked to add another pass rusher through free agency as well. A player like, say, Conor Barwin could go a long way in solidifying the group as well. By attacking fast, athletic edge rushers in the draft, the Packers can feel free to utilize the aging Clay Matthews in a number of roles, whether lining him up inside or outside. Making Matthews a situational player won’t appease him or the horde of fans clamoring for the team to restructure his contract to better reflect his production, but it will put the defense in a better position to succeed.
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