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Cory's Corner: If not Nick Perry, then Dont'a Hightower

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Cory's Corner: If not Nick Perry, then Dont'a Hightower

We’re only five days away from seeing the cash frenzy of NFL free agency.

Granted, it’s not in the same area code as NBA free agent money, but it’s still pretty good — especially with the NFL salary cap going up by over $12 million from last year.

And with all of that money, Packers general manager Ted Thompson is going to have to spend some of it. The question is, how much will he allow himself to spend on free agents?

And speaking of Packers’ free agents, versatile 26-year-old offensive lineman JC Tretter is expected to leave Green Bay and T.J Lang’s left foot and left hip might be why the 29-year-old guard doesn’t come back to Titletown.

Then there’s Nick Perry. He really is a mystery. The 26-year-old outside linebacker had a career year with 11 sacks last season. But Perry’s biggest issue has been injuries. From having left wrist surgery in 2012, a broken foot in 2013, a shoulder injury in 2014 and a broken left hand last season, Perry has had a hard time staying on the field. The Packers were perplexed in 2015 as well, because they didn’t pick up his fifth-year option and opted to bring him back on a cheaper one-year $5 million prove-it deal.

However, after the outlier season, it looks like Perry — combined with many top free agents already being franchise tagged and the swollen salary cap — will be making more than $10 million a year.

Perry reminds me a lot of Kirk Cousins. Is Cousins’ small sample size enough to warrant elite passer money? And since Cousins has been franchise tagged by Washington for $23.9 million in 2017, all he needs to do is not regress and he’ll be a whisper away from getting $30 million a year. How twisted is that?

Even if the Packers don’t want to spend a lot of money on a huge question mark in Perry, they’re going to have to spend it on someone. And that someone is Dont'a Hightower, whom the Patriots oddly didn’t franchise tag making him the best available free agent. He’s had excellent consistency with 28 pressures in 2015 and 30 pressures in 2016 from the inside and outside linebacker position. And that’s his most important asset — his versatility. Just imagine if Hightower and Clay Matthews are both playing in a hybrid role, offenses will have a hard time negotiating both talents.

The 26-year-old Hightower has been hailed as one of the best blitzers in the game — which fits perfectly with how defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes to have exotic formations and packages.

Obviously the downside is that Hightower is going to make north of $12 million a year. But remember what Aaron Rodgers said after the Packers got whipped by the Falcons. He wanted the Packers to go all in and that’s exactly what this is. It makes Green Bay’s defense instantly better by being able to get to the quarterback from all angles while still having a presence in stopping the run game.

The Patriots left the door open a crack by not protecting the best linebacker on the market. Thompson isn’t known as a free agent pouncer, but now is the time for him to snatch a big ticket item while he still can.

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Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (22) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

slit's picture

'If not Nick Perry, then Connor Barwin.' Barwin had 14.5 sacks, the last time he played OLB in a 3-4 DEF. Hightower's price tag will be way beyond what TT will pay (just like Perry).

dobber's picture

Akeem was quick to point out the number of games Perry has played per season and his number of sacks per year. Hightower plays 13 games per season and has averaged under 3.5 sacks per season (his high is 6). I don't deny that Hightower plays a different role in the Pats defense (and Cory points that out above), but if you sign Hightower and let Perry go, who is going to play PERRY'S role in the Packers defense?

dobber's picture

Some people have complained that TT has done a poor job of roster management by allowing "so many key players" to become free agents this offseason. They're quick to laud BB and his roster management. Take a look at all the players--and important contributors--the Patriots have on the open market this offseason. Hightower is just one example. It happens to every team eventually.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

TT stoped Bahk from testing the market. That guy would be making Arod/Matthews money this season otherwise.

So I give him credit for that.

dobber's picture

Oh, no doubt. He made a very good call on Bakhtiari. At the time, and with Spriggs in the fold, I would've let him walk after the season.

TT made the right move and if he'd tried to sign him after the season Bakhtiari had, he would've been even more pricey. I was wrong. I can own that...

akeemthedream's picture

Patricia>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Capers.

Patricia is the unsung hero of the Patriots.
They rotate players annually (hell, weekly) and yet their defense is always competitive.

Cast off vets, late round rookies, niche players, first round picks, late bloomers - it doesn't matter - Patricia gets it organized, puts guys in position to succeed, takes away his opponent's preferred primary option and makes it work.

BB can let defensive players leave when they get too expensive because of Patricia. And he can let offensive players leave before they get too expensive because of Brady.

Capers' success is completely dependent on the ability of his players. Unless he has stars, his defenses will be a liability.

dobber's picture

I think you hit a very good point here, and that's that BB seems to pick the right assistants, as well. They might turn out to be crappy HCs when they get the chance, but they're very good in the roles BB puts them in.

Lphill's picture

The Patriots seem to reload every year and trade or release a high paid player almost as if they rent them for a season or two , well it seems to work. I don't see them drafting experiments and waiting several seasons to see them develop . I see them winning Super Bowls .

stockholder's picture

If not Perry? Then Hightower? Why either! Seems the patriots are already saying the market is not right. You don't let Hightower walk. And they are. He doesn't have 1/2 the questions Perry does. TT could have gotten Hightower and didn't go get him. These guys are not worth the big bucks. TTs been a scout, it's time he gets another Mathews. I prefer a DE in FA first.

dobber's picture

I obviously invoked the Patriots in my post above, but the bottom line is that the Patriots have become the anomaly. They're the unique case of a Coach/GM who seems to really understand what he's doing in both phases of the game...and it could be that because he's out there with his players on the practice field and games and in OTAs, he's able to translate that knowledge directly to player acquisition. AND...he hasn't crapped the bed on the salary cap. No matter what we think of BB as a person, the guy's a savant. I think this crucible is one that we may never see recreated in our lifetimes.

Tarynfor12's picture

Belichek has offensive and defensive schemes that can be tweaked to fit a players ability to do the job. The Packers have schemes that are cumbersome for players of true ability much less the high number of low ability players we get tied to for longer periods of time necessary.

dobber's picture

And I would say that ANY scheme can be tweaked to feature different players strengths, or to cover or mask some deficiencies. How long did it take MM to finally start to swing the offense this season (although the argument might not be the plays but the players) in the face of an OL that can't run block and a MASH unit at RB? So I would argue that it's as much about the flexibility of the coaches as it is the scheme or the players.

Tarynfor12's picture

Agree but Belichek has long been a ' plug and play' guru while McCarthy and Thompson are still following the....Clark Griswold Christmas light manual.

lou's picture

That has to be the funniest analogy ever posted, "following the Clark Griswold Christmas light manual". You did hit on a pattern with Ted in regards to drafting, many times they draft a guy with a solid college background with the objective to move them to another position in the pro's (Perry- Jones- Neal), (Randall - safety to CB), and (Rollin's/Goodson -primarily basketball players). That is tough on any coaching staff. For those arguing not to attempt to keep Perry or acquire Barwin or Hightower, the stark fact is the cupboard is bare at OLB. My guess is Ted will do what he did with Shields with Perry, he will pay market value (established by agent conversations prior to March 9th) to sign him before he becomes unrestricted. Lots of good points on where Ted has done well and where he needs to improve in the blogs.

dobber's picture

But for so many people here, they keep saying, "Give the Pats this roster and they would've won X SuperBowls by now." So for them, it's not about TTs player procurement philosophy, the positional changes or the injuries, it's all about the coaching staff.

...but conversely, if you need arguably the best coaching staff to win those titles, it does have to be about the personnel on some level.

carusotrap's picture

If you think Ted is going to pony up $12 mil/year for an LB, you're not paying attention. And if you think Ted feels he HAS to spend any of that money on anything, you're REALLY not paying attention.

Ted sets his own market for players and that is precisely what he thinks the market should be. And his figure is probably 25% lower than what the market is. That's great for keeping the team's finances healthy, but it also guarantees that the meat and potatoes of the team are going to be young, unknown, and hopefully diamonds in the rough. Ted will never fail to sign 20 guys at $500k rather than one guy at $10 mil.

marpag1's picture

Kirk Cousins isn't going to sniff 30 mill per year.

dobber's picture

I guess that depends on how many times they franchise him before they finally sign him.

marpag1's picture

Seems like Danny Boy Snyder is trying to reassert himself as the dumbest owner / wannabe GM in the league. The Redskins have bungled this thing so badly it isn't even funny in Dallas or Philadelphia anymore.

Right now, Washington's best option is strong and fervent prayer... prayer that some team like SF or CHI might step up to the plate, offer enough in trade so that Washington can save face, and then sign Cousins to a contract that he is willing to accept. Sounds like a long shot to me, and even if it happens Washington is left with no one to play QB (unless a player is a part of the trade, and they can get Romo or Cutler, etc.).

Or they could grossly overpay the man for yet another year on his tag, and almost certainly lose him at this time next year.

Or they could double down and sign Cousins to a long term, market setting contract and get stuck with him at premium prices for the foreseeable future, even though most people (including me) don't see him as a true franchise QB.

Nice work, Danny.

dobber's picture

He could get him signed to that contract and feel relieved that he's always going to look better than the GM who gave a big contract to Brock Osweiler.

marpag1's picture

Yeah, but that's like Hitler feeling comforted that he's not so evil as Lucifer.

MITM's picture

Hightower is a pipe dream

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