The Neighborhood: What decisions should the Packers make in free agency?

GREEN BAY, Wis. — I’ll begin by admitting I’m not an expert on the salary cap, and I don’t have a direct line to Ted Thompson’s office. But with about $42 million in cap space heading into the offseason, here are some of the options the Green Bay Packers are faced with, along with my predictions of how they’ll handle them. My predictions are only for those positions in which Green Bay also has options in free agency.

Center

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Incumbent: J.C. Tretter has just finished up his four-year, $2.6 million contract and is an unrestricted free agent. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the 13th-best center in the league based on this past season’s performance, despite missing the last half of the season with a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL). That’s nothing new for the Cornell product, but it’ll cost him when it comes to contract negotiations.

Options: A.Q. Shipley | Arizona Cardinals, Joe Hawley | Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brian Schwenke | Tennessee Titans, John Sullivan | Washington Redskins

Prediction: With Corey Linsley as the only other experienced center on the roster and Tretter the best available, he’ll likely come back on a one-year contract.

Guard

Incumbents: T.J. Lang ranked as the No. 6 right guard in the regular season, according to Pro Football Focus, and has expressed his willingness to return to Green Bay at age 30. Don Barclay suffered a shoulder injury in November and was replaced by rookie Jason Spriggs, who showed promise for the future protection of the Green Bay backfield.

Options: Kevin Zeitler | Cincinnati Bengals, Ronald Leary | Dallas Cowboys, Larry Warford | Detroit Lions, Luke Joeckel | Jacksonville Jaguars

Prediction: I see this as a position the Packers only address in the draft, so the only move here is to re-sign Lang to a multi-year deal, while potentially cutting Barclay loose. With the promise of Spriggs and the frugal nature of Thompson, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Barclay released.

Tight End

Incumbent: Jared Cook came over from the St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams on a one-year, $2.75 million contract, and despite missing six games with a high ankle sprain, he performed admirably and became a keystone to their success entering the postseason. He averaged 55 yards and four catches per game over the last 10 games (including playoffs).

Options: Martellus Bennett | New England Patriots, Jack Doyle | Indianapolis Colts, Vernon Davis | Washington Redskins, Jacob Tamme | Atlanta Falcons

Prediction: After earning a Super Bowl ring with New England and making it clear he wants to get paid, Packer fans dreaming of a Bennett-to-Green-Bay scenario can forget about it. At 29 years old, Cook is productive enough to warrant a two-year deal to remain in Titletown.

Running Back

Incumbents: Neither Eddie Lacy, nor Christine Michael were dominant forces in the backfield for the Packers, but because of that, Green Bay can cash in when it comes to negotiations. Lacy logged just 360 yards and no touchdowns before an ankle injury sidelined him for the season. Michael was seldom-used, logging 114 yards on 31 carries in Green Bay.

Options: Le’Veon Bell | Pittsburgh Steelers, LeGarrette Blount | New England Patriots, Latavius Murray | Oakland Raiders, Danny Woodhead | San Diego Chargers

Prediction: Thompson doesn’t like to go with what he doesn’t know, so I don’t see him contacting any of the above options (Bell will re-sign with the Steelers anyway). It’s already being reported that Lacy is likely coming back on a one-year deal worth about $2 million. And with Ty Montgomery looking like a more sure bet, Michael will try to find work elsewhere.

Outside Linebacker

Incumbents: Nick Perry finally had a breakout year, posting 11 sacks, 35 solo tackles, and 17 assisted tackles. Julius Peppers‘ numbers weren’t as great, but he was still effective at 7.5 sacks, 15 solo tackles, and eight assisted tackles.

Options: Chandler Jones | Arizona Cardinals, Melvin Ingram | San Diego Chargers, Malcolm Smith | Oakland Raiders, Barkevious Mingo | New England Patriots

Prediction: While it’s been a nice ride for 37-year-old Peppers, he’ll likely hit the free market and end his career with his first team | the Carolina Panthers. After finally seeing one of “his guys” break out, Thompson will re-sign Perry to a three-year contract and probably overpay. Don’t be surprised if the Packers tease us with a nibble in free agency on an OLB.

Safety

Incumbent: It was a career year for Micah Hyde, matching his personal-best three interception mark on the season. That’s despite making a switch to slot cornerback due to injuries in the Green Bay secondary.

Options: Eric Berry | Kansas City Chiefs, Tony Jefferson | Arizona Cardinals, Barry Church | Dallas Cowboys, Johnathan Cyprien | Jacksonville Jaguars, Quintin Demps | Houston Texans

Prediction: Hyde had a relatively team-friendly contract of four years, $2.3 million, and after earning the performance-based escalator last season, I don’t see why that changes. He’ll earn a three-year deal with the Pack. Plot twist: Thompson nabs one of the above options at safety, but it’ll be a player we know little about.

While cornerback was largely ignored in this post due to the fact that Green Bay doesn’t have any on expiring contract, I’d expect that to be the area where the Packers find a piece in free agency. The best players available are A.J. Bouye (Houston Texans), Trumaine Johnson (Los Angeles Rams), Stephon Gilmore (Buffalo Bills), Morris Claiborne (Dallas Cowboys), and Captain Munnerlyn (Minnesota Vikings).

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