Every offseason brings about difficult personnel decisions for the Green Bay Packers. This year, the team had to choose whether to commit large sums to Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga, Tramon Williams and others. 2016 will be no different, as more integral players either hit free agency or become eligible for contract extensions for the first time.
No contract negotiation the team enters over the next 12 months will impact the team more than that for defensive end Mike Daniels. Now entering his fourth season, Daniels has entrenched himself as not only the defensive line's most important player, but also perhaps the defense's most consistent performer over the last two years. Few interior linemen possess his pass rush skills or nonstop motor. As such, if the Packers can't agree on an extension with him before free agency next year, the chance of Daniels leaving increases significantly.
Fellow 2012 draft pick Casey Hayward could become a free agent as well. Hayward, the secondary's top playmaker, has struggled to stay on the field since his rookie season. However, the departure of Williams and Davon House has cleared his path to the starting defense. If Hayward wins the job during the preseason and performs even reasonably well, he can expect to field many enticing offers after his contract expires. The Packers could make a play to keep the corner, but their recent investments in Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins suggest that they may allow Hayward to walk.
Often overlooked are the contract situations for Eddie Lacy and David Bakhtiari. Both have two years left on their rookie deals but can begin negotiating extensions after the 2015 season. Green Bay's approach with young, ascending players of their caliber has generally been to extend early to reduce cost. That model produced below-market deals for Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and others.
Getting Bakhtiari under a new long-term deal could take a lot of pressure off the team two offseasons from now. Currently, 60 percent of the starting line is set to come off the books, with center Corey Linsley's deal expiring the following year. Bakhtiari improved significantly during his second season and should continue to progress during his third. Unless Bakhtiari takes a step back in 2015, the team will look to lock him up shortly after the season.
As for Lacy, his contract situation is a little harder to pin down. His performance to date compares favorably to all but a few tailbacks around the league. Lacy has also taken strides as a receiver and pass protector, making him one of the few every-down backs in the league. At the same time, some long-term concerns about his health have to factor into the equation. Lacy has started 31 out of 32 possible games, but the physical pounding his body absorbs presents complications down the road. He played through a high-ankle sprain during the final stretch of his rookie year and has suffered multiple concussions.
Still, McCarthy has done an outstanding job managing Lacy's workload, limiting him to fewer than 250 carries last season. That approach should not only keep Lacy effective late into the season, but also add an extra year or two onto his career. Unless the Packers deem the running back position too dangerous to devote an expensive second contract, Lacy should also expect to begin negotiations next offseason.