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Packers 2017 Free Agents: ILBs Joe Thomas and Jordan Tripp have expiring contracts

Green Bay’s “coverage” linebacker should return in 2017, but the team will need to offer him a new contract to bring him back.

 NFL: Green Bay Packers-Training Camp Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Acme Packing Company continues the examination of the Green Bay Packers’ 2016 roster. Each day over the next two weeks, we will break down a different position on the roster with examinations of the players on the 53-man roster in 2016, the contributions of new additions and players who signed new contracts, and players who have contracts expiring this offseason.

The Green Bay Packers have a pair of inside linebackers who are unsigned for the 2017 season, though neither one will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Therefore, the Packers will have to make some early decisions on whether to submit a qualifying tender to either of the two players.

One of these two played a significant role on defense throughout the regular season and playoffs, as he participated in every game and became a starter midway through the year. The other was a late pickup who was limited to special teams duty only.

Here are the details on the Packers’ two free agent inside linebackers.

Joe Thomas

Free Agent Type: Exclusive-Rights
Experience: 2 years
Expiring Contract: 2 years, $960,000
2016 Stats: 16 games played, 7 starts — 68 total tackles (53 solo), 3 TFL, 1 interception, 5 pass defenses, 1 fumble recovery

The Packers have the opportunity to keep Thomas in Green Bay by offering him a league-minimum ERFA tender this spring. Thomas deserves that at the very least; he was one of the three inside linebackers who saw significant time this year and he moved into a starting role after both Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez were injured. Thomas retained the starting job next to Ryan even after Martinez’s return.

Originally slated as the dime linebacker with mainly coverage and blitzing responsibilities, Thomas improved his play against the run and ended the season in fourth place on the team in total and solo tackles. In coverage, he was occasionally put in difficult positions, however, leading to some apparent poor play. Think back to the Washington game, when he ended up getting matched one-on-one with wide receiver Jamison Crowder in the slot. That didn’t end well.

Even though the Packers would be wise to try to improve the inside linebacker position through the draft or free agency, Thomas should be a valuable part of a rotation in the middle and would also provide special teams ability.

Jordan Tripp

Free Agent Type: Restricted
Experience: 3 years
Expiring Contract: 1 year, $600,000
2016 Stats: 9 games, 1 start (2/0 with Packers) — 1 solo tackle, 1 special teams tackle

The Packers were Tripp’s fourth team in three years when they signed him off the street in December, just a few days after Seattle cut him loose. After being drafted in round 5 of the 2014 NFL Draft by Miami, he was cut after one year and landed in Jacksonville for his second season.

Having started just two games in his career, Tripp appears destined for a role as a fill-in and special teams ace. Therefore, it is unlikely that he will receive a restricted free agent tender, as the cheapest such offer - which would grant the Packers the right of first refusal of any offer sheet from another team - should be over $1.6 million. That is certainly too much money for a special teams-only player.

With that said, Tripp could be a candidate to return to Green Bay on a deal around the league minimum, with an opportunity to earn a roster spot in training camp.