According to the voting of APC’s writers, the Packers’ offensive line was the best position group from the 2016 season for the team. When free agency starts on March 9th, the group could be missing a couple major pieces for the 2017 season. Pro Bowl starter T.J. Lang and top reserve JC Tretter will be free agents and will gather plenty of interest on the open market. Each player has certain factors that might make one or both expendable to the Packers front office. Let’s take a look at each to see what it might take to keep them in Green Bay.
T.J. Lang enters the postseason as the number two-rated free agent interior lineman, behind Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler, according to most publications. Lang and Zeitler are very comparable to their tangible assets, so the biggest difference that puts Zeitler ahead of Lang is that Zeitler turns 27 on March 8 while Lang is 29 (he’ll turn 30 in September). Lang has been a leader both in his play and his attitude up front for the Packers over the past several years. His performance and leadership were under the radar for the past several years, but he finally got his recognition by being named a starter in the Pro Bowl this past season.
The Pro Bowl honor and veteran leadership of Lang will get him tons of interest on the free agent market. This past season, Lang made roughly $6 million and will get a nice raise on top of that for his next contract. If you’re looking for a number that Lang will use to base his next salary on, we need to take a look at Kansas City Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif who signed a five-year $41.25 million, with $20 million guaranteed, last week. Tardif is a few years younger than Lang and does not have the awards that Lang has but he is one of the up and coming guards in the NFL. Tardif’s contract averages out to $8.25 million per year and that is likely a starting point for Lang.
The Packers will need to decide if they want to commit another large chunk of change to their offensive line. Just before week one in 2016, they gave a huge contract to left tackle David Bakhtiari (four-years, $51.67 million) and Bryan Bulaga will been making around $8 million for the next couple of seasons. After the 2017 season, Corey Linsley and Lane Taylor will also be free agents. I don’t envy the Packers having to make a decision like this. Can they find someone in the NFL Draft to take over for Lang or do they give the money to him and look to replace Linsley or Taylor when their contracts are up?
The upside of everything is that Lang appears to want to stay in Green Bay or at least want the Packers to stay informed of what is going on. According to ESPN, Lang had this to say about his contract negotiations: “We told Green Bay all along that we’ll keep them updated on any other offers that come in, and really at that point it would just be, ‘Hey, this is what we’ve got sitting on the table, can you guys compete with it?” Obviously we’re going to give them the first right of refusal.” I believe that’s a good sign for the Packers but if he will he give the Packers a “hometown discount” remains to be seen.
Now onto JC Tretter. I went into writing this article with the idea of boosting up Tretter as a replacement for Lang if the Packers are not willing to pay for Lang. However, Michael Cohen from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel dropped a nice article about the Packers looking unwilling to match the market for Tretter.
While this article doesn’t confirm or deny what the Packers or Tretter will do, you can’t blame Tretter for wanting to look elsewhere. While he has not proven that he can stay healthy for an entire year, he has proven that he can handle the center position. In fact, there was a time earlier this year when I thought he should not give up his starting spot when Linsley came back from injury. Of course, Tretter was injured just in time for Linsley’s return, but he will give a team a smart and capable center and someone will give him at least $4 million contract per year to lead their offensive line.
You can also not blame the Packers for not wanting to match the market for Tretter. If someone is willing to give Tretter around starting caliber money, that will be too much for the Packers to use that on someone that is a backup. The Packers have some young developing talent in Jason Spriggs, Kyle Murphy and Lucas Patrick on the roster and there are some nice players in the interior line coming in the draft in April. In fact, as I write this, I’m watching the NFL Combine and there are a few interior offensive linemen that will be good mid-to-late round prospects to replace Tretter.
It will be interesting to see where the Packers go with their two offensive line free agents. Personally, I hope they can find a way to keep the line together and get T.J. Lang to lead the line for another couple of years. It appears the interest in JC Tretter will be too great for the Packers to be willing to keep him around. We have one week to go before free agency starts and the NFL Combine is going on right now. It’ll be a tough decision with whatever route they decide to go but we need to look at the bigger picture and hope it continues developing the franchise for the future.