Every offseason, the Green Bay Packers set money aside for re-signing their internal free agents. It can be painful to watch as other NFL teams attempt to improve their rosters with high-priced free agents while Green Bay stands pat, but the Packers save up just enough to bring back their own. Arguably, that strategy has allowed the team to stay competitive year in and year out.
Last year, Green Bay chose to lock up left tackle David Bakhtiari prior to the regular season and the move paid major dividends, as Bakhtiari had not only his finest season as a pro, but one of the best seasons of any offensive tackle in the league. There is little doubt that Bakhtiari could have earned more on the open market after the season than he did when signing his four-year, $51 million offer sheet. On the flip side, the Packers decided not to extend a long-term deal to Eddie Lacy and face recurring questions about his injury and weight.
This year, the Packers have a whopping 13 free agents-to-be. Some are in on one-year free agent deals: Ricky Jean Francois, Davon House, and Jahri Evans. Some are on one-year, earn-it deals: Don Barclay and Jayrone Elliott, and Jordan Tripp. And several more are hoping for long-term extensions: Morgan Burnett, Lane Taylor, Davante Adams, Corey Linsley, Richard Rodgers, Jeff Janis, and Demetri Goodson.
That last group makes up the portion of the pool that could sign a deal prior to the start of the regular season in September. Burnett, at 28 years old, should be a re-sign candidate, but the emergence of Kentrell Brice and draftee Josh Jones may give Green Bay time to wait on the eight-year pro. Taylor and Linsley, however, are relatively young enough - 27 and 26, respectively - to warrant Ted Thompson’s attention for an early extension.
However, it should be noted that Thompson’s value on the interior line varies considerably from the bookend tackles. Linsley, as noted by Spotrac, may carry a value of $6.8 million per year in free agency. The Packers were reluctant to re-sign J.C. Tretter this offseason on a lesser deal than Linsley will command, even though Tretter had the extra value of being able to swing to tackle. Tretter and Linsley were fighting back and forth for the starting center position just a year ago, so it’s hard to say whether or not the Packers feel confident enough to sign Linsley long-term.
That’s why this writer believes Davante Adams will be the lone recipient of a new contract this offseason.
In recent history, the Packers have locked up wide receivers early. In 2011, Green Bay rewarded Jordy Nelson with a three-year, $13.35 million extension in October and another three-year extension in July 2015. The Packers reaped the benefits on the first deal, as Nelson went on to post career highs in touchdowns, receptions, and receiving yards the very next season. In 2009, the Packers re-upped Greg Jennings for three years and almost $27 million. Again, Green Bay was rewarded with two consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and Pro Bowl appearances in 2010 and 2011.
Not only has Green Bay benefited tremendously when it has re-signed wide receivers in the past under Thompson — it has been burned significantly when it hasn’t done so. After choosing not to re-sign Randall Cobb prior to the 2014 season, the Packers had to go to the bank in the offseason after Cobb delivered a Pro Bowl campaign. For various reasons, Cobb hasn’t been able to duplicate that success since. The Packers can’t afford to take that risk again.
Adams is coming off of a terrific 2016 season that was undoubtedly his most consistent as a pro. He hauled in his most receptions (75) for the most yards (997) and touchdowns (12) of his three-year career. And it’s not even close. The numbers suggest that Adams is on the brink of NFL stardom, much like Nelson and Jennings’ numbers numbers spiked the year before the final year of their rookie deals.
With Jordy Nelson beginning to age and transition into more of a slot role, Adams may be the only starting caliber outside receiver on the roster. He has grown into a playmaker and a producer after the catch. Gaining Aaron Rodgers’ confidence is difficult, but Adams was targeted a personal-best 121 times last season, second only to Jordy Nelson’s 152 targets. Packers brass surely can’t let a Rodgers-trusted weapon like Adams test the market, can they?
The Packers have had major success with second-round wide receivers, striking gold with each of the ones named above. The Packers waited to extend Cobb due to an injury the season before, but jumped at the chance to re-sign the others early on. Watch for them to follow suit with Adams these next couple months.