The first domino to fall for the Green Bay Packers during the week of free agency is one that few expected. Instead of coming to terms with one of the more high-profile free agents-to-be, Ted Thompson has made a move to solidify the depth on the interior of the offensive line.
Guard Lane Taylor, who has spent three years with the Packers after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State in 2013, is reportedly coming back to Green Bay for the next two seasons. This move comes as a bit of a surprise, especially because Taylor was set to become a Restricted Free Agent.
The Packers could have given Taylor a one-year tender worth $1.761 million to keep him in Green Bay for 2016 and have the right of first refusal if any other team had signed him to an offer sheet (which would have seemed unlikely). Instead, Taylor signed a two-year deal worth $4.15 million on its face, with another million dollars in potential incentives and a $600,000 signing bonus.
Paying a backup offensive guard more than two million dollars per year seems like a large number, especially when you factor in the fact that he could have been tendered for a smaller amount. Taylor is now set to earn more in average dollars per year than several starting guards around the league. It also puts him in the top 20 in the highest earners on the Packers' roster, though many young contributors fall under that threshold due to their rookie contracts.
However, this move makes some sense from a depth perspective; starting guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang both have contracts that are set to expire at the conclusion of the 2016 season. Taylor can play either left or right guard and he started a pair of games in 2015 - one in relief of an injured Lang and the other in week 17 when Josh Sitton slid out to left tackle. Those solid performances and a good 2015 preseason helped to make his poor performance in 2014 against the Saints a distant memory.
Furthermore, the structure of the contract appears to be very team-friendly. With just a $600,000 signing bonus, the Packers are protected in case Taylor fails to live up to expectations or does not develop like they hope. He obviously will be in the team's plans for 2016. However, if he regresses in the next twelve months, he could be released in 2017 with just a $300,000 dead money hit against the salary cap.
The bottom line here is that this keeps the interior of the Packers' offensive line intact for 2016, and gives the Packers a potential succession plan if they cannot or will not re-sign or extend Sitton or Lang beyond next season. For a price tag slightly higher than the Restricted Free Agent tender, this is by no means going to hamstring the Packers against the salary cap, and the contract structure ensures a bit of flexibility next season.