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Packers 2017 Free Agent Running Backs: Should Eddie Lacy & Christine Michael return?

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The Packers have decisions to make about five players in the offensive backfield who have expiring contracts.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

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

Our three-piece look at the Green Bay Packers running back and fullback positions concludes today as we take a look ahead to the start of free agency in a little over a month. The Packers have a whopping five players at the positions who have expiring contracts; however, three of them are exclusive-rights free agents and could end up returning on the cheap for 2017.

The two unrestricted free agents are intriguing players who were coincidentally drafted back-to-back in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. One has been the Packers’ feature back (when healthy) for the past four years, while the other has seen time with four different organizations before landing in Green Bay midway through the 2016 season.

Here’s a look at the free agent runners and what to expect from each of them on the open market.

Eddie Lacy

Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
Experience: 4 years
2016 Stats: 5 games — 71 carries, 360 yards (5.1 Y/C), 0 TDs — 4 receptions, 28 yards (7.0 Y/R), 0 TDs
Career Stats: 51 games — 788 carries, 3435 yards (4.4 Y/C), 23 TDs — 101 receptions, 900 yards (8.9 Y/R), 6 TDs
Expiring Contract: 4-year, $3.394 million rookie deal
2016 Compensation: $867,602 base salary

The Packers’ bruising lead running back was hoping for a bounce-back season in 2016 after going through and up-and-down 2015 campaign. Early on, it looked like he would have just that - Lacy set career highs for rushing yards in the month of September and his 5.1 yards per carry through the first five games would have been a career high by a half-yard.

Then injury struck.

Lacy, who had played through some ankle issues in both 2013 and 2015, tweaked his ankle in week five against the Giants and was then lost for the season in week six when he further aggravated the injury in a game against the Cowboys. He went on injured reserve and had ankle surgery after that game.

In addition to questions about his ankle, Lacy faces questions about his fluctuating weight. After being overweight for all of 2015, he appeared to have a renewed focus on reshaping his body during the 2016 offseason. However, when the season resumed, questions remained about his size despite his solid production.

Any team signing Lacy will need to get answers to those questions, and it’s possible that they could drive his price back down to a level at which the Packers are comfortable. Spotrac projects his contract to be in the range of 3 years and $5 million per year - a number comparable to the contracts received by Mark Ingram or C.J. Anderson over the last few years, but with one fewer year on the term of the deal. Unless he shows a clear and full recovery from the ankle injury, his market could drop further, perhaps to a two-year deal with an even lower salary.

At this point, I estimate the odds of Lacy returning at around 50/50. It’s possible that another NFL team could see his production prior to injury and throw some cash at him, but it’s also plausible that no other franchise would be willing to take a significant financial risk on a heavier runner with a history of ankle troubles and weight questions. If that’s the case, he could come back to Green Bay at a relative bargain.

Christine Michael

Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
Experience: 4 years
2016 Stats: Packers: 6 games, 31 carries, 114 yards (3.7 Y/C), 1 TD — 2 receptions, 11 yards; Seahawks: 9 games, 117 carries, 469 yards (4.0 Y/C), 6 TDs — 20 receptions, 96 yards (4.8 Y/R), 1 TD
Career Stats: 37 games — 254 carries, 1080 yards (4.3 Y/C), 7 TDs — 26 receptions, 135 yards, 1 TD
Expiring Contract: One-year, $725,000 contract

Michael was claimed off waivers from Seattle when the Packers were desperate for running backs and had one significant highlight - a 42-yard burst through the heart of the Bears defense that showed all the qualities that made him a darling of draft analysts.

He also showed the problems that got him released and bounced around to a handful of teams in his short career - poor hands and struggles to absorb the playbook.

Michael will likely get another shot somewhere this spring, but it will likely come on a one-year deal for a fairly low price tag. The Packers may well choose to move on from him since Ty Montgomery’s move to running back has been made a permanent one.

John Crockett

Free Agent Status: Exclusive Rights
Experience: 1 year
2016 Stats: None (on injured reserve all season)
Career Stats: 2 games — 9 carries, 21 yards (2.3 Y/C), 0 TDs
Expiring Contract: 2-year, $960,000 contract
2016 Compensation: $525,000 base salary

A prolific college runner at FCS North Dakota State, Crockett sat on the practice squad for much of 2015 before getting a shot on the 53 late in the season. He focused heavily on improving his special teams contributions and appeared to be in line for the third-string job behind Lacy and James Starks in 2016, but he hurt his shoulder at the end of training camp and was placed on injured reserve.

Odds are good that the Packers give him an ERFA tender to see what he can provide as a depth player in 2017.

Don Jackson

Free Agent Status: Exclusive-Rights
Experience: 1 year
2016 Stats: 3 games — 10 carries, 32 yards (3.2 Y/C), 0 TDs
Expiring Contract: 1-year, $450,000 contract

Jackson was an early undrafted free agent signing in 2016, but was let go at the start of training camp before being brought back on the practice squad for week one. He ended up spending a month on the active roster after Lacy’s injury, but landed on IR himself with a hand injury. It would be a surprise to this writer if Jackson receives a tender from the Packers.

FB Joe Kerridge

Free Agent Status: Exclusive-Rights
Experience: 1 year
2016 Stats: 8 games — 1 carry, 0 yards
Expiring Contract: 1-year, $450,000 contract

Squarely in the “special teams player” category is Kerridge, who contributed no more than two or three snaps per game on offense, often in a two-fullback package with Aaron Ripkowski or as a lead blocker when Rip lined up at tailback. Still, he could be retained for the 2nd-year league minimum on an ERFA tender, so he has a chance of returning.