Plenty of Reasons To Keep Veteran Wells

Jermichael Finley? Matt Flynn? Both players will be hot if they hit the free agent market. But neither is as valuable to the Packers as Scott Wells. Matt Tevsh explains why Ted Thompson needs to buck his trend of letting older veterans go by keeping the eight-year center.

When it comes to letting go of his own veteran players before they start to decline in play, Ted Thompson seems to be a pretty good judge.

During his seven-year run as general manager of the Green Bay Packers, he has allowed solid players like Aaron Kampman, Ahman Green, Mike Flanagan and Marco Rivera go. None of the four amounted to much with their new teams.

He also released guys like William Henderson, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Al Harris, allowing them to become free agents. Henderson and KGB never played again and Harris spent short stints with the Dolphins and Rams before retiring because of a knee injury.

Of course, there have been some misses, too. Some would argue that not re-signing Cullen Jenkins had a huge impact on the Packers' defense in 2011. Kicker Ryan Longwell has been even better in Minnesota than he was in Green Bay. And Daryn Colledge and Nick Barnett, one year removed from the Packers, had satisfactory first seasons with their new teams.

Wells and Rodgers make terrific team vs. the blitz.
Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Scott Wells, scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13, is Thompson's next big decision.

Like most of the aforementioned players, Wells is at an age, 31, where Thompson tends to send his own packing. But the difference between those players and Wells is that Wells is indispensible.

As the center on one of the best offenses in the NFL, he is arguably the second-most important player on the unit behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers. This past regular season, he allowed just two sacks and had just two penalties and has been as consistent as they come snapping the football.

Perhaps most importantly, he fits the Packers' system well, in sync with Rodgers on protection calls at the line of scrimmage.

"They both put in the time," said teammate Josh Sitton. "The whole protection thing and picking up blitzes, it starts with those two in the middle. That's how you have to do it. Scott, he just does a great job. He's smart, and he gets us all on the same page."

Added coach Mike McCarthy at his season-ending news conference on Jan. 17: "He's the center on a multi-scheme offense and more importantly he's a heck of a football player. I make no bones about it, I told Scott I hope were working together here next (season). He's going into free agency so we'll see what happens, but Scott Wells has been a very valuable member of our football team."

So valuable is Wells that Thompson already once gave him a contract extension. After becoming the full-time starter in 2006, Wells got a five-year deal (total cap value of $14.9 million) on Nov. 6 that year.

Complicating contract matters this time, however, is that Wells is older and at the peak of his career, set to play in his first Pro Bowl on Sunday.

"I think he's done an excellent job the last couple of years. I would say he's clearly the best lineman we've had this year as far as performance," said McCarthy. "It's nice to see him being recognized as a Pro Bowl center, so I hope we can get it worked out."

Hope might be an understatement. The Packers are thin along the offensive line, even assuming 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod bounces back from a broken leg and 12-year veteran Chad Clifton returns. As of now, there is no backup plan at center unless the Packers think Evan Dietrich-Smith is the long-term answer. And to count on this April's draft to find a starter at the most mentally challenging position along the line is a huge, unnecessary risk.

As for the age factor and how his health projects over the next several years, Wells should be fine. He is one of the fittest offensive linemen the Packers have, missing just six games over the past seven seasons. And he plays a position where advanced age has less of a negative impact than at others.

Frank Winters played steadily for the Packers through his mid-30s and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Ringo earned four Pro Bowl selections after age 31. Another Hall of Famer, the Steelers' Mike Webster, earned a Pro Bowl selection at 35.

Wells might not be Hall of Fame worthy, but he is one of the best in the game today – comparable to the Ravens' Matt Birk, the Falcons' Todd McClure, the Jaguars' Brad Meester, the Lions' Dominic Raiola, the Colts' Jeff Saturday and the Chiefs' Casey Wiegmann, all starting centers who are older than Wells.

The pool of scheduled free agent centers could impact Wells' future and market demand. In addition to Wells, the top ones who could be available are the Chargers' Nick Hardwick and the Texans' Chris Myers. Birk, McClure, Saturday, and Wiegmann are free agents, but Wells might be a more attractive option because he is a few years younger.

Wells has been overlooked for much of his career - first as a seventh-round draft pick in 2004, then when the Packers tried to make Jason Spitz their center, and finally, with his current contract situation.

Playing with a chip on his shoulder, therefore, is nothing new for Wells. Perhaps that is part of Thompson's plan again this time around by delaying a new contract.

Editor's note: For more on Thompson's history of re-signing his own vs. letting them go, check out the April issue of Packer Report Magazine.

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

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