Green Bay Packers Put on Free-Agent Caps

On the day the salary cap was set at $167 million, coach Mike McCarthy provided his thoughts on several key free agents.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Green Bay Packers have eight free agents who could be called core players.

It’s a list headed by tight end Jared Cook, defensive back Micah Hyde, guard T.J. Lang and outside linebacker Nick Perry. Four other players started multiple games: outside linebackers Datone Jones and Julius Peppers, running back Eddie Lacy and center J.C. Tretter. While not priorities, offensive lineman Don Barclay, long snapper Brett Goode, running back Christine Michael are three other unrestricted free agents who have played a considerable number of snaps.

That’s a lot of work for general manager Ted Thompson. With the news that the salary cap will be $167 million, Thompson has almost $40 million available to retain the pieces that helped the Packers reach the NFC Championship Game.

“That’s our intention, and it’s our intention every year, and I stand on this podium, I think, every year and say the same thing,” Thompson said on Wednesday at the Scouting Combine. “Our best intention will be to sign as many of our own players as we can, and keep it together.”

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Doing so won’t be easy. While the Packers are awash in cap space, so are most of the other teams. The Packers rank 13th in available cap space, according to OverTheCap.com. Six teams have at least $60 million, 12 teams have at least $40 million, 17 teams have at least $30 million and 23 teams have at least $20 million.

One of the more interesting cases will be that of veteran guard T.J. Lang, who essentially got a raise this week when Kansas City gave Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff a five-year extension worth $41.25 million. If Duvernay-Tardiff is worth more than $8 million per season, how much is an established veteran such a Lang going to fetch? Or will Lang’s value be hurt by some significant injuries, including shoulder surgery last offseason and hip surgery this offseason?

“He’s as fine an offensive lineman as I’ve had an opportunity to coach in 20-plus years in this league,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “His leadership is significant in our locker room. I hope to get T.J. back in Green Bay.”

The Packers released veteran guard Josh Sitton at the end of training camp last year. But in that case, they at least had Lane Taylor waiting in the wings to plug into the lineup. The Packers don’t have another ready-made replacement for Lang. In that context, do the Packers need Lang to return?

“Those are hypotheticals,” McCarthy said. “I’m counting on T.J. to come back.”

McCarthy was asked specifically about a few other players during his media sessions.

On Cook:
McCarthy: “I really like the way he came in and grabbed a hold of our offense. He’s a playmaker. He’s a matchup problem. He’s given us some vertical stretch and some one-on-one opportunities that we haven’t had. He fought through a big (ankle) injury, but I would just like to build off what he accomplished in his first year.”

On Lacy:
McCarthy: “We’d like to get Eddie back. He’s our guy. He’s one of our core players. This is a business phase that we go through each and every year. I’m hopeful we can get them all back but the reality of it doesn’t always work out that way.”

Has he heard from Peppers about his intentions for 2017?
McCarthy: “I think Julius just wanted to step away from it. I know he would continue to like to play, just as far as the conversations that we had. But it was important for him to step away.”

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.

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