The Green Bay Packers’ defense was broken.
Perry is being paid $60 million to be part of the solution.
“They wanted me to be a core guy,” Perry said on Thursday, a few hours after agreeing to a five-year contract to remain with the team. “I’m one of the core guys who can provide stability. As a rusher, I think that’s one of the best positions that’s needed to win a championship.”
This was the expectation when Perry was selected in the first round in 2012. It just took a long time to get to this point.
In 2012, he played in six games before requiring season-ending wrist surgery.
In 2013, Perry had three sacks and two forced fumbles during a two-game span before suffering a foot injury that sidelined him for five of the next six games.
Perry’s meager contributions played a role in the decision to sign Julius Peppers, so Perry started four out of 15 games in 2014 and one out of 14 games in 2015.
With a career total of 12.5 sacks, nobody — including the Packers — was willing to commit to a long-term deal. So Perry came back on a one-year deal.
And what a year it was, with Perry tallying a career-high 11 sacks.
“There’s always been flashes,” Perry said. “There’s always been times where I was able to do what I wanted to do. I think it really, really hit home when I got my first full offseason to really focus and prepare and really build that foundation. This past year, I think it really took off because I didn’t have many injuries and I was really focusing on football. I think all of those things took its course and, as a result of that, I’m able to provide and do the best that I can on the field.”
Thursday’s contract wasn’t the finish line but it was an important mile marker in his career. In his first four seasons, he missed more games due to injuries (18) than he started (16). In 2016, he stayed mostly healthy — the two missed games due to a broken hand notwithstanding — and was a force.
“Ups and downs, smiles and frowns. I always say that,” Perry said. “We go through it all. Just being around here, seeing your teammates every day, (it’s) just humbling that you’re a part of something great, and those things keep you going — just seeing what everybody else is doing, all the heartaches and the pains that they’re going through. You know, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this game, and I think everybody realizes that and I’m one of the guys that I’ve dealt with it a lot and I kind of humble myself to know that I can push through anything. Moving forward, I just want to do the best I can to help. We’re going to do good with that.”
Perry’s best was sensational. Not only did he lead the team in sacks but he statistically was the NFL’s best run-stopping edge defender, according to Pro Football Focus.
Now, the Packers need more.
With a $12 million average salary that ranks seventh among edge defenders, Perry is being paid premium money to be a premier player. What happens when highly paid players don’t provide high-level impact? Look no further than last year’s Packers. Green Bay’s defense went in the tank because three of the league’s highest-paid players at their positions — Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Sam Shields — didn’t or couldn’t deliver. The result? Only one Packers team in the last three decades gave up more points than the 2016 edition of the club.
Can Matthews return to form? Will there be another quality outside linebacker on the roster? Can Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins rescue a cornerback corps that performed poorly last season and lost Micah Hyde on Thursday? Those are unknowns. Perry is known. He has to be a consistently dominating presence for this defense to succeed.
“I’m not done,” Perry said. “That was just one year. And that’s part to prove. And that’s all the progress that needs to be had moving forward. I’m putting the best foot forward for me and for the team and I’m excited to work hard and do things that I know that I can do.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.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.