Was it just a coincidence or is Nick Perry on to something?
After an OTA practice in Green Bay last week, the wealthy Green Bay Packers outside linebacker was asked what has him excited for this upcoming season with free agency and a hand injury behind him. His response?
“I want a ring,” he said and then chucked as his mobile phone chimed almost simultaneously in his locker. “I want a ring.”
OK, so maybe Perry was referring to a ring of a different kind. But one of the Packers’ core veteran defensive players definitely knows a thing or two about good timing.
After signing a one-year deal coming off his rookie contract, the Packers’ 2012 first-round draft pick posted a career season in 2016. Factoring in his performance against the run – the NFL’s best among edge defenders, according to Pro Football Focus metrics – and as a pass rusher, where he led the Packers with 11 sacks and 17 pressures, he was probably the team’s defensive player of the year.
The breakthrough earned him a five-year, $59 million contract just before free agency began back in March. Based on annual average, he is the fourth-highest paid player on the team. While allowing contributors Jared Cook, Micah Hyde, Datone Jones, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Lang, Julius Peppers and J.C. Tretter to depart via free agency, the Packers zeroed in on Perry as their main man.
With the increase in pay and status among the linebackers group - only Clay Matthews is older at 31 - there is a sense of responsibility and increased leadership from Perry.
“I’m an older guy so I’ve got to teach a little bit now. I think it’s good,” said the 27-year-old Perry. “I watch everybody that comes in here. You definitely want someone to come in with a chip on their shoulder having something to prove, and I think those things stick out a lot for certain players. ... I have a good eye for talent and, when they work hard, I think all of those things take care of themselves.”
But Perry also said with the contract in his back pocket, “I’m never relaxed. There’s no time to be relaxed. There’s always someone out to get your job. But right now, I think the main thing is just to be gaining all the knowledge I can in the offseason, getting the playbook down again, fine-tuning those things and moving into camp with a sense that I’m ready to go.”
Perry’s health -- and Matthews’, as well -- will be paramount to an edge position group for the Packers that has no other NFL starting experience. The vision five years ago when the Packers selected Perry out of USC was to team him up with Matthews to form a formidable duo on the outside. But the pair has started just 15 games together. Injuries and Matthews moving around to different linebacker spots have been the biggest factors. Matthews again could be on the move in 2017, though he projects as a starter outside.
Including the playoffs, Perry has missed 20 games in his career. In 2016, however, he played in 17 of a possible 19 (the last five with a club cast on his hand) to tally the most snaps of any of his seasons. Pro Football Reference had him during the regular season playing 603 (58.6 percent of all Packers defensive snaps), most among outside linebackers on the team.
Said defensive coordinator Dom Capers of the next step for Perry: “I think if he can just pick up where he left off. Nick’s a big, strong guy. He showed his ability to rush the passer last year. He’s always been a real physical run player – he’s got good leverage on people and sets a good edge. We like the way Nick played last year. Hopefully, he can just take and build on that.”
“I want to have a better season than I had last year. I think everybody does,” he said. “But I don’t have to worry about all of those things. Just staying healthy and being consistent is what I’m here to do.”
Ask and ye shall receive. Maybe that phone ringing was a good sign for the Packers.
“I think everybody here gets it,” Perry continued. “I’m excited to get this thing started. The contract, the injuries, those things are behind me. So, I just want to continue to do a good job on the field, help in any way I can and just win this thing. That’s it for me.”