Walker, the Pro Bowl wide receiver who was sidelined for the season in Week 1 against the Lions with an ACL injury, was in Green Bay on Monday for the Packers' game against the Vikings. He answered questions from the media in the Packers locker room afterward saying his rehabilitation is going well, but that he has not even thought about a new contract. His current one is set to expire after next season.
"I haven't been concerned about it because it's not on the top of my list right now," said Walker. "Obviously when I come back and do the things I used to do, then that's what I'll be satisfied with. Right now, it's not a priority for me."
A new contract for Walker should be a priority now for the Packers and general manager Ted Thompson, however. Walker's rehab is going well, and his injury is showing no signs of having any complications on how he will be able perform. There was even a sense as Walker talked Monday night that he may have tried to come back this season, maybe for the post-season, if the Packers were having a better year. Because they are 2-8, though, Walker is setting his timetable to return in September.
"Right now, I'm lifting weights, and I'm running," he said. "I'm rehabbing like this is the last game of the season. It's going real slow now. It's still early.
"I'm not trying to be no hero and come back for a season that is pretty much not going the way we want it to go, so now I'm just rehabbing for next year."
That Walker is doing some light running just two over two months since his ACL was torn is not only a sign that his surgery went well, but also that he is healing well. Those signs, along with Walker's work ethic to come back and be even better, should be enough to convince the Packers that he is worthy of a new contract. If the team is serious about keeping him in Green Bay, they will start with the negotiations now.
Walker may have been somewhat out of line this off-season when he teamed with agent Drew Rosenhaus to go public with wanting a new contract, holding out of mini-camps, and threatening to hold out of training camp, but the situation is much different with his injury. There is little doubt that Walker cannot return to his Pro Bowl status for years to come, but he certainly has less leverage than before his injury. He will still demand top dollar, but the Packers would be wise to start what could be long negotiations with the brash Rosenhaus this season or before next season begins. Why wait until he comes back next year, has another big year, and then potentially compete with other teams for his services? Now the Packers have reason to drive Walker's price down some and have the time to negotiate finer details while Walker is not playing, at the expense of just letting the final year of his rookie contract go.
Thompson, who has proven to be more of a draft guy than a free agent guy, likely has a plan in mind to deal with Walker, but he can relieve himself of some headaches by dealing with Rosenhaus now before he begins to prepare for the this April's draft. Why not do it while Walker is still under contract? The Packers signed tackle Mark Tauscher to a long-term contract in 2002 when he was on injured reserve recovering from a serious knee injury, and that deal worked out pretty well for the team.
Furthermore, if the Packers deal with Walker now they can better structure his new deal to be salary cap-friendly before issues of other free agents and a possible Brett Favre retirement hits them in the face. They are reportedly under the cap maximum this year, so working something out against this year's cap may be an option.
While some may say wait until Walker proves that he can come back, certainly a rational point of view, remember that Thompson did give head coach Mike Sherman a hefty two-year contract extension (though it does not count against the salary cap) with a possibility that he may not even be around next season. Acting, in that case, before having to react took some of the heat off of the coach's contract talk and put the focus on the season. The same philosophy could work with Walker headed into next season.
Walker's image may have changed this off-season with his comments and joining Rosenhaus, but he really has shown to be a stand-up guy that that Packers can put their faith in. There is no doubt that they miss his play-making ability on the field, and without him, are a much different offense and team, struggling to get just its third win late into November.
"It's frustrating watching the season and watching our team going that direction," said Walker, "but obviously for me, from my point of view, it's going to be interesting to come back next year to see what we have and what we're going to do to hopefully not repeat what's going on this year."
While the Packers can, for all intents and purposes, forget about this season, they need to turn their attention to Walker's contract before they could be put in a difficult spot. If they truly believe in their star wide receiver and his recovery, the time to act is now.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh lives in Green Bay and is entering his 10th season covering the Green Bay Packers for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.