For the better part of seven years with the Packers (1998-2004), Wahle was a stalwart along the offensive line blocking for one of the best rushing teams in franchise history before being released for financial reasons.
Three years later, as a former member of the Panthers, Wahle finds himself in a similar situation. He is looking for a new team after being released this past Monday amid salary cap concerns in Carolina.
Whether Wahle, who will turn 31 in March, can still play should be of little concern to the Packers. He is definitely still capable when healthy and gives the Packers a reason to believe they can steady their unsteady situation at the offensive guard position.
Whether the Packers can get a reasonable deal done with Wahle is the big question.
Recent history would suggest that getting Wahle back is unlikely. Packers' general manager Ted Thompson has shown an unwillingness to overpay for free agents, especially at the guard position.
Shortly after becoming Packers' GM in January 2005, Thompson let both Marco Rivera and Wahle go while they were at the top of their games. Seeing Rivera depart at the time, as an unrestricted free agent, was understandable, but seeing Wahle released was a head-scratcher for many Packers' fans.
Wahle was due a reported $6 million roster bonus at the time as a part of a contract done before Thompson came to Green Bay. By refusing to pay him that money, Wahle effectively became a free agent.
The roster bonus was really the major reason the Packers released Wahle. Thompson was in the beginning stages of overhauling the roster and setting forth a long-term plan for the salary cap, so Wahle became a somewhat unwanted but necessary release.
Even though the Packers are in much better shape under the cap this off-season, it would still be difficult to imagine Thompson overpaying (in his own eyes) for Wahle. Wahle should be in high demand around the league with a weak crop of free agent guards, thus should be in line for another fat contract similar to the five-year, $27 million deal he got with the Panthers three years ago.
The Packers had plenty of money to spend last off-season, yet balked at landing a big-time free agent. Instead, they chose to use that money creatively to re-work some of their own players' contracts - to help future caps and secure the core of their team. That system, though sometimes an unpopular one during the free agency period, has produced remarkable results. In just two years, Thompson has helped bring the Packers from 4-12 in 2005 to 13-3 in 2007 on the doorstep of a Super Bowl.
Because head coach Mike McCarthy played musical chairs with his guards this past season and will be making his running game a top priority this off-season, acquiring Wahle makes sense. With a group of young, but relatively unproven players in Jason Spitz, Daryn Colledge, Junius Coston and Allen Barbre, Wahle would be a big upgrade. He ascended to Pro Bowl status while with the Panthers and only missed three starts in three years. A torn labrum forced him to miss the end of the 2006 season and affected his preparation for the 2007 season, but he is expected to be ready to go in 2008.
Wahle has always been one of the fittest, most durable offensive linemen in the NFL throughout his 10-year career and that does not figure to dramatically change. The Packers know that, and with no bad blood between the two sides, he should at least be a consideration to return.
Consider what Panthers' head coach John Fox said about Wahle and his former teammate, Dan Morgan, who was also released Monday: "These were tough decisions, because Dan and Mike have been valuable members of our team and have done everything we have asked of them over the years. They are both very dedicated to the game of football and earned the respect of everyone who worked with them."
The Packers will have a tough evaluation to make with Wahle because of what kind of player and person he is. In a personnel sense, he is a no-brainer. In a business sense … well, that might take some more thinking.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.