MANY DECISIONS AHEAD
Mike Daniels among several Packers players facing free agency.
Green Bay — Mike Daniels was handed the list. Green Bay’s ferocious defensive end studied it momentarily, then had the same reaction many of the team’s faithful probably will. “Is that it?” Daniels asked when showed Green Bay’s list of free agents. “What is going on?” Green Bay’s list of potential free agents is lengthy and will undoubtedly lead to several departures — and changes — in 2016.
The Packers’ unrestricted free agents will include Daniels, defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion, cornerback Casey Hayward, outside linebackers Mike Neal and Nick Perry, kicker Mason Crosby, wide receiver James Jones, fullback John Kuhn, running back James Starks and long snapper Brett Goode. All of those players have been significant contributors to this year’s 6-1 Packers. Others like quarterback Scott Tolzien, offensive lineman Don Barclay and tight end Andrew Quarless are bit players that will also be unrestricted. Also unrestricted is safety Sean Richardson, who is on injured reserve with a herniated disc in his neck that could end his career. Safety Chris Banjo, linebacker Andy Mulumba and guard Lane Taylor headline Green Bay’s list of restricted free agents.
There’s an urgency in every NFL city, every week with jobs and futures on the line. But with so many players in perhaps their final season as Packers, there’s even heightened importance on the 2015 campaign.
“The one thing I learned about the NFL after my rookie year, when I’m seeing names of guys going across the ticker signing with other teams, is he’s just not going to be in my locker come April,” Daniels said. “In college you’re with guys four years, five years, and now you’ve got guys that just aren’t going to be with you when you show up in freaking April.”
Packers general manager Ted Thompson has done a terrific job at keeping his core pieces together in recent seasons. A year ago, Thompson was able to bring back both wideout Randall Cobb and right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
Green Bay is roughly $10.5 million below the salary cap and Thompson could try locking up a core player or two before the season ends. If that doesn’t happen, Thompson will have a lot of mouths to feed after the season ends.
“I don’t worry about other guys’ business,” Bulaga said. “I’m sure those guys aren’t too worried about it either. This is the season we’re in right now and we’re just trying to win right now. Even when I was free, I didn’t even look past that. It was just about week in and week out, playing the best you could and helping your team win.
“And I probably said it 1,000 times last year, all that other stuff takes care of itself. There’s nothing you can do besides go out there and play the best you can and do the best you can and just help your team win football games.”
While Thompson never tips his hand, it’s a good bet that Daniels will be his No. 1 target. A currently Green Bay’s h and the run.
Daniels has 17 quarter fense has also been terrifi
According to Pro Football Focus, Daniels is highest-rated player against both the pass rback hurries and four sacks. His run deic dating back to the start of the 2014 season.
Daniels has said time and time again he’d like to remain a Packer. But as Daniels wreaks havoc week after week, his price tag goes up.
Houston’s J.J. Watt received the most guaranteed money ever for a defensive lineman ($51.8 million). Daniels won’t get that kind of contract. But Daniels could match — or exceed — the guaranteed money of players like New Orleans’ Cameron Jordan ($33.8 million) or Arizona’s Calais Campbell ($31 million).
“I just need to play football, do my thing and it will work itself out,” Daniels said.
Raji’s value could be tough to gauge. After a strong start to his career, Raji was one of the least productive 3-4 defensive linemen from 2011-’13. Raji missed all of 2014 with a season-ending biceps injury, but has enjoyed a terrific 2015 season.
Raji will turn 30 before the 2016 campaign begins, an age Thompson normally shies away from. But Raji’s value to Green Bay’s defense this year has been immense, and internally, the Packers know they’re much better with the mammoth nose tackle than without.
Crosby has salvaged his career since a nightmarish 2012 and seems like a player Green Bay would do everything to keep. Since making just 63.6% of his kicks in 2012, Crosby is 80 of 91 (including the playoffs) over the last 2½ seasons (87.9%).
After sticking with Crosby through the worst stretch of his career, it would make little sense to let him get away next March.
It will also be interesting to see how the Packers rank outside linebackers Perry and Neal. Perry (four sacks) has been the better player in 2015, but the Packers declined to pick up his fifth-year option for 2016 back in May.
Hayward could very well be playing his final season in Green Bay. According to PFF, Hayward was the No. 2 rated cornerback in 2012 and ranked No. 9 last year. Most of Hayward’s snaps those seasons came from the slot.
This year, Hayward has played mostly outside, where he’s performed well until a rough outing in Denver on Sunday. Someone will write Hayward an awfully large check this off-season. Heck, Philadelphia gave mediocre cornerback Byron Maxwell $63 million over six years to leave Seattle.
But after the Packers used their first two draft picks in 2015 on cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, it seems unlikely they’d spend big money on Hayward.
Others will likely test the free-agent market, and if they don’t find the riches they covet, could return to Green Bay at the Packers’ price.
Either way, Thompson will have several tough decisions to make. And the Packers could look dramatically different in 2016.
“Every year I look at it like man, this is the last year that all of us are going to be together,” Daniels said. “There’s that sense of urgency every year. You will never have this exact team again.”
That’s extremely true in 2015.
Cornerback Casey Hayward could demand a large contract in the offseason.
B.J. Raji has been a strong p turn 30 before the 2016 cam
presence on the defensive line. Raji, who will mpaign, will be a free agent in the off-season.