MANY DE­CI­SIONS AHEAD

Mike Daniels among sev­eral Pack­ers play­ers fac­ing free agency.

Packer Plus - - News - By ROB REISCHEL

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.

MARK HOFF­MAN MHOFFMAN@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM

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

MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

“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.”

Mike Daniels,

Pack­ers de­fen­sive end, on free agency

MARK HOFF­MAN / MHOFFMAN@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM

pres­ence on the de­fen­sive line. Raji, who will mpaign, will be a free agent in the off-sea­son.

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