Cook, Hyde, Lacy, Lang among those with uncertain future
Lang, Cook headline free-agent decisions
Atlanta — T.J. Lang was hoping, praying this wasn’t the end. Because this was the worst possible conclusion for the Green Bay Packers’ All-Pro right guard.
Late in the third quarter of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, Lang was carted to the locker room with a foot injury. Lang broke the foot earlier in the year and it never fully healed.
For a gladiator like Lang, nothing is worse than having to exit the field on the dreaded cart. And as Lang rode in the passenger seat through the boisterous Georgia Dome, he buried his head in a towel and wept.
“It’s probably the hardest part right now,” Lang said after the Packers dropped a 44-21 decision to Atlanta. “Obviously, disappointed in the way today went. A lot of things going through my mind when I hurt my foot. Hoping it wasn’t my last play putting that helmet on. It’s tough. It’s just tough. I don’t really know what else I can say.”
Lang is one of several key Packers that will become an unrestricted free agent in March. And with the way Packers general manager Ted Thompson has treated guards, there’s a good chance the 29-year-old Lang won’t return.
Other key Packers set to become UFAs include tight end Jared Cook, running back Eddie Lacy, center JC Tretter, outside linebackers Nick Perry, Julius Peppers and Datone Jones, and defensive back Micah Hyde. Green Bay’s remaining UFAs are long snapper Brett Goode, running back Christine Michael and guard Don Barclay.
So while Green Bay’s loss to Atlanta was tough to swallow, it was made doubly difficult for those who knew their Packers career might now be over.
“It’s a sour feeling, man, when there’s really no certainty for next year,” Jones said. “But I know for myself how hard I prepare in the off-season and how hard I’m willing to go to get back here. I’m not really worried about anything else, but tonight. Football for me will take care of itself. I would love, love, love to be back here. I couldn't see myself playing anywhere else.”
Here’s a closer look at the Packers’ unrestricted free agents this off-season:
Over the past two months, Cook might have made himself Green Bay’s top priority in free agency.
The 6-foot-5, 254-pound Cook had 18 catches and two touchdowns in three playoff games. And over the final 10 games, Cook had 42 catches for 553 yards.
Cook was the big, speedy tight end target the Packers have lacked since Jermichael’s Finley career ended in 2013. And Cook’s ability to run the seam and stretch the defense was an enormous boost for Green Bay’s passing attack.
“He’s been a big part of our success,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Cook. “He’s done a great job for us. Not crazy red-zone stats or huge production — which I think he’s capable of — but just his presence out there has really meant a lot to us, giving us an option down the middle and an option splitting him out to his own side as well, which we haven’t had around here in a while.
“So he’s done a great job for us. He’s very versatile with his route running abilities. Vertical, in-breakers, out-breakers, he does a good job using his body. I mean, he’s a big man. He’s a tall, strong guy. Does a good job
separating from coverages and, I’ll say it again, the comments I heard before he got to us was about his hands. We haven’t had any problems with that.”
LINEBACKERS: PERRY, JONES, PEPPERS
Green Bay’s trio of linebackers will present some tough decisions for management.
Perry had a career year with 11 sacks, four passes defensed and an interception. In Perry’s first four years, he had just 121⁄ sacks and missed 18 games due to injury. 2
Perry won’t turn 27 until April, and in theory, should be in his prime. But if someone offers Perry a mega-deal, it seems unlikely Thompson will get in the bidding for a player who’s battled injuries and had a career year in a contract season.
Jones, 26, finished the year with 20 tackles and one sack. He made the move from defensive end to outside linebacker and would like to see where that path takes him in future years.
“Later in my career now, I was so happy I got with a really good coach in (linebackers coach) Winston Moss to help me start turning it around and improve my game," Jones said. “It’s hard walking out of here not being a win-
ner, especially since the last eight, nine weeks we felt like we had what it takes.”
Peppers, who turned 37 last year, had his playing time reduced this year to keep him fresh for later in the season. Peppers still finished second on the team in sacks (71⁄ 2), had four passes defensed and 22 tackles.
After Green Bay’s loss to Atlanta, Peppers didn’t want to talk about his future.
When asked if he wanted to play another year, Peppers said, “I don’t know.”
Hyde developed into one of the Packers’ most productive and valuable defensive players. Hyde had four interceptions in Green Bay’s final seven games, showed his versatility by playing anywhere and everywhere in the secondary, and probably drove his free agency price tag up way up.
“Well, clearly Micah Hyde in his time here, I don’t know what position he hasn’t played outside of offense and defensive line,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Hyde. “He’s just a very talented and instinctive player. His personality has fit into the locker room. So, he’s stepped up and has played every role and has taken advantage of every opportunity he’s been given here.
“You look back at his rookie year, started out as corner, moved into the nickel, has played safety. So not only to make that adjustment in the flow of a game without reps is something he’s been able to do, pretty much the last couple of years. I can’t just say enough about the flexibility he gives us a staff.”
Lacy underwent ankle surgery after Week 6 and didn’t play again. Lacy averaged 5.1 yards per carry on his 71 rushing attempts, but after two terrific seasons to begin his Green Bay career, his last two years were subpar.
Lacy has fought the battle of the bulge and must prove he can stay healthy. But Lacy won’t be 27 until June and could return at the Packers’ price.
Tretter started the first seven games when Corey Linsley was injured and proved he can be one of the NFL’s top-15 centers. But Tretter hasn’t been able to stay healthy and missed the final 12 games with a knee injury that required surgery last week.
In four seasons, Tretter has played in just 31 of 64 regular-season games. So if someone offers Tretter big money, Green Bay will almost certainly let him leave.
That brings us back to Lang, a throwback player and the leader of Green Bay’s offensive line. Through Lang’s stellar eight-year career, he battled through wrist and ankle injuries, played with a torn labrum and came back from a concussion without missing a game.
Since becoming a starter, though, in 2011, Lang has missed just five games.
Lang suffered a broken foot against Tennessee on Nov. 13, an injury that sidelines most players for at least two months. Lang sat out just three games, though, then returned to help the Packers string together eight straight wins.
When Lang re-injured that same foot against Atlanta and had to leave the field, emotions overtook him.
“That’s the first thing going through my mind after I hurt my foot again,” Lang said. “I’m just hoping it wasn’t the last time I get to put on that helmet. It’s tough, man. Obviously, I’ll take some time, take a couple days, to rest up and recover and see what happens. I think everybody in this locker room knows that this is where I want to be.”
Based on Thompson’s history, though, Lang’s status is cloudy, at best.
After the 2004 season, Thompson let standout guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle leave in free agency. In September, Thompson cut Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton. Lang is hoping things are different for him. “I think everybody in this locker room knows that this is where I want to play,” Lang said. “It’s been eight years now. I don’t want to go anywhere. I’ve been saying that since the beginning. I love this team, I love Green Bay, I love everything about being a Packer. I love representing the city and the team. I want to be back. It’s not up to me. This is where I want to be.”
After shaking off some injuries early in the season, Packers tight end Jared Cook finished with 42 catches for 553 yards in the final 10 games. He had two touchdowns in three playoff games.
Packers guard T.J. Lang is carted to the locker room with a foot injury against the Falcons. Since becoming a starter in 2011, Lang has missed just five games. He is an unrestricted free agent that might not return to the team.