Cook, Hyde, Lacy, Lang among those with un­cer­tain fu­ture

Lang, Cook head­line free-agent de­ci­sions

Packer Plus - - News - ROB REISCHEL

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:

JARED COOK

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.”

MICAH HYDE

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.”

ED­DIE LACY

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.

JC TRET­TER

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.

T.J. LANG

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.”

GETTY IMAGES

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.

RICK WOOD / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

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.

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