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Lewis has no plans to retire, wants to return

- Zach Kruse

Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis has no plans to retire from the NFL, and although the 36-year-old is about to be an unrestrict­ed free agent, he’d like to return to Green Bay to play another year with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

“I’m definitely going to keep playing,” Lewis told TMZ Sports. “It’d be good if it was in Green Bay, we’ll see.”

Lewis, the team’s go-to inline blocking tight end, played 422 offensive snaps over 15 games with the Packers in 2020.

He caught 10 passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns and graded out as the eighth-best run-blocking tight end at Pro Football Focus.

His current one-year contract will expire with the Packers next month.

Lewis, who is 15 years into his NFL career and turns 37 years old in May, said he feels good physically and mentally following the 2020 season.

“I feel really good, and most importantl­y, my mind feels really good,” Lewis said.

Lewis has spent the last three seasons in Green Bay, playing each year on a one-year contract.

Last season, he played on a one-year, $2.25 million deal that included a signing bonus of just over $1 million.

The Packers will be tight against the salary cap come the start of the new league year in 2021 but could likely find enough money to return Lewis for another season.

Lewis is a highly-respected veteran in the locker room and a close friend of Rodgers, the 2020 MVP.

At the moment, the Packers don’t have an ideal replacemen­t on the roster for Lewis as a traditiona­l inline tight end.

J.J. Watt is a fast-aging player on the wrong side of 30 whose injury history the past five years surely sends a shudder down the spine of any NFL general manager considerin­g investing in him.

Watt is also one of the dominant defensive players of his era and a lockerroom leader who just might have enough gas in the tank to help a Super Bowl contender looking to upgrade its front seven in 2021.

Those are the opposing forces Brian Gutekunst has to weigh as the Green Bay Packers’ GM determines whether to make a play, and if so, how far to go financially, for a Wisconsin icon who announced his parting with the Houston Texans last Friday.

To get to the nub of the matter, I contacted five NFL sources — four front-office executives and a players’ agent — for their opinions. After consulting them, I’m thinking the Packers, who have more than their share of salary-cap issues to work out this offseason, should be willing to offer in the range of $5 million plus incentives to bring Watt back to his home state for the chance to chase a Super Bowl ring with Aaron Rodgers.

While Watt is a three-time NFL defensive player of the year, he’s also about six weeks shy of his 32nd birthday, has missed a full 32 games the past five years because of injuries and is coming off a five-sack season in 16 games in 2020. Houston obviously was insisting he take a big pay cut from the $17.5 million salary he was scheduled to make this season, and Watt just as surely decided if he’s going to take a big cut in pay, he’d much rather play for a contender. So he asked for his release, and now he’s free to sign with anyone.

“He’s a rotation player with a history of injury,” one of the executives said in a text. “Would have to be willing to play for less (for the Packers). There or Pittsburgh makes the most sense. Market will dictate money. (Around $5 million) sounds about right, maybe ($7 million)

on the top end.”

We don’t know the level of Gutekunst’s interest, but Watt has to at least pique it. There’s every reason to think Watt would love to return to his home state and play for the team he followed while growing up in Pewaukee and that’s a bona fide Super Bowl contender after back-to-back appearance­s in the NFC championsh­ip game.

The question is, how big a discount would he give the Packers? Watt, after all, is used to making a lot of money — his most recent contract averaged $16.7 million. Cutting that by two-thirds would be a big comedown. And if another contender offered a better deal than the Packers, maybe the added lure of returning to his home state wouldn’t be enough.

On the other hand, he’s already made about $100 million in the NFL, according to Over The Cap, and that’s not counting his many endorsemen­ts.

So maybe he’d place more value on chasing a ring with Rodgers and playing in his home state than, say, playing with his brothers T.J. and Derek with the Pittsburgh Steelers, or joining Tom Brady with Tampa Bay.

One of the scouts guessed that based on what he’s hearing, it will take about $8.5 million to sign Watt. For the Packers, who are about $28 million over a

projected $180.5 million cap according to Over The Cap, every dollar matters. They’ll have to make several major cash outlays on contract restructur­es and cut other veterans to get under the cap and create room to possibly re-sign Aaron Jones and add some bargain free agents of their own.

Signing Watt and then seeing the money go for nothing if he sustains a season-ending injury would be a disaster for a team in their financial position. This is, after all, a player who had season-ending injuries in 2016 (back) and ’17 (broken leg), along with a torn pec that cost him the final eight regular-season games in 2019.

“When healthy he still has juice,” another of the scouts texted, “but you’re rolling the dice, and odds are against you.”

You’ve by now probably seen the list of teams considered most likely to pursue Watt. Besides the Packers and Pittsburgh, the Super Bowl-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at the top of the list.

The Bucs are most decidedly in a win-now mode, but while they have $28 million in cap room according to Over The Cap, they also have several key expensive players they likely want to resign: Shaq Barrett, the outside rusher who’s one of their most important defenders; LaVonte David, the inside linebacker who along with Devin White forms the strength of their defense; tight end Rob Growkowski; defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh; and running back Leonard Fournette.

Oddsmakers also have put Baltimore, the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas near the top of the list.

Regardless, the Packers should make a run. It’s just that the home-state-andSuper-Bowl-chase discount would have to be substantia­l, because Watt’s injury risk and possible quick decline are high.

Last year, Watt played in all 16 games and finished with five sacks, 17 quarterbac­k hits and 14 tackles for a loss. As recently as 2018, his previous 16-game season, those numbers were 16, 25 and 18. At his peak, in a four-year stretch from 2012 to 2015, he averaged 14.8, 47.5 and 24.8. But that was a long time ago.

One thing for sure, whoever signs Watt should cut back his snaps and hope that less is more. Last season, he played 91% of the Texans’ defensive plays. That’s way too high. He should be in the 60% range, maybe even a little less, to keep him at his best and healthy in 2021.

“He isn’t washed up, but he is old and oft-injured,” another scout said in a text. “(The Packers) have a lot of money tied up in (Za’Darius) Smith and (Preston) Smith and Kenny Clark. Seems like a long shot, but he is worth bringing in.”

Said the agent: “Worth it if he can stay healthy and be productive as a counterpun­ch the D-line that’s there, yes. But those are big ifs. He fits the system, I just don’t know how much football he has left before he breaks down again. Typically a guy changing teams toward the end of his career has one big prove-them-all-wrong year, and he’s certainly capable. So long as whoever signs him understand­s it’ll be potential for big first year and then a giant cliff, it’s a good move.”

Other teams can offer Watt about as good a chance to chase a Super Bowl as the Packers can. Some of those might offer more money, too. But only one can offer a ring chase plus a return to his beloved home state.

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll probably find out just how much that’s worth to J.J. Watt.

It’s freezing.

There’s snow everywhere.

In fact, the weather is so bad your dog wants to learn how to use the toilet.

But the talk concerning the Green and Gold has been hot and heavy. Huh?

There’s something about the Frozen Tundra that is hot right now? Sure.

And you can thank the pitiful Houston Texans for that.

The Texans do not have J.J. Watt anymore.

He wanted to hit the road and they held open the door. Hopefully Deshaun Watson wasn’t watching.

This developmen­t suddenly heated things up among Cheesehead­s.

The pride of Pewaukee is there for the taking.

Should the Packers take him? Reportedly, the Packers restructur­ed the contract of David Bakhtiari, creating $8.3 million of cap space.

Hmm. That’s not going to be enough to sign a guy like the 32-year-old Watt.

This man is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

He’s not going to play for cheese curds.

The Packers are the betting favorites to sign this fellow.

Inquiring minds want to know if Old McDonald is betting his farm. There’s the matter of money. Then there’s the matter of two of his brothers playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Of course, the Steelers have about as much of a chance of winning the AFC as a surfer does catching a wave on Pewaukee Lake tomorrow.

Does Watt put them over the top? No.

To get Watt, guys like Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Corey Linsley must go.

Kevin King will still be looking for Scotty Miller. So he’s out of the picture. As usual.

And the Packers have a new defensive coordinato­r in Joe Barry.

OK, he’s not Joe Barry Carroll. Joe Barry Carroll was a fine defender, too.

Joe Barry without the Carroll has not had great success as a defensive coordinato­r.

But he was sworn in anyway. Maybe it’s because his birth certificate did not say Dom Capers or Mike Pettine. Does Watt put Joe Barry over the top? Who knows?

The fact of the matter is the Packers, who have no money, can’t afford to lose Jones.

Or Linsley.

But they are headed in that direction. J.J. Watt Fever is running wild. Even though he’s battling Father Time and has season-ending injuries on his resume.

Sure, he’s look great in a Packers uniform.

But at what expense?

He’s not a Reggie White signing at

this point.

The bottom line is, does he put the Packers over the top?

No.

Vinelines

Norman Chad, syndicated columnist: “Showtime announces a 90-minute documentar­y, ‘The Show,’ about the Super Bowl LV halftime show, to air later this year. This is too good to be true – I thought we’d have to wait for years and years before we got a definitive look behind The Weeknd’s performanc­e.”...

Packers quarterbac­k Aaron Rodgers summing up his unforgetta­ble 2020 season amid a pandemic: “180 straight days of having my nose hairs scraped.”...

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “If the Lord’s Prayer can be inscribed on the head of a pin, engravers can certainly fit the full name of Bucs run-stuffer Vita Vea — Tevita Tuli’aki’ono Tuipulotu Mosese Va’hae Fehoko Faletau Vea —

onto a Super Bowl ring, right?”...

Former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch on his various post-playing business pursuits: “They call me the ‘Make It Happen Captain’ — I do everything, (from) fly-fishin’ to badminton.”...

Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski apparently not realizing that the Super Bowl streaker got stopped at the 1yard line: “He actually scored. The Chiefs didn’t … they should definitely sign him.”...

Bob Molinaro of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, on the Super Bowl commercial featuring Bruce Springstee­n out on the range in a Jeep: “Bruce in a cowboy hat? He’s not even from West Jersey.”...

Alex Kaseberg, comedy writer, on the NFL offering up its stadiums as COVID-19 vaccinatio­n sites: “Well, except for the Jacksonvil­le Jaguars’ stadium. Everyone knows they don’t have a shot.”

From Packer Plus wire reports and other news sources.

 ?? WILLIAM GLASHEEN / USA TODAY ?? Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis wants to continue playing.
WILLIAM GLASHEEN / USA TODAY Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis wants to continue playing.
 ?? BENNY SIEU / USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Defensive end J.J. Watt, a Pewaukee native who starred at Wisconsin, could be sporting a Green Bay Packers uniform next season.
BENNY SIEU / USA TODAY SPORTS Defensive end J.J. Watt, a Pewaukee native who starred at Wisconsin, could be sporting a Green Bay Packers uniform next season.
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 ?? ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, left, talks with Packers quarterbac­k Aaron Rodgers during a practice session in 2019. Watt is a free agent and can sign with any team.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, left, talks with Packers quarterbac­k Aaron Rodgers during a practice session in 2019. Watt is a free agent and can sign with any team.
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