You'll Be Thanking the Packers Later
The perpetual motion take machine that is the internet is abuzz with analysis of the Packers’ free agent strategy, alternately described as either callous and cold-hearted or shrewd and cautious.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein offers a comprehensive breakdown of the Packers’ strategy in a recent piece, alternatively praising and criticizing Ted Thompson and the rest of the Packers’ brain trust for their recent moves.
Parts of Silverstein’s piece, coupled with recent comments from T.J. Lang, have painted the Packers as being overly aggressive with asking their own free agents to take less, refusing to bend on dollar amounts even as good players go out the door.
Lang specifically addressed that part of the perception, saying in a recent interview that the Packers “were able to get some guys back in town because they used the whole ‘we’re good, we’re competitive, we compete for championships every year, do you want to play with the best quarterback in the NFL?' type thing, and I just think it wore some guys out the last couple years watching guys leave.”
But while both Lang and Silverstein have good points, the overall argument levied against the Packers free agent strategy seems to be misguided. Namely, it argues that the Packers are lowballing their own guys and refusing to spend on others.
This is just plainly untrue, and the Packers are better off for sticking to their own evaluations of what players are worth. Here's why.
The Packers aren’t getting hometown discounts
Having just been through a tense few days of free agent visits and contract negotiations, it’s probably best to read Lang’s remarks as charitably as possible. That said, I’m not sure where he’s getting some of this information.
Who are the players that the Packers have gotten back on the cheap lately? Jordy Nelson, Mike Daniels, and David Bakhtiari are among the most recent big names to sign extensions, and none of them took anything less than they needed to. All are among the most well-paid at their positions.
As far as departures, the Packers have been loath to match deals offered to players like Greg Jennings, Davon House, Tramon Williams, and Casey Hayward, but all of those moves were defensible at the time and have mostly borne themselves out.
Jennings, House, and Williams were all released before playing out the life of their contracts, while Hayward played well, but was utilized in a manner vastly different than he ever was (or would ever be) in Green Bay.
Though it’s understandable to be frustrated over fan favorites like Lang (or, more recently, John Kuhn) leaving the Packers, always bear in mind that these decisions aren’t being made in a vacuum. The Packers have a plan, and that plan obviously involves a firm decision on the value of certain players.
The Packers are valuing players correctly
If you stop to think about their decisions for any amount of time, it’s easy to see why the Packers value certain players the way they do.
Each of the Packers’ departures so far this offseason has been a non-essential piece, and yes, that includes T.J. Lang.
Micah Hyde was a great, versatile part of the secondary, but he absolutely maxed out as in 2016. You’re not going to get a better version of Hyde than the Packers got last year, but the Bills made him the 14th highest paid safety in the league. Hyde is a wonderful talent, but he’s not the 14th best anything in the NFL.
JC Tretter, like Hyde, is wonderfully versatile. But his best position is center, and he’s redundant there. Corey Linsley is a comparable player, and much cheaper. There was just no reason for the Packers to get into a bidding war for his services.
As far as T.J. Lang goes, think about how different the reaction would be to his departure if he was not a likeable player. If he was a jerk along the lines of Richie Incognito, would people be sad to see him go, especially considering how rich his deal was with the Lions? Would the fact that the Packers didn’t want to go dollar for dollar against a team desperately trying to stay relevant be a huge indictment of their strategy?
Of course not. The Packers are making sound, reasoned decisions, and they’re maintaining their ability to stay competitive no matter how the financial winds are blowing.
Fans will be thanking the Packers for refusing to overpay some day, whether they realize it or not.