The Green Bay Packers currently have 22 players under contract whose contracts expire after this season. Many of those players are undrafted free agents on the usual one-year deals, but there are a few big names that will become the center of contract extension discussions very soon. Among those are defensive lineman Mike Daniels, cornerback Casey Hayward, safety Sean Richardson and possibly even defensive lineman B.J. Raji. General manager Ted Thompson has been very choosy with who he decides to negotiate with and make big offers to and has proven to be right most of the time. Over the past two years, he has cast away Charles Woodson, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Tramon Williams. In each case, the Packers overcame the loss and didn’t really miss a beat. In looking to this next year, we have to continue to think Ted will continue to evaluate and make the right decision.
Of those players mentioned, Raji holds the highest draft pick status, as the ninth overall pick in the 2009 season. Raji missed all of last season after suffering a bicep injury late in the preseason. Prior to that, Raji had bet on himself and rejected a multi year, multi million dollar contract offer by the Packers the year prior. He never got that deal and settled for a one-year, “prove it” deal worth $4 million. Raji will have to prove it once again in 2015, as he’s back on another one-year deal. Raji is far from consideration on an extension and will need to perform at a career-best level often this season before the Packers start throwing an offer his way.
Daniels is the biggest name on the list and the most likely to get a lucrative extension from the Packers. Daniels has 12 sacks over the last two seasons and has become the team’s most explosive defensive lineman during that time. He’s not in the All Pro category just yet, but Daniels has turned the corner and has no trouble making plays on a regular basis. As long as the Packers continue to run a version of the 3-4 and as much nickel as they do, Daniels is a huge asset to the defense and his value cannot be underestimated. The Packers often keep themselves in good financial shape so that they never have to let one of their own young veterans walk away. Daniels is a near perfect example of why Green Bay takes that approach. The Packers need to get Daniels locked up before he hits the open market but after watching them wait to re-sign receiver Randall Cobb and do so at a team-friendly price, it seems likely that they’ll be able to keep Daniels either way. It won’t be cheap, but he’s probably worth being slightly overpaid.
Richardson is back on a $2 million deal. The team chose to match the offer sheet Richardson had signed with the Oakland Raiders during free agency. Richardson has been an asset on special teams and played a decent number of snaps on defense as well last season. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes to try different rotations and looks and with Richardson, the team gets a third safety on the field who can moonlight as a linebacker in run support or in short coverage. Last training camp, Richardson made a few nifty plays and showed that he’s more than just a special teamer. Hopefully this new contract motivates him to earn another for a longer term. Right now, Richardson isn’t on the Packers’ radar, but they didn’t throw multi millions at him for no reason and he’ll get a chance to start earning his next payday sooner than later this season.
Hayward is an interesting situation because he finds himself injured again. In his rookie season of 2012, he was leading the league in interceptions at one point. It seemed as though the Packers may have found the heir apparent to Woodson and were in great shape. Then came the injuries. Hayward missed most of the 2013 season after suffering a hamstring injury during the offseason. Hayward is dealing with another offseason injury, an ankle, and won’t be ready to participate in practice until training camp later next month. While his talent is undeniable, Hayward has to prove that he can stay on the field and continue to do so. Despite his big-play ability, the Packers are likely weary of throwing any type of significant money at Hayward right now and likely won’t begin negotiating with him until very close to the free agent time period next year. That can all change if Hayward gets healthy, wins the starting outside corner spot opposite Sam Shields and has a great year. That’s what the Packers are hoping for and they’d likely reward Hayward for returning on that hope.
Other notable names on the “expiring contract” list are James Starks, Andrew Quarless, Scott Tolzien, Don Barclay, John Kuhn and Brett Goode. Of those, Starks and Tolzien have a good chance to be back in Green Bay if they turn in a solid season this year. If Richard Rodgers develops further and sixth-round tight end Kennard Backman can crack the roster somehow, Quarless may be in his last season as a Packer. Kuhn is likely on his farewell tour either way, as the team spent a sixth-round pick on Aaron Ripkowski. Barclay and Goode could go either way and the Packers would likely survive the loss of either or both.
The good news is that we won’t likely have to speculate much more on this topic for another seven months. Training camp starts in seven weeks and that means real football is right around the corner!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: