Barring any late change of heart or mind, Green Bay Packers center Scott Wells will get to the start of free agency without a new contract from the Packers.
According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Wells “appears headed for free agency barring a last-minute deal.” The sides are still far apart on what the value of Wells’ new contract should be.
In my opinion, the two sides are playing a game of chicken, with the Packers going low and Wells going high and waiting to see which side breaks first. My guess is that the Packers are going to have to give in some, but whether it’s enough to sign Wells, I don’t know. Wells remembers that the Packers gave up on him two years ago only to see him beat out Jason Spitz for the starting job and become one of the most valuable players on the offensive line.
It appears that Wells is wanting a contract that puts him on par with the top centers in the NFL, somewhere in the $7-8 million a year range. The Packers are almost certain not to give him that kind of money, especially considering Wells will be 32 at the end of 2012-13 season and is a touch undersized for the position.
Given that wide impasse in yearly negotiations, the Packers are likely to let Wells scour the open market. Once there, it’s possible Wells will find out a harsher truth about his real value and the Packers will be able to negotiate a more cap-friendly deal for the veteran center.
GM Ted Thompson has seen this same scenario unfold with left tackle Chad Clifton and receiver James Jones, both of which got to free agency but re-signed with the Packers once they got a better grasp at what free agency valued them at.
Clifton flirted with the Washington Redskins back in 2010 but shortly returned on a three-year deal with the Packers. Jones was widely assumed to be finding a team that would make him a more targeted receiver last offseason but found no satisfying offers. He also returned on a three-year deal.
Despite that fact, Wells still has leverage in the talks because he’s coming off a Pro Bowl season and back-to-back years when many considered him one of the NFL’s top centers.
Pro Football Focus, a site that grades every play on every player, rated Wells as the No. 4 overall center in 2011 and No. 8 in ’10.
The Packers have their own salary cap to consider, however, as Silverstein reports the team is “roughly $5.5 million” under the cap. Cutting veterans Donald Driver and Chad Clifton could open up nearly $11 million in space, which would give Thompson more wiggle room with Wells and other free agents such as Jarrett Bush and Ryan Grant.
While I’ve considered cutting Clifton and Driver a move the Packers would make, that scenario is looking less likely before the start of free agency. Expect Wells to actively pursue his best contract offer in free agency, which begins tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. EST.
If there’s a team that will pay him $7.5 million a year, the Packers should be looking at a huge gap at center leading into the 2012 NFL draft. If not, the Packers may get another cap- and year-friendly deal for a veteran they need back next season.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2