Analyzing the Green Bay Packers' Next Big Contract Decisions
The Green Bay Packers will have some tough decisions to make in the next few months, as they have a number of players who will be unrestricted free agents in 2015.
The list includes wide receiver Jordy Nelson, wide receiver Randall Cobb, offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, nose tackle B.J. Raji, cornerback Tramon Williams, offensive tackle Don Barclay, offensive tackle Derek Sherrod, defensive back Jarrett Bush, cornerback Davon House, quarterback Matt Flynn, quarterback Scott Tolzien, linebacker Jamari Lattimore, tight end Ryan Taylor and defensive tackle Letroy Guion.
In addition to that, both wide receiver Jarrett Boykin and safety Sean Richardson will be restricted free agents.
According to overthecap.com, the Packers currently have $13,914,121 in available salary cap space for 2014.
That situation will certainly help the Packers, but difficult decisions will still remain. As Rob Demovsky of ESPN writes, the Packers will have four players on their team who will account for almost half of the cap money in 2015.
Those players are quarterback Aaron Rodgers ($18.25 million), linebacker Clay Matthews ($12.7 million), defensive end/linebacker Julius Peppers ($12.0 million) and cornerback Sam Shields ($9.125 million).
However, as Demovsky writes in his piece, the Packers have some flexibility with the contract of Peppers, depending on how he does in 2014.
For this slideshow, I'm going to focus my attention on the first five players I listed who will be unrestricted free agents in 2015 and whether or not they will be back in Titletown next year or beyond.
Wide Receiver Jordy Nelson
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson seems to get better with age. The 2013 season was arguably the best season that No. 87 has had in his NFL career. Nelson seemed to catch almost everything thrown his way and ended up with 85 receptions for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns.
Except for some ankle and hamstring issues in 2012 which caused him to miss four games, Nelson has stayed relatively healthy the past four seasons.
I expect the Packers to make every effort to re-sign Nelson at some point in the near future, although their recent track record in free agency regarding their own wide receivers (Greg Jennings and James Jones) proves that the team will not overpay at the position.
The Packers did also draft three talented wide receivers (Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis) in the NFL draft in 2014, and they have other young talent at the position, but I still expect Nelson to get a contract extension, especially with the salary cap situation continuing to escalate for NFL teams.
Wide Receiver Randall Cobb
Wide Receiver Randall Cobb proved how valuable he was to the Packers in Week 17 last season versus the Bears for the right to win the NFC North title.
After missing 10 weeks due to a leg injury, Cobb had two touchdown receptions in the showdown in Chicago, including an epic 48-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers on a 4th-and-8 play with just 38 seconds to go in the game.
In his six games during the 2013 season, Cobb had 31 receptions for 433 yards and four touchdowns. If you prorate No. 18's stats for last season, he would have had 83 catches for 1,155 yards and 11 touchdowns had he been able to play the entire season.
For his three-year career in Green Bay, Cobb has 136 receptions for 1,762 yards and 13 touchdowns. Cobb has also been dynamite on special teams, as he has two punt returns for touchdowns and one kickoff return for a touchdown.
The Packers will most likely have someone else returning kicks in 2014, but it's nice to have a weapon like Cobb available to use if needed.
Cobb has also performed well in the postseason in limited action, with 11 catches for 120 yards.
Like Nelson, I expect the Packers to extend the contract of Cobb as he seems to be getting better as his career continues. One big plus for Cobb is that he is five years younger than Nelson, if there has to be a decision between the two wide receivers.
Offensive Tackle Bryan Bulaga
The 2014 season will be huge for offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga. The big thing is that Bulaga has to stay healthy, especially going into the season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Staying healthy just hasn't been the case recently for No. 75. Over the past two seasons, Bulaga has only played in nine of a possible 32 games due to hip and knee injuries. Even in 2011, Bulaga missed four games because of knee issues.
There is no doubt that Bulaga is very talented. He was slated to play left tackle last season before he tore up his knee in the Family Night scrimmage. The former Iowa star played left tackle in college before being drafted in the first round and becoming a starting right tackle for the Packers as a rookie in 2010.
Bulaga became the starter after Mark Tauscher was injured that season. Bulaga became the youngest player to ever start in a Super Bowl when he started in Super Bowl XLV.
When healthy, Bulaga is a very solid right tackle. The problem has been staying on the field. That's why he needs to have an injury-free campaign this season.
To add to that situation, both Don Barclay and Derek Sherrod will both be eligible to be free agents in 2015 as well. Both players will welcome the opportunity to show their ability if Bulaga is once again hampered by the injury bug.
Nose Tackle B.J. Raji
The 2014 season will be huge for nose tackle B.J. Raji, as he ended up signing a one-year deal with the Packers worth $4 million. This was after turning down an $8 million per year offer by the Packers earlier in the 2013 season.
So why did Raji see his contract for 2014 get cut in half? Two basic reasons. No. 90 was not that productive on the field and he often played out of position.
In 2013, Raji only had 17 tackles and no sacks. Compare that to the season Raji had in 2010 when he had 39 tackles and 6.5 sacks. The difference? In 2010, Raji primarily played the nose tackle position.
That is where he will play again in 2014.
The talent surrounding him like Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and Nick Perry should allow Raji to get many one-on-one opportunities to try to collapse the passing pocket and also to tackle opposing ball-carriers.
The Packers also added Letroy Guion this season to help out at nose tackle via free agency; he will also be a free agent in 2015.
If Raji expects to receive a similar offer to the one he received earlier in the 2013 season, then he will have to play a lot more like he did in 2010 as opposed to 2013.
Cornerback Tramon Williams
In 2010, cornerback Tramon Williams had an epic year. First, he was named to the Pro Bowl after having six interceptions for 87 yards in the regular season. In the postseason, Williams added three more picks for 79 yards and one touchdown as the Packers won Super Bowl XLV.
However, in the first game of the 2011 season, Williams suffered a shoulder injury that caused lingering nerve damage. For most of the 2011 season and also the 2012 season, Williams did not appear to be the same player he was in 2010, as he had only six interceptions combined (one for a touchdown).
He also didn't seem to tackle as well. But as the 2013 season wore on, Williams started to look a lot like the player he was in 2010. No. 38 only had three picks for 10 yards, but his play was very good overall.
Williams had 61 tackles, which was a career high, as well as 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Then in the playoffs against the 49ers, Williams added another pick.
In his career in Green Bay, Williams has 25 interceptions for 421 yards and a touchdown.
Williams has to continue his resurgence this upcoming season as he is now 31 years of age. To add to that, the Packers are pretty deep at the cornerback position if all hands are healthy.
I could definitely see the Packers offering a short-term extension to Williams after the 2014 season, but only if he continues to play like he did late in the 2013 season and the postseason.