GREEN BAY, Wis. – There was Mike Daniels in 2015, David Bakhtiari in 2016 and three players – Lane Taylor, Davante Adams and Corey Linsley – in 2017. The Green Bay Packers worked out contract extensions with each one of them at some point in the months from September to December during those seasons.
The 2018 season was different.
General manager Brian Gutekunst did not sign a single veteran player to a contract extension after Aaron Rodgers’ blockbuster deal was signed on Aug. 29.
It wasn’t that Rodgers’ four-year, $134 million extension was prohibitive. It had everything to do with the fact Gutekunst did not have a player he deemed worthy of an extension. It’s possible that Gutekunst could let every one of his unrestricted free agents hit the open market when the new NFL year begins on March 13.
Until then, he has exclusive negotiating rights with the following players:
Unrestricted (players with four or more accrued seasons)
Randall Cobb: Rodgers essentially made a plea for Cobb’s return late in the season when he said: “When Randall's healthy, I think our offense has been different because we have a true slot guy who can make plays in the slot consistently." The problem is Cobb couldn’t stay healthy last season, which was the final year of a four-year, $40 million contract he signed just before free agency opened in 2015. Cobb was limited to just nine games because of hamstring injuries and a late-season concussion. He caught just 38 passes for 383 yards and two touchdowns – all lows since his 91-catch, 1,287-yard, 12-touchdown season of 2014. He will turn 29 in August and hasn’t played a full season since 2015. 2018 pay: $9.5 million.
Lance Kendricks: The 30-year-old, eight-year veteran struggled to catch the ball last season and although he was charged with just three drops (tied for seventh most among all tight ends last season) by ESPN Stats & Information, that may have been generous grading. He came cheap, signing a two-year, $4 million contract in 2017, and the Packers got what they paid for. He played in all 16 games in both seasons in Green Bay but couldn’t come close to replicating his 50-catch season in his final year with the Rams in 2016. He combined to catch just 37 passes for 373 yards and two touchdowns in a pair of seasons, although he was a willing blocker. 2018 pay: $1.625 million.
Marcedes Lewis: No one expected the 34-year-old to be much of a threat in the passing game, but after catching 375 passes in 12 seasons for the Jaguars, it was a bit of a surprise to see him finish with just three catches for 39 yards despite being active for all 16 games. He was essentially a high-priced blocker. If the Packers don’t re-sign him or Kendricks – and move on from the high-priced Jimmy Graham, whose three-year, $30 million deal includes a $5 million roster bonus due on March 16 that the Packers will have to think long and hard about paying – then expect a major retooling at tight end. 2018 pay: $2.1 million.
Byron Bell: The Packers got more mileage out of Bell than perhaps anyone expected. He started nine games at right guard, replacing Justin McCray (shoulder) early in the season and was a regular in the lineup until a Dec. 2 knee injury ended his season. He turned 30 on Jan. 17 but showed he still has some football left in him. 2018 pay: $1.6 million.
Restricted (players with three accrued seasons but not four; can be tendered by March 13 for the Packers to retain the right to match any offer from another team)
Geronimo Allison: The former undrafted free agent was poised for a big year until a groin injury that required surgery ended his season. As the No. 3 receiver, he had 20 catches for 303 yards and two touchdowns in just five games. He also had a blocked punt. The lowest tender would cost the Packers around $2 million, but they wouldn’t get anything for him in return if they let leave him via another offer that they do not match. 2018 pay: $630,000
Exclusive rights (players with fewer than three accrued seasons; must be offered minimum salary tenders by March 13 or they become street free agents): WR Jake Kumerow, TE Robert Tonyan, G Justin McCray, G Lucas Patrick.
Clay Matthews: There were two surprises about Matthews’ 2018 season: that he played in all 16 games (the first time he has done that since 2015) and that he recorded only 3.5 sacks (the lowest single-season total of his career). At age 32, his days as an every-down edge player might be over. However, he could be a designated third-down pass rusher like Julius Peppers became later in his career. Or perhaps he would accept a move to inside linebacker, where he had success in 2014 and 2015. His last double-digit sack season came in 2014 (11.0). 2018 pay: $11.4 million.
Muhammad Wilkerson: The veteran defensive tackle came to Green Bay to resurrect his career after it turned for the worse with the Jets, who cut him two years into a five-year, $85 million deal. But he wasn’t able to prove much, if anything, because he broke his ankle in Week 3 and missed the rest of the season. That said, he could be cheap for the Packers to bring back and try again. 2018 pay: $5 million.
Jake Ryan: There’s never a good time to tear an ACL, but to do it when you’re in the final year of a contract ranks among the worst. At least Ryan blew out his knee in training camp and not later in the year, which means he could be ready for the start of the 2019 season. He had been penciled in to start at inside linebacker alongside Blake Martinez, and the Packers never found a permanent replacement for him. 2018 pay: $1.905 million.
Bashaud Breeland: A bargain in-season signing, the veteran cornerback played in seven games (five starts) and recorded a pair of interceptions (including one for a touchdown). This after his three-year, $24 million deal with the Panthers last March was voided because of a foot injury. If the Packers think he can stay healthy, he could be a valuable addition although it will likely cost more than the minimum from last season. 2018 pay: $880,000.
Davon House: Re-signed for a veterans minimum deal, the cornerback played just 29 snaps before a shoulder injury ended his season. He underwent surgery and will turn 30 in July but intends to play again. 2018 pay: $1.005 million
Ibraheim Campbell: Four-year veteran safety was claimed off waivers from the Jets on Nov. 5 and played in three games (one start) before a knee injury ended his season. 2018 pay: $705,000.
Eddie Pleasant: The 30-year-old safety appeared in five games (one start) after he signed as a free agent on Nov. 28. Just days after he signed, he dropped a would-be interception late in the 20-17 loss to the Cardinals on Dec. 2. 2018 pay: $790,000.
Kentrell Brice: The former undrafted free agent won a starting safety job coming out of training camp but battled ankle injuries throughout the season. Still made 10 starts but did not make the jump the Packers had hoped he would as a third-year player. Hard to imagine the Packers placing even the low tender on him. 2018 pay: $630,000.