The Green Bay Packers have a number of questions to answer this NFL offseason and one of the biggest is what they are going to do at outside linebacker.
Of course, having a number of talented pass-rushers on your roster isn’t a bad thing, but when two of your top four perimeter pass rushers are set to become free agents, with another pondering retirement, it can be cause for concern.
Currently, Clay Matthews, who Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said was going to move back to outside linebacker next season, is the Packers top edge rusher. Julius Peppers is right there but has yet to commit to playing in 2016.
Beyond those two, the Packers had solid depth, with Nick Perry, a former first-round pick and Mike Neal, a former second-round pick out of Purdue that put forth another solid campaign in 2016.
Perry and Neal are both free agents and while I already examined what the Packers should do with Perry, now it’s time to talk about what to do with Neal.
Neal’s first two seasons with the Packers were marred by injury, but since, he has proven to be a starting caliber player at outside linebacker. The former defensive end does a great job of setting an edge against the run and is a productive pass rusher, tallying at least four sacks in four consecutive seasons. Last year, he also posted eight tackles for loss.
Coming off a two-year deal he signed with the Packers, Neal is set to hit free agency for the second time and at 28 years old, he may not get many more bites at the apple. Thus, he will certainly be looking for a deal with multiple years and a decent amount of guaranteed money.
The Packers can certainly afford that, the question will be, are they will to pay it?
The first domino that needs to fall is Peppers. Surely, Packers GM Ted Thompson would want to know if Peppers will be back before deciding what to do with Neal. But, even if Peppers returns and even if Matthews does move back to outside linebacker, every team needs multiple edge rushers and with that thinking in mind, it stands to reason that Green Bay would want to re-sign Neal or Perry to complement Matthews and Peppers.
There probably isn’t enough room for the Packers to give both Perry and Neal deals that average in the $4-5 million range, assuming of course that Peppers is indeed back, which means it’s likely that one or possibly both will not be return.
From my perspective, I see the Packers choosing between the two players and in the end, it could come down to money.
When it comes down to a debate between Neal and Perry, the choice is difficult. Perry may have more upside and after posting 3.5 sacks in two playoff games, his stock is probably as high as it’s ever been since he entered the NFL.
Yet, Perry has had constant injury issues and has not been able to play 16 games in one of his four NFL seasons. Neal, on the other hand, rebounded from his early injury woes to play 16 games in three straight seasons.
Both players are close in age and ability. Perry is younger and has greater upside, but with the Packers so close to the Super Bowl, choosing a player that is more reliable might be the better option.
At the end of the day, I would love to see the Packers keep both players, yet that doesn’t seem likely to happen. And when free agency arrives, the player that returns, is probably the one willing to take the most team-friendly deal.