There remains “mutual interest” between the Green Bay Packers and fullback John Kuhn for the 2016 season but no definitive date for when a deal might be made, an NFL source told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
Conversations are ongoing between the Packers and their three-time Pro Bowl fullback. The door remains open that Kuhn could play a 10th season with the Packers this fall, even though he remains unsigned with organized team activities looming.
While the Packers have moved on from other free agents such as receiver James Jones and outside linebacker Mike Neal, Kuhn’s locker remains intact inside Lambeau Field. Kuhn, who turns 34 in September, has been working out daily and hopes to play at least one more season with the Packers, the source said.
There is desire within the organization to develop second-year fullback Aaron Ripkowski, according to a source. Ripkowski was drafted in the sixth round a year ago to be Kuhn’s eventual successor. Kuhn ranked fourth among all NFL fullbacks with 307 snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Ripkowski, a core special teams contributor, played only 19 snaps.
The Packers took the luxury of keeping two fullbacks on their 53-man roster last season, something they may want to avoid this fall. Keeping two fullbacks on the final roster means cutting a player at a more valuable position. For example, starting the season with one fullback could help alleviate a seven-man logjam at the Packers receiver position.
At some point, the Packers will move on from Kuhn and are expected to promote Ripkowski to the starting job. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen this year, though it is getting late in the offseason for a deal to be made.
A year ago, Kuhn signed a one-year deal worth $870,000 on April 13, a week before the Packers started their offseason program and more than two weeks before the NFL draft. The Packers are more than three weeks into this year’s offseason program. They start organized team activities in less than two weeks.
Ideally, Kuhn would be in Green Bay for organized team activities, but he’s the rare veteran who could be ready to play this fall despite missing key offseason practices. Nobody knows coach Mike McCarthy’s offense better than Kuhn. His leadership, work ethic and football intelligence has long made him a favorite teammate of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, which could count for something.
Among players on last season’s roster, only Rodgers had played more seasons with the Packers than Kuhn.
If the past two seasons are any indication, Kuhn can still play good football. Kuhn was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2014 and 2015, following his first Pro Bowl trip in 2011. He was also named first-team All-Pro in 2014.
With a sluggish running game, Kuhn’s workload increased significantly late last season. He played more than 25 percent of snaps in each of the Packers final seven games, counting playoffs. He had a season-high 53 snaps (67 percent) in the Packers regular-season finale, the NFC North title game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Kuhn’s biggest benefit to the Packers offense is as a lead blocker, but he’s been a consistent ball carrier in short-yardage situations. Kuhn has at least one rushing touchdown in each of the past eight seasons, including two last year. His 1.9 yards after contact per rush tied for third in the NFL among fullbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
There is no question Kuhn is a known quantity at this stage in his career. He’s a consistent veteran who provides leadership in the locker room and smarts on the field. What the Packers are trying to decide is whether his value is worth the luxury of retaining two fullbacks, or if this is the year to move ahead with Ripkowski.
Time is drawing short, the offseason rapidly marching on. But time has not yet run out.