JC Tretter may be a luxury the Packers can't afford

Ryan Wood
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Fifth in a series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ unrestricted, restricted and exclusive-rights free agents in advance of the start of the 2017 league year and NFL free agency March 9.

GREEN BAY – When healthy, JC Tretter has shown he’s a starting-caliber offensive lineman.

His blend of athleticism, smarts and versatility is hard to find. When the Green Bay Packers were out of options at left tackle entering the playoffs two seasons ago, Tretter got the nod. He allowed a first-quarter safety, but otherwise was solid playing all 75 snaps in a wild-card win at Washington.

In a perfect world, the Packers would like to re-sign Tretter this offseason. They made that clear when veteran guard T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton were informed at the onset of training camp that the team’s younger offensive linemen would be prioritized. The Packers extended left tackle David Bakhtiari on the eve of their 2016 opener.

Tretter, ideally, would be next in line.

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A 2013 fourth-round pick, Tretter becomes a free agent next month when his four-year rookie contract expires. More than anything, Tretter’s ability to line up anywhere from center to tackle has clear value. At the very least, he is a plug-and-play swing offensive lineman.

“I'd love to be back,” Tretter said a day after the Packers’ loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game. “Obviously there's still a lot that could happen the next few months. But hope to be back, I like it here. The guys that coach, this staff, I've really enjoyed the four years I've had here, and hopefully more to come.”

But the Packers won’t break the bank to do it. Not with a year left on Corey Linsley’s rookie deal. Tretter’s best position is center, where he started 10 games the past two seasons, including the first seven games in 2016. But Linsley, a fifth-round pick in 2014, figures to be the Packers’ future center.

If another team pays Tretter to be its starting center this spring, the Packers aren’t expected to match.

Tretter stands a good chance to be paid like a starter elsewhere, though it isn’t guaranteed. He has yet to prove capable of playing through a 16-game season. Twice, knee injuries have cost him a starting job with the Packers.

After a broken ankle wiped out his rookie season, Tretter was expected to be the Packers’ starting center in 2014 following Evan Smith’s free-agency departure to Tampa Bay. It was Tretter’s job through training camp until he injured his knee in a preseason game and missed eight games.

That opened the door for Linsley, who kept the starting job until injuries hit him late in the 2015 season. Tretter started three games with Linsley out because of an ankle injury in December 2015. When Linsley tore his hamstring twice last offseason, it opened the door for Tretter to start the 2016 season’s first seven games.

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Then in October, Tretter took a hard shot to his knee near the end of the game against the Falcons. He missed the final nine games last season with a torn MCL that required surgery in January.

“Physically, I feel decent,” Tretter said after the season. “Surgery went well. I don't think there's ever been a surgery done that anybody said was unsuccessful. But it went well, honestly feel better than I did before the surgery. Got everything fixed, and it'll be a quick recovery.”

In four seasons, Tretter has played 31 out of a possible 64 regular-season games. He has played well when healthy. If Tretter’s knee heals fully, his talent makes him an attractive free-agent target — for the Packers or elsewhere.

JC Tretter, fifth-year center

The skinny: Unrestricted free agent.

The snaps: Played 31 games, 10 starts in four seasons.

2016 salary: $675,000.

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