Packers taking negotiations to the wire

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY - Seldom have the Green Bay Packers walked away from an 11th-hour negotiation empty-handed, often times paying a premium to make sure they didn’t lose their man.

But it has been close.

General manager Ted Thompson and his contract negotiator Russ Ball are facing another Tums moment with free agency slated to open at 3 p.m. Thursday. If they don’t have contract agreements with outside linebacker Nick Perry and guard T.J. Lang at or around that time, they’ll probably lose both.

Sources have said the Packers have been trying to find common ground with the representatives for both veteran free agents, but part of the dance is figuring out whether the agents aren’t misleading them on league-wide interest for their client. For now, only the Packers can sign their own free agents, but the market doors swing wide open Thursday.

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Nearing the deadline, Perry and his representatives had a conference call Wednesday with the Packers to discuss their positions, according to a source who was told of the encounter. It’s unlikely that would happen if the Packers weren’t serious about re-signing Perry.

A source familiar with Perry’s market said the Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets were the three teams most interested. If Perry’s agents can convince the Packers that their client is going to sign with another team if he hits free agency, they could force the Packers to pay $11 million or $12 million per year to Perry.

It wouldn’t be unprecedented for them to pay through the nose for one of their own.

Among the free-agent players the Packers have re-signed just before the start of free agency or within a day or so after are Randall Cobb (2015), Bryan Bulaga (2015), Sam Shields (2014), Mason Crosby (2011), A.J. Hawk (2011) and Chad Clifton (2010).

All received premium deals.

Cobb (four years, $40 million), Bulaga (five years, $33.75 million), Shields (four years, $39 million), Crosby (five years, $14.75 million) and Hawk (five years, $33.75 million), became among the highest-paid at his position after signing his deal. Clifton (three years, $19.2 million) also was able to milk one last lucrative deal out of them, although not competitive with the top players at his position because of his age.

There’s no way the Packers would pay Perry in the neighborhood of the $13.2 million Clay Matthews earns per year, but Matthews was beat up last season and there is almost nothing behind him at outside linebacker, so they are in a precarious position.

Even if it is a good draft for outside rushers, they’d be woefully thin at a position that only Matthews has come in and mastered as a rookie since Dom Capers installed his defense in 2009.

At the same time they have been working on Perry, the Packers have been dealing with the reality that Lang also may cost them big bucks. Reports Wednesday that Baltimore Ravens right tackle Ricky Wagner was going to sign with the Detroit Lions for $9 million a year bolstered Lang’s position in the market.

Lang is two years older, plays inside and has a lot more miles on him than the former Wisconsin lineman and West Allis native. But he also was a Pro Bowl selection last season despite playing with a broken foot and ailing hip. Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler, another former Wisconsin lineman, is the top guard in free agency and will set the market, but Wagner’s signing shows teams are ready to pay for pass blockers.

Tight end Jared Cook, another Packers free agent, had to be pleased with the reported $6.5 million a year Indianapolis paid to re-sign Jack Doyle, who shared the Colts’ starting position last season. The Colts then traded tight end Dwayne Allen to New England on Wednesday, signaling the end of Martellus Bennett’s time with the Patriots.

Bennett likely will be the most coveted tight end in the market and might be a target for the Packers if they are unable to sign Cook. Either way, if Doyle’s deal is an indication of how much teams are willing to pay tight ends, Cook could be in for a significant raise above the $2.75 million he received in 2016.

Most of the Packers’ other unrestricted free agents were on hold as the Packers worked to get Perry and Lang done.

Their free-agent group includes cornerback Micah Hyde, center JC Tretter, running back Eddie Lacy, linebacker Datone Jones and tackle Don Barclay. They most likely will be part of the second or third wave of free agency, which will start as early as this weekend or possibly at the start of next week.

The Packers were able to sign one free agent Wednesday. Punter Jacob Schum signed a one-year extension for 2017. Terms weren’t announced but he likely signed for the third-year minimum of $615,000.

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