It’s hard to see the Green Bay Packers making a deep playoff run without Eddie Lacy playing a key role.
It’s also hard to see how the Packers can fully trust him in the future after his missteps this season.
Lacy always was going to have a say in the Packers’ successes or failures this season, but after Jordy Nelsons’ season-ending injury in training camp, that escalated.
If Nelson were healthy, the Packers probably would have had the punch to at least contend for the Super Bowl regardless of how Lacy played. But with Nelson out, a high-functioning Lacy is a must.
Though Lacy has been demoted twice this season, including last week for missing curfew before the Packers’ game at Detroit, he’s still more than capable of being the difference maker he was in 2013 and ’14. He proved that in back-to-back 100-yard rushing games against Minnesota and Chicago in late November.
But his blasé third NFL season, marked by being overweight and then missing curfew last week, raises red flags.
It’s not that there’s reason to think Lacy is a bad guy or disruptive influence in the locker room. In fact, all signs suggest the opposite: a good-natured, easy-going teammate.
But Lacy’s issues don’t inspire confidence that he’ll take good care of his body and be adequately committed to winning football games down the road, especially after a big pay day. He’s in the third year of his four-year rookie contract, and this offseason the Packers will have to start planning how they’re going to handle his future.
Don’t misconstrue. Lacy still has time to salvage his 2015 season and, regardless, with a renewed commitment could rebound for a big 2016. He very well could remain an important part of the Packers’ offense for a few more years.
But after what we’ve seen this season, would you pay him a contract that included substantial guaranteed money? I wouldn’t. Too much risk. He could have been up for a nice extension this offseason. Not much chance of that now. He almost surely will have to play out the final year of his rookie deal in 2016 and go from there.
Still, the Packers clearly recognize Lacy’s value for the task at hand. That’s evident in coach Mike McCarthy’s publicly complimenting Lacy’s work in practice this week and opening the door to him returning to his starting role Sunday. Hard to argue with that approach. He needs Lacy able, ready and willing in the season’s stretch run for an offense that has been stagnant for most of the last two months.
McCarthy already had his heart-to-heart with Lacy about missing curfew, and if the coach was doing his job that included dishing some harsh reality to the third-year pro. But now he and his team need Lacy in a big way.
McCarthy already tried public rebuke when he demoted Lacy to the No. 2 back in mid-November. He could have made the move without saying anything; his public announcement was for Lacy’s ears and no one else's.
It seemed to work, at least in the short term. Lacy rushed for 100 yards against Minnesota the next game and 105 yards against Chicago the week after that. Then he blew curfew.
Lacy's punishment, compounded by the season-long weight issues, probably deserved to be even more than another demotion to the No. 2. Activating him for the Detroit game made sense because dressing only two backs might have compromised the team. But McCarthy could have sent a stronger message by benching Lacy, and playing him only if Starks and John Crockett had been injured.
Regardless, this isn’t the boys-will-be-boys NFL of the 1960s, when players still had offseason jobs. There’s too much at stake – high-paying, life-changing careers and the team’s season, to start with – for players to be missing curfew in today’s NFL.
It doesn’t matter whether Lacy was barely late. If you’re pushing curfew just to be out on the town the night before a game, that’s a bad sign. So was the Packers' cutting of Lacy’s running mate that night, undrafted rookie back Alonzo Harris. The team clearly didn’t like the influence the two had on each other.
Then there’s Lacy’s weight. Let’s face it, he’s naturally a big man. At the NFL scouting combine he was 231 pounds, and in his first two seasons the Packers listed him at 234. That probably should be his playing weight.
The Packers still list him at 234 though he clearly is more. An NFL source with knowledge of the situation said at midseason that Lacy was about 255 pounds. He still appears to be in that range.
It’s probably affected his performance – a league scout for an NFC East team described Lacy as “sluggish” after watching his first extended Packers video of the season this week. But Lacy also is young enough (25) to perform well while overweight, as he showed against Minnesota and Chicago. There wasn’t much to distinguish that Eddie Lacy from the standout back of 2013 and ’14.
However, he won’t be young for much longer, and overweight players don’t age well in the NFL.
I think of Gilbert Brown as a cautionary tale. Brown, a massive nose tackle, was dominating for the Packers in 1995 and ’96. He received a new, lucrative contract in ’97 but that offseason added excessive weight and never was the same player.
The shock of being out of the league in 2000 finally focused Brown's commitment to conditioning and good nutrition, and he salvaged three more fairly effective years with the Packers. But in an important way, it was too late. He’d lost what could have been some of the best and most lucrative seasons of his career. You wonder if Lacy is headed for the same fate.
It’s even harder to understand a player being overweight today with all the resources the Packers provide their players. The team has a full-time nutritionist (Adam Korzun), and players can eat all three meals a day at the team facilities during the season.
Players also have a financial incentive to make weight, and this has to have been a costly season for Lacy. The CBA allows a team to fine a player up to $470 for each pound he’s overweight, and they can fine him twice a week. All indications are that the Packers are fining Lacy, though to what degree is unclear.
Depending on where the Packers have set Lacy’s threshold (235 pounds? 240? 245?), he could be paying thousands of dollars each week. And if general manager Ted Thompson and McCarthy aren’t fining him at or close to the max, then they’re culpable as well.
Either way, Lacy has given the Packers and the rest of the NFL reason to question his commitment to his craft. That’s on him.
But he’s also a talented player who can change games. He can undo some damage and improve his team’s fortunes over the next two months. That can be on him, too.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.