Dougherty: Time for Packers to work on contract extension for Clinton-Dix

Pete Dougherty
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If it’s training camp, it’s time for NFL teams to start moving on contract extensions.

Green Bay Packers free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) during training camp practice Monday, July 31, 2017, at Ray Nitschke Field in Ashwaubenon, Wis.

Last year at this time the Green Bay Packers were starting negotiations with left tackle David Bakhtiari. They ended up signing him to a four-year extension the week of the regular-season opener, and by season’s end it looked like one of the smartest moves of the year. Bakhtiari went to his first Pro Bowl.

This season, the four Packers players who warrant the hardest looks for extensions are Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Corey Linsley, Davante Adams and Morgan Burnett.

That doesn’t mean any will sign a new deal, or at least not by the start of the season, like Bakhtiari did last year.

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But they’re the most important players whose contracts are up – or in Clinton-Dix’s case, into his fifth-year option – after this season. So general manager Ted Thompson and vice-president Russ Ball have to make some decisions now.

And if I were them, I’d take a good stab at extending the deals for Clinton-Dix and Linsley; I’d wait until after the season on Burnett and Adams.

Here’s a quick look at each:

Clinton-Dix: The Packers exercised the fifth-year option (for $5.957 million) on the 2014 first-round pick, so technically he has two years left on his deal.

But Clinton-Dix is in play because teams often do extensions with first-rounders going into their fourth year. And really, there’s no good reason for the Packers to wait. He’s one of their best players and at age 24 is on the young side for a fourth-year pro. He’s not going anywhere.

Sure, they could wait until the offseason. But Clinton-Dix’s leverage and price will only go up. If he's willing to roll the dice next year at $5.957 million, then the franchise tag ($10.1 million for safeties this season) comes into play in 2019. And Kirk Cousins has shown that going year-to-year with the tag can work out great for players. Multiple tags send salaries skyrocketing – tagging a player a second time carries a 20 percent raise, and a third time a 44 percent raise over that.

That sets the negotiating bar way high. The Packers don’t want the possibility of multiple tags as part of their talks with Clinton-Dix next year.

But if they try to sign him now, they have some leverage. He’s due to make only $7.5 million over the next two years, and 2019 still is two full seasons away. Most players prefer the big payday now.

The NFL's highest-paid safety is Eric Berry at an average of $13 million (with $29.8 million fully guaranteed). Next is Tyrann Matthew at $12.5 million ($21.25 million guaranteed). Clinton-Dix was second-team All-Pro last season and will want top dollar, but he’s also taking on the injury risk this season and next. So he might have trouble turning down a long-term offer with a good guarantee, even if he's not the highest-paid safety in the game.

An agent who represents a top safety and also has had dealings with the Packers said the time looks ripe for a deal.

“I think there’s a real good chance something gets done this year,” he said.

Linsley: There’s more risk for the Packers because of Linsley’s injury history – he has missed 10 games in his three seasons because of hamstring and ankle issues.

So you probably can’t think about extending his deal until at minimum after training camp, and more likely sometime during the season. But if he’s healthy and playing well in September or October, I’d try.

The Packers already have saved a lot of money on the offensive line by parting with guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang in the last year. They don’t have to have to go cheap at center, too. There’s also no obvious successor for Linsley on the roster.

JC Tretter, who had a troubling injury history of his own, left the Packers this offseason for a starting job with Cleveland for an average of $5.583 million, including $6.5 million guaranteed. Linsley is the better player and next spring might command $7 million or more. But during the season, with the injury risk of games to play, he might find an offer slightly better than Tretter’s hard to turn down.

Adams: He had a bounce-back year in 2016 and has looked just as good so far in training camp. It’s hard to know who will lead the Packers in receptions this season, but it very well could be Adams.

But with all the Packers’ moving parts at receiver, I’d wait until the offseason to move on him. If he plays so well that you have to pay a premium to keep him, then pay the premium.

Several open questions make it worth the wait. The Packers need to find out just what they might have in second-year pro Geronimo Allison; whether either of their two late-round rookies, DeAngelo Yancey (fifth round) and Malachi Dupre (seventh), is a potential starter down the road; and project how many good years Jordy Nelson (32) has left.

And in the end, it probably will cost too much to keep Adams and Randall Cobb ($9.5 million in pay next year, $12.75 million cap number). So this season will determine which one you need more.

Burnett: He’s not quite old (28) but is fast approaching 30. He has been a good player, and has extra value because he’s now playing a lot at linebacker as Dom Capers' defense evolves to improve matchups in the passing game.

The Packers probably will want Burnett back in 2018. But with second-round pick Josh Jones looking especially promising and second-year pro Kentrell Brice a potentially viable option as a starter, the Packers have some protection if Burnett departs.

So I’d wait to make sure he gets through the season healthy and then try to strike a deal before free agency. Burnett’s contract averages $6.1 million, and because he’ll be 29 by next spring I’m betting he won’t get any more than that on the open market.



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