Tenth in a series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ free agents in advance of the start of the 2016 league year Wednesday.
Julius Peppers summed up Nick Perry’s four years with the Green Bay Packers the best when asked what he thought of his fellow outside linebacker.
“When Nick is healthy, Nick can play,” Peppers said. “Nick can rush the passer just as good as anyone.”
It’s just the healthy part that’s been a problem for Perry since the Packers drafted him in the first round in 2012 and converted him from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside rusher. He broke his wrist as a rookie and missed 10 games. He played through a broken foot in 2013, but still missed five games.
Recurring shoulder issues recently plagued Perry, causing him to miss three games and forcing him to play through pain. There also was that crab-like mitt he wore over the broken fingers on his right hand for most of the 2015 season.
Durability and toughness are separate things. Perry has gritted through a lot to stay on the field for the Packers. Once he came off the injury report in the playoffs, Perry came alive with eight tackles, 3½ sacks and a forced fumble, compared to 31 tackles, 3½ sacks and a forced fumble in 14 regular-season games.
That’s pretty much been Perry’s career in nutshell. It’s why the Packers chose last spring to not exercise their fifth-year option on Perry for 2016 when he was rehabbing following offseason shoulder surgery. For that reason, the 6-foot-3, 265-pound edge rusher is scheduled to hit free agency Wednesday.
Perry, 25, said he preferred to stay in a 4-3 defense when he was coming out of USC, but the Packers believed he could make the transition to an outside linebacker in Dom Capers’ defense. His pass-rush effectiveness comes and goes, but Perry has proven to be a stout defender against the run.
Unrestricted free agency gives Perry an opportunity to decide whether he wants to stay in a 3-4 scheme or try his hand at a 4-3 after registering 99 tackles, 12½ sacks and five forced fumbles in 46 regular-season games.
Perry has missed the Packers’ past two offseason programs due to injury, so teams likely will be cognizant of his health during free agent visits.
From the Packers’ perspective, they’ll have to decide how they want to proceed at the position with Clay Matthews tentatively slated to play more outside in 2016 and Perry and Mike Neal headed to free agency. Neal, who turns 29 in June, is wrapping up a two-year, $8 million deal he signed in March 2014.
The converted defensive lineman had 36 tackles and four sacks in 15 starts opposite Peppers this season. He hasn’t missed a game in the three seasons since the Packers moved him to an elephant rusher.
Nick Perry, fifth-year outside linebacker
The skinny: Unrestricted free agent.
The snaps: 416 total (402 defense, 14 special teams).
The stats: 31 tackles, 3½ sacks and a forced fumble.
2015 salary: $1,418,085.