Solving the Eddie Lacy conundrum may prove to be a defining moment in the Green Bay Packers’ offseason.
A free agent to be, Lacy’s next stop is anybody’s guess. Green Bay tends to keep its own draft picks in house, but the former second-round pick’s previous two seasons puts his future in doubt.
Lacy lit up the league as a rookie, running over defenders to the tune of 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. He carried an Aaron Rodgers-less offense on his back, helping them stay afloat before the face of the franchise returned.
This was no fluke, either, Lacy posting near identical stats of 1,139 yards and nine scores as a sophomore, the Packers riding one of the league’s most balanced offenses all the way to the NFC Championship Game.
Then came the adversity. As the news of Jordy Nelson‘s season-ending knee injury sent shockwaves through Packers News, the Packers needed to once again lean on their bruising back. This time Lacy was unable to answer the call, out of shape and appearing at times disinterested, his production fell off a cliff in 2015.
Any hopes of a bounce back in 2016 were squashed the moment his season was wiped out in Week 6 with an ankle injury. Lacy didn’t hit the heights of 2014, but his 5.1 yards per carry proved to be a career-high.
In four years we’ve seen the best of Lacy. A powerful, unrelenting force that drove into the end zone with regularity, often dragging defenders along for the ride.
We’ve also seen the worst of Lacy. Plagued with injuries and inadequate conditioning, there’s no doubting the player we saw ignite a once dormant ground game in 2013 and 2014 was nowhere to be seen the past two years.
Is Lacy merely a sleeping giant, poised to run through the hearts of opposing defenses so long as he’s dealt better injury luck? Or are the previous two years an indication of the future? Injuries, after all, are commonplace for a back like Lacy, one who doesn’t shy away from tackles, but rather invites them.
Due to a couple of disappointing seasons, any new contract in Green Bay will likely be on the Packers’ terms, perhaps a short-term, “prove it” deal similar to the one Nick Perry received a year ago. For that to happen, Lacy would need to remain unsigned on the open market or be willing to remain with the Packers on a cap-friendly deal.
Letting Lacy test the market would be a smart move by general manager Ted Thompson. Paying high based on performances two years ago is a risky roll of the dice, and one another team may be more willing to gamble on. If someone else is willing to throw money his way, so be it. But if the market proves to be tough, a return to Green Bay at a reasonable price would be a shrewd piece of business.
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A 1-2 punch of Lacy and Ty Montgomery may be just what the Packers need to reignite their rushing attack. Lacy’s downhill ability draws defensive attention on early downs and short yardage situations, while Montgomery’s versatility out of the backfield makes him an ideal complement. The receiver-turned-running back must improve in pass protection, however.
What would this mean for Christine Michael, claimed by the Packers midseason after being cut by Seattle? Even if Lacy remains in town, re-signing Michael to a low-cost, one-year deal would be smart, the veteran offering insurance while also having a chance to compete for a roster spot at training camp.
What does the future hold should Lacy walk in March? Fortunately, this year’s running back class is strong, and it wouldn’t be a surprise for the Packers to go high at the position in April’s draft just as they did four years earlier with Lacy.
While the likes of Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook will probably be out of reach—not to mention the odds of Green Bay spending a first-round pick at running back are slim-to-none—there’s plenty of day two value at the position. Names such as Alvin Kamara and D’Onta Foreman could come into play.
Green Bay sits in a tough spot with Lacy. It won’t be easy to let a talent walk out of the building, but re-signing him to a lucrative contract may prove even more damaging if he fails to reach his potential.
How the Packers deal with the Eddie Lacy conundrum promises to be one of the most intriguing offseason stories.