Much has been said about Packers running back Eddie Lacy during his time in Green Bay, as he’s gone from a rookie and second-year phenom to an injured and over-weight side story. His talent and potential has never been questioned, but his desire and focus have been. Now through his fourth season with the team, Lacy’s contract is up and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent on March 9th. Ted Thompson and rest of the Green Bay front office faces the decision of resigning Lacy or letting him walk. The reasons behind either decision are many and there are defensible rationales on either side of the coin. The question is, what should the Packers do?
The Case for an Extension
The Answer here is fairly obvious. At his best, Eddie Lacy is a pro-bowl caliber running back that can wear out defenses with his size and elusiveness while also being a decent pass catching option out of the backfield. In his four years in Green Bay, Lacy has run for 3,435 yards on 788 carries, which equals out to 4.4 yards per rush. In his five games this season before landing on injured reserve, he ran for 360 yards on 71 carries. His 5.1 yards per carry is highest mark of his career and the sixth highest total in the NFL this season (minimum 70 carries), ahead of players such as Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell, two of the top backs in the NFL. What’s more impressive is who Lacy faced in those five games. Four of the five teams during that stretch rank in the top half of the league in rush defense (the Jaguars are the lone exception, ranking 20th). His talent is obvious, and he’ll be 27 years old for the 2017, likely meaning he has three or four years before his play starts to decline greatly. A three headed running back attack of Eddie Lacy, Ty Montgomery, and Christine Michael would provide power, elusiveness, and speed, giving Green Bay arguably the most well balanced running attack they’ve had in the McCarthy era.
If the Packers decide they do want Lacy around, the next question becomes his contract. Green Bay has 18 players with contracts set to expire after this season, including players such as T.J. Lang, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Datone Jones, Micah Hyde, J.C. Tretter, Jared Cook, and Christine Michael. To resign those players, sign draft picks, and sign free agents (a long shot, I know, but a guy can hope), the Packers have roughly $36.6 million. Lacy made just under $1 million per year on his rookie deal and he knows as well as anybody that this is the biggest contract he’ll likely ever have the chance to sign, and he’ll look to cash in. James Starks was given $3 million per year to be the backup running back in 2016 and it’s safe to say that any contract for Lacy would need to exceed that price tag. On the upper end, Lacy is likely looking at around $5.2 million per year (Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals signed a three-year contract worth $15.5 million last offseason, providing a barometer for players around Lacy’s caliber and age). Assuming the Packers let Starks and his $3 million deal go in the offseason, it should be no surprise to see the team offer Lacy a $15 to $20 million contract for three or four years, locking him up for his prime and at the going rate for NFL running backs. A deal like this would secure Lacy’s future, as he’s looking to do, and would allow the Packers to focus elsewhere in free agency (fingers crossed) and the draft.
The Case for Moving On
One thing that is clear about the NFL is that it takes an extraordinary talent and work ethic to be consistently productive. More so than any Packer in recent memory, Lacy’s drive to succeed in the NFL has been called into question by fans, coaches, teammates, and the media.
Much was made of his weight and conditioning problems in 2015 and, after a scrutinized offseason in which he spent weeks working out and developing a healthy diet with P90X creator Tony Horton, Lacy began the regular season looking overweight once again. While Eddie has unquestioned talent, there is no space for laziness and a refusal to work in the NFL. Great players, such as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Steve Smith, Adrian Peterson, and several others have been vocal about how much care they give their bodies year round, from what they eat to the way they workout. They are professionals who hold themselves to the highest standard and set the bar for the rest of the league. Eddie Lacy has not proven to be that, but the opposite. He’s shown to be a poor example of work, even in a contract season. Asking if Lacy will work harder after getting an extension is like asking a dog who already has been thrown a bone to do more tricks, it’s probably not going to happen. The Packers need to move on from the drag that has on several occasions been Lacy and role with the tandem of Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael, who’ve proven more than capable.
Let us not forget the days when the best running backs the Packers had were Brandon Jackson, James Starks, Alex Green, and Dujuan Harris. While Lacy has been frustrating at times and hasn’t had the drive to reach his full potential, he’s been the best alternative and the Packers front office won’t overlook that. Look for the Packers to offer Lacy a three year deal worth between $14 and $17 million with no more than the first year guaranteed. A contract that is non-guaranteed would get Lacy the money he wants while forcing him to play at a high level or risk being released by the team each offseason. If he can return to the pro-bowl levels of his first two seasons he’ll help propel the Packers’ offense towards continued success as one of the five best offenses in all of football.