GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN – DECEMBER 02: Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers rushes the passer during a game against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field on December 02, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Cardinals defeated the Packers 20-17. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The Green Bay Packers are looking to salvage some shred of dignity as they reach the season’s final stretch. There is a glimmer of hope that the team could still reach the playoffs but many fans are turning the page on 2018. General manager Brian Gutekunst will have his first full off-season with command of the front office. He will also have two first-round picks in this year’s draft at his disposal.

With the search for a new head coach underway, this will be a very important few months in the team’s future trajectory. Before the draft, we will get to see if Gutekunst continues his aggressive approach to free agency. He quickly made his own distinct mark on how he feels this team should be built. Gutekunst will have important decisions to make regarding the expiring contracts of several marquee players drafted by his predecessor. Below is a quick look at the upcoming Packer free agents and their chances of re-signing with the organization next season.

Veteran Leaders

Matthews and Cobb have been prominent building blocks for this organization over the past decade. Matthews is a six-time Pro Bowl selection and has made an All-Pro team three times. Cobb has been riding the highs from his career year in 2014. It helped him cash in with a four-year, $40 million extension the off-season thereafter. He has dealt with injuries and never matched those career totals though. If Rodgers clamors for Cobb’s return, maybe he has a shot. More than likely, Gutekunst will continue reshaping the roster’s pass-catchers.

Matthews has continued to be a force for this defense even after losing a few steps at age 32. He has been healthier than years past and continues to be one of the team’s better pass-rushers. Although several have been called back due to roughing the passer penalties, Matthews has still only accumulated two and a half sacks on the season. If the Packers continue to implement a 3-4 base defense, they are going to need more production from their outside linebackers. Gutekunst could give one of the organization’s all-time best defenders the benefit of the doubt and re-sign him. But this really all comes down to Matthews and how much money he hopes to make versus how much he wants to finish his career in Green Bay. He could still cash in on one last lucrative short-term deal, and the Packers may back out if a bidding war commences.

More House Cleaning?

When Gutekunst took over from longtime general manager Ted Thompson, he exiled many of his predecessor’s recent draft picks. Ryan was drafted in 2015 and has been a steady, yet uninspiring presence at inside linebacker for the Packers. It’s a shame Ryan tore his ACL during the last year of his rookie contract. Gutekunst did draft the athletic Oren Burks in the third round, but, after the team’s inability to defend the run this year, bringing Ryan back on a short-term deal could be in the interest of both parties.

Allison is included on this list even though he’s a restricted free agent. Undrafted out of Illinois, Allison has impressed in limited action over his three years in the league. He has only started nine games for the Packers but has great chemistry with Aaron Rodgers and was on pace for career highs this year before landing on injured reserve. The Packers will have the opportunity to match any offer Allison receives on the open market. They would be wise to keep him around while they continue developing young weapons for Rodgers.

Rentals or Re-Sign

Each player listed above has been signed by the Packers in free agency within the last two years. House was drafted by the Packers but spent two years with the Jacksonville Jaguars before returning to Green Bay in 2017. After ending a disappointing season on injured reserve, the Packers should look towards their younger options at the cornerback position moving forward. Breeland is intriguing due to his age (26) and past success with the Washington Redskins. After only appearing in a few games due to a variety of injuries, Breeland has only been able to flash in the Packers’ system. If he would re-sign with the team on another prove-it contract, the Packers would have four quality options at the cornerback position.

Kendricks and Lewis are two veteran tight end options the Packers must consider moving on from next year. The former has been with the organization for two years and has only made a handful of plays when filling in for Martellus Bennett in 2017 and Jimmy Graham in 2018. Kendricks’s gaffes and dropped passes are more memorable than his production. Lewis will be 35 at the start of next season and is primarily a blocking tight end on rushing downs. The development of Robert Tonyan could make both players expendable.

Bell was signed late in training camp but given a fairly hefty signing bonus for a player of his caliber. At 29, he could be a stopgap while the team continues developing some younger talent on the offensive line. He has played admirably in nine starts for the Packers but has some obvious hindrances with pass blocking and shouldn’t be in the team’s long-term plans.

It will be very interesting to watch how Gutekunst handles the contract negotiations or lack thereof with Wilkerson, his prize from last year’s free agent class. After a lackluster performance over just two and a half weeks of play, the team could go either way on whether they wish to extend Wilkerson an offer. He finished his one-year deal with a total of five tackles and zero sacks after a devastating ankle injury landed him on injured reserve. Gutekunst will be watching Wilkerson’s recovery closely before extending him an offer. He could also very easily scrap the project after an unsuccessful prove-it year and move on from the first free agent hire of his tenure. The latter is more likely as Gutekunst constructs this new age Packer team.

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