GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike Daniels was the priority and now that the Green Bay Packers have locked up the budding star of their defensive line, they can get to work on keeping the other key pieces of their team intact for next season.
It’s the way general manager Ted Thompson prefers to operate but with 14 more unrestricted free-agents-to-be this offseason, there will be decisions -- some more difficult than others -- to make between now and March.
With Daniels in the fold thanks to the four-year, $42 million contract extension he signed Monday, it might be tough for Thompson to retain the rest of his defense, which ranks sixth in the NFL in points allowed this season.
“We’re building something great here,” Daniels said. “In a perfect world, you’d like to keep everybody, but the nature of the business doesn’t always equate to that.”
The Packers have six more defensive players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason, another six on offense plus two of their three specialists.
Here’s a look at the rest of the impending unrestricted free agents and their chances of return to the Packers next season. We’ll put their chances of returning into three categories: likely, unlikely and 50-50.
B.J. Raji: The nose tackle started strong but his play has tapered off late in the season. However, after missing all of 2014 with a biceps injury, he has missed only one game this season. There wasn’t a big market for him the last two times he’s tried free agency. Chances of returning: 50-50
Letroy Guion: He was on the verge of a long-term deal last offseason before his arrest in February. Instead, he just did a one-year deal. Playing out of position at defensive end instead of nose tackle, he has not gotten back to his level of play from 2014, although he did come up with a key run stop on third-and-1 in Sunday’s win over the Cowboys. He would come cheaper than Raji. Chances of returning: 50-50.
Mike Neal: The outside linebacker is finishing up a two-year, $8 million deal he signed during his first foray into free agency. His big-play production has been slightly less in his last two seasons (7.0 sacks) when compared to the two years right before his last contract (9.5 sacks). He has seemingly overcome durability issues from early in his career. Chances of returning: 50-50.
Nick Perry: The Packers declined the fifth-year option on the former first-round pick, making him eligible for free agency this offseason. He had a productive stretch with 3.5 sacks in three games before he missed the Week 6 game because of shoulder and hand injuries. He hasn’t been as effective since. Like Neal early in his career, Perry has had trouble staying healthy. Chances of returning: 50-50.
Casey Hayward: Once considered a ball-hawk cornerback, Hayward hasn’t had an interception since Week 10 of the 2014 season even though he has come back healthy and played every game following offseason foot surgery. Hayward is a solid slot cover man but considering how deep the Packers are with Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, LaDarius Gunter and Demetri Goodson, Hayward’s best chance to be a full-time starter next season is likely elsewhere. Chances of returning: Unlikely.
Sean Richardson: After a second neck injury in four years, the backup safety is likely done in Green Bay and perhaps in the NFL. Chances of returning: Unlikely.
Don Barclay: The Packers like him as a utility offensive lineman. With 22 career starts at right tackle, perhaps there’s a team who would be willing to give him a shot at a full-time job. Chances of returning: 50-50.
John Kuhn: Just when it looked the fullback was being phased out, he played a season-high for snaps against the Cowboys. Chances of returning: 50-50.
Andrew Quarless: After missing most of the season with a knee injury, there’s unlikely to be much of a market for the backup tight end. The only question is whether the Packers will want to move on because they need to improve at this position. Chances of returning: 50-50.
Scott Tolzien: Perhaps there’s a team out there who might give him the chance to compete for a starting job. With rookie Brett Hundley looking like a promising prospect, the Packers might be OK with just keeping one backup quarterback on the roster. Chance of returning: 50-50.
James Jones: In pinch, he was a good pickup after Pro Bowl Jordy Nelson went down, especially considering that Ty Montgomery has missed two months because of his ankle injury, but there’s a reason he’s been cut by the Giants and Raiders. Chances of returning: Unlikely.
Mason Crosby: At 86.4 percent on field goals, the veteran kicker is on track for his second-best season. The Packers were loyal to Crosby during his 2012 slump, and he seems to like kicking in the cold weather. Chances of returning: Likely.
Brett Goode: The long snapper is on his third long-term contract with the Packers. Chances of returning: Likely.