T.J. Lang: 5 best fits in NFL free agency

T.J. Lang is coming off his best season as a professional. Here are the five best landing spots for the Green Bay Packers guard in 2017 NFL free agency.

T.J. Lang is a former fourth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 2009 NFL Draft out of Eastern Michigan. In a contract year for the Packers, Lang earned his first Pro Bowl nod at guard.

Green Bay got really hot during the middle of their season, winning 10 games in a row before falling on the road to the Atlanta Falcons in the 2016 NFC Championship. Fate would have it that Lang would suffer a foot injury and would need hip surgery heading into his free agency year.

While he could be back with the Packers, here are the five best fits for the Pro Bowl offensive guard in this free agency cycle. How much did the injury in the NFC Championship hurt his market value?

5

Indianapolis Colts

AFC, South

There are about four or five middle of the pack teams in the NFL that will have a ton of cap space to work with this offseason. One of the biggest free agency spenders will have to be the AFC South’s Indianapolis Colts.

Indianapolis has a new general manager in town in former Kansas City Chiefs front office executive Chris Ballard. He has two major areas of focus this offseason with the Colts: 1.) Sign Pro Bowl players to his defense. 2.) Protect Andrew Luck up front.

The Colts will have a projected $55,880,819 to improve its roster this offseason. Overpaying for a veteran guard may not be the best allocation of financial resources, but Indianapolis needs a ton of help up front. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo and center Ryan Kelly look to be promising pieces. Can Ballard get a veteran presence at guard from a guy like Lang?

Given that Green Bay and Kansas City come from the same Ron Wolf school of team-building, it would not be all that farfetched to see Ballard bring a Packer or a Chief over to help rebuild his lackluster offensive line.

Since it’s a particularly weak year in NFL free agency, Lang is set to make a ton of cash regardless of his age and health. The NFL Draft isn’t chock full of elite offensive line talent, particularly on the interior. Maybe the Colts spend big to sign Lang this spring?

Sep 11, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang (70) looks at the field during the first half of a football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 11, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang (70) looks at the field during the first half of a football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

4

Cleveland Browns

AFC, North

The Cleveland Browns are a bad football team, but will have a ton of ways to get better this offseason. They have 13 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, including the No. 1 and No. 12 overall picks.

Cleveland has more cap space than any team in football, with a projected $108,766,997 for general manager Sashi Brown to work with. Head coach Hue Jackson and his staff got a first-hand look at some of the best prospects entering the draft via coaching the 2017 Reese’s Senior Bowl.

Despite going 1-15 the year before, things are strangely looking up for the Browns heading into next season. Of course, the Browns have an absurd way to go to get out of the cellar in the AFC. Brown will have to pay a premium to land any viable free agent this offseason.

Lang will likely be the most expensive offensive lineman to hit free agency this summer. The Packers could franchise tag him, but it would cost them a projected $14.4 million to use it on Lang. Green Bay could certainly retain him, but nearly $15 million for a guard that is about to be 30 is way too much.

While the Browns will not have to break the bank to sign a player the caliber of Lang, they might have to seriously consider giving him eight figures if they want him to sign with Cleveland. Eight figures for an interior offensive lineman was unheard of until Alex Mack got $10 million annually to leave Cleveland to play in the Super Bowl for the Falcons. Lang is a prime candidate to get overpaid this spring.

Jan 15, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and guard T.J. Lang (70) in action during the game against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 15, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and guard T.J. Lang (70) in action during the game against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

3

Atlanta Falcons

NFC, South

Blowing a 25-point lead to lose Super Bowl 51 still stings in Atlanta, but the Falcons should have themselves a roster capable of getting back to a Super Bowl this upcoming season. Atlanta doesn’t have a ton of cap space, but doesn’t have a ton of guys of note heading into free agency.

Frankly, the one guy they’ll to overspend to keep in Pro Bowl fullback Patrick DiMarco. Then again, fullbacks don’t make that much, so Atlanta’s good on that end. Look for the Falcons to get better in the draft and in player development. However, if they could use an upgrade at one position group, it is offensive guard.

Lang is the best guard hitting the market. He’d be going from one top-10 offensive line to another should he leave Green Bay for Atlanta. While he may be more of a man blocking scheme type of guard, his talent is worth exploring in Atlanta’s zone blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

Sure, both Chris Chester and Andy Levitre have been solid up front in Atlanta for two years, but Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff knows that a guard is a point of weakness on the Falcons’ offensive interior. It is crucially important to keep NFL MVP quarterback Matt Ryan upright entering his 30s.

Atlanta will only have $29,261,300 to improve its roster this offseason. It’s not a lot, but Atlanta really only need to improve at guard and get maybe another pass rusher. The Falcons will likely go after one marquee free agent. They always do. That guy might be Lang for all we know.

Jan 5, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang (70) walks off the field after the San Francisco 49ers beat the Packers 23-20 during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 5, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang (70) walks off the field after the San Francisco 49ers beat the Packers 23-20 during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

2

Minnesota Vikings

NFC, North

Injuries ruined what should have been a Super Bowl contending year for the 2016 Minnesota Vikings. After a surprising 5-0 start, Mike Zimmer’s NFC North team finished 3-8 to miss the NFC Playoffs at 8-8. The offense collapsed thanks to major health issues.

General manager Rick Spielman knows that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater may not ever play football again after nearly losing his leg in the final week of preseason practice. He does have a solid starting quarterback in Sam Bradford, but he too has an injury-riddled past.

As reckless as it sounds, Spielman needs to throw mud at the wall and see what sticks in rebuilding this offensive line of his because it is undeniably horrendous. Though the Vikings only have $20,428,209 worth of cap space, they need to use most of that in fixing this porous offensive line.

Minnesota doesn’t have a first round pick this season due to the Bradford trade with the Eagles. If the Vikings want to get better up front, they need to address it in free agency. One player they should target is Lang. He’d fit in well in Pat Shurmur’s offense. His addition to Minnesota would also make arch rival Green Bay worse.

Minnesota will again have to win with defense. However, it cannot leak like a sieve again on the offensive line. People will lose their jobs in Minneapolis if the Vikings offensive line resembles flimsy cardboard yet again. Lang will be expensive. If he’s healthy, he might be worth the price of a big contract for the Vikings.

Oct 30, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87) celebrates his touchdown catch with guard T.J. Lang (70) in the first quarter of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 30, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87) celebrates his touchdown catch with guard T.J. Lang (70) in the first quarter of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

1

Green Bay Packers

NFC, North

Even though he is aging, coming off two injuries, and is starting to get expensive, it would be shocking to see Lang leave the Packers in free agency. Their offensive line was one of the best in football and Lang wants to remain in Green Bay.

The Packers don’t historically dabble in free agency during the Ted Thompson era of the front office. He prefers to draft his players to ensure he knows everything about the makeup of the player he is bringing into the organization.

Green Bay is in good shape with the salary cap. The Packers will have a projected $43,568,612 for Thompson to navigate this spring. Expect almost all of that to go towards retaining top players like Lang and pass rusher Nick Perry, while signing all of its draft picks and a few players out of college.

Where Thompson might have a decision to make is with which player does he use the franchise tag on? He could use it on either Lang or Perry if he wants to, but they may not be worth the value of that franchise tag at their respective position. Perry and Lang may not get roughly the $14 million they would garner from the tag.

In all honesty, Perry is more likely to get slapped with the tag than Lang, as pass rushers are valued higher than interior offensive linemen. Green Bay may not have to spend $10 million to keep Lang around, but he is going to get a bump in pay if he stays with the Packers this season.

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