Mason Crosby is one of several Green Bay Packers veterans set to become a free agent next month, but it sure sounds like the front office is intent on bringing him back for another run in 2023.
Crosby — the longest-tenured Packer aside from Aaron Rodgers — has never missed a game for the team over his 17-season career as its placekicker and just last season broke Brett Favre’s franchise record for consecutive games played (258). He has also managed to stay accurate and reliable in the back end of his 30s with just four or fewer missed field goals in three of his last four seasons in Green Bay.
At the same time, Crosby will turn 39 around the start of next season and is coming off a career-worst season as a kickoff specialist. According to Pro Football Focus, of the 29 kickers who handled at least 50% of their team’s kickoffs, Crosby ranked dead last in both hangtime (3.59 seconds) and average distance (61.6) on kickoffs.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst, however, doesn’t seem to be concerned about the potentially waning strength in Crosby’s leg and even offered a vote of confidence for the veteran placekicker on the opening day of the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine that gave the impression he expects him to remain with the Packers.
“I don’t know if he was ever really able to completely catch up (physically) because of what we were asking him to do. He had to go out there and kick for us right away,” Gutekunst said of Crosby’s offseason knee surgery, via Jason Wilde of The Wisconsin State Journal. “So, I think it’s a credit to him.
“To be able to kick in Lambeau Field in clutch situations, I mean any new kicker, that’s going to be tough for those guys. That takes time — and Mason has that experience. I think you’ll see a stronger leg and a different power in his leg on kickoffs this coming year just because he won’t be coming off that surgery.”
Could Rodgers’ Future Impact Crosby’s Free Agency?
Gutekunst’s comments about Crosby and what he envisions for him in 2023 come across as him planning to have him back on the Packers’ roster next season, but there is also a bigger question the Packers still need to answer that could have an impact on what they or Crosby decides to do next: What’s going on with Aaron Rodgers?
Rodgers recently emerged from his four-day, four-night darkness retreat in Oregon that was meant to help give him clarity on his life and his future in the NFL, but Gutekunst told reporters Tuesday that Rodgers and the Packers have not sat down and had the necessary conversations about what comes next for both sides. Rodgers is essentially deciding between three possibilities: retire, play another season in Green Bay or request a trade elsewhere to continue his NFL career with a new franchise.
The Packers also have to decide whether it is time for 2020 first-rounder Jordan Love to take the reins as their starting quarterback and could decide to make the transition regardless of what Rodgers wants to do. Gutekunst did say Tuesday that he “absolutely” believes Love is ready to be an NFL starter.
So, where does Crosby fit into everything? Well, if Rodgers decides to retire, the 38-year-old could take it as a sign of the times and join him in retiring as a Packer. He could also test the waters of unrestricted free agency if Love takes over as a starter, seeking to maximize the final year(s) of his career with a championship team. It all depends on Crosby’s mindset and how he feels about Green Bay’s potential changes.
Which Other Packers Are Set to Hit Free Agency in 2023?
Crosby isn’t the only Packers player set to become a free agent when the new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET on March 15. The Packers have 14 other players who are due to enter unrestricted free agency along with another three who are restricted free agents.
In terms of the restricted players, the Packers might only seek to retain offensive tackle Yosh Nijman from the group. He has been a steady riser over the past two seasons after initially signing with the Packers as an undrafted rookie in 2019, making 21 starts at a combination of left and right tackle for the team. Even with 2022 rookie Zach Tom as the leading candidate to start at right tackle next season, Nijman could provide valuable, trustworthy depth for the Packers that could warrant a second-round tender.
The other two restricted free agents — inside linebacker Krys Barnes and tight end Tyler Davis — are most likely going to have to find employment elsewhere. Barnes has been a good, sometimes great, player for the Packers with 24 starts over the past three seasons, but De’Vondre Campbell and first-round rookie Quay Walker have taken over the middle of the defense, leaving little room for Barnes to shine. As for Davis, he was generally ineffective as a passing weapon during the 2022 season.
The other pending unrestricted free agents for the Packers include: Adrian Amos (SS), Dean Lowry (DL), Marcedes Lewis (TE), Allen Lazard (WR), Robert Tonyan Jr. (TE), Jarran Reed (DL), Randall Cobb (WR), Dallin Leavitt (SS), Rudy Ford (FS), Eric Wilson (ILB), Corey Ballentine (CB), Keisean Nixon (CB), Justin Hollins (OLB).