KENOSHA — The Green Bay Packers’ relatively quiet offseason could quickly become more notable.
The team is on the verge of locking up two of its most valuable pieces on each side of the football in securing long-term contract extensions with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews, according to Packers’ president and CEO Mark Murphy.
Rodgers could become the highest paid player in the NFL at approximately $25 million per year, while Matthews’ deal could pull in roughly $15 million per season.
With the majority of the league focused on signing free agents, the Packers took their familiar stance this offseason with keeping their own players.
“It’s certainly been a priority for us,” said Murphy, a guest speaker at the UW-Parkside’s executive in residence program on Thursday in Somers. “Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews are two of the better players in the league. It’s really consistent with our philosophy that we really like to draft players, develop them and extend our core players. We’re hopeful we’ll be able to finalize that very soon.”
In a one-on-one interview with the Kenosha News, Murphy addressed a number of topics including the departure of fan favorites Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Charles Woodson, the emergence of wide receiver Randall Cobb, the upcoming NFL Draft, rule changes for next season and the team’s relationship with Brett Favre.
The Packers will move on without three of their most popular players with the loss of Jennings, Driver and Woodson.
“It’s just the nature of the game,” said Murphy, a former All-Pro safety with the Washington Redskins. “It’s a young man’s game. With the salary cap, you have to make difficult decisions on your roster.”
Jennings signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with rival Minnesota, while Driver announced his retirement after 14 seasons in Green Bay. Woodson remains a free agent.
“It will be different without those guys, but especially Donald because he was with the team for so long and Woodson because he meant so much to this team,” Murphy said. “They were difficult decisions but I have great confidence in (general manager) Ted Thompson, (head coach) Mike McCarthy as well as (vice president of football administration/player finance) Russ Ball. We’re managing the roster and making the decisions we need to make to be competitive.”
As a Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP and league MVP, most would agree Rodgers will go down as Thompson’s greatest draft pick ever.
“He thinks (Cobb) could be the best draft pick Ted Thompson ever made,” Murphy said. “Those comments are pretty telling to me.”
With Jennings and Jordy Nelson hampered by injuries last season, Cobb set the franchise record and led the NFL with 2,342 all-purpose yards. The slot receiver appears to be a star in the making.
“He might be there already,” Murphy said. “I’ve been real impressed with him since day one. Last year, he really bailed us out with the injuries we had and developed into a great all-around player. What’s impressive about him is his intelligence and his work ethic.”
With the April 25 draft quickly approaching, NFL.com has the Packers selecting Alabama running back Eddie Lacy with the 26th pick in a mock draft conducted on the site recently.
The Packers stockpiled defensive players last season with their first six picks, led by first-round linebacker Nick Perry, second-round defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and third-round cornerback Casey Hayward.
“That was a rarity for us,” Murphy said. “Usually it’s based on the best player available. We’re just glad we’re not picking too early in the draft. We like picking towards the end.”
Murphy said the team is always interested in adding talent on the line.
“I think when you look at the roster, you can never have enough big players,” Murphy said. “Defensive and offensive linemen would be helpful.”
As a member of the league’s competition committee, Murphy was a strong supporter of the new rule passed last month preventing offensive and defensive players from intentionally lowering the crown of their helmet when outside the tackle box.
The league also voted this offseason to eliminate the tuck rule, prohibit teams from loading more than six defenders on one side of the snapper on extra points and field goals and penalizing peel-back blocks inside the tackle box.
All players will also be required to wear thigh and knee pads this season.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Murphy said.
The kickoff rule continues to be up for debate. The current 35-yard line kickoff generated roughly 50 percent touchbacks and, in turn, decreased injuries due to fewer returns.
One proposal by Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano is to abandon the kickoff. The scoring team would retain the ball at its 30-yard line in a fourth-and-15 situation with the ability to go for it, punt or run a fake punt.
“I think it’s an outside the box idea and maybe a little too far out of the box,” Murphy said. “I understand what he’s trying to do. The fourth-and-15 is converted about the same as an onside kick. But what isn’t accounted for is the surprise onside kick. The surprise onside kick is recovered more frequently.”
The Packers took a step in the right direction in warming their icy relationship with Favre at the NFL awards program in February when the three-time MVP joined Rodgers at the podium to present Peyton Manning with the 2012 Comeback Player of the Year award.
“I thought it was a very good first step,” Murphy said. “We’ve said we want to retire his number and get him back here. It’s got to be the right timing for both him and us. It’s a pretty significant honor and he deserves it. He was one of the greatest players, if not the greatest player, in the history of the organization.”
Favre, who has stated publicly he has no relationship with the Packers, is currently the offensive coordinator for Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, Miss.