GREEN BAY — The pass rush has been paramount for the Packers during the eight years Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers have spent together in Green Bay.
On Thursday, the organization made a significant investment in the future of that position when they agreed to a long-term extension with 2016 sack leader Nick Perry.
Perry, a first-round pick in 2012, shook off the injury issues that haunted him through his first four NFL seasons to lead Green Bay with 12 sacks in 17 games (including playoffs).
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound linebacker’s breakthrough season went a long way in the Packers, as a team, finishing inside the top 10 in sacks for the sixth time over the past seven seasons.
Green Bay’s pass rush has registered 328 combined sacks since 2009, trailing only Minnesota (399) and Denver (331) for most in the NFL over the past eight seasons.
“I’m one of the core guys who can provide stability,” Perry said Thursday. “As a rusher, I think that’s one of the best positions that’s needed to win a championship, and I think I have a lot of great things to look forward to doing this year and moving forward.”
By holding onto Perry, the Packers keep their linebacker foundation of Clay Matthews and Perry intact for the foreseeable future.
The two USC products have combined for 96 sacks in Green Bay, roughly a third of the total sacks the Packers have recorded over the past eight seasons.
After re-signing Perry to a one-year deal last March, the Packers planned to build the defense around the two rushers in 2016, but injuries sidelined Matthews for four games and limited his opportunities down the stretch.
The six-time Pro Bowler got off to a strong start with a sack in each of his first three games, but a lingering hamstring injury sidelined him during the Packers’ midseason losses to Atlanta, Indianapolis and Tennessee.
Shortly after his return, Matthews then sustained a shoulder sprain against Philadelphia on a hit from former teammate Allan Barbre. He didn’t miss any games but was limited to mainly being used as a third-down rusher for the next month.
Matthews arguably had his best game of the year in Week 16 when he recorded three tackles, a sack and two pass deflections against Minnesota. He finished the regular season with 24 tackles and five sacks.
Perry dealt with a broken hand during the final month of the season, but used his natural power and leverage to record four sacks despite having his left hand immobilized by a club.
Even with the injuries, the Packers still tied with Tennessee for the sixth-most sacks in the league with 40.
“We’ve built a good outside unit that’s able to stop the run and get after the quarterback,” Perry said. “Things didn’t go as great as we wanted it to go last year, but I think we have a lot to build on, a lot to learn from last season and previous seasons, and I think this is going to be an even better one.”
There’s still work to be done for the Packers this offseason. While Perry and Matthews are projected to lead the linebackers in 2017, Green Bay must decide which players will accompany the two leading rushers in the rotation.
Julius Peppers, converted linebacker Datone Jones and Jayrone Elliott all hit the free-agent market this week. After three seasons in Green Bay, Peppers agreed on Friday to return home to the Carolina Panthers for 2017.
Aside from Matthews and Perry, the Packers are set to return 2016 third-round pick Kyler Fackrell and undrafted free agent Reggie Gilbert, who spent all of his rookie season on the Packers’ practice squad.
The Packers are expecting big things out of Fackrell. In his rookie season, the former Utah State linebacker had 18 tackles and two sacks, both of which came prior to a hamstring injury that sidelined him for three games.
Whatever shape the linebacker room takes, Perry hopes to use the experience he’s gained over the last five years to help bring along the next generation of Packers pass-rushers.
“I think the most important thing is the growth I went through that will allow me to be a better leader and provide any resources I have to help the younger guys, to get everything out of those guys, so we can all get on the same page and win this thing,” Perry said.
Prior to the start of free agency on Thursday, Perry said he stopped by Lambeau Field to take one more lap around the stadium in case the free-agent process took him elsewhere.
In the end, the two sides came to an agreement. Now, Perry is excited to finish what he started in Green Bay.
“I think it’s a blessing to be able to come back here and prove that I am the guy everybody says I am,” Perry said. “I’ve had growing pains but … it came to a point where it was time to show up and really prove my worth in this organization. Five long years and we’re at a point where we’re still taking off. We’re only going up from here.”