GREEN BAY — T.J. Lang couldn’t hide his tears as the Packers’ Pro Bowl guard was carted to the locker room after reinjuring his foot during Sunday’s NFC Championship Game in Atlanta.
It wasn’t the pain that triggered the emotions for Lang, though. The eighth-year veteran had endured a medley of hip, shoulder and foot issues without complaint all season.
It was the possibility he might have played his last down with the team that took a chance on a young left tackle out of Eastern Michigan in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
That thought, amidst all the emotions, was too overwhelming to process, but it’s a reality Lang and roughly a dozen other upcoming free agents now face in the aftermath of the Packers’ 44-21 loss to the Falcons.
“I’ve been here eight years, this is my home,” said Lang during Monday’s locker-room cleanout. “Raised my children here, we have a family. I love my brothers here, some of my best friends on this team. Love the city. Just love putting on that helmet every weekend. It’s an honor to represent this team.
“It’s definitely something that … it’s not up to me. It’s not my call, but I think everybody here knows this is where my home is and this is where I want to stay. Hopefully things get worked out the next couple months.”
Lang, who was voted to his first Pro Bowl this year, said he won’t be able to make the trip to Orlando after reinjuring the foot he previously broke in Week 10 against Tennessee.
He also has a hip scope scheduled for Friday, an operation he’d been planning to undergo once the season was over.
Lang is one of several veterans who have expiring contracts, a list that includes tight end Jared Cook, defensive back Micah Hyde, linebackers Nick Perry, Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, Jordan Tripp, and Jayrone Elliott, running backs Eddie Lacy and Christine Michael, offensive linemen JC Tretter and Don Barclay, and long-snapper Brett Goode.
Hyde has been one of the most dependable members of the secondary since he was drafted in the fifth round out of Iowa in 2013, but his versatility was tested this year with mounting injuries in the secondary.
The 6-foot, 197-pound defensive back responded with 58 tackles, a career-high nine pass deflections and three interceptions. He also had a key pick in the Packers’ 34-31 win over Dallas in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
“Whatever happens, happens. I don’t have much of a say in that,” Hyde said. “I’d love to (be back). This place is the best place for me, but at the end of the day, it has to be business decisions and it’s kind of out of my control.”
Tretter, who started the first seven games at center, also hopes to factor into the Packers’ plans. He underwent surgery Tuesday on the knee he injured against Atlanta in Week 8, but he expects a quick recovery.
“I’d love to be back,” Tretter said. “Obviously there’s a lot that can happen in the next three months, but I really hope to be back. I like it here, the guys, coaches, staff. I really enjoy the four years I’ve had here.”
Meanwhile, Cook said after Sunday’s loss that he hasn’t even thought about next season. However, the veteran tight end was pleased with how his first year in Green Bay went despite an ankle injury that sidelined him for six games midseason.
After not making the playoffs in his first seven NFL seasons, Cook caught 18 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns in the Packers’ three playoff games.
“Just happiness. I’m just happy to be where I am,” said Cook, who had seven catches for 78 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta. “I’m happy to finally be able to get somewhere I’ve been searching on a journey. Not the ultimate goal, but you take the good with the bad.”
Of the pending free agents, Elliott and Tripp are restricted. Elliott, the team’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, plans to stay in Green Bay this offseason and hopes to be back.
The most difficult part to ending any season is the reality not everyone will be back the following year. However, the 2016 Packers developed an inseparable bond after a 4-6 start that tested their resolve, toughness and unity.
“That’s the toughest part, because you build a bond in the locker room, and I think the NFL is a brotherhood,” Burnett said. “You build that brotherhood. You go through training camp, OTAs, you’re here the majority of the day, you spend more time in the locker room than with your own family, so when you see guys depart, that really hurts, but you wish them the best.”