AP NEWS

Packers: Eddie Lacy and Datone Jones leave, Davon House returns

March 15, 2017 GMT

GREEN BAY — As his Green Bay Packers offense stagnated and his star quarterback struggled against defenses who had no reason to respect the team’s running game, coach Mike McCarthy lamented to absence of an injured Eddie Lacy.

For while McCarthy had delivered some pointed criticism of his star running back’s conditioning and weight gain following the 2015 season, he’d designed his offense with the belief that Lacy was, in fact, going to respond by proving himself in the final year of his rookie contract.

We’ll never know what Lacy would have done last season had he stayed healthy. Through the first four games, he’d carried 54 times for 295 yards (5.5 yards per carry), putting him on pace for a career highs in rushing yards (1,180) and per-carry average. Then he injured his ankle against the New York Giants on Oct. 9, played through the injury the following week against the Dallas Cowboys (17 carries, 65 yards) and ended up needing season-ending surgery to insert a plate and two screws into his ankle.

Still, he finished with a 5.1-yard rushing average, and by most accounts, the Packers wanted to bring him back in 2017. McCarthy himself said at the NFL scouting combine that his interest was “very high” in a Lacy-Ty Montgomery backfield pairing, calling Lacy “our guy” and one of the Packers’ “core players.”

As of Tuesday morning, Lacy was no longer either of those things. He signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks that included $3 million in guaranteed money and could be worth as much as $5.5 million – even though he’s still recovering from the ankle surgery that ended his season.

A league source confirmed that the Packers tried to keep Lacy. Perhaps he simply was ready for a fresh start elsewhere. The Packers and Seahawks, who’ve had a growing rivalry despite not being division opponents, are set to face each other at Lambeau Field this fall.

Whatever the case, the Packers now must figure out what they’re going to do offensively in the run game. Earlier this month, quarterback Aaron Rodgers pointed to the emergence of converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery in the run game as one of the major reasons why the offense righted itself after its struggles after Lacy’s injury.

With Lacy’s departure, Montgomery is the lead back for now – the Packers could sign one of the veteran backs who remain on the free-agent market or draft one relatively high next month – and one of only two running backs on the roster. (Don Jackson, an undrafted rookie free agent last year, received a qualifying offer as an exclusive-rights free agent, but he had not officially signed his deal as of Tuesday afternoon.

Lacy’s weight was an ongoing concern for the Packers, who listed Lacy at 234 pounds on their official roster last year – even though he appeared to weigh much more. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday that Lacy weighed 267 pounds during a visit to one of the three teams (Seattle, Minnesota, Green Bay) he visited during free agency.

Still, even though Lacy didn’t look slimmer last season than he had during what had been termed a disappointing 2015, his workouts with P90X founder Tony Horton seemingly had gotten him into better cardiovascular shape, which might’ve led to his third 1,000-yard season in four years. Instead, his time in Green Bay is over.

“I was just more explosive, a little more agile, a little quicker, and guys didn’t want tackle me, I guess you could say,” Lacy said in December of the way he started the season. “Sometimes you just know, like you just feel it. And to be able to have that thought and have that feeling and you can go out and see it happening, it was one of the best feelings ever. I was coming off of a not-so-good year, and to be able to start off the way I did was amazing. For it to end the way it did was not ideal.”

In the House

Meanwhile, the Packers brought back a familiar face Tuesday to shore up their struggling secondary — veteran cornerback Davon House.

House, who was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this month, left the Packers in March 2015 for a four-year, $24.5 million deal in free agency. With the release of veteran cornerback Sam Shields after he missed virtually all of last season with a concussion, and the up-and-down play of their three soon-to-be third-year cornerbacks Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter, re-signing House seemed like a no-brainer move.

A league source confirmed that House received a one-year deal. His signing was first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

House played four seasons in Green Bay, earning a starting job before injuries derailed him. Now 27, he started all 16 games for the Jaguars in 2015 but was benched early last season by coach Gus Bradley.

Datone departs

The free-agent exodus from Green Bay continued with 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones signing a one-year deal worth a reported $3.75 million with the Minnesota Vikings. Jones, who moved to outside linebacker in the Packers’ 3-4 defensive scheme at the end of the 2015 season, will be a traditional defensive end in coach Mike Zimmer’s 4-3 defense.

The Packers declined the fifth-year option on the 26-year-old Jones last spring, perhaps looking to bring him back on a less-expensive one-year deal in 2017. That’s the approach they took with fellow outside linebacker and 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry, who returned on a one-year, $5 million deal last season and parlayed that into the five-year, $60 million deal he signed last week after an 11-sack season.

“I’m ready to turn the next chapter of my life,” Jones, who had one sack last season and 9.5 during his Packers career, said in a conference call with Twin Cities reporters. “Now, I get a chance to go chase Aaron Rodgers now, play against one of the great quarterbacks in the world. … Aaron knows I’m going to be hungry.”