A year and a half ago, the Packers watched as longtime starting guard T.J. Lang walked away to a division rival, the Lions, taking more money from Detroit than Green Bay was willing to pay. At the time, the Packers were criticized for that move. That criticism was wrong.
The Lions have placed Lang on injured reserve today, ending his second straight injury-plagued season in Detroit. Lang signed a three-year, $28.5 million contract with the Lions, but there’s talk that the Lions will release him this offseason rather than pay him the $9 million he’s due to make in 2019. Lang’s contract now looks like an expensive mistake by Detroit.
And declining to match that contract now looks like a wise move by then-Packers General Manager Ted Thompson. It was particularly prudent for Thompson because he knew he’d have to withstand criticism for his move: The Packers’ coaching staff was reportedly “incensed” that Thompson refused to top the Lions’ offer, instead letting Lang leave. Thompson was criticized for being too “cheap” to keep Lang.
But as PFT wrote at the time, the NFL has a hard salary cap, and one person’s “cheap” move is another person’s wise cap management. And Thompson was concerned that Lang’s age and injury history made him a risk of not being available for the long term. Those concerns turned out to be justified.
So when a high-priced player moves from one team to another in free agency, it’s not as simple as saying the team that lost the player got worse, and the team that signed the player got better. In the case of Lang, it was the Packers who were better off when a division rival spent a lot of money on a player that the Green Bay front office expected to decline.