Apparently, the Packers saw something in Christine Michael last year that most everyone else did not. The backup running back has agreed to re-sign with Green Bay, according to ESPN reports, despite an unremarkable campaign after joining the team midway through the 2016 season.
Perhaps Ted Thompson sees potential in the speedy Michael; perhaps, after four-year starter Eddie Lacy signed a one year, $4.25 million contract (including bonuses) with Seattle, the general manager sees dollar signs – as in, the savings of such dollars. The terms of Michael's deal are not yet known, but he almost assuredly costs less than Lacy. Or maybe, with few realistic options remaining in free agency, the Packers simply decided to run back a player that, at least, knows the offense, runs hard and has some big-play ability.
Still, it’s a relatively head-scratching move, considering Michael’s performance last season. Claimed off waivers from the Seahawks last November with the Packers’ injury-depleted backfield in underproductive disarray, Michael never really sparked the running game as the team hoped.
In nine games, including three playoff contests, Michael carried 47 times for 172 yards (3.7 average) and one touchdown. He only had one run of more than 10 yards, a 42-yard score in Green Bay’s Week 15 win over Chicago. Regarded as a good pass-catcher, Michael had just three receptions for 14 yards.
For most of 2016, Green Bay’s running game was MIA. Lacy got off to a strong start, but badly hurt his ankle in Week 6 and eventually was placed on injured reserve. Backup James Starks suffered a knee injury and later a concussion; he was released after the season. The Packers tried several alternatives – trading for Knile Davis, promoting John Crockett and Don Jackson, using wide receiver Randall Cobb in the backfield, over-utilizing fullback Aaron Ripkowski as a runner – but they were injured, ineffective or not long-term solutions. In October, Green Bay moved wide receiver Ty Montgomery to full-time running back, and the promising third-year tackle-breaker will presumably begin next season as the starter.
When the offseason began, a look at the Packers’ own free agents and their primary team needs ostensibly suggested Michael had little chance to return. If Green Bay wanted to pair a change-of-pace back with the shifty, outside-running Montgomery, the stronger, more-proven Lacy would have seemed a better fit.
Plus, there were other key players to negotiate with, such as guard T.J. Lang, tight end Jared Cook, linebacker Julius Peppers and defensive back Micah Hyde, among others, who ultimately were not retained. There were tight ends to sign, and a deplorable secondary to address, doubtlessly with more than just Davon House. Indeed, Michael appeared to be among Thompson’s lowest priorities when the offseason began, and yet he is one of the few – along with Nick Perry, Don Barclay and some restricted free agents – to be re-signed. But, then again, it's been a weird, wild offseason so far. As we've always known, we never know anything.
There had been some (overly hopeful) speculation that the Packers could sign running back Adrian Peterson, but the notion that the former Vikings All-Pro would come to Green Bay on a bargain contract and back up a converted wide receiver never felt all that realistic. Another rumored big name, Jamaal Charles, the ex-Chiefs Pro Bowler, likely doesn’t have much left in the tank after injuries to both knees.
Michael is still only 26 years old and he is fast. Before being released by the Seahawks midway through last season, he was their leading runner. Originally a second-round draft choice in 2013 – coincidentally, Lacy was selected by Green Bay one spot ahead of him at No. 61 overall – Michael has averaged 4.3 yards per carry with seven rushing touchdowns in 37 career games for three NFL teams.
Last year, in limited opportunities, Michael often looked indecisive, misdirected and as liable to go sideways or backward as forward. With a full offseason to better familiarize himself with the Packers’ offensive scheme, it’s possible Michael will be a more impactful player. He always runs hard and is able to hit a hole. Though it's a surprise that he's been re-signed, if he learns the playbook, earns his coaches’ – and quarterback’s – trust and stays healthy, Michael has the physical talent to make a difference in his role.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.