Tag Archives: Packers free agency strategy

Why the Packers Aren’t Active in Free Agency

There will not be any Reggie White type signings for the Pack in the foreseeable future.

The Packers just completed one of its best regular seasons in franchise history. But, a 15-1 record guaranteed nothing, as the team fell in the first playoff game in miserable fashion. It’s clear the Packers are just a few difference-makers on defense from claiming its 5th Super Bowl title. So, TT should be active in getting those difference-makers in free agency, right? Wrong. Although it would be nice, the Packers simply cannot be active in free agency.

We all know TT has done a helluva job building this team through the draft. Undoubtedly, TT is one of the best in the league in mining the middle- to late-rounds for talented players that can contribute and develop into key members for the squad: JMike (3rd Rd.), James Jones (3rd), Sitton (4th), T.J. Lang (4th), Newhouse (5th), Starks (6th), Bishop (6th), Crosby (6th), and D.J. Smith (6th). The list only grows longer when you consider the undrafted free agents he has hit on. But, as with all things in life, this success comes with a cost.

Of the players identified above, most have received a healthy new contract to keep them around for the foreseeable future. And, that is the reason why the Packers simply cannot participate in free agency. To keep the core that won Super Bowl XLV together, TT must have enough money to pay them. And coming down the pipeline are not simply core players needing new deals. Instead, TT has the daunting task of figuring out cap-friendly deals to keep Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, and Aaron Rodgers.

First up is Greg Jennings. The star receiver is in his last year of a 4-year extension he signed in 2009. Jennings will hit free agency at the ripe age of 29 and is one of the best WR’s in the business. If you’ve been paying attention at all to the free agency frenzy this past week, you know that WR’s have been getting absurd contracts. Consider, Josh Morgan – all 9 career TD’s in 4 seasons – is getting $12M over two years, $7.3M of which is fully guaranteed. Or, Pierre Garcon – he whose single-season career bests are 6 TDs and 947 yards – signed a 5-year, $42.5M contract, $20.5M guaranteed. (Sidenote – do you think other franchises have asterisks next to Redskins-signed players when agents use said contracts for favorable comparisons in negotiations? I’ve gotta think anytime an agent cites to a Dan Snyder contract, TT and Russ Ball smirk and say try again.) Needless to say, Jennings is in line for a substantial deal; one that is going to require TT and Russ Ball to get as creative as ever to not cripple the Pack’s salary cap for the future.

Next, we have the Claymaker. Matthews is still only 25, but has already established himself as one of the best defensive players in the game. He was second for Defensive MVP in 2010 and is the best defensive player that has donned the Green-and-Gold since Reggie White. If you thought last season’s defensive efforts were meager, just imagine if the offense didn’t have to devote two players to Clay every snap. It’s not a pretty thought. Matthews’ rookie contract expires in 2014. He’s in line for a massive contract extension. Super Mario Williams just got a 6-year, $100M contract, and this, off a season he finished with a knee injury. Last season, Da Bears (still suck) signed a 30-year-old Julius Peppers to a 6-year, $84M deal, with $42M guaranteed. When Matthews hits free agency, he will only be 27 and hardly have had a poor season (assuming he’s healthy (knock on wood!!!)). This contract might be particularly difficult. I would not be shocked if the Pack slap the franchise tag on Clay to give them extra time to figure out a deal.

Free agency is a no-go when you need to resign this Orca in the next year or two.

Finally, and probably the reason why Claymaker’s contract may be on the back-burner for a while, Rodgers is in line for a new contract. Savvy as always, TT signed Rodgers to a healthy extension back in 2008 when Rodgers had yet to even complete his first season starting. Obviously, the contract extension was a shrewd move. And, Rodgers still has 3 years before he reaches free agency. But, to say Rodgers has outperformed his contract would be the understatement of the year – remember, if the Pack had franchised Flynn, the franchise number for Flynn would have been more than Rodgers’ 2012 salary. TT will look to sign Rodgers to a deal to keep him in Green-and-Gold for the rest of his career (or at least until his good years are past and the Vikes will overpay out of desperation). Drew Brees’ contract (whenever he signs it) will set a new benchmark for elite QBs. Right now, Mr. Bundchen is playing on a 5-year, $78.5M deal, of which $48.5M is guaranteed. Whenever Rodgers reaches a new deal, I imagine it will reach 9-figures.

Long story longer, if you weren’t keeping track (and I’m not sure I even did), keeping those three players alone will likely cost the Packers upwards of $200M+. And that doesn’t even account for B.J. Raji, Sam Shields (assuming he doesn’t regress like last season), Bryan Bulaga, JMike (again), and Mike Neal (kidding) to name a few others that will also likely need to be resigned.

TT’s drafting prowess is the reason the Packers are set to become the team of the decade. To do so, though, TT must forego free agency in order to ensure he can resign the best players. So, those hoping the Packers will make a run at Kamerion Wimbley, consider: do you want Wimbley or the cap room to ensure the core of our team is together? I think it’s a no-brainer when you look at the big picture.

An Exercise in Futility

TT is averse to free agency, but this could be the year he breaks that trend.

Let’s be honest, talking free agency strategy with Ted Thompson running our squad has been mostly an exercise in futility. The way TT pinches pennies, you’d think he was Mitt Romney’s financial advisor. But, the few times he has dipped his toes in the free agency waters, he’s hit it big by plucking Woodson and Pickett. The Packers have few needs, and free agency might be a good route for TT to fill a need or two.

For starters, the Packers have approximately $6.9 million in cap space presently, which includes an added bonus of $1.6M thanks to Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder. That’s not a lot to wheel and deal, and I expect TT to create more cap space in the coming days. The two obvious candidates are DD and Clifton. Both players have been great players and representative for the Packers throughout their careers. But, it’s a cut-throat business and the Pack have younger and better players that need to see the playing field in their place – Cobb/Gurley and Newhouse. TT has always been one to cut a player one season too soon than too late (see Cullen Jenkins), and I expect this will be no different. Frankly, I’d love to see TT cut Mr. T-Rex arms (Hawk). I have no clue what the cap repercussions may be in doing so (if you can find this information out, please comment and I will update accordingly), but he’s a dud and replaceable. Regardless, if the Packers handle DD and Clifton, they would be sitting with approximately $12M – more than enough ammunition for TT to get to work in free agency.

Even though our defense is in desperate need of some upgrades, the biggest priority in free agency needs to be retaining or replacing Scott Wells. Numerous reports indicate Wells harbors vitriol towards the Packers because they attempted to replace him in years past and refuse to pay him top-5 money for his position. Wells may be in for a rude awakening, though, once he gets to free agency. After all, the same reasons the Packers have continually tried replacing him – short, stocky, and not a road grader – still exist. In fact, his value is probably the greatest with the Packers than any other team because of his familiarity with the system and it being a pass-oriented attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up resigning with the Packers once he sees his market is not nearly as big as he anticipates. This situation reminds me James Jones from last year in that respect.

In the event Wells signs elsewhere, there are a number of available centers in free agency. Chris Myers from Houston is regarded as the best available center. He comes from a zone-blocking scheme and led their top-ranked rushing attack. He’s also over-30, though. An interesting prospect is Samson Satele from Oakland. He’s younger at 27 and anchored the 2nd and 7th ranked rushing offenses the past two seasons. Otherwise, the Pack will have to look to the draft to replace Wells. A pair of Sconnie’s are regarded as two of the best available centers in the draft – Peter Konz (1st round grade) and Kevin Zeitler (guard, but might be better suited for C).

After Wells, then it’s a matter of finding the right fit for the right price on defense. Obviously, the Packers could use upgrades or depth at every position on defense. And, to beat you to the punch, Mario Williams is out of the question. He’s going to demand the biggest contract in NFL history for a defensive player, and the Packers have too many players to resign in future years – Matthews, Rodgers, Jennings, and Raji to name a few. So who, exactly, could the Packers target? Well, who the hell knows, but here’s a few names to keep in mind as the free agency madness gets into full-swing:

Mark Anderson – OLB for the Pats. He resurrected his career with the Pats this past season, recording 10 sacks. At 29, he’s still relatively young and would be an instant upgrade opposite Matthews. He won’t demand top-dollar, either, and would be the savvy, under-the-radar type move that may appeal to TT.

Kamerion Wimbley – OLB for Oakland. He’s under contract with Oakland, but his contract will require the Raiders to cut him soon. He’s 28 and is very athletic and talented at 6′-4″ and 255 lbs. He had 7 sacks this past season, and 9 the year before. In six full seasons, he has 42.5 sacks. Needless to say, he’d be a great compliment to Matthews. Unfortunately, his price tag will probably be too steep for TT.

Adam Carriker – DE for the Skins. He’s a former high draft pick that hasn’t panned out. But, he’s still only 28, and at 6′-6″ and 315 lbs., he could play at NT or DE in the 3-4. Starting in 15 games last season at the nose tackle position for the Skins’ 3-4 defense, he notched 5.5 sacks. Like Anderson, he’s not going to garner much immediate attention and should come on the cheap.

Tracy Porter – CB for the ‘Aints. Tracy Porter happens to be one of my favorite non-Packers player because of this play. Don’t forget, Porter is the player that iced the Super Bowl win with the late pick-six on Manning. He clearly does not shy from the big-moment and, at 26, he’s a player with a lot of potential still in him. Porter’s problem, though, has been staying healthy, having never survived a full season. And because of this, he might come cheaper than a young cornerback with his potential might otherwise.

Reggie Nelson – S for the Bungals. Nelson was another former high-draft pick that never made it with his original squad. He’s a safety the Packers may want to target for insurance in case Mr. Pick-Six cannot return. Nelson had a solid season last year with 85 tackles, 4 picks, and 2 sacks and fumbles apiece.

Do you sense a theme in the players listed above? It was intentional. Outside of Wimbley, they are players under-the-radar and not splashy. That’s how TT operates, and if he decides to dabble in the free agency pool, expect him to target these types of players – good fits at the right price. But, considering his last foray into free agency was the huge signing of Duke Preston, well, I’m tempering my expectations.