The last time the Packers inked a dynamic play-making free agent defensive player was 2006.
That player was Charles Woodson.
I don’t have a problem with Ted Thompson’s philosophy of draft and develop. It ends up saving the Packers plenty of money rather than throwing it at at an average veteran that doesn’t come close to honoring his bloated contract.
But this offseason Thompson has a chance to make a splash. And the guy that would be perfect is outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.
The only way signing a free agent works for the Packers is if that free agent is a Pro Bowl-quality player. Orakpo is a two-time Pro Bowler and has a good chance to be an all-star this year after finishing the year 20th in the league with 10 sacks. But he isn’t just a quarterback-seeking missile, he has also defended 16 passes in five years and got his first interception and ran it back 29 yards for a score this year.
If you’re wondering, nobody on the Packers roster had more than 7½ sacks this season.
Orakpo is a high-energy player that can kick-start Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense. And he would fit nicely with Clay Matthews attacking the passer on the other side. Even better, Orakpo turns 28 in July so there would still be plenty of time for him to contribute in a big way.
Orakpo is closing out his rookie contract which was worth five years and $20 million. But there will be cash to spend as Jermichael Finley and B.J. Raji are not likely to come back to Titletown. Those two coming off the books will save the Packers over $8.9 million.
I think everyone can agree that the only reason the Packers aren’t still playing this year is because the defense wilts like a wet papier-mâché. The unit could not get off the field on third down, could not make the big turnover when needed and could not stop the run — especially a running quarterback.
Also, it’s no secret that one of the best quarterbacks in the league plays for the Packers. Aaron Rodgers just turned 30 in December and likely has five prime years left. With a player like that, it only makes sense to go all-in, which goes against the Thompson offseason bible and bring in a guy that might take some strain off the offense. The Packers are just 3-5 in their last eight home playoff games and the only way way that number changes is if the defense gets noticeably better.
Obviously there are other needs as well like another beastly pass-catching tight end, a safety that will make unassuming receivers think twice about going over the middle and a defensive lineman that can help fans jog the memory of “The Gravedigger.”
But the linebacker is the star of the 3-4 defense, and it’s about time to bring in another star on that side of the ball.
Signing free agents usually is too much of a risk and too much money and I understand why Thompson doesn’t even bother. But when you’ve got one of the best players in the game at the game’s most important position, Thompson has no choice but to surround him with every conceivable way to win.
Because if you don’t, Rodgers’ talents could very well be wasted.