The moment Ian Rapoport’s report that the Packers could be players in free agency came out, speculation began on who the Packers may attempt to sign. Could the Packers attempt to sign a big name free agent like Jairus Byrd or Brian Orakpo? While I don’t see that happening, I do think the Packers could sign a starter or two, and add some key role players.
Even with nearly $30 million in cap space, the Packers have 19 free agents of their own this year as well as some big names scheduled to hit free agency next year. And despite Ted Thompson’s best efforts, there will be some talented players who leave Green Bay in free agency.
Here are five Packers who may play somewhere else this year, and five players who could replace them on the roster.
Free agent to let go: BJ Raji
Free agent to sign: Tyson Jackson
The Packers selected BJ Raji with the 9th overall pick during the 2009 draft and after his second season, he looked like he could be the next great 3-4 defensive lineman, picking up nearly 40 tackles and six sacks in 2010. There has been a precipitous drop in Raji’s production since then. The past three seasons, Raji has only managed a combined 65 tackles and three sacks, and Raji has gone two full seasons without a sack.
Jackson was picked six spots ahead of Raji in the 2009 draft by the Kansas City Chiefs and has had almost the opposite career trajectory. Jackson looked like a draft bust after his first couple of seasons, but over the past three years, Jackson has 93 tackles and eight sacks while playing defensive end in the Chiefs 3-4 system.
Rapoport’s report also mentioned the Packers desire to have linemen who more closely resemble last year’s first round draft pick, the 6’4” 285 pound Datone Jones. And at 6’4” and 296 pounds, Jackson comes much closer to that description than the 337 pound Raji.
Free agent to let go: MD Jennings
Free agent to sign: Hussain Abdullah
I’m not going to go into great detail about the Packers struggles at safety last year, but as Packer fans all know, this is an area the Packers desperately need to improve this season. MD Jennings is a restricted free agent, so Packers could probably keep him at fairly low cost, but after a disastrous 2013 season the Packers might be better off cutting ties with him all together.
Jairus Byrd and TJ Ward are obviously the prize free agents of this year’s free agent safety class, but I don’t see them as realistic options for the Packers due to the salaries they will probably command.
Abdullah only started two games for the Chiefs last year, but played well when give the opportunity. Abdullah also intercepted Andrew Luck twice during the Chiefs playoff loss to the Colts. Or to put that another way, Abdullah had two more interceptions in one playoff game than all Packer safeties had for the entire year combined.
Abdullah has had some issues with concussions in previous years, so there is a little risk in signing him. But he would be a relatively inexpensive insurance policy if the Packers aren’t able to find a safety in the draft that is capable of starting from day one.
Free agent to let go: James Jones
Free agent to sign: Ted Ginn Jr
Not all the Packers on this list are players I hope the Packers part ways with, and James Jones definitely falls into that category. As much as I like Jones as a player and as a person, I think he might be wise to test free agency again after getting the short end of the stick the first time he hit free agency during the 2011 lockout.
Despite being a first round pick in the 2007 draft, Ginn has not been nearly as productive as Jones, who was a third round pick the same year, but there are some things that may make him attractive to a team like the Packers.
Ginn was playing with the Panthers on a one year deal worth just over a million dollars, and despite having one of his most productive seasons as a wide receiver in Carolina, he probably won’t command much more than that again this season. That dollar amount might be in line with what the Packers want to spend on a wide receiver this season, knowing that they will have to spend a lot of money if they hope to keep both Randal Cobb and Jordy Nelson beyond 2014.
Ginn has also been a competent kick return man during his career, averaging 23.3 yards per return with three touchdowns.
Free agent to let go: Mike Neal
Free agent to sign: O’brien Schofield
Like Jones, Neal is not necessarily a player I want to see leave the Packers, but I do think there may be a team out there that is willing to pay him than more the Packers are able to. And despite a relatively successful transition to outside linebacker, I think that Neal’s skill set may better suit a team that runs a 4-3 scheme.
Schofield was an excellent pass rusher at Wisconsin where he played defensive end in their 4-3 scheme, but he has experience playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme from his three years in Arizona. This season Schofield mainly played special teams for the Seahawks, but did start a couple games while Bruce Irvin served a four game suspension.
I don’t see Schofield as a long term answer at outside linebacker, but if the Packers do lose Neal to free agency, he would add a veteran presence to a position group that currently has very little experience behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry.
Free agent to let go: Jermichael Finley
Free agent to sign: Scott Chandler
If Jermichael Finley is not re-signed, and at this point I don’t believe there are many people who believe he will be, the Packers will probably need to address the tight end position sometime in the draft, free agency, or possibly both.
Chandler has bounced around the league a bit since being drafted by the Chargers in 2007, but he found a home with the Bills, starting 29 games over the last three years. He is not the offensive weapon that Finley is, but at 6’7”, Chandler would be a nice target in the red zone.
Like some other players on this list, I don’t see Chandler as a long term solution for the Packers, but more of a stop gap measure that would allow the Packers to draft a tight end in the later rounds of this year’s draft.