Packers Free Agents Are Replaceable

Sam Shields is only one of three guys to have an interception for the Packers this year.

Ted Thompson’s philosophy as Packers general manager–draft all of your good players and re-sign them to second contracts–has been rather simple.

Thompson has rarely signed any outside free agents to big money deals. He has only been interested in his own guys. It has worked with some players like Jordy Nelson, Josh Sitton and T.J Lang, but it hasn’t worked with guys like Brad Jones, A.J. Hawk and Morgan Burnett.

Thompson didn’t sound like he was going to deviate from that philosophy during his press conference at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last weekend.

“There’s always surprises,” said Thompson. “We try not to get too worked up on what could or couldn’t happen. Like I said, it’s been our policy and it will continue to be our policy and if we can, we would like to keep our own free agents. We take it day by day and let it sort itself out. Every year it’s a little different, as a whole the market is different year-to-year so we’ll work it out.”

Hopefully, that is just saying what he needs to say, because this offseason Thompson must consider change. The team has slid backwards each year since winning the Super Bowl, and his own free agents aren’t worth going the extra mile to keep.

Yesterday, the news that Sam Shields would test free agency sent shock waves through the Packers Twittersphere. Most of the reaction that I saw was vitriol towards Thompson for letting Shields get to the open market. That reaction does not make a lot of sense to me.

 

First of all, you do not know that Thompson didn’t make a competitive offer for Shields. I would imagine that he did because the reports out of Green Bay have all stated that retaining Shields has been their top priority. However, it takes two to tango, and Shields and his agent Drew Rosenhaus probably saw the opportunity for more money with the salary cap going up.

Also, who knows if Shields even wants to come back to Green Bay. Shields grew up in Florida, so maybe he wants to go to a warmer climate. Obviously, Thompson cannot be blamed if that is the case.

This does not mean that Shields won’t be back, as Shields’ camp may just be using this to gain leverage. The free agent corner class is very strong and Shields might find Green Bay’s offer to be the best one. However, Shields is not a sign at any cost type of player, so if somebody offers him more than $8 million a year than you have to let him walk.

He is a great cover cornerback with the potential to still improve, but he is not among the top 10 corners in the NFL yet. He hasn’t been a huge playmaker, as his career high in interceptions in a season is only four. Pro Football Focus only gave Shields a .4 rating last season, even though I think he played much better than that. If you’re going to offer Shields more than $8 million a year you should just offer it to guys like Alterraun Verner, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, Brent Grimes or Captain Munnerlyn, who are all better players.

Shields is Green Bay’s best free agent, but he is not irreplaceable, which means none of their free agents are. Some of them are guys that they should bring back at their price, and others are guys that they should just let go.

Evan Dietrich-Smith, John Kuhn, Johnny, Jolly, James Jones, Jermichael Finley and Ryan Pickett are the main guys that I would look to bring back at a good price, but again there is no reason to go the extra mile for any of them either.

Bringing Dietrich-Smith back would be good for continuity, but he is certainly not an irreplaceable center. Kuhn, Jolly, and Pickett would be good for veteran leadership and shouldn’t cost much to retain. Jones and Finley would be important weapons for Rodgers, but the draft is fully stocked at their positions this year.

All of Green Bay’s other free agents minus B.J. Raji are backups, so there is no urgency to bring any of them back. As for Raji, he will definitely get more on the open market than I would be willing to pay him.

Thompson has often been criticized for being too stubborn and stuck in his ways. All the great general managers have to adapt to different situations, and this is Thompson’s chance to prove that he can do that. Status quo will no longer be good enough.

The Packers have about $35 million in cap space and do not have any of their own free agents that they absolutely must re-sign. This gives Thompson the opportunity to completely overhaul the defense. It is an opportunity that he must take advantage of.

 

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Matt Bove is a writer at PackersTalk.com. PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on twitter at @RayRobert9.

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  • Horse

    I think it’s difficult to argue that the team slid backwards in 2011 at 15-1. You know who has proven to be irreplaceable so far? Nick Collins and a pre-slowed down Charles Woodson a la 2010. All Pro safeties and Hall of Fame slot corners aren’t low hanging fruit especially when you pick in the high 20s at the draft.

    • Ross Uglem

      I disagree about the Woodson thing. I think that when Casey Hayward is healthy this upcoming season he’ll be one of the 5 best slot CBs in football.

  • Koby

    I know Thompson is looking ahead to next year in the hopes of resigning Cobb and Nelson in the near future, so some of that cap money will go towards that. That being said, I do get tired of the Packers being the youngest team in the league each year. I’d love to see some weak areas addressed in free agency.

    Fans had been screaming for an OLB opposite Matthews for a couple years as TT tried to fill that spot with Walden, Zombo, etc. He EVENTUALLY drafted Perry and let Neal try the position, but the jury is still out if either of them is the answer. Fans criticized the inside LB duo of Hawk and Jones as well as the safety position opposite Burnett going into the 2013 season. MD Jennings? Seriously? Those positions killed the GB defense last year. You know if all of us couch potatoes sitting at home see these issues TT is certainly aware.

    Yet the ONLY potential safety drafted last year was Hyde and the Packers used him at corner instead. I know there were injuries at the position, but GB said from day one Hyde would be a corner. Now after watching his skill level, the Packer brain trust has stated he may get a shot at safety this year. What took so long?

    I know I’m being critical of management, but I do appreciate what they have done. I simply have a hard time understanding the ways they have addressed problems on the roster.