Below you will find a list of the Green Bay Packers’ upcoming unrestricted free agents. These players will be free to sign with any team starting on March 15th. I have assigned a priority level to each player (high, medium, low, or do not attempt to resign). These speak to the importance of each player to the 2016 roster and the Packers’ ability to assemble a team capable of returning to Texas to win Super Bowl LI. The priority is ranked in light of their possible contribution to the team overall, not just their talent-level. A highly-skilled but likely expensive player at a position of great depth will result in a lower resigning priority ranking.
Don Barclay – Do Not Attempt to Resign
Barclay is not the worst tackle in the league. He provides some flexibility to the offensive line, but his inconsistency against the pass-rush has torpedoed his reliability as a back-up. With Bulaga continuing to miss time due to reoccurring injuries, the Packers need to find a more stable back-up.
Mason Crosby – High
Crosby is one of the best kickers in the league. He’s shown that he can get it done in the cold weather of Lambeau, and the Packers brass went through a lot of trouble to keep him during his major slump in 2012. It paid off to ride out the storm. The Packers need to continue benefiting from that decision and resign him.
Brett Goode – Low
The Packers’ long snapper was placed on IR in Week 15 of the 2015 season and was replaced by deli-boy-turned-NFL-player Rick Lovato who played well in Goode’s absence. The coaching staff will likely have little trouble resigning Goode, but if they feel that Lovato is a younger but commensurate talent, they may opt to move toward the cheaper, younger player.
Letroy Guion – High
If Guion can keep his nose clean, he should be a priority re-signing for the Packers. Some might be surprised to see a non-household name listed as priority, but the Packers’ improvement in the defensive front relied heavily upon the stable play of big boy nose tackles, Guion and BJ Raji. Guion has played better than expected since being signed by Ted Thompson as a free agent in 2014. He’s not a flashy player, but he’s good, and literally fills a massive hole in the middle of the defense. Good nose tackles are hard to come by and the Packers need to build on the base of their defense. Guion should not be too expensive to resign, either.
Casey Hayward – Low
Hayward has never lived up to the ball-hawking, play-making promise that he showed in his rookie season, but he’s a very talented cornerback with starter-type talent. With that being said, he’ll likely fetch a lot of interest on the open market. With the Packers already having a ton of young talent at the corner position, there’s little need to throw money at Hayward.
James Jones – Do Not Attempt to Resign
The veteran wide receiver provided some familiarity in the WR corps for Aaron Rodgers when Jordy Nelson went down. And, as relatively bad as the passing game was in 2015, it’s sort of scary to imagine how much worse it could have been had Jones not been brought in. Still, Jones disappeared down the stretch and did not catch a single pass in the divisional round match-up against the Cardinals. Jones has lost more than a step and is severely limited in the number of routes that he can run successfully. Packer Nation is certainly thankful to The Hoodie for his contributions over the years and will always consider him fondly, but it makes most sense for the team to part ways with him here.
John Kuhn – Medium
The resigning of fan favorite John Kuhn will depend a lot upon what the organization thinks of Aaron Ripkowski. I fully expected this to be a passing-of-the-torch sort of season for Kuhn, with Ripkowski being eased into the fullback role as the season went along, but that didn’t really happen. Ripkowski was a key-contributor on special teams, but never really saw significant time at fullback. Meanwhile, Kuhn continued to add that special spark to the offense that has endeared him to fans. And the Packers acquired his services this past season for basically the veteran minimum. It seems highly unlikely that they would have to pay any more than that in 2016. My guess is that the Packers are not yet comfortable with Ripkowski, the better run blocker, taking on all of Kuhn’s other duties in the offense. If so, why not resign Kuhn to a minimum contract and give Rip another year to make it or break it?
Mike Neal – Medium
Neal is not a fantastic pass-rusher, but he’s good and familiar with Dom Caper’s system. For the past 3 seasons, Neal has played 16 games and accumulated around 4.5 sacks in those seasons. He’s not a must-retain player, but he’s a piece to the puzzle of Capers’ plans. While I think that a younger, higher-ceiling outside linebacker like Jayrone Elliott deserves more playing time, the resigning of either Neal or Perry will provide some important continuity for retaining the base of a much-improved playoff defense for a Super Bowl run next year.
Nick Perry – Medium
Again, I would rank the priority of resigning either Neal or Perry as high, especially with the future of Julius Peppers still in the air. But Perry is a player similar to Neal in many ways. Neither is individually a high priority resigning. And given the fact that the team declined a 5th year option on his contract, it may be more likely that they’ll let him test free agency and will push harder to resign Neal.
Andrew Quarless – Low
The Packers are in major need of an overhaul at the tight end position. Aside from Richard Rodgers, fresh talent is needed. Quarless is a decent blocking and receiving tight end, but he doesn’t do either particularly well. The Packers need an impact receiving threat at tight end to play opposite Richard Rodgers and a young player to develop in the mean time. It’s hard to see Quarless playing a major role in the future of this team. Still, the Packers may surprise and look for Quarless’ consistency to help alleviate the tight end problems, but due to injuries, it’s been awhile since he’s been any kind of contributor.
BJ Raji – High
Raji’s story is similar to Guion’s. Moving back to nose tackle, Raji played much better than he has in several seasons. I would rate Raji as the better player between him and Guion, and as such he has the slightly higher resigning priority. He may come a little more expensive than the Packers would like to pay, but his ability to blow up running plays this year was a major factor in the Packers’ improved defense. Along with kicker Mason Crosby, Raji is the top priority resigning this offseason.
Sean Richardson – Do Not Attempt to Resign
The Packers should not attempt to resign safety Sean Richardson, but not due to a lack of talent. Richardson suffered his second serious neck-injury this season, and the reports around the time of the injury were that Richardson would likely be forced into retirement. It’s possible that Richardson will attempt to return to the field (little has been reported about his intentions or doctors’ recommendations for him), but as with Jermichael Finley and Nick Collins, the Packers should (and likely will) recognize that another neck injury could be absolutely devastating for Richardson. As much as you want to root for someone to come back for a second time from a serious neck-injury, the risks are just too high.
James Starks – High
With Eddie Lacy not his usual self this season, the Packers had to lean even more on James Starks who was named the starting running back for the offense at one point during the season before Lacy was re-promoted. The Packers paid Starks about 1.8 million against the cap in 2015, a fairly modest amount for a running back that finished the season with nearly 1,000 rushing/receiving yards and 5 TDs. His ability to run screen plays alone added an important wrinkle to the fledgling Packers’ offense this year. At 29, it’s unlikely that Starks will see major interest on the open market, but it’s probable that the Packers will have to dish out about the same or a little more money to keep him. He’s worth it. I’d rank Starks a close 2nd in terms of priority after Raji and Crosby.
Scott Tolzien – Low
I think that Brett Hundley outplayed Tolzien by the end of the 2015 preseason. I also think that it is obvious that Hundley has the much higher ceiling. For that reason, Hundley should be seen as the no. 2 QB coming into 2016. This does not mean that the Packers should not attempt to resign Tolzien. While he might see a little interest in free agency, it seems unlikely that the Packers will have to pay very much to keep him. He’ll be good competition for Hundley, and, if the Packers choose to once again keep 3 quarterbacks, he’s a great no. 3. But while I expect the Packers to keep him because the cost will be low, as a third string QB at best, he’s not a high priority free agent. There is a lot of need for QBs in this league, and it’s possible that some team like the Bills or the Browns could be interested in paying Tolzien above the veteran minimum. If that’s the case, the Packers should let him walk.
1a. BJ Raji
1b. Mason Crosby
2. James Starks
3. Letroy Guion
4. Mike Neal
5. Nick Perry
6. John Kuhn
7. Casey Hayward
8. Andrew Quarless
9. Brett Goode
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.