The NFL’s new league year is set to open at 4.pm on Wednesday afternoon, which means the start of free agency and the “legal tampering” period begins today. That usually means it’s time for Ted Thompson to go on a vacation, but there are rumblings from some places that the Packers might be more active than normal in free agency this time around. Mike McCarthy made a comment about how the Packers may “shock” you this year in free agency and the Green Bay Pres Gazette’s Pete Dougherty has referenced in a few pieces that the rumblings around the combine were that the Packers could sign some players this time around.
It’s hard to have anything other than a “believe when you see it” attitude when it comes to this based on Thompson’s history. However, when the head coach says it you have to take at least a little more notice. The Packers have likely done the majority of their work already before free agency starts, as they often do. After signing defensive end Mike Daniels, nose tackle Letroy Guion and kicker Mason Crosby. According to overthecap.com, the Packers have $20.13 million in salary cap space available, which is a lot less than you think. The Packers have to spend around $5 million on the draft class and usually like to roll over space into next year. That will be hugely important with David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, J.C. Tretter and Eddie Lacy all free agents next year.
To make it easy math. let’s say the use half of remaining cap space on draft picks and roll over, although the Packers have usually rolled over more than $5 million in the past. That leaves only about $10 million to spend elsewhere. That’s before Thompson potentially signs anymore of his own players. Even if he did not want to sign more of his own own players that really only leaves room for one mid-tier free agent and a lower one. So, really even if Thompson was the type to go out and spend money on outside free agents he does not have a ton of resources to do it right now. Other than cutting Julius Peppers — which isn’t happening — there are not many avenues for Thompson to create space unless he re-worked some contracts.
Before we get to what I would potentially like to see Thompson do coming up, I will review what he has already done.
Not much needs to be said here. It was obvious that signing Daniels was the top priority of the offseason, and Thompson did a great job to get it done before last season even ended. The Packers’ defense would be lost without Daniels and his constant inside pressure. The way he throws around guards on a weekly basis is amazing to watch and he also brings great leadership and toughness to the defense.
Guion’s signing was a bit more controversial and surprising, but I think the Packers did well here too. The surprising part to some was prioritizing him over B.J. Raji. However, I feel like he is the best nose tackle on the team and the Packers decided correctly. He’s more athletic than Raji and can shed centers to get in the backfield more effectively. We saw a lot of that towards the end of the year from Guion, when I thought he really came on strong. A three-year, $11,75 million deal is fine for a starting defensive lineman, and the Packers have appeared to protect themselves from anymore legal trouble. Signing Raji isn’t worth it now because if the Packers bring both back one would have to play defensive end, where they’re both much less effective. Thompson can use an extremely deep defensive line draft class to boost the rest of the defensive line.
Crosby is an interesting case. The Packers are paying him as one of the best kickers in the league, but he has not really ever performed as one of the three best kickers in the league, as his five-year, $16 million deal with $5 million guaranteed suggests. Crosby was certainly very solid last year hitting 85.7 percent of his kicks, but kickers are so good nowadays that he was not even in the top 10 in the league with that percentage. Crosby’s career year of 89.2 percent in 2013 would have only put him ninth in the league this year. The pluses with Crosby are that he was only one of five kickers not not miss an extra point last year, he is familiar with Lambeau Field’s tough conditions and his playoff history is outstanding. There is a decent chance the Packers could have gotten the same production from a kicker drafted or signed off the street and saved a lot of money, but that is a huge risk to take. Bad kickers can cost teams games and seasons, and Lambeau Field is one of the tougher venues to kick in. The bottom line is that the Packers overpaid Crosby, but that is probably the better alternative than taking the risk on the kicking position ruining a season. He seemed like he only wanted to stay in Green Bay, so the Packers probably had more leverage than the deal they ended up making.
Thompson is limited in what he could do next as previously stated. The only Green Bay free agent I would attempt to re-sign is Nick Perry. Perry is a good two-way player who can both hold the edge against the run and put pressure on the quarterback. He comes with injury concerns, despite playing in 14 and 15 games the past two seasons he played through a lot of pain in those seasons to reach that amount of games played. Perry starred in the postseason with eight tackles, 3½ sacks and a forced fumble. The Packers plan to start Clay Matthews back outside, even though he was perfectly suited for his role last season. Even with that being the case the Packers will need somebody to split time with Peppers on the other side. John Kuhn could also be brought back on a minimum salary, as he always seems to be worth it and performed well late last year as well.
As for free agents from other teams, Danny Trevathan would make perfect sense, but that seems like a pipe dream with the kind of attention he should receive. Expect Trevathan to sign on one of the very first days of free agency as a big player from the previous season’s Super Bowl champion. Trevathan had 109 tackles and two interceptions this season, recovered two fumbles in Super Bowl 50 and had 129 tackles and three interceptions in 2013. He is in his prime at 25 years old and can run sideline to sideline to make plays while being a physical hitter. With the talent the Packers have in the secondary if they added a linebacker like Trevathan finding open receivers would be a big challenge for opposing quarterbacks.
A more realistic option would be a tight end. There are several good choices out there like Cody Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Antonio Gates and Jared Cook, but my top option by far would be Ladarius Green. The 6-foot-6-inch Green is a monster athlete who ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and had a 34.5 inch vertical jump. Richard Rodgers ran a 4.87 40-yard dash and had a 31.5 inch vertical jump, so there is really no comparison. Green can line up anywhere in the offense and challenge the defense vertically the way Jermichael Finley used. He was stuck behind Antonio Gates in San Diego, so all he needs is a chance. He did get more snap last year, but only had 37 passes for 429 yards and four TDs, so that could keep his price down in a range that the Packers can afford. Green can turn out to be a huge bargain if he gets a shot with Aaron Rodgers.
All of that writing about outside free agents is probably a big waste of time, as it seems to be every year. However, Thompson has surprised us a few times before and maybe it happens again. We’re about to find out.