The hope among the Green Bay Packers’ fans is that new General Manager Brian Gutekunst will use free agency more liberally than his predecessor, Ted Thompson. Here’s a look at a few potential targets in free agency:
Sam Bradford – Bradford will want to sign somewhere he has a chance to start. My inclination is that there may be some options with a team who drafts a 1st round QB early in the draft, but Bradford has to know that would be a short-lived tenure at starter. With his injury history, no one is going to give him the reigns to their franchise, so he may end up settling on a backup role. He would be expensive for a backup, but as 2017 proved, having a good backup QB can be the difference between making the playoffs or not (or making the Super Bowl in the Eagles case).
Ryan Fitzpatrick – Fitzpatrick is a guy who has proven he can be a steady hand when needed. He would be a cheaper option than Bradford, but doesn’t have any of the upside. Fitzpatrick also might be tempted to return to Tampa, where frustration with Jameis Winston is at an all-time high.
Chase Daniel – Daniel has spent a long time as a backup in the NFL. He’s been Drew Brees understudy for most of it (he spent a little time in KC and Philly before returning). Sean Payton wouldn’t keep him around if he didn’t think he could step in for Brees if needed. He reminds me a little of a shorter Doug Pederson. With Payton’s love affair with Taysom Hill, they may allow Chase Daniel to leave this offseason.
Scott Tolzien – Maybe things weren’t so bad with Tolzien (they were). However, he’s started a few games in Indy and has more experience as a backup. He’d be cheap, and give Hundley some competition in camp.
Dion Lewis – The Patriots seemingly have a million RBs, and they don’t like to pay for any of them. Lewis is a fantastic pass blocker and receiver, and gives you some explosive plays. I really like Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, but would like to see a third dynamic back. Lewis could be that guy if the price is right.
Carlos Hyde – Hyde’s best days may be behind him, but as Frank Gore has proven, big physical backs are able to stick around the league a little longer than expected. Hyde would give the Packers a sledgehammer for short yardage situations, and a veteran leader for Williams/Jones. There’s probably some temptation to return to the 49ers after their late season success, so the Packers may have to make a decent offer.
Jerick McKinnon – I’d be willing to pay McKinnon just to get him off the Vikings. Minnesota is likely to let him walk with Dalvin Cook returning from injury, and having electric playmakers on offense is something Green Bay is sorely lacking.
Sammy Watkins – Watkins might seem like a bit of a pipedream at this point. He’s explosive, physical, and young. He was part of the Rams offensive explosion this year, and he’s going to cost some serious money in the open market. The Packers would likely have to part with either Cobb or Nelson to afford him, and Rodgers tends to prefer familiarity over new faces.
Kendall Wright – Wright had a solid season in Chicago, and comes back to a market where there is a lot of names that will eclipse him. If the Packers do make a move to cut Cobb and spend that money on the defense, Wright could be a solid, cheap replacement. He’s never played with a good QB, so you would think his production would see an uptick in Green Bay’s offense.
Marqise Lee – Lee can be very frustrating to watch. He has elite speed and playmaking ability, but seems to lose focus at times. He actually had a pretty good year. He’s still young (26) and it would make sense that he is starting to put it all together (he was drafted in the same class as Davante Adams). He would likely be cheaper than what Cobb or Nelson are making, and would give Aaron Rodgers a true deep threat.
Jarvis Landry – Landry will be on the higher end of the WR market (along with Watkins). He’s still young and has the body type for a run after the catch receiver the Packers covet. He looked ready to become a superstar two years ago, but terrible QB play has held him back. The Dolphins will make him their top priority before Free Agency starts, but he could be targeted by the Packers if they make a move with Cobb/Nelson.
Donte Moncrief – Moncrief is still very young (24) and has four years of NFL experience. He’s explosive, runs good routes, and would be a great fit in Green Bay. His numbers have dropped significantly without Andrew Luck, and I think he would jump at the opportunity to play with Aaron Rodgers.
Trey Burton – When Zach Ertz is playing, Burton looks like a good TE. When Ertz is out, Burton looks like a budding star. I would make him the top priority for an offensive player in free agency, because I think the Packers can get him at a discount, and he would be a weapon that could move the offense from good to great.
Tyler Eifert – Eifert is a top 5 TE in the NFL when he’s healthy. The problem is that he’s never healthy. If the Bengals decide to move on, and he was willing to take a one year “prove it” deal, I think he could be a biggest bargain in free agency. I’d just keep him in bubble wrap until the season starts.
Star Lotulelei – all the focus is on edge rushers to fix Green Bay’s pass rush problems, but I think they could also look for impact interior players. Lotulelei doesn’t put up numbers because his job is to take on blockers. He’s been good at doing that, and his addition would allow Kenny Clark more opportunities to pass rush with Mike Daniels.
Kony Ealy – The Patriots traded a 2nd rounder for Ealy less than a year ago. He ended up getting cut, and having a very down year for the NY Jets. However, Bill Belichick saw the talent last offseason, and it hasn’t disappeared. I think the Packers are going to need to make 2-3 of these types of signings: guys who were high picks or had good production and then struggled. Give Mike Pettine some raw talent and let him coach them up. Ealy was a major force as a pass rusher for the Panthers early in his career, and that could be rejuvenated in Green Bay (at a pretty low cost).
Aaron Lynch – Lynch showed plenty of potential as a pass rusher for the 49ers early in his career. The last few seasons have included nagging injuries and inconsistent play. He’s another guy who the Packers could give to Pettine as a veteran project.
OLB Trent Murphy – Some thought Murphy was about to turn the corner from a good player to a Pro Bowler, and then he tore his knee up. He could be a good gamble to add to the pass rushing rotation.
OLB Jelani Jenkins – Jenkins has had underwhelming stats in his NFL career. However, he’s only 25, and has largely been buried behind the Texans elite pass rushers. He’s extremely athletic, and would be an immediate special teams contributor, and could get in on the pass rush rotation.
ILB Sean Spence – Spence is a super fast linebacker who hasn’t been able to put it together on the field. At a minimum, he could replace Joe Thomas as a coverage linebacker, and he’ll become a core part of the special teams.
ILB Keenan Robinson – Robinson has been an OLB in a 4-3 scheme, but he has the athleticism to be scheme versatile. He was having his second straight good year, before an injury derailed his 2017 season. He could be the impact veteran to play alongside Blake Martinez, and he’d come at a discount coming off an injury.
Trumaine Johnson – This is going to be a really good class of free agent Cornerbacks. Johnson looked to be an ascending star, but had an up-and-down 2017 season. My guess is that if he’s willing to take a prove-it deal it would be back with the LA Rams. However, the Packers could offer him a big enough deal if they think he can return to his previous form.
Malcolm Butler – Butler went from Super Bowl hero to a really good CB, and has continued that development. The Patriots probably can’t afford to keep him and Stephon Gilmore, so Butler could hit the open market. He’s going to be expensive, but the Packers defense will suddenly look very different with an elite CB.
Kyle Fuller – Fuller provides Green Bay with a really good young CB (who could ascend to the Pro Bowl level), and it hurts your division rival. That’s a win-win. However, it’s unlikely the Bears allow Fuller to get to the open market.
Tramon Williams – Williams quietly had a really good 2017 season with the Cardinals. A return to Green Bay could give the young CBs another veteran leader, and allow them one more season to develop. Williams also played for Pettine in Cleveland.
Leon Hall – Hall is old but he has a really good year for the 49ers. I think he’s likely to return there, but if they push for a youth movement, Hall could be a great quick fix for a year or two.
Bashaud Breeland – Breeland was a solid starting CB for Washington. He’s the kind of veteran player who won’t cost as much, and can give you really solid play.
Aaron Colvin – Colvin was once an elite prospect before a massive pre-draft injury. He’s rehabilitated that and played very well in Jacksonville. However, he’s stuck behind two of the best CBs in the league. He could be a terrific gamble for a team looking for a young, physical corner.
Eric Reid – I think the Packers are likely to give HaHa Clinton-Dix another year to figure out his issues from last year. Josh Jones could be an ascending star. Kentrell Brice and Marwin Evans are both really solid backups. I don’t know if Green Bay will resign Morgan Burnett, but if they don’t, Eric Reid could be a really good replacement if they don’t feel like Jones is ready (or if they want to move him to Linebacker).Andrew Mertig is a a lifelong Packers fan and draft enthusiast. He has covered the NFL draft for radio and television stations in Green Bay. He is currently a host of the Pack-A-Day podcast and a writer for PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewmertig