Completing the Defensive Free Agent Picture for the 2018 Green Bay Packers

2018 Free Agent Targets

My last two articles discussed some potential scenarios in which the Green Bay Packers could build depth on defense through the signing of high risk, high reward free agents, that had productive years but were under valued. I showed that these players (Tramon Williams, Sheldon Richardson, and Alex Okafor) could fit the Packers defensive scheme and were graded as high-quality pieces that would surely upgrade a defense that struggled mightily during the 2017-2018 season.

Now, I would like to create a scenario in which the Packers could sign headline-making free agents, that will instantly bring credibility to the their defense and put the Packers back in the conversation as a Super Bowl contenders.

Potential Salary Cap Casualties

To complete my scenario of potential free agent signings for the 2018 Green Bay Packers we must first address the most current up to date salary cap picture for the Green Bay Packers.

According to Spotrac.com, the adjusted NFL salary cap is for the 2018 season is $183.89 million, the Green Bay Packers have $165.11 million in total committed cap allocations to this point which means that they currently have $18.77 million in total cap space (this figure includes projected salaries of 2018 Green Bay Packer Draftees).

In order to address all of their needs on both the defensive and offensive sides of the ball, the Packers will have to cut and restructure certain members of the roster for the greater good of the team. With that in mind, this is the potential scenario that I believe can fix both the defense and leave an additional $3-5 million dollars to spend on the offensive side of the ball.

1. Cut Randall Cobb:
This is a simple numbers game, the number of holes in the Green Bay Packers roster cannot be addressed through the draft. The Packers have enough inexperienced members in their defensive backfield as well as members of the unit that simply could not get the job done. With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback for the next two seasons and Ty Montgomery, Geronimo Allison, Michael Clark, and potential draftees waiting in the wings, Randall Cobb’s $12.7 million dollar cap hit and declining production make him expendable.

2. Restructure Jordy Nelson:
This is the next logical move in the progression of salary related decisions. Jordy must accept playing the final season of his contract for between $6-7 million dollars or be cut; simple as that. Restructuring Jordy’s contract under my proposed parameters would save the Packers an additional $5.5-6.5 million dollars in cap space.

With these two logical roster moves, the Packers could go from having $18.77 million in cap space to having $37-38 million in cap space. With this increase in cap space, here is my complete 2018 Green Bay Packers defensive free agent signings.

A Free Agent Six-Pack 

2018 Defensive free agent allocation $32-33 million in average annual salaries:

1. CB Tramon Williams 1 year $3million-completely guaranteed.

Tramon Williams was ranked by pro football focus as the 9th ranked cornerback in the league and was given an 88.8% (high-quality grade). Williams has proven that there is still plenty of fuel left in the tank, he started 9 of his 13 games with the Cardinals and had 2 interceptions, 12 passes defensed, and 1 fumble recovery.

2. DT Sheldon Richardson 2 years $10 million ($4.5 million guaranteed)

Richardson had just 1 sack and 27 solo tackles but forced a fumble, recovered two, and intercepted a pass. Pro football focus agrees with the notion that Sheldon Richardson still possesses value, as they ranked him as the 27th defensive lineman in the NFL and gave him a grade of 83.8 (above average).

3. DE Alex Okafor 1 year $2.5 million ($1.5 million guaranteed, $1.0 million in incentives)

Okafor played in a four-man front and had 3 pass defenses, 2 forced fumbles, 4.5 sacks, and 27 solo tackles, earning him a pff grade of 84.7 (above average) and ranking him as the 22nd best edge defender in the NFL.

4. Resign CB/S Morgan Burnett 5 years $35 million ($15 million guaranteed, $17 million over the first 3 years of the deal, $5 million cap hit in year 1)

Morgan Burnett is a stable locker room presence who provides a positive impact on younger players. His value on the field is measured by his versatility to play multiple positions. His value to the Packers is greater than his 77.3% grade on Pro Football Focus.

5. CB EJ Gaines 6 years $63 million ($33 million guaranteed)

EJ Gaines is an undervalued asset that the Packers can make a sizable investment in and watch him become a staple of their secondary for years to come. He is considered to be the third-ranked free agent cornerback available behind Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler but is actually ranked more favorably by pro football focus’s defensive metric system. His 86.6% high-level grade puts him ahead of Butler (79.2) and Johnson’s (74.2) average level grades who are both 2 years older than him.

6. DE Adrian Clayborn 4 years $30 million ($18.5 million guaranteed)

Clayborn is an interesting case because he accumulated 6 of his 9.5 sacks against the Cowboys back up left tackle, but Clayborn presents another opportunity of signing a high-risk, high reward piece to the Packers defense. According to spotrac.com Clayborn’s market value is $9.3 million dollars but having 6 of your 9.5 sacks in a game against a backup left tackle is certainly worrisome when signing a high priced free agent.

However, for Clayborn, we must break down the numbers further. We must keep in mind that Clayborn would be playing with the Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark tandem up front and alongside Clay Matthews, so he could be the missing piece that finally completes the sack of the quarterback. Secondly, despite accumulating most of his sack numbers in one game, Clayborn still received a high-quality grade of 85.5 and was ranked as the 19th best edge rusher in the sport.

The reservations on Clayborn’s production could play into the Packers hands and they could conceivably acquire him at the discounted annual rate of $7.5 million that I am suggesting.

Final Thought 💭 

Investing in these six players would accumulate an average annual salary of $33.75 million on the defensive front for the 2018 season and would still leave the Packers with an additional $3.25-4.25 million to address the depth on offense; assuming that they did not cut any players or restructure any other contracts. The impact of these six free agents would instantly put the Green Bay Packers back as the favorites in the NFC North and make them a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Stay tuned for next Monday’s article when I reveal my first complete list of free agent signings and address what I think the Packers should do with their first few draft picks.

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David Michalski is a recent college graduate from Princeton New Jersey who has been a life long Green Bay Packers fan. Like the great Vince Lombardi, he values God, family, and the Green Bay Packers in that order. You can follow him on twitter at @kilbas27dave

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