Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Five Free Agents the Packers Should Sign

NFL Free Agency starts in three weeks, but this date has not really mattered to fans since Ted Thompson has become the General Manager.  The Green Bay Packers are a draft and develop team, plain and simple.  However, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network broke the story that the Packers were going to spend in free agency and spend big.  The latest news has the Packers signing up to five free agents to revamp their limp noodle defense.  The defensive line, linebacking core and secondary all need upgrades. 

Photo: Jersey Al's Packer Blog
Let me clear a few things up for Packers fans.  The Packers are not going to sign Jimmy Graham.  They will not be signing Jarius Byrd.  The franchise tag will be used on several of the top free agents available.  So, let’s take a look at five options the Packers can realistically add to their team through free agency.

Re-sign Sam Shields

Priority number one is resigning Sammy.  He has continued to grow each of the last four seasons and had his best season in 2013.  Tramon Williams had a bounce back second half of the season in 2013, so locking up Shields on the other side makes sense.  He will not come cheaply, especially since Drew Rosenhaus is his agent.  I do not expect the Packers to use the franchise tag on Shields, however I am expecting a deal to come before free agency begins.

Sign a safety: TJ Ward or Donte Whitner

TJ Ward may be franchised, so I will not spend a lot of time on him.  If he is not tagged, the Packers should take a look at pairing up the 27 year old to form a stronger back end of the secondary.  Whitner is a 28 year old safety that has played for the 49ers and has his best statistical year in 2013.  Whitner has always been known for his run stopping ability, but his coverage was always a liability.  Everything changed this year when he partnered with Eric Reid.  Whitner turned a corner with his coverage and would be a welcome addition to the Packers secondary. *Note- There has been internal Packers discussion about moving Micah Hyde to safety.

Sign OLB Jason Worilds

The Packers have been looking for a complimentary OLB to pair with Clay Matthews for a while.  Nick Perry has shown some flashes, however he has not been able to stay healthy.  Enter Jason Worilds.  The fifth year player out  of Pitt would fit perfectly across from Matthews.  Worilds broke out this year, with 8.0 sacks and ended up starting for Pittsburgh the second half of the season.  The Packers are not giving up on Perry, just being realistic by bringing in some talent far superior to anything previously on the roster.

Sign DT Jason Hatcher

You may have noticed B.J. Raji has not appeared on this list.  The Packers need someone who can make a difference in the middle.  Raji seems to have lost that and paying him eight million dollars a year is insane.  Here comes Hatcher from the Cowboys.  The Cowboys are in salary cap hell, so they are letting Hatcher go.  The 32 year old will be a great veteran addition to the young defensive line.  Hatcher had a career year with 11.0 sacks.  Do not expect 11 sacks next year, but maybe 6 or 7 from the DT. Anything  would be a huge improvement over Raji’s goose egg this year. The signing of Hatcher would be a good start, but the Packers should still draft a DT in the 1st or 2nd round of the upcoming draft.   Several mock drafts have the Packers linked to Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III and Minnesota’s Rashede Hageman as 1st round picks.

Sign a DE: Lamarr Houston/Corey Wooten/Julius Peppers

Things get a little murky here.  It is difficult to imagine the Packers signing a very high profile free agent like Houston.  If he is not franchised, the Raiders have over $60 million in cap space to resign the defensive end.  The 6’3”, 300 pound defensive end is exactly the player the Packers need to solidify the defensive line.  At 26 years old, he would be a great long tern fit if the Packers are willing to spend big.

It is much more likely the Packers will spend less and try to get some bang for their buck.  I give you Corey Wooten and Julius Peppers.  The Packers are raiding the Chicago Bears closet.  At 6’6’’, Wooten is the tall, athletic end Dom Capers is looking for.  2010 and 2011 were injury riddled seasons for Wooten, but he broke out with 7.0 sacks in 2012.  In 2013, the Bears were depleted at DT, so they moved him inside.  His sack total dipped to 3.5, but he was being a team player.  Wooten could be a bargain this year in free agency.

Peppers is most likely a cap casualty.  He has an $18.18 million cap hit this year.  He is 34 years old, but still has a little something left in the tank.  A 6’7’’ defensive end that only has to play on passing downs would be quite the fit.  There have a been a few rumors of Peppers heading back to Carolina on the cheap, but why not the Packers?

The Packers have plenty of holes and hopefully free agency will help fill a few and the draft will take care of the rest.  I still am a little skeptical of Thompson really hitting free agency hard, but the draft alone will not fix the Packers defense.  I did not address a few of the other free agents the Packers have, so let me hit those quickly.  I think Evan Dietrich-Smith is gone, with JC Tretter the most likely to fill in.  I am not sure anyone is going to pay James Jones the money he wants, but I do believe he will sign with the New York Giants to reunite with new offensive coordinator McAdoo.  I also believe Finley will be with another team next season and I fully expect the Packers to address the TE position in the draft.  I still have a gut feeling that Brandon Bostick will be a really good TE in a year or two.

Packers fans can finally look forward to free agency, but do not expect this trend to continue every year.  This has the feeling of a one night stand between Ted Thompson and the free agent market.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Steve Perhach

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