As this posts, we sit less than an hour away from the beginning of the NFL’s free agency signing period. Ah yes, free agency – a time in which a bunch of seemingly rational men turn into lunatics.
One man who stays fairly calm, though, is Packers General Manager Ted Thompson. As Gene pointed out in our last post, Thompson has never been big on going after other teams’ players, seemingly relying on the old theory that those players couldn’t be that great if their current teams were not willing to re-sign them.
The Packers’ spendthrift approach of recent years has put the team in excellent financial shape heading into free agency this year. Green Bay has an estimated $36 million of cap space. Granted, that number will dip a bit – first after the team tenders offers to its restricted free agents and (fingers, toes crossed) secondly when it hands out new contracts to wide receiver Greg Jennings and free safety Nick Collins.
Even after all that, the Packers should have enough money to target at least one fairly big-time free agent. Sure, they could spend the money re-signing some of their other upcoming free agents, such as offensive linemen Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz, defensive end Johnny Jolly, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, outside linebacker Aaron Kampman and cornerback/return specialist Will Blackmon. But that is a group littered with question marks. How will Jolly, Pickett and Kampman handle the switch to a 3-4 defense? Colledge and Spitz appear to be solid players on the rise, but if they were that good, how come the offensive line was so mediocre last season? Thompson would be wise to hold off on contract extensions for these players.
So, where should Thompson spend some of that cash? Here are a few possible areas:
1. Defensive end
The switch in defensive philosophies leaves Green Bay needing proven players at defensive end. Cullen Jenkins and Jolly, the players currently occupying the starting spots at this position, could be good. Emphasis on the word could. Jenkins is a bit small for the position and he’s coming off a major injury (torn pectoral). Jolly has never played the position, can be a tad inconsistent at times and could be facing some sort of suspension for his drug-related arrest last offseason.
Luckily for the Packers, there will be two players who have proven themselves as 3-4 ends available in a little while.
The clear headliner is Dallas’ Chris Canty. Canty, 26, has played in all 64 regular season games during his four-year career and has averaged roughly three sacks in each of the last two seasons. Not a huge amount, but remember, sacks aren’t important for 3-4 ends. It’s more important that they hold blocks and allow the linebackers to shine. Canty’s done this for DeMarcus Ware already and at 6-feet, 7-inches, 299 pounds, he would have no problem doing it for Green Bay.
Another great option is San Diego’s Igor Olshansky. Like Canty, Olshansky, has been durable (played in all 32 regular season games the last two years) and has posted decent numbers in that same time span (5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception). He’s also young, 26, and beast-like at 6-feet, 6-inches, 309 pounds. Guys like Shawne Merriman have Olshansky to thank in part for their past successes.
The best part about these two is that neither is likely to command an Albert Haynesworth-esque price. So Thompson could add a player who helps the team immediately and is cheap by signing one of them.
2. Right tackle
The Packers definitely struggled along the offensive line last season.
Left tackle Chad Clifton has been on the decline the last two seasons. He only has one year left on his contract and is still serviceable, so he’ll likely stay.
After a disastrous sophomore campaign, Colledge rebounded in 2008, turning himself into a solid left guard.
As for the center and right guard spots, the Packers will either go with Scott Wells and Spitz or (hopefully) Spitz and Josh Sitton, who was solid for the most part when he played as a rookie guard last season.
This group of four should make for an improved showing from 2008.
If Green Bay doesn’t find a solid right tackle, however, the line will be mediocre once again.
Mark Tauscher is coming off a major knee injury and it will be awhile before the team decides whether or not to bring him back. Given his age (31), it would be best to severe ties with him, as beloved as he is.
The team seems to think Breno Giacomini will become the right tackle eventually. But Giacomini, a fifth-round pick last year, is still very raw. When he was drafted, some said it would be two or even three years before he would be ready. A solid veteran who can stabilize the position for awhile is needed.
Again, help is available here for the Packers. New Orleans’ Jon Stinchcomb is still fairly young, 29, and has a great injury history as of late (has not missed a regular season game in three years). He’s younger and also almost identical, size-wise, to Tauscher (two inches taller and one pound lighter), so he could step in and improve the line right away.
If Green Bay is only looking for a one-year option, Philadelphia’s Tra Thomas would be an ideal fit. Thomas is 34 and not at the Pro Bowl-level he once was, but is still playing fairly well and could hold down the fort until Giacomini is fully ready. He’d also probably be quite a bit cheaper than Stinchcomb.
I’ll give you a minute to stop laughing before I go any further.
Okay, now that you’ve stopped, remember how many games Green Bay lost last year where field position (or lackthereof) was one of the main factors?
How much of that was due to atrocious punting from Derrick Frost (otherwise known as “the worst punter ever“) and average punting from Jeremy Kapinos? A lot.
I doubt Kapinos sticks as the Packers will try to upgrade the position in a major way.
Indianapolis’ Hunter Smith, Arizona’s Ben Graham and New England’s Chris Hanson would all provide big-time improvement.
Is that enough on punters? Yeah, I think so.