Wednesday, July 27, 2011

2011 Free Agent Shopping Guide for Ted Thompson

Just as a quick refresher, I gave Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson advice on how to approach the off-season back in February. Following my review of the 2011 NFL Draft for the Green Bay Packers, I gave my first look at how the 2011 Green Bay Packers roster would look when the Packers host the New Orleans Saints to open the 2011 NFL season.

All of the aforementioned advice and predictions were made without knowing the details of the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between the NFL players and owners. I stand by all my advice and predictions but now that we have most of the specifics of the new CBA, its time to take another stab at how the Packers should proceed.

The Packers reportedly signed sixteen undrafted free agents* to add a ton of camp bodies for the strangest training camp in recent memory. The reason I mention the undrafted free agents is that two of the top three cornerbacks for the 2011 Green Bay Packers are former undrafted free agents (Tramon Williams and Sam Shields) so checkout the footnote because there is a chance that at least one of those guys makes a 53-man roster for the 2011 NFL season.

It is the strangest training camp in recent memory because instead of having a free agency period of a few months before the NFL Draft, free agency is going on simultaneously while training camps are opening. As of Tuesday, teams are free to consummate trades. Besides that, teams can cut players but those cuts do not become official until Thursday, July 28th at 3:01 pm CST. Furthermore, teams can negotiate with unrestricted free agents but those guys cannot sign deals till Friday, July 29th at 5:00 pm CST**. Finally, teams must be under the $120 million salary cap for the 2011 NFL season by Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 3:01 pm CST.

At the start of the week the Packers had 11 unrestricted free agents: Atari Bigby (S), Daryn Colledge (G), Mason Crosby (K), Korey Hall (FB), Brandon Jackson (RB), Cullen Jenkins (DE), James Jones (WR), John Kuhn (RB/FB), Anthony Smith (S), Jason Spitz (C/G), and Matt Wilhelm (LB). Before I could even reiterate my advice, Ted Thompson signed Crosby to a five year, $14.75 million deal and told Daryn Colledge they will not resign him. I agree with both moves, although it feels like Crosby is getting a little overpaid. Green Bay is one of the worst places to kick in the NFL once the weather gets cold despite the nice new DD GrassMaster playing field but Crosby's contract still feels a little rich based on past performance and projected future performance.

That means the Packers have to decide what to do with their nine remain unrestricted free agents. Let Bigby, Hall, Jackson, Smith, and Wilhelm leave. After that make competitive short-term offers to Jenkins, Jones, Kuhn, and Spitz. It is more likely that Kuhn and Spitz would sign cheap deals but Jenkins and Jones look poised to break the bank somewhere besides Green Bay. I would actually rather have Jenkins resigned for a few years than Jones signed long-term despite Rodgers' recent comments about wanting to keep Jones and Tauscher in 2011. Either way it looks like most if not all of the unrestricted free agents will leave via free agency.

Let's turn to guys actually under contract with the Green Bay Packers for 2011 for a minute. It looks like the first Packer to get cut is former starting middle linebacker Nick Barnett unless the Packers can trade him, which seems highly unlikely at this point. I am on record as saying despite the expensive deals given to younger middle linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk, the Packers should have kept all three guys despite Barnett's base salaries of roughly $6 million a year in 2011 and 2012. For the record I would have cut Chillar (clears $2.3 million in cap space) instead of Barnett to clear at least some salary cap space. I know only two middle linebackers play at a time in the base 3-4 defense but the Packers only played the base 3-4 defense 33% of the time in 2010. As a result, the Packers could utilize sub packages to get Barnett, Bishop, and Hawk on the field at the same time.

Either way being able to cut a guy like Barnett but still having three potential starting middle linebackers on the roster (Bishop, Chillar, and Hawk) just shows how much quality depth the Packers have at almost every position. Since Daryn Colledge looks to be playing somewhere else in 2011, left guard is the only starting spot that the Packers would need to fill. There are plenty of candidates already on the roster to start at left guard in 2011: Bryan Bulaga (if they put someone else at right tackle), Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, Nick McDonald, Marshall Newhouse, or Caleb Schlauderaff. Besides left guard, the Packers could use some depth at center, defensive end, and defensive tackle.

Look for other higher paid veterans to follow Barnett out the door in the next few weeks. Prime candidates to get cut unless they opt to renegotiate for much less money are: Brandon Chillar (MLB), Justin Harrell (DE/DT), Brady Poppinga (OLB), and Mark Tauscher (T). After that, the roster is filled with either young guys on cheap rookie contracts (i.e. Bryan Bulaga) or veterans that are worth keeping around even if they are getting paid very well by NFL standards (i.e. Charles Woodson).

Transitioning from inside the organization to outside the organization. I know there is a 1% chance that Ted Thompson will sign any free agents from other teams but here are three big name guys that I wish Thompson would at least attempt to sign:

My biggest off-season crush was Marshal Yanda (OG/OT, 6'3", 315 lbs, 26 years old) because he is the perfect guard/tackle combo that could start at left guard (with Daryn Colledge leaving via free agency), right tackle (if the Packers move Bryan Bulaga to left guard), or act as an expensive floating sixth offensive lineman in 2011 before joining the starting offensive line in 2012 when Chad Clifton either gets cut or retires. Unfortunately recent reports have Yanda re-signing with the Baltimore Ravens for five-years, $32 million. With a ton of young, raw talent along the offensive line already on the roster it would make no sense to commit that much money to Yanda. Sorry for that detour, onto my wish list.

#1) Carl Nicks (G, 6'5", 343 lbs, 26 years old): let me talk out of both sides of my mouth for a second. With how big, fast, and strong defensive tackles are becoming (think B.J. Raji), the value of big guards has dramatically increased in the last five years. Despite having the aforementioned young, raw talent on the offensive line when you have a chance to get a guy like Nicks you do it. Nicks is a restricted free agent so he is virtually unattainable. As a result the New Orleans Saints will do anything humanly possible within the confines of the salary cap to make sure this stud guard is playing for the Saints not the Packers when the 2011 NFL season opens in Titletown.

#2) Brandon Mebane (DT, 6'1", 311 lbs, 26 years old): much like Yanda, I originally wanted the Packers to target defensive tackle Barry Cofield but word on the street is that Cofield already agreed to terms with the Washington Redskins. Since the Redskins always seem to "win" the off-season but that usually never translates into wins on the field, may be I am wrong about Cofield. Either way with Cofield no longer available the Packers could use a guy like Mebane to be another space eater along the defensive line. Adding a starting caliber defensive tackle like Mebane would reduce the work load on current starting defensive tackle B.J. Raji. Furthermore Mebane could team with Raji on passing downs to reduce the workload on Ryan Pickett and Howard Green as well.

#3) Mathias Kiwanuka (DE/OLB, 6'5", 265 lbs, 28 years old): despite coming off a season ending injury, Kiwanuka could be the perfect compliment opposite current starting outside linebacker Clay Matthews.

I would put a .0001% chance that any of the agents of the aforementioned guys even gets a call from the Packers. As a result here are some more lower profile (aka cheaper) guys that Ted Thompson should consider signing:

Samson Satele (C, 6'3", 300 lbs, 26 years old): young, big centers are hard to find. Unfortunately the odds that Satele would sign with the Packers knowing that barring injury he is going to be a back-up are slim.

Kyle Cook (C, 6'3", 316 lbs, 28 years old): the undrafted free agent went from just another guy on the Minnesota Vikings practice squad to a starting NFL center for the Cincinnati Bengals...another great move by the Vikings. The real upside for Cook is that he is a few years younger than current starting center Scott Wells but probably comes with too big of a price tag to add as a back-up to Wells.

John Greco (G, 6'4", 329 lbs, 26 years old): has the frame to be the big, dominate combo guard/center of the future for the Packers. Think of Greco as a younger, healthier version of Jason Spitz.

Daniel Muir (DT, 6'2", 312 lbs, 27 years old): the former Packer could give the Packers some much needed quality depth at defensive tackle.

Alan Branch (DT, 6'6", 338 lbs, 26 years old): has been a disappoint so far in his NFL career but Branch looks like the perfect hybrid DE/DT for the Dom Capers' 3-4 defense.

Marcus Thomas (DT/DE, 6'3", 316 lbs, 25 years old): much like Branch, Thomas has been a bit of a disappointment so far. If the Packers could add a guy like Thomas on the cheap it would be worth bringing him into camp to create a little competition along the defensive line.

Stephen Bowen (DE, 6'5", 306 lbs, 27 years old): last year Bowen played in a 3-4 defense for the Dallas Cowboys so the transition would be smooth. Plus Bowen would be an upgrade over C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn in 2011 but would have a hard time beating out presumptive starter Michael Neal assuming Cullen Jenkins is not resigned.

Manny Lawson (OLB, 6'5", 240 lbs, 27 year old): has been underwhelming since being picked 22nd overall by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2006 NFL Draft. This is 50% based on playing video games (an absolute athletic freak in Madden) and 50% based on Kevin Greene being the outside linebackers coach for the Packers (if Greene can't get him to be a quality NFL outside linebacker then no one can).

All of the free agent talk is probably useless since Ted Thompson rarely signs free agents. Furthermore, without signing a single unrestricted free agent the Packers already have a ton of guys to choose from:
- 16 undrafted free agents*
- 16 guys coming off injured reserve
- 53 guys that won Super Bowl XLV
- 10 guys the Packers drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft

Truth be told it is actually a good thing that Ted Thompson does not spend a ton of money on free agents because it does not usually result in Super Bowl wins (think Washington Redskins since Daniel Snyder bought the team). Teams that draft well and make occasional free agent splashes are usually the teams that contend for Super Bowl wins (think Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, and Pittsburgh Steelers). Plus when Thompson does flash the cash to swoop up unrestricted free agents (think Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, and Brandon Chillar just to name a few), it is money well spent.

Thanks for bearing with me for what will ultimately prove to be a mostly academic post that we can look back at in five years to see whether any of the aforementioned players turned out to be studs on other NFL teams. Check back throughout the next few days for more updates on possibly the craziest week in NFL history.

* = Diondre Borel (QB/RBWR, Utah State, 6'0", 199 lbs), Anthony Bratton (S, Delaware, 6'0", 213 lbs), Ray Dominguez (G, Arkansas, 6'4", 337 lbs), Sampson Genus (C, South Florida, 6'0½", 315 lbs), Tori Gurley (WR, South Carolina, 6'4", 215 lbs), Jon Hoese (FB, Minnesota, 6'2", 238 lbs), M.D. Jennings (CB, Arkansas State, 5'11½", 187 lbs), Elijah “Peanut” Joseph (ILB, Temple, 6'1", 243 lbs), Elisah Joseph (DL, Temple, 6'2", 290 lbs), Jamari Lattimore (OLB, Middle Tennessee State, 6'2", 230 lbs), Brandian Ross (CB/S, Youngstown State, 5'11½", 196 lbs), Brandon Saine (RB, Ohio State, 5'11", 220 lbs), Theo Sherman (G'T, James Madison, 6'3", 302 lbs), Antoine “Shaky” Smithson (KR/WR, Utah, 5'11", 202 lbs), Vic So’oto (OLB, Brigham Young, 6'3½", 260 lbs), Kerry Taylor (WR, Arizona State, 6'0", 196 lbs) source.

** = Players who sign contracts must report to their new team but they can not participate in actual physical activities until start of league year on Thursday, August 4th (source).


  1. Use the word aforementioned less

  2. I know this is an old article by now, but I can’t get over this Cullen Jenkins signing. Since we now know how much Philly paid for him, and since we saw how much CJ's market value dropped, am I the only one who thinks we should have, or at least COULD have, gotten Jenkins back to Green Bay with a competitive but reasonable offer? It seems to me that keeping Jenkins makes much more sense than keeping James Jones, no?

    Though I could obviously never prove this and I admit that I am no expert and am probably wrong about it, my "just for fun" theory is this: TT originally expected (along with everyone else) that CJ's market value would be way too high and he therefore never made an effort to even approach a conversation with CJ's agent. TT ignored every attempt CJ made to start a discussion. As we read in various articles throughout last season, CJ found this hurtful and built up a certain amount of resentment for TT. Now fast forward to this past week. Once word began trickling down about CJ's drop in value, TT rushed to get in touch with CJ's agent (note: James Jones to the Packers was a non-existent story at this point) to swoop in for a one year deal. But…CJ was so hurt by TT’s disinterest that he was no longer willing to take calls from him no matter how good the offer. Too little too late. Jenkins signs with Eagles, and less than a day later Jones signs with Pack.

    Lesson: never burn bridges, TT. This goes for employees AND employers.

    -The UP