Raji It is less than a week away from the beginning of free agency and the clock is ticking for teams that are hoping to reach agreements with their players before they can hit the open market. 

The NFC North Champion Green Bay Packers are no exception, and with nearly $33 million available in cap space, Packers GM Ted Thompson has some decisions to make as to where the money should be spent. 

Defensive Free Agents

The No. 1 necessity of the Green Bay Packers this offseason has got to be re-vamping the defense be it through scheme or personnel changes. 

Midway through the season, the Packers had a top five run defense that utterly collapsed and finished the season ranked 25th in the league; the pass defense fared little better finishing 24th

The good news for Green Bay is that all three of their starting defensive linemen are free agents. The bad news for Green Bay is that all three of their starting defensive linemen are free agents.  

The Packers play a 3-4 scheme of defense under coordinator Dom Capers. The system calls for the D-line to play a lot of two gap alignments, which when run effectively occupies the offensive linemen and allows the linebacking corps to make the majority of plays on the ball as well as rush the passer. It is because of this system that it is difficult to rate the Packers D-line solely on statistical analysis.

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up the roster. CJ Wilson is 26 and played on a rotational basis in 2013. Wilson was a seventh round pick in 2010, and could be had for short money, giving the Packers a veteran who knows their system on the roster. This is important, as the four defensive linemen currently under contract all finished just their rookie or second seasons in the NFL.

Johnny Jolly, who returned to the team in 2013 following a three-year suspension for violating the league’s policies on personal conduct and substance abuse, was a productive player in the first half of 2013 before he went down for the season with a neck injury. Weighing Jolly’s past versus his production, could tip the scales either way on whether the team re-signs him.  Wherever he ends up, expect it to be a short term deal.

Ryan Pickett will be 35 next season and the veteran has seen his best days go by him. Pickett’s play and athleticism both noticeably declined in 2013, and he is unlikely to be brought back by the Packers who are looking for a spark on that side of the ball.

This brings us to B.J. Raji, who can be considered the most important free agent on the Packers’ roster. Raji was a Top-Ten pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, and while his career numbers might not blow anyone away (91 TKL, 10.5 Sacks, 8 Passes defended) they were compiled playing in a system that again does not highlight defensive linemen statistically. 

At 6’2”, 334 pounds, Raji offers a blend of size and athleticism that is difficult to equal in the NFL. If re-signed by Green Bay, Raji could benefit from a move to the interior of the line, which would be more suited to his body type, as opposed to playing at the end position where he has been. Raji’s contract would likely be in the neighborhood of $8.75-9.5 million per year, which may give the Packers pause.

 

Free Agents – Defense

Player

Pos

Status

S/B/IR

Age

13 Snaps

13 Cap Hit

Ryan Pickett

DT

UFA

S

34

499

6,700,000

B.J. Raji

DE

UFA

S

27

618

6,595,000

Johnny Jolly

DE

UFA

IR(S)

30

294

715,000

C.J. Wilson

DE

UFA

B

26

108

642,590

Rob Francois

ILB

UFA

IR(B)

28

13

725,000

Sam Shields

CB

UFA

S

26

900

2,023,000

 

There are two additional free agents on the defensive roster for Green Bay with Rob Francois, a career backup (14 tackles and 2 picks in 4 seasons) at linebacker who would likely re-sign for the minimum, and the much more interesting Sam Shields.

Shields is a 26-year-old cornerback, and would be one of the more sought after free sam shields agents in the open market. Shields is a solid player but the lack of defensive production as a team leads to the question is it the secondary, front seven, or scheme that is to blame? 

Cornerbacks are too valuable in today’s NFL and with the increased salary cap this year another team is likely to sign Shields on his terms before the negotiations with Green Bay can progress (at the time of this writing the sides reportedly more than $1 Million apart annually).

Offensive Free Agents

On the offensive side of the ball there are fewer, but still existing question marks. The Packers suffered two major season ending injuries, losing quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a knee and Jermichael Finley to a very scary looking neck injury. 

Both injuries exposed weaknesses in the Packers depth chart, most notably at quarterback. When Rodgers went down the Packers would start three different replacements under center, combining for a 2-4-1 record in relief. The four starting quarterbacks in 2013 equaled the franchise’s total for starters over the previous 21 seasons combined.

Now as we enter the offseason of 2014, two of those quarterbacks Seneca Wallace and Matt Flynn, are entering free agency. While there is no need to bring back both with Rodgers and Scott Tolzien under contract, bringing back one would be advisable. 

Having a veteran quarterback in the system would allow Rodgers to focus on playing while the back-up can focus on working with either Tolzien or a rookie on fundamentals and the basic understanding of the game at the NFL level. Plus, if Rodgers should go down again, the Pack would have a serviceable veteran. 

The case can be made for either Wallace or Flynn to be re-signed, but there is not room for both on the roster going forward. Wallace started one game for Green Bay in 2013, and finished the season by going 16 of 24 for 139 yards and one interception.   

Those numbers are not impressive, but when you look at the career line of Seneca Wallace, and consider the talent he has been surrounded with for the majority of his time in the NFL, one can see that he is a viable No. 2 option at quarterback. 

Matt Flynn, (a potential member of the Scott Mitchell Hall of Fame) has produced admirably for Green Bay, but fallen flat when he has gone elsewhere. Flynn re-joined the Packers during the 2013 season and started four games going 2-2 over that stretch.  Here’s a side by side of the two quarterbacks’ career stats:

 

PLAYER

COMP

ATT

PCT

YDS

TD

INT

W/L

Seneca Wallace

468

788

59.4

4,947

31

19

6-16

Matt Flynn

211

341

61.9

2,475

17

10

3-4

 

Bear in mind that 480 yards and 6 of Flynn’s TDs came in one game against the Detroit Lions at the end of the 2011 season. Take away that one game and the argument can be made that Wallace is the better quarterback and more viable option as Rodgers' backup. The Packers need to pick their poison, but either way one of these two quarterbacks should be returning for the 2014 campaign. 

 

Free Agents – Offense

Player

Pos

Status

S/B/IR

Age

13 Snaps

13 Cap Hit

Seneca Wallace

QB

UFA

B

33

58

457,412

Matt Flynn

QB

UFA

B

28

331

294,412

John Kuhn

FB

UFA

S

31

324

2,543,750

James Jones

WR

UFA

S

29

863

3,750,000

Jermichael Finley

TE

UFA

IR(S)

26

259

8,750,000

Andrew Quarless

TE

UFA

S

25

703

1,368,606

Marshall Newhouse

RT

UFA

B

25

234

1,360,462

Evan Dietrich-Smith

C

UFA

S

27

1073

1,323,000

 

The 2013 Draft saw Green Bay invest heavily in its running backs drafting both Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin. Lacy burst onto the scene in 2013 and looks to be one of, if not the best young back in the NFL today. No small part of his success can be attributed to the man that clears lanes for him, John Kuhn. 

Kuhn is one of the last true fullbacks remaining in the game, and has become a fan Kuhnfavorite at Lambeau (obviously by the chorus of “KUUUUUUUUUHHHNNNN!” that echoes through the stadium whenever he touches the ball). 

Aside from being a solid blocker, Kuhn has established himself as a nice safety valve option for Rodgers. 

This versatility has made Kuhn a vital cog in the Green Bay offensive attack and should absolutely be re-signed. Kuhn’s price tag shouldn’t be exorbitant, but he will certainly get suitors outside of Green Bay of the Packers do not move to re-sign him in a timely manner.   

 

Free Agents – Offense

Player

Pos

Status

S/B/IR

Age

13 Snaps

13 Cap Hit

Seneca Wallace

QB

UFA

B

33

58

457,412

Matt Flynn

QB

UFA

B

28

331

294,412

John Kuhn

FB

UFA

S

31

324

2,543,750

James Jones

WR

UFA

S

29

863

3,750,000

Jermichael Finley

TE

UFA

IR

26

259

8,750,000

Andrew Quarless

TE

UFA

S

25

703

1,368,606

Marshall Newhouse

RT

UFA

B

25

234

1,360,462

Evan Dietrich-Smith

C

UFA

S

27

1073

1,323,000

 

The Packers have made their intentions regarding wide receiver James Jones clear.  They are not likely to re-sign the 29-year-old WR who is looking at Indianapolis and San Diego as free agent destinations. Indy is best bet, as the emergence of Keenan Allen would relegate Jones to a 2nd or 3rd option behind Allen and veteran Eddie Royal, who recently re-structured his contract.

Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Packers entering free-agency is what to do with Jermichael Finley. The 26-year-old is coming off of spinal fusion surgery to repair a neck injury. Up to the point that Finley was injured last season he had been having his best season as a pro, as he had 25 receptions for 300 yards and three touchdowns in just five games.  

Many question marks remain regarding Finley’s recovery, and whether or not he will be able to return to form. The Packers are likely to offer an incentive laden contract, which could lead to Finley taking his services elsewhere. 

A team that is in dire need at tight end could overpay for someone with Finley’s potential. While Aaron Rodgers would most likely love to have his big tight end back, the Packers may be better served at the position by looking at outside options and the draft. 

Andrew Quarless is the 25-year-old tight end that stepped in when Finley was lost to injury. He was a serviceable replacement but is not a long term answer or likely a viable starting option for the future. The four-year veteran has 56 catches for 586 yards and 3 scores for his career.

In conclusion, the view shifts to the offensive line, where the Packers have a pair of free agents in Marshall Newhouse, a rotational tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith, their starting center. Newhouse would provide stability on the line and could be had relatively cheap. 

Dietrich-Smith is a must have for Green Bay going into 2014, if the Pack wish to continue their success in the rushing attack. It’s not that Dietrich is a top level talent at center, but the market, especially with Alex Mack receiving the transition tag from Cleveland, is thin at center. 

It is better that the Packers remain with a known commodity, than possibly downgrade by bringing in outside or undeveloped talent.