The Packers not only have a new GM with a seemingly more aggresive stance on free agency, but also pulled in new offensive and defensive coordinators that have acquired a few contacts over the years. As a result, I thought it might be fun to look at a few players who’s contracts are expiring after this year and see which might find a home in Green Bay.
It’s still very early in the year and most of these players will likely resign with their current teams but it’s a fun exercise nonetheless.
The Packers have relied entirely too long on Hundley and his ability to develop into a starting quarterback. The time has come for the Packers to do what nearly every team in the NFL does. Hire a career backup as a backup.
Yes, the guy is turning 39 but McCown is the epitome is a backup quarterback. He’s made a career of it. Beyond that, he’s playing some of his best football right now with the New York Jets. The fact that he played in the NFC North for some time gives McCarthy and Philbin some familiarity (He played for the Bears in 2011 when Philbin was the OC), but he also did a stint in Cleveland in 2015 when Mike Pettine was head coach.
The bigger issues would likely be the Jets unwillingness to let him go and, potentially, his unwillingness to continue his career on the bench (retirement).
I mean come on… it’s funny to think about.
Although Pettine was the DC for the Jets at the time and not directly working with Sanchez, both Sanchez and Pettine were with the Jets organization from 2009 to 2012. Presumably they have similar connections and if Pettine wanted to make a call on behalf of the Packers, I’m sure Rex Ryan would be willing to help facilitate the conversation between the two parties.
Sanchez never really had what it takes to start in the NFL and is mostly famous for running into the backside of his lineman and fumbling the ball in the process. Still, for the last 3 years Sanchez has become comfortable in his role as a backup and is up for bid in 2018.
If ever Matt Moore was a good quarterback, it was right around the time the Dolphins acquired a new head coach in Joe Philbin. The simple fact that Joe Philbin kept him on the roster as a backup tells me everything I need to know about how Joe feels about Moore, at least in his capacity to fill in as a number two.
If anyone has the chance to pull him away from his long time team, the Dolphins, it would be his longtime coach Joe Philbin.
If all else fails, Tolzein, a Packers backup QB in 2013 and 2015 is once again on the market. After his embarrassing showing as a starting quarterback for the Colts, backing up Aaron Rodgers might be his only real chance of staying in the NFL.
The Packers are fairly stacked at the position at the moment but new GM Brian Gutekunst made it a point to say that one of his goals is to ensure nobody felt complacent in their current position and could use free agency as a tool. Beyond that I just would like to go through every position so… here we are.
McKinnon, being an NFC North guy, has the familiarity thing going for him but beyond that has actually been a fairly reliable player for the Vikings for several years. This past year McKinnon had easily his best year as a Viking but his position behind guys like Adrian Peterson and now rookie Dalvin Cook and free agent Latavious Murray have once again buried his potential.
With Green Bay, McKinnon will have his work cut out rising to the top but the opportunity to be a starter is certainly there.
Williams is a lesser known commodity but has been a reliably average back for the Dolphins since 2014 (According to PFF). Obviously it’s his connection to Joe Philbin that put him on this list but at 5’11 224, Williams would fit into the Devante Mays mold. A guy the Packers like but who didn’t do himself any favors on the field in 2017.
West is a stretch for several reasons but with his impressive campaign in 2016, it’s worth mentioning him. Although that stint was short lived and with the Ravens, West got his start in 2014 with the Browns under then head coach Mike Pettine. If the Packers were at all interested, the connection couldn’t hurt. He too fits the Mays mold at 5’10 225.
Crowell also has the Mike Pettine connection as a Browns running back. The Packers and Browns aren’t exactly on good speaking terms at the moment but if new GM John Dorsey decides not to bring back Crowell, the old Browns coach could come calling. Although Crowell hasn’t been a very good back lately and has had some issues off the field and particularly on Twitter, the addition would help fuel the growing Packers Browns rivalry. And yes, he’s a Mays sort of guy.
Quite frankly I’m not sure where all the Eddie Lacy hate came from. The guy had weight issues, he struggled early in the season, and yes, he wasn’t great in Seattle, but the guy was a solid starter for the Packers and gave us a run game for the first time in pretty much ever. Perhaps his solid stint in Green Bay had to do with our stellar offensive line at the time but perhaps it didn’t. So there.
I had no intention of adding FB to this until I realized 2 things.
1: The Packers did not perform well at the position in 2017.
That’s right ladies and gentleman. John Kuhn is officially a free agent in 2018. I’m not sure why I would ever need to justify or explain this but let me give it a shot anyway.
Going after wide receiver may seem counter intuitive considering the Packers already pay too much at the position but that assumes Nelson and Cobb stay with the team. Obviously I would love for them to stay but the position has come under fire recently and it’s become hard to justify the massive paychecks they receive.
If the Packers are looking for a talented wide receiver that has youth on his side and would likely come at a discount (compared to the 3 $10M receivers we currently have), Moncrief is someone to consider. At 24 years old, the 6’2 220 pound receiver would have a chance to compete as a number 2 behind Adams if the Packers did ultimately look to move on from Jordy either this year or the next.
Moncrief, a Colts receiver, has ties to Philbin who was the Colts assistant head coach the past 2 years.
A similar option, Aiken also played for the Colts in 2017 and has a similar build. He comes with a little more tread on his tires but if 2015 is any indication, he also has a little more upside. That year, with the ravens no less, Aiken hauled in 75 balls for 944 yards and 5 touchdowns.
In his one year with the Colts he didn’t have the luxury of playing with Andrew Luck, meaning, depending on your opinion of Joe Flacco, he hasn’t had the opportunity to play with a high caliber quarterback. I don’t think we’ve ever seen the full potential of Kamar Aiken.
If the plan were to move on from Cobb, a potential replacement could be the talented speedster for the Falcons Taylor Gabriel. At 5’8 165, Gabriel has limitations but would instantly solve the Packers lack of speed at the position. Gabriel ran a blazing 4.27 40 at his pro day.
The lack of consistency could mean he comes at a discount.
Mike Wallace may seem like a lateral move in terms of age and even a slight step back from the current receivers but Wallace could help in several ways. First, although not cheap, Wallace currently commands about $5M/year. Not a small ask by any stretch but it pales in comparison to what the Packers receivers currently earn. Beyond that, Wallace has adequate size and incredible speed.
In terms of connections, not only did he spend a year with the Vikings (not a very successful one), but he was a receiver for the Dolphins for 2 yeras when Joe Philbin was the head coach.
One of the biggest names in free agency in 2018 is already 25 year old Jarvis Landry. Although doing nothing to solve the speed problems (4.77 40), and doing very little to help out the cap, Landry would be a slightly younger version of Randall Cobb.
Despite his lack of speed and complete lack of help from his quarterbacks (Tannehill and Cutler), Landry was able to string together an average of 105 receptions, 1,093 yards, and 5.7 touchdowns over his last 3 seasons. Contrast that with Cobb who has had the benefit of Aaron Rodgers but managed an average of 68 receptions, 697 yards, and 4.7 touchdowns over the same course of time and it’s easy to see why the conversation should at least be brought up.
Landry obviously has connections to Joe Philbin who was his head coach for his first 2 seasons in the NFL.
Although neither of the players below have any “ties” to current Packers staff (That I’m aware of), the Packers have tried incessantly to find a reliable tight end for Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy. They were on to something with Jared Cook but Ted Thompson let him walk and seemingly hit a home run by replacing him with Martellus Bennett but as we all witnessed, that was a disaster.
If the Packers are still intent on finding a quality veteran tight end, 2018 is a fantastic year to take a swing.
At only 27 years old, Eifert can be a reliable target for many years to come. Since 2013, when Eifert entered the NFL, he has been one of the more exciting and talented players at the position. At 6’6 251 pounds, Eifert is an athletic freak and was a “top performer” in literally every category at the combine.
The bigger issue for Tyler has been his injury history which is no small thing. In 5 years, Eifert has never played a full 16 games in a season and averages just under 8 games per season. For a team that has injury concerns year after year, the Packers would need to take a long hard look before they pulled the trigger with Eifert.
A much more likely and exciting pickup would be that of the living legend himself, Jimmy Graham. Although quite a bit older than Eifert (31), Graham is much more durable, playing all 16 games 5 out of 8 seasons and only missing more than 1 game once.
The issue with Graham would be his price tag. In order for the Seahawks to pull him away from his longtime home in New Orleans, Seattle offered him a contract worth $10M/year. his value likely dropped over the last few years with his production declining as well as his age going in the wrong direction but new GM Brian Gutekunst would likely have to push more money into the position than in previous years.
Cameron Brate (RFA)
Perhaps the best option is in 26 year old Cameron Brate. Ranked just outside the top 5 for TE’s by PFF, Brate is a talented receiver with plenty of football ahead of him. Although he is a restricted free agent, the Buccaneers just drafted O.J. Howard in the first round last year and with all the other issues on the team, paying top dollar for a #2 tight end likely isn’t a top priority. Brate has the youth of Eifert and the durability of Graham. Despite being a RFA he could actually be cheaper than both.
It wasn’t long ago the Packers offensive line was one of the strongest points on the team. After the loss of several players including Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, as well as a number of injuries in 2017, the Packers offensive line looks to be one of the weaker points on the team. If nothing else, the team will need to add quality depth at several positions.
The longtime Patriot left tackle has made a career protecting one of the biggest names in the game, Tom Brady. Although the Packers aren’t in need of a left tackle, he did start his career with the Patriots playing right tackle. With Bulaga’s injury history and all around inconsistent play over the years, the Packers could look for a more reliable option in Solder to hold down the right side of the line.
Another team the Packers have some familiarity with, not yet mentioned, is the New York Giants. Recently fired head coach, Ben McAdoo was at one time the Packers quarterback and tight end coach. More recently (and probably more relevant) is the hiring of McAdoo’s quarterback coach for the Giants, Frank Cignetti. Whatever connection you prefer, Richburg has been a consistent center for the New York Giants for the last 3 years (he was a guard in year 1 but that was a bit of a disaster). Despite the extension of center Corey Linsley, I tend to think that had more to do with the desire to stop the purging at offensive line than an endorsement of Linsley’s play, which in 2017 was pretty horrible.
Another Giant, Justin Pugh has spent time at both right tackle and left guard. Although put on IR this past year (which always helps the pocket book), Pugh has been a reliable asset to the Giants since his rookie season when he played right tackle. His play improved leaps and bounds, however, after his move to guard. At 27, Pugh would be a great asset to the Packers for several years and provides the flexibility the Packers need.
Lane Taylor deserves a lot of credit for what he did in 2017 filling in at nearly every position along the offensive line whenever called. That said, Taylor is a backup lineman and should be viewed as such. Andrew Norwell, on the other hand, was rated as a top 5 guard by PFF. As a pass blocker, Norwell was rated number 1. Rodgers is the key to this franchise and protecting him should be the top priority. I’m not sure how you get Norwell away from the Panthers but the Packers would be silly not to try.
A potentially more realistic endeavor is 26 year old Colts right guard, Jack Mewhort. Mewhort isn’t an elite prospect but at 26 years old, he would be a welcome replacement for the once great Jahri Evans who will be turning 35 this year. Considering his connection to Joe Philbin, youth, and discounted price (He was on IR last year), Mewhort would make the most sense in my mind.
How exactly the Packers defense will take shape under Mike Pettine isn’t fully known. What we do know is the Packers are deficient in the pass rushing category and Mike would likely appreciate an investment in that position.
I’ll go on record saying I would be against this but it’s worth mentioning due to his connection to the Packers and his refusal to age.
It seems as though Ansah has been terrorizing the Packers for over a decade but the 6’5 270 pound pass rusher is only 28. Ansah is a consistent starter that rarely misses games, rarely regresses, and has double digit sacks in 2 of his last 3 years.
There is almost no chance the Cowboys allow him out the door but Lawrence was a monster last year notching 14.5 sacks. If he was allowed to test the market, Lawrence would cost a ton of money but that is only problematic if we plan on keeping both Perry and Matthews. If Matthews were to be offloaded, that would free up $10M. Lawrence would likely command more than $10M but the increase in cost would come with an increasing in production and would recoup the Packers 6 years (He’s 25, Clay is 31).
Mingo isn’t at the top of anyone’s free agent list but he spent two years on Pettine’s defense with the Browns as well as 2017 with Philbin and the Colts. It’s entirely possible Mingo fits the Pettine scheme better than anyone currently on the roster. If he’s cheap enough, he could be brought in to compete.
A similar band-aid to Julius Peppers, the Packers, if those so chose, could find a talented veteran that could not only fill in at critical times, but could be used as a teacher to the younger players. Something Freeney has done for several years. Turning 38, Freeney would come at a discount but he isn’t a franchise saver. As solid as he is, he hasn’t been a double digit sack player in nearly 10 years.
If gutekunst harbors any animosity toward Packers fans for some reason, signing Walden would be a good way to get back at us. Walden is 32 and his flashes of talent are few and far between but he has spent time in Green Bay and it’s also worth noting in 2016 with the Colts, Walden had 11 sacks. Take it for what it’s worth.
The Packers have one of the best defensive line duos in the NFL in Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels but beyond that there isn’t much to be excited about. Depending on their assessment of guys like Dean Lowry and Montravious Adams, an investment in the line wouldn’t be wasted.
Sheldon Richardson is essentially a mercenary at this point in his career. He was an incredible starter for the Jets for 4 years and is not a defensive lineman for hire. The Seahawks were the first to pay out ($8M) and Richardson didn’t disappoint. Although Richardson’s first year with the Jets was after Pettine left for the Bills, don’t think for a second Pettine and the Packers aren’t fully aware of his capabilities.
Kenny Clark is listed as the Packers nose tackle but at 313 pounds, he doesn’t really fit the traditional dimensions. Whether it’s Sione Pouha (325) with the Jets, Marcell Dareus (331) with the Bills, or Ahtyba Rubin (330) with the Browns, Pettine has always has a traditional nose tackle to anchor his defenses. Although it brings my mind immediately to vita Vea in the 2018 draft, securing a veteran like Poe could be a good temporary insurance policy.
Nearly everything said about Poe is true here. The main difference would be the familiarity the Packers have with the Lions DT, and the discounted price tag compared to a guy like Poe that is commanding in the area of $8M/year.
Williams has been a great DT for the Buffalo Bills before, during, and after Mike Pettine. If the Packers did want to add a DT to the roster I don’t know how you could go wrong with Williams, who had his 2nd best year while under the tutelage of a Mike Pettine led defense. He comes a little pricey for a 34 year old but if the Packers want to become a top 10 head busting defense, Williams knows how to get it done.
Similar to Lacy, Peppers, and Hyde, Pennel is a guy that I really liked and wasn’t happy to see leave. He certainly wasn’t Kenny Clark but I felt, when given an opportunity, Pennel rose to the occasion and was a really good rotational player. If it’s depth on the cheap we’re after, I can’t really think of anyone I’d rather have than Pennel.
The combo of Jake and Blake has blossomed into something more impressive than I think even Ted imagined. Still, there is always room for improvement and behind this duo there is absolutely zero depth.
I suppose I’ll mix it up and lead off with a pretty solid candidate. Dansby is a veteran among veterans and has been playing ILB for the Cardinals since before Kurt Warner ever started for the team. Although his production is certainly starting to slip the last couple years, Dansby not only brings a veteran presence for close to no money, but has spent time with both Joe Philbin in Miami (2012) and Mike Pettine in Cleveland (2014-2015).
Hitchens is interesting. He’s been with the Cowboys for 4 years and for the better part of 3, he was pretty awful. In 2017, however, Hitchens had a really solid year. If the Packers like what they see, it might be worth seeing what his value is on the market. The other question is whether or not the Cowboys can keep him. Clearly they would like to but they already have $7M invested in Sean Lee and also have a promising young linebacker in Jaylon Smith.
Similar to Hitchens, Davis has several years of pretty abysmal film attached to his anem. In 2017, however, something clicked for Davis and he was ranked as a top 10 linebacker by PFF. It’s a high risk proposition but Pettine was the DC for the Jets in Davis’ rookie year. Davis also joined the Browns the year after Pettine left. He may not have coached him but if Pettine was so inclined he could certainly get the scoop.
Another very high risk player, Posluszny is either one of the best or one of the worst depending on the year your referencing. He also is pretty expensive right now at $4M which is a lot for a 33 year old inconsistent linebacker. Still, the guy has been lights out for the last 2 years and is currently on one of the scariest defenses in the NFL, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Corner is usually next on this list but I feel the need to save that for last. It’s hard to know what to make of the position. On one hand, the Packers have 2 great safeties in Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Others might point out that HHCD took a step back and Burnett is pushing 30 and has an injury history. Either way you want to look at it, there are depth issues at best and with a quality starter the Packers would have the flexibility to use Burnett in the slot and/or at linebacker (if Pettine is into that sort of thing).
Terrell got his start in Seattle during the “Legion of Boom” era. Although not a starter until 2016, the experience paid dividends as he went to another team known for good DB play, the KC Chiefs. If the Packers are looking for a good DB that knows how to get things done the right way, Terrell has grown up doing it with the best in the NFL.
Another guy that has spent time with quality players, Branch has spent his last two years in Arizona and before that the Chiefs. Although he’s 31 years old, Branch had the best year of his career in 2017 under DC James Bettcher, and clearly has plenty left in the tank.
If 31 year old safeties are your thing but you aren’t into Branch, you can’t go wrong with T.J. Ward. He spent this last year with Tampa Bay but prior to that the Broncos and Browns. His play has declined slightly over the years but the decline could be attributable to the change in team as much as his change in age. His decline from elite safety to pretty good safety came after he moved from the Browns to the Broncos. Although his time spent with the Browns wasn’t under Pettine, it’ll be interesting to see if Pettine thinks he can revive Ward to his former glory.
If the Packers were looking to make a big splash at the position, Joyner might be at the top of the list. The Rams safety has been improving every year since his rookie year in 2014 and ended his 2017 campaign as a top 5 safety in the NFL (PFF). There’s no connection here, just raw talent in a player with a bright future for years to come.
Jairus is intriguing to me. At first it made me chuckle because we’ve been here before. After the 2013 season, his 5th of 5 outstanding seasons with the Bills, Byrd was on the open market and was one of the biggest names in free agency. Packers fans howled for Thompson to grab Byrd. In typical Ted fashion, we let him go to another team, and in typical fan fashion, we were wrong. Over the last 4 years, Byrd has fluctuated between serviceable and awful.
Still, the last time Byrd was any good (And he was really, REALLY good) his defensive coordinator was a man by the name of Mike Pettine. At this point in his career having strung together 4 bad seasons and being on the wrong side of 30, Byrd is commanding nowhere near the amount of money he did in 2014. If Pettine thinks he’s still got it, there’s more than enough money in the bank to make it happen.
Although the Packers invested heavily in the position over the years through the draft and even a little in free agency, the position is still seemingly devoid of talent. It’s possible the Packers like the young talent on the roster but if there is any position that could use some competition it’s at corner.
I’m sure this will be a popular option but I’m not sure how I feel. Butler made a name for himself with the Patriots and will command a high price tag. Although talented, he is ranked 45th in the NFL by PFF. Although he’s a solid AFC East guy, I don’t think he’s going to be worth the price he will likely be asking. Still, if the goal is to upgrade the position with a guy that knows how to get it done in big games, Butler is an easy answer.
Gains is a Buffalo guy but he wasn’t playing when Pettine was around. He’s on the list because he’s a young guy that burst on the scene in 2017. Whether or not he’s a 1 year wonder is for the Packers to decide but if 2017 is an indication of how good he is, Gaines has the potential to be a top 10 talent in the NFL.
Incredibly talented corner in college at Virginia Tech drafted by the Bears #14 overall, he was a massive disappointment. His sophomore year was a slight improvement, however, and in his 3rd year, Fuller made another promising leap. Although unlikely the Bears let him go, he’s a promising player the Packers are all too familiar with.
Similar to Fuller, Amukamura plays for the Bears which has allowed the Packers the ability to get a firsthand look. Although he didn’t quite have as good a year a Fuller, Amukamura is a little older and would likely be a cheaper option, a veteran presence, and is a little more likely to be allowed to leave by the Bears.
Melvin is a player that perhaps flew under the Radar. Starting his career with the Ravens Melvin did little to impress. Following a year in free agency, he landed in Indianapolis and his career took off. After a decent year in 2016, Melvin finished inside the top 20 for corners in 2017 (PFF). Philbin, being the assistant head coach of the Colts at that time would know as well as anyone what Melvin could do for the Packers.
Maybe another name not talked about enough, Robinson is ranked as a top 5 corner in the NFL by PFF. Robinson is what I would consider an unlikely candidate however as his 7 years in the NFL prior to joining the Eagles left much to be desired. Assuming the Eagles let him walk (very unlikely) the next team would have to assume they would be getting the 2017 Robinson and not the 2010-2016 Robinson. More than likely, if he does leave the Eagles it will be because his value shot through the roof and he wants to go to the highest bidder. Let’s hope the Packers haven’t become the “highest bidder” type of team.
Grimes is a talented corner that spent 3 years in Miami under Philbin. His career has been very up and down but at worst he’s average and at best he’s one of the best. Although 34, Grimes has probably his best season in 2016 and has another good year in 2017. If the Buccs don’t lock him up, he’ll probably be a little expensive for his age but there’s little question he’ll be an instant upgrade.
NRC had a great rookie season and then fell off the map for several years. 2017 was a bounce back year for him but what’s more intriguing to me was the fact that his rookie year was his 1 year under Pettine in Buffalo. Although he’s worked his way back up the ladder in terms of production, the Coleman/Pettine duo just seemed to be a good fit.
Great corner for the Packers, had a rough patch in Cleveland (one of the years under Pettine), but had one of his best years of his career this past year in AZ. He’s still got it, the Packers like him, Pettine liked him. Seems to make sense.
The Vikings corner is pushing 40 but shows no sign of slowing down. I thought he would be a good pick up last year when he was a free agent. I’ll probably be talking about him being a potential free agent pickup for the Packers for the next 5 years.
Although not overly impressive, it’s worth pointing out that Desir started out with the Browns in 14-15 under Pettine and spent his last year under Philbin with the Colts. I wouldn’t be happy with the pickup but the familiarity he has with the Packers coaching staff makes him worth mentioning.
Delvin Breaux (RFA)