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Breaking Down the Packers' 2013 Free Agents

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Breaking Down the Packers' 2013 Free Agents

First things first, a hat tip to CheeseheadTV's own Andrew Garda for bringing up the topic of the Packers' 2013 free agents over at Bleacher Report's NFC North blog. He predicted what would happen with six such players in a post Thursday. Go give it a read.

I respectfully disagreed with some of things he wrote there, which spawned this breakdown of every free agent facing the Packers' brass next offseason.

That said, GM Ted Thompson has some important decisions to make down the road. Things can change in a second when you're talking about the NFL, but here's a quick look at the Packers' free agents for 2013 and their overall prospects for staying with the team beyond 2012.

NOTE: List does not include practice squad players from 2011. 

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs)

WR Greg Jennings

The most important player on this list, bar none. The numbers (over 6,000 career receiving yards, 49 TDs in six NFL seasons) tell most of the story, but there's no downplaying the impact Jennings has on the entire offense. Look no further than the Packers' Week 15 defeat in Kansas City for proof of that fact, as Green Bay's offense sputtered without one of the NFL's best route runners on the field.

The Packers have ample depth at receiver, but it's hard to envision a scenario in which they let Jennings—at 28 years old and still in his prime—walk next spring.

How much will it cost to get a deal done?

Jennings doesn't possess the "diva" personality that accompanies many of his receiver peers, but contracts were signed this offseason that should set his market. While Jennings is not in the $100 million territory of Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson, the five-year deals in the range of $45-55 million might be starting points for a potential agreement. Vincent Jackson got five years and $55 million from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, while DeSean Jackson re-signed with the Philadelphia Eagles on a five-year, $47 million deal. Most would argue Jennings is better than both players.

The end of a comparable deal for Jennings would also put him in the 34-35 year range, an ideal time frame for the life of a big contract.

When push comes to shove, the Packers should get something done sooner rather than later. He could be a candidate to get done during the season.

Jennings will make just $3.885 million during the final year of the four-year, $26.885 million deal he signed in 2009.

G T.J. Lang

Garda suggests that the Packers could let Lang walk, but I'm not in agreement with that thinking. The Packers simply don't have an answer if Lang leaves, and this case isn't the same as the one that saw Daryn Colledge walk in free agency last summer.

Lang will turn just 25 years old during the 2012 season (Colledge was 29 when he left) and the Packers knew they had both Lang and 2011 first-rounder Derek Sherrod available to fill the void when Colledge bolted. That's not the case now. Considering the Sherrod-at-left-guard experiment ended before it ever really started in last year's training camp, there's no reason to think the Packers have any interest in playing him there long term. He should be considered nothing more than a tackle moving forward. There isn't much behind Lang—in terms of long-term starting potential—with Sherrod out of the picture.

And while Lang obviously wasn't the game's best left guard during 2011, I'd argue he was a clear upgrade over Colledge. Pro Football Focus ranked him in the top-10 of interior linemen as a pass protector, too. Expect the Packers to get Land extended, and at a price that doesn't even get scratch the ceiling of Colledge's deal (five years, $27.5 million).

WR Donald Driver

Barring some miraculous season, 2012 should be the last for the veteran receiver. Unless Driver is dead-set on playing until he's 40, retirement looks like a good bet after next season. There's too much depth at the position to think Driver could last more than one year in Green Bay, too.

S Charlie Peprah

A journeyman safety for most of his NFL career, Peprah has been thrown into the starting mix in each of the last two seasons because of injury. He was serviceable during the Packers' Super Bowl run in 2010, but offenses exposed Peprah as the liability he is last season. Not having Nick Collins alongside him and the Packers' lack of pass rush were certainly other contributing factors to Peprah's slide in 2011. At 29 years old, Peprah is likely to get swept aside next offseason as the younger safeties—M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Anthony Levine—eventually emerge as capable players.

LB Erik Walden

The Packers gave Walden every opportunity to hold down the outside linebacker position opposite Clay Matthews last season. But in 15 games, Walden was underwhelming. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the game's worst 3-4 linebacker and one of the worst run defenders. If he can recapture his role as a reserve rusher and special teams contributor, Walden could stick.

G/C Evan Dietrich-Smith

Dietrich-Smith probably isn't going to develop into an every-week, starting-caliber player, but his versatility inside gives him plenty of value beyond 2012. He can play either guard position and also center, where the Packers are short on players behind 37-year-old Jeff Saturday. EDS wasn't overwhelmed when pressed into duty at times in '11. He has a very good chance to be back on the cheap.

LB Brad Jones

Jones registered his first sack in two years when he brought down Matthew Stafford in Week 17 last season. His spot on the 2012 team is very much in the air, especially if one of the younger linebackers (Dezmon Moses?) emerges as a better player in training camp. Jones has versatility and experience in the 3-4, but there's not much upside in the 26-year-old.

LS Brett Goode

It is only a matter of time before Goode is re-signed. He's been nearly flawless as a long snapper in four years with the Packers.

DL Anthony Hargrove

Hargrove only got a year from the Packers this spring, and losing eight games (suspension) from that brief stint won't exactly help his chances of returning. But there's a reason why Thompson brought Hargrove in, and that's to be an interior defensive lineman that can get to the quarterback. If he's back to his early Saints' days over the last eight (or more) games, Hargrove could stick around for 2-3 years. Will need to make it through camp first.

DL Phillip Merling

The Packers are giving Merling a chance to revive a career that floundered late in Miami. There's some talent here—Merling was a top-32 pick back in '08—but he hasn't been the same player since hurting his Achilles in 2010. If he's closer to 100 percent, Merling could make the team and contribute on a rotational basis. Projecting any further down the line makes little sense.

DL Daniel Muir

Thompson and the Packers staff has some familiarity with Muir, but the former Colts defensive lineman is sitting in the same boat with Merling. Muir needs to show something in camp—where the defensive line battle will be competitive—to even make the team in 2012. He'll be fighting to stay on a roster for the rest of his career.

T Herb Taylor

Green Bay signed Taylor when Derek Sherrod landed on IR late last season. He has an uphill climb to make the team in 2012.

DL Jarius Wynn

It was discovered this week that Wynn has begun battling Bell's Palsy, a condition that causes paralysis and weakness on one side of the face. The long-term effects of the condition shouldn't hinder his shot at taking part in the competition to be a rotational player on the defensive line. He showed flashes in that role last season but was too often a ghost, especially when the Packers asked him to play a lot of snaps. Wynn is likely on the bubble.

Restricted Free Agents (RFAs)

CB Sam Shields

2012 will be the most important season of Shields' young NFL career. He has two young corners (Davon House, Casey Hayward) breathing down his neck, and 2011 did not represent the kind of progression some thought they'd see in the former University of Miami receiver. To be fair, no player on the Packers' roster was hurt more by the lockout last summer than Shields. He needed to have a full offseason to hone a craft he's only starting to master. However, that excuse is no longer valid for 2012. Shields needs to show improvement, but there's still a solid chance he's back—even with a poor '12.

P Tim Masthay

Given Masthay is a RFA, the Packers don't have to rush any decision. But why wait? Masthay has shored up a position that went through its share of transition following Jon Ryan. As long as there isn't any massive decline from Masthay in camp, Thompson should re-up his deal.

LB Frank Zombo

Might as well throw Zombo in with Brad Jones as players whose ship may have sailed. After an encouraging rookie campaign in 2010, Zombo fought through injuries for most of '11 and registered just one sack in five games. He needs to stay healthy in camp or the Packers won't have a spot on the 53 for him.

LB Rob Francois

You have to wonder where Francois fits in now that Terrell Manning was taken in the 2012 draft. A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith and Manning will make it difficult for Francois to crack the final roster.

TE Tom Crabtree

Now that Andrew Quarless is likely out to start the 2012 season, Crabtree's spot on the 53-man roster is probably secure. He is the team's go-to blocker at the tight end position and appeared to take a step forward as pass-catcher last season. How the younger tight ends (Ryan Taylor, D.J. Willams) progress may ultimately determine how long Crabtree is in Green Bay, however.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (23) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Andrew Garda's picture

Outstanding work man- we disagree on Lang but respectfully and I think he could stay with the team, I just disagree that he needs to.

I'm off his Christmas list, you're not so, tell him I said hi!

Great work though across the board - in depth and well done.

Zach Kruse's picture

Thanks man, and thanks for the idea. Was a fun process to sort through.

Sorry again if the T.J. Lang thing was my fault—I merely wanted conversation on the topic over Twitter because I thought it was a worthy debate. He took it the wrong way, obviously.

mark's picture

My question...how do you take it the "right way" when a guy suggests (as Garda did) that, A) "he's not good enough to pay a lot for" and B) he's a "veteran" able to be replaced.

Garda is obviously entitled to whatever opinion he wants. But I happen to disagree. Lang has been a mauler in the interior. Do you break the bank for him? Maybe not, but he should be (and I predict he will be) rewarded with a nice offer. Garda's second point about him being a veteran? I mean the kid is 24, coming off his rookie contract. I mean, really. Yeah, you can make a point about how the average career in 6 years, but that's likely because many guys don't last for skills reasons. Any suggestion that Lang is somehow too old is just silly. To his credit, Garda said it was an overstatement.

As Big Worm once said, "Playin with my money is like playin with my emotions!!"

Oppy's picture

Mark,

For the record, the average NFL career is just about HALF of the six years you mentioned.

About 3 years is average.

It's a brutal business for most young men. Best save every penny.

SpartaChris's picture

Yeah, except the average career of a NFL player being 3 years is a misleading stat when you consider the high turn over at the bottom end of the talent pool bringing the average down.

Oppy's picture

Not misleading at all, Chris. For every guy who plays 10 years, there are dozens who do not. The majority of men who are given the chance to play professional football do not play for a very long time.

There's 22 starters on a 53 man active roster.. That's 31 guys whose futures are decidedly not guaranteed. Add in practice squad...

Even in those 22 starting positions, there is a good bit of tumultuous turn over.

Tarynfor12's picture

From Andrew Garda
T.J. Lang is good enough to start, but barring a ridiculous season, he's not good enough to pay a lot for. If Marshall Newhouse doesn't implode, Derek Sherrod will be looking for a new home—why not left guard?

This isn't to say the Packers won't try to bring Lang back—just that they may not have to. The team excels at letting go of veterans who are about done—this could be another case of that.

A great season will help Lang, sure—maybe help him right out of Green Bay.

Totally disagree...Lang is a needed part of this OL and its next 5 years.

Evan's picture

What?!

He said "Veterans who are about done" in reference to 24-year-old TJ Lang? WTF??

TJ Lang is exactly the kind of player you keep - young and just coming into his own as a player. And as I said below, with only one year of starting under his belt, he's not going to command top dollar.

I'd sign him now to a fair 4-5 year deal and then he can break the bank when he's 29/30.

James C's picture

Great topic for this time of the year. I believe Lang should be resigned as well. He's young and played very well in his first year starting, and still has some upside. But the main reason I believe we should keep him is because of the uncertainty at the center position moving forward. You don't want to be put in the position that you have to replace your starting LG and C at the same time, especially in our division with our offense. That's way too risky IMO. Plus it's not like we're going to have to break the bank to get it done either, 3-4 mill a year should easily do it. Both Lang and Jennings are must bring back players, and both should get a new deal done this season if we have the cap room to do it. 

Evan's picture

Other than Jennings and Lang, there isn't anyone on that list I can't live without.

Lang, having only started for 1 season, shouldn't cost too much to bring back.

Mojo's picture

Unless things change in the next season, I agree with Evan's comment above. Try and keep Jennings and Lang and the rest is just chaff.

Nononsense's picture

I 100% agree that Jennings and Lang should be the Packers top priorities to extend this season and I know where to get the money to make it happen. Cut AJ Hawk and James Jones or trade them away and boom you have yourself another 7-8 million to use on extensions for next years FAs.

Look at the ILB and WR positions, both groups have some good young players to step in and fill the voids left by Hawk and Jones. Right now those two guys are not worth what they are getting paid for their production on the field.

With Rodgers, Matthews and Raji also in line for huge extensions, cutting Hawk and Jones is a very reasonable and prudent thing to do, even with the SB window wide open.

Fish/Crane's picture

If we lose Herb Taylor....

Oppy's picture

"Masthay has shored up a position that went through its share of transition following Jon Ryan."

Let's be honest, Jon Ryan was part of that transitioning.

Yes, he went on to be a good punter for Seattle. He was wildly inconsistent with the Packers.

Rocky70's picture

Drop/release/trade players for other players who are of lesser talent. ---- Ridiculous.

That's how teams suddenly finish 8-8 & GM's get excused along with entire coaching staffs.

If anything, fans should realize that TT/MM are in it 100% in 2012 because of the off-season FA signings & the draft. The focus is 2012, not 2014 & beyond. You can't constantly be making decisions based on 'down the road'.

Any year GB doesn't bring home the Lombardi Trophy with AR at the helm is a lost opportunity. Both TT & MM are well aware of this fact.

Bearmeat's picture

Wrong Rocky. Being "in it 100%" to win one year is the best way to get fired in three years.

Look at what happened to the Vikes in 09. Or the Iggles last year? Or the Cowgirls every year since Jimmie Johnson left.... I could go on, but you get the point.

GM's have to have a 3-4 year plan all the time. Contracts need to be arranged so you don't have to resign or get everyone in one offseason. That's the beauty of the salary cap.

TT is a master at this. Really, you could say his only big mistakes were Cullen last year and Harrel in 08...

Rocky70's picture

Please don't claim to know how TT or any GM does their job. ---- You don't.

Obviously, you don't really understand my post either. You're talking about contracts. I'm talking about the "53-man roster".

They are two different subjects going into every NEW season. ---- Related but still different.

Oppy's picture

Ron Wolf is the man credited with saying "Better to let a player go a year too early than a year too late."

That sort of suggests, in a very strong way, that Wolf thinks you look to the future to a certain degree, even when considering your 53 man roster.

Bearmeat's picture

Thank you Oppy. That's what I was saying.

Even the final 53 who make the team are to a certain extent a byproduct of the financial implications of the salary cap.

As TT has said numerous times: "If you pay one guy, that means you likely don't have the money to pay numerous others."

3-4 year 53 man roster is entirely in the bounds of TT's thought process.

Nononsense's picture

Teams always look for ways to trim fat off their roster and to make room for young acending players. Its not ridiculous, it happens all the time.

Why would you pay a guy 4.7 mil for the same production you can get out of a guy your paying maybe 500,000. Hell cut Hawk and we can keep DJ Smith, Terrel Manning, Robert Francois, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore and still have money left over.

James Jones is the 5th WR at this point, 4th at best, between Borel, Gurley and Dale Moss we can replace his production. They still have Finley and 3 other TEs to throw to.

They tried to let James Jones walk before and there have been rumors of him on the trading block.

Aj Hawk is nothing special despite his lofty draft status. DJ Smith a 6th round pick proved to be as good or better than Hawk in the 4 games he played in last season. Hell even Robert Francois made more impact plays in two games than Hawk did all year.

Facts.

Oppy's picture

That word... I do not think it means what you think it means.

Lars's picture

Excellent analysis, Zach, and a welcome relief from the daily Tony Hargrove whinefest.

I agree with all of your predictions, especially T.J. Lang. He will be resigned.

Crabtree will always be a bubble player, who may even get cut because of the glut of talent at WR. (I don't expect Quarless to make it back.)

marcopo's picture

Anyone who watched Colledge run block has to be ecstatic with Lang. Further he's on the up-slope. He'll improve.

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