Packers Nation is abuzz after a report on Wednesday evening from Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network that the Packers could become heavily involved in free agency, signing up to five players from outside the organization as well as parting ways with defensive lineman B.J. Raji.
First of all, the only way the Packers will be able to become heavily involved in free agency is if they don’t sign several of their own high-profile free agents.
Sure, the Packers might currently have some of the most salary-cap space in the entire NFL, reported to be nearly $28 million of room, but that chunk of money will be swallowed up quickly once they tender their exclusive and restricted free agents, sign their 2014 draft class, sign several of their own unrestricted free agents that number 17 players and perhaps extend wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
If the Packers re-sign players like Raji, cornerback Sam Shields, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, wide receiver James Jones, linebacker Mike Neal and fullback John Kuhn, there’s not going to be much money left over to spend on players from other teams.
Now, if the Packers watch Raji, Shields, Jones and Neal walk away, then yes, they will have some flexibility to go out and sign a player or a couple from teams other than Green Bay.
As far as ”getting more athletic and versatile along the defensive line” as suggested by Rapoport, the Packers could very well see Raji go elsewhere once he hits the open market.
Returning players like Mike Daniels and last year’s first-round draft choice Datone Jones figure to play much bigger roles in 2014, but the Packers still need at least one big body and probably two to play nose tackle and in their short-yardage and goal-line packages.
Josh Boyd may also be in line for more playing time in 2014, but depending on him to play 60 percent of all snaps would be a major risk. It’s highly unlikely that the Packers allow both Raji and Ryan Pickett to leave, although it’s not going to take nearly as much money to re-sign.
Pickett may very well come back to Green Bay on a one- or two-year contract to help the team bridge the gap until they find the long-term successor in Green Bay.
It’s simply necessary for almost every team in the NFL, and especially those that run a base 3-4 defense to have at least two big nose tackle types that weigh 325 lbs. or more on their roster, in case of injury if nothing else.
If, by chance, both Raji and Pickett were to leave in free agency, the Packers would necessarily have to go out and acquire another nose tackle type of player, whether it’s through the draft or a player looking for a new team.
A popular refrain on social media is that the Packers must re-sign Shields or, at least, be the team’s priority in free agency. And that may very well be the case, but people have to remember that it’s not simply the Packers’ choice and their choice alone whether or not to re-sign the free agent defensive back.
Shields and agent Drew Rosenhaus seem dead set to test the open waters. The Florida native is going to be very tempted to return a warm-weather climate, but more than that, he’s going influenced even more by the highest bidder for his services.
All these things will play into how much the Packers become players in free agency among players from outside the organization.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you or I or anyone thinks should happen. It only matters what general manager Ted Thompson and the rest of the Packers front office thinks and eventually does.
Should the Packers re-sign Shields and Raji and extend Nelson, then don’t expect there to be much cap space left over than the Packers to sign anything more than some mid- to low-tier free agents. If not, then bring on Jairus Byrd.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.