Due to the uncertain nature of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and labor negotiations, know one knows quite when free agency will occur. But when it does, the Green Bay Packers have some tough decisions to make regarding several of their own pending free agents.
The Packers have 15 pending free agents, and it's almost certain they won't be able to keep all of them. However, that isn't necessarily a bad thing for the defending Super Bowl champs. Thanks to compensatory draft choices, it's a good bet that the Packers will receive some compensation in the 2012 draft for more free agents lost than signed.
Also, I'm working under the assumption that unrestricted free agency will return to players under contract for four seasons, as opposed to the six it was during the so-called "Final League Year."
Here's a look at the Packers' free agents, and my best guess what will happen with them.
Jenkins is the one player who stands to make the most money and is perhaps the most likely to leave Green Bay as well. He got his Super Bowl ring, now it's time to receive his pay day. He's a very valuable commodity. As a player that can play both inside and outside in both a 3-4 and a 4-3, there should be plenty of teams knocking on his door. And it's a good bet that at least one team will offer to make him a very rich man. And that's all it takes, one team.
The Packers could take a pre-emptive measure and place either the franchise tag or the transition tag on him, but those are very expensive. The 2011 franchise tag is expected to be over $13 million, a price the Packers are probably unwilling to pay. They would also receive two first-round draft choices in return should he sign with another team, but that's another unlikely scenario.
Best guess: The Packers would gladly welcome him back at a team-friendly rate, but they're not going to. Jenkins signs a lucrative contract somewhere other than Green Bay.
After setting career highs in receptions (50), yards (679) and touchdowns (tied, 5) during the regular season, Jones figures to be another player that will receive attention on the open market. The Packers would probably love to have Jones back, but the question is, will they be able to meet the demands of the highest bidder. Once again, all it takes is one team to fall in love with Jones, offer him a large contract and the promise of being a no. 1 wide receiver. Jones knows he won't get that opportunity in Green Bay with Greg Jennings ahead of him.
Best guess: Jones will sign elsewhere.
Crosby is an average to below average kicker, but by losing him, the Packers are also taking the chance that they could be replacing him with something worse. At least the Packers know what they're going to get in Crosby. Don't forget that he has a lot of respect among his teammates as he was voted one of the Packers' postseason captains.
The fourth-year kicker is actually a decent candidate for either the franchise or a transition tag. Because there's not much of a difference between the franchise and transition tag numbers, they could just decide to opt for the higher of the two. But because Crosby probably won't receive a large amount of attention on the open market, they could just decide to place the transition tag on him as well.
Best guess: The Packers place the franchise tag on Crosby and he plays for a one-year contract.
Colledge is an interesting case. A lot like Crosby, on one hand, they know what they've got in Colledge. If he walks away, they risk something worse. They were able to win a Super Bowl with him, so there's no reason to think they couldn't do it again. And if a player like T.J. Lang wasn't able to unseat Colledge in 201o, who's to say he could next season?
It's hard to say how much attention the fourth-year offensive lineman will get in free agency. He was starter on a Super Bowl winning team, and there's bound to be a team or two out there that will value that. How much money that will command is another matter. He's an average player, and most teams know that.
Best guess: He returns for a modest raise and highly-incentivized contract.
Jackson has incentive to leave. He was given a chance to earn the primary ball carrier job in Green Bay in 2010 but was unable to do much with that opportunity. He may look for a team that will give him a chance, but he's just not featured ball carrier material.
On the flip side, he's a very good third down back for the Packers. There are few backs better in the NFL in pass protection, and he's a pretty reliable pass catcher out of the backfield. There's value to that in an offense like the Packers.
Best guess: The Packers are willing to meet or exceed the offer of any other team, and Jackson will return.
Coming off his best season as a pro, Kuhn's stock will never be higher. But he's more valuable to the Packers than probably any other team in the NFL. And Green Bay probably has some negotiating leverage. If Kuhn actually wants to touch the ball, the Packers might be the only place willing to do that.
Best guess: Kuhn receives a nice raise from the Packers that won't break the bank.
After a solid season with the Packers, Peprah will probably get some attention in free agency. But because he's not the type of player that doesn't get a lot of interceptions and makes impact plays, his value will likely be limited.
The Packers have Morgan Burnett waiting in the wings, but they'd be foolish not to at least let Peprah compete for a starting job next season. And Peprah will probably view Green Bay as one of the few places that will give him a legitimate shot to win a starting job.
Best guess: Peprah comes back for another season to compete with Burnett.
With Peprah, Burnett, Nick Collins and Derrick Martin all under contract for 2011, the Packers would be probably be happy to see Bigby test the waters of free agency. He can be one of those players that brings in a compensatory draft choice in free agency if he signs somewhere else. A change of scenery might be what's in Bigby's best interest too.
Best guess: Bigby signs elsewhere.
I see the Packers dealing with Spitz in the same way they do with Bigby. A guy with an injury history that they probably wouldn't mind see signing elsewhere if only for the fact that they could get compensation in return. Prior to this most recent season, Spitz has basically been a starter his entire career including his rookie year. Some team may be willing to hope he returns to form under a modest contract. And he does have the versatility to play both center and guard. The Packers have pretty good depth along the offensive line if Spitz doesn't return, and that's before any depth they may add through the draft.
Best guess: Spitz signs elsewhere.
If Hall can find a team willing to sign a fullback in free agency and let him compete for a job, more power to him. At least he knows his services are wanted in Green Bay, but the Packers hold most of the bargaining chips. They appear to like him for his contributions to both offense and special teams, but it's not as if he's irreplaceable.
Best guess: Hall re-signs with the Packers for little more than the league minimum.
As an exclusive rights free agent, Swain will most likely be back. He'll cost very little, and there no reason not to allow him to compete for a job once again. He's improved every year in the league, although his ceiling appears to only go so high.
Best guess: Swain signs an exclusive-rights contract.
The Packers seem to value what Smith offers, but because they have sufficient depth at safety, they're probably not willing to pay very much for him. They might be happy to pay a league minimum to allow Smith to compete for a job, but Smith might look for a better opportunity.
Best guess: Smith seeks greener pastures.
Like Swain, Havner is also an exclusive-rights free agent. But do the Packers want him back? There's a chance Donald Lee won't be back next year, which would leave some space open to Havner. But remember the Packers gave up on him on the final roster cutdowns coming out of training camp this season.
Best guess: Havner is not re-signed.
The Packers were the only team in the NFL to show any interest in signing Wilhelm in 2010, and that didn't happen until midseas0n. I can't imagine much changes this season. Wilhelm got his ring, and the Packers wish him luck. If they happen to be stuck in the same predicament next season with an injury bug at the inside linebacker position, they'd probably welcome him back. But that might be the only circumstance.
Best guess: Wilhelm searches for another job if he can find one.
It's hard to believe the Packers kept Bell on injured reserve all season long without coming to some sort of injury settlement. I have a hard time seeing them signing him again as an exclusive-rights free agent.
Best guess: He's allowed to shop himself elsewhere.
The unknown Johnny Jolly
Jolly's representatives say he's a free agent, although most other observers say his contract, in effect, has been frozen this year under suspension. Until this issue is cleared up and Jolly is officially re-instated by the NFL, it's impossible to make any guesses what will happen.
The A.J. Hawk situation is not lost on me. Something looks to happen with him soon, but seeing as he's not technically scheduled to become a free agent, that's another post for another time.