The Green Bay Packers have 11 players whose contracts will expire at the end of the 2012-13 league year. Using grades and snap counts from Pro Football Focus, we rated each looming free agent for Green Bay this offseason:
RB Cedric Benson (Unrestricted Free Agent)
2012 stats: 71 carries, 248 yards, TD; 14 catches, 97 yards
PFF Grade: +0.3, 200 snaps
Benson started the first five games before suffering the dreaded Lisfranc foot injury in Indianapolis. After being held to just 18 yards on nine attempts in the opener, Benson twice cracked 80 yards and appeared ready to give the Packers a consistent threat in the running game. A crafty, smart veteran, Benson knows how to set up blocks inside and push the edge on stretch runs. He was a surprise as both a pass blocker and receiver, too. Benson wants to return to Green Bay in 2013, but any discussions with the Packers will start and end with his foot. If it’s healthy, Benson has a chance to get a second shot.
TE Tom Crabtree (Restricted Free Agent)
2012 stats: 8 catches, 203 yards, 3 TDs
PFF Grade: -7.1, 389 snaps
Crabtree is far from the biggest, strongest or most athletic player on the NFL field. But what lacks in physical acumen is made up for by smarts and a will to win at the point of contact. Of Crabtree’s 389 snaps, 283 came in either a pass- or run-blocking role, and he’ll be tough to get off this roster because of his fighting mentality in the trenches. Given limited opportunities in the passing game, Crabtree did catch three scores over 20 yards. Each was a result of catching the defense asleep at the wheel, not Crabtree winning a matchup or creating separation.
OL Evan Dietrich-Smith (RFA)
2012 stats: 2 sacks allowed
PFF Grade: -0.5, 603 snaps
Forced into 4.5 games at left guard because of injuries and reshuffling, Dietrich-Smith established himself as a capable player in the run game. His deficiency inside—at least early on—was moving defensive tackles in pass protection. After taking over at center for the ineffective and injured Jeff Satuday, the opposite was true. Dietrich-Smith was less effective as a run blocker but better at anchoring the middle of a pass-protecting line. His low point of the season might have come in the second half of the Wild Card win over Minnesota, when Fred Evans and Kevin Williams tossed him around while the Packers were attempting to melt away clock. His versatility makes him a near lock to return, and the center job might already be his to lose.
WR Donald Driver (UFA)
2012 stats: 8 catches, 77 yards, 2 TDs
PFF Grade: -3.7, 154 snaps
Rarely does GM Ted Thompson make the mistake of holding onto an aging player one year too long, but that’s exactly what he did with Driver. A win on Dancing with the Stars, plus Driver’s long history of accomplishments on and off the field in Green Bay, allowed for a victory lap of sorts in 2012. But a painful lap it was, as Driver saw just 154 snaps and then wasn’t active in four of the final seven games. There’s not much left in the tank. He may want to play until he’s 40 years old, but Driver isn’t hitting that goal while wearing green and gold.
LB Robert Francois (RFA)
2012 stats: 9 special teams tackles
PFF Grade: +1.5, 0 snaps
Francois didn’t play a single snap on defense, but he didn’t need to. His impact came on special teams, where his nine tackles were second on the team behind Jarrett Bush. The Packers rarely let such important special teams players go.
RB Ryan Grant (UFA)
2012 stats: 31 carries, 127 yards, 2 TDs; 1 catch, 34 yards
PFF Grade: -1.7, 77 snaps
Brought back to Green Bay before Week 14 because of an injury emergence at running back, Grant played very few meaningful snaps. Forty-one of his eventual 78 came against the lowly Titans, who allowed the slow-footed Grant to rumble for 80 yards and two scores. The book should be finally closed on Grant’s time in Green Bay.
WR Greg Jennings (UFA)
2012 stats: 36 catches, 366 yards, 4 TDs
PFF Grade: +4.2, 531 snaps
Thanks to an abdomen injury that eventually required surgery, Jennings missed Week 2, most of Week 4 and then all of Weeks 5-12. The time off hurt his 2012 stat line, while likely costing Jennings some money in his wallet this spring. That said, Jennings still has No. 1 receiver talent and will be paid as such by some needy team in free agency. The Packers, unless Jennings suddenly wants to take a huge hometown discount, aren’t likely to figure in the bidding. Few receivers in Green Bay have mastered the art of route running quite like Jennings did for seven years.
LB Brad Jones (UFA)
2012 stats: 77 total tackles, 2.0 sacks, forced fumble
PFF Grade: +6.8, 828 snaps
After losing both Desmond Bishop (hamstring) and D.J. Smith (knee) to season-ending injuries, the Packers turned to Jones to flank A.J. Hawk inside. A former outside rusher, Jones transitioned nicely to inside linebacker. While lacking the thump of Bishop and instincts of Smith, Jones held his own over 828 snaps. His best football came during a two-week stretch against the Bears and Titans, when Jones tallied 10 total “stops” and made one of his two sacks. He faded late as the competition rose and the snaps wore him down. As a backup, Jones still has value.
CB Sam Shields (RFA)
2012 stats: 28 tackles, 3 INTs, 10 passes defensed, 1.0 sack
PFF Grade: +16.7, 742 snaps
A year after being berated for his lack of physicalness, Shields rededicated himself to tackling and playing bump-and-run coverage on the outside. The result was a play-making corner who deserved to be starting opposite Tramon Williams, regardless of the emergence of rookie Casey Hayward. After suffering an ankle injury that cost him six games, Shields came back with a different look to his game. He tackled, and quarterbacks completed just 11 passes against him from Week 14 on. Overall, Shields’ passer rating against in 2012 was a nifty 57.1. A restricted free agent this spring, Shields deserves a high tender from the Packers.
LB Erik Walden (UFA)
2012 stats: 46 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 2 INTs
PFF Grade: -30.5, 882 snaps
For the second season in a row, the Packers had to give a large number of snaps to a backup player. And for the second season in a row, Walden graded out as PFF’s worst 3-4 outside linebacker. Good NFL defenses simply don’t have liabilities like Walden playing over 800 snaps. He’s at his very best when the snaps are defined and, more importantly, limited. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has received his share of heat, but his job becomes hundreds of times harder when he has to attack quarterbacks with a guy like Walden at one of the defense’s most important positions. The Packers won’t get any better on defense until Walden is either a depth guy or playing elsewhere.
LB Frank Zombo (RFA)
2012 stats: 8 tackles
PFF Grade: -5.9, 115 snaps
Zombo has a chance of returning to camp next summer, but he’ll need to blow away coaches in August to overcome the ineffectiveness he put on tape in 2012. His 115 defensive snaps produced just five solo tackles and a single quarterback hurry. To be fair, injuries have mostly sapped Zombo of any untapped potential he may have had following the 2010 season. His time might be up in Green Bay.