The list reads like a who’s who among NFL free agents. Steven Jackson was ON THE VERGE of being a Packer. Ahmad Bradshaw would be a GREAT FIT for the Packers. Michael Huff would solidify the secondary, right??
And yet, every potential free agent that filled our Twitter timelines with high hopes turned into yet another offseason of dashed dreams for those Packers fans who have not yet been convinced that modern FA market is about as likely to turn your franchise around as bringing in Ari Fleischer for a pep talk.
But, perhaps more than other nondescript Packer offseasons, the concern over the 2013 dearth of big signings has some merit. The Super Bowl Trophy is getting smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror, and many of the beloved veterans of that team have retired or departed for greener pastures. But most of all, the Packers have been clearly outmatched in the last two post-seasons, and as the saying goes, if you ain’t getting better, you’re getting worse.
With a growing number of positions on both sides of the ball that we, the casual fan, believe have been unaddressed or underserved the past few seasons, these free agents look like panaceas, cures to our ills. Hey, while I was never big on Jackson, I would love to see Bradshaw as a Packer. And, believe it or not, I always thought Michael Huff was completely misused in Oakland and might have actually been a better player than his draft-bust status would indicate.
But, we all know why the Packers aren’t about to go all Charles Woodson/Ryan Pickett this offseason, not that they would anyway. The last time Ted Thompson dipped into the free agent pool for players like that, Twitter wasn’t even live yet and Randall Cobb was a sophomore in high school.
The Packers have been clearing cap room to sign the guy who is about to become the NFL’s highest-paid player, and that could happen tomorrow or it could happen months from now–whenever Russ Ball and David Dunn decide to get together and hammer out the complex details of a deal that is pretty much done in everyone’s minds already. We still debate the amount: how much will Rodgers need to establish he’s worth more than Joe Flacco’s $20M/year deal? Most conservative Packers fans and pundits seem to hover around $22M/year, but I would be willing to guess it will easily be at least $24M/year, and that’s a big deal when you are talking about a guy who is going to be allocated about a fifth of the team’s $123M salary cap.
Which means, until that time, we get to watching the annual ritual of winning Super Bowls on paper, watching other teams celebrate the sacrifice of their precious salary cap space by overpaying semi-valuable players to fill the holes on their roster.
There’s reason to be concerned, to be sure. I wrote about the conundrum that the Packers are faced with, a similar pickle that every successful team eventually faces: paying their stars so much that there’s less and less money for the rest of the team. Every player the Packers have parted ways with since the Super Bowl have been just a little bit closer to the bone each time.
But as Steven Jackson signs for $4M a year, Greg Jennings for $9M a year, and Michael Huff for $2M a year, the Packers must preserve every million they can to keep Rodgers, eventually sign Clay Matthews, and hope they have enough to keep BJ Raji later on. It’s a culture of budgeting and sacrifice, much different than the draft-and-develop-from-within days of Thompson’s early years.
But perspective is important, and for those of you who still bemoan the lack of free agent signings, our day is coming. The Packers will announce a deal that will likely keep Aaron Rodgers as the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future, as well as making him the richest player in the league.
And every one of those teams that signed a free agent this season will look at the Packers and, for a moment, forget the guaranteed Super Bowl that their acquisition brought them and wish they could be the ones with Aaron Rodgers for $25M. Just as at least 23 teams wish they had drafted him in 2005 (and another eight teams wish they had traded up), they will look at the Rodgers re-signing as the coup of the offseason.
Perception is reality. And the reality is that no matter how you slice it, Aaron Rodgers is the most valuable “free agent” in this offseason. Is one Greg Jennings to the Vikings worth one Aaron Rodgers on the Packers? Nowhere near. How about the Bears agreeing to forego Martellus Bennett for Rodgers instead? No contest.
This is what modern free agency is at its core. The true superstars never reach the point where another team could acquire them. Teams like the Lions, who squander every opportunity to draft and develop talent like Rodgers or Matthews, can only salivate at the idea of having players of their ilk on their roster.
What does the future hold for a Rodgers-laden Packers? Is he, at $25M/year, the guarantee of a future Super Bowl that those other teams are praying their free agents will bring to them? Perhaps not. But the Packers are keeping the superstar in the fold, keeping their marketing advantage intact, and–most importantly–giving themselves the best chance at winning another title.
Does Mike Wallace bring the Dolphins that kind of power-up? Nowhere near.
While most Packer fans don’t need a reminder to trust Ted Thompson, or that Aaron Rodgers is a special player who has had a career arc unlike any other player in the history of the NFL, if you’re getting in any way anxious as the free agents continue to bite the dust without signing with Green Bay, relax.
The biggest signing–yes, bigger than Joe Flacco and bigger than Tony Romo–is coming up soon. And the Packers and their fans will be the biggest winners.
C.D. Angeli is a longtime Packer fan and feature writer for Cheesehead TV. He is also the co-host of the weekly Packers podcast Cheesehead Radio and good cop over at PackersTalk.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision.