10 Defensive Players the Packers Should Pursue in Free Agency

During the Thompson/Capers era, few things were more frustrating than their tendency to add players and then try and mold them to fit their scheme rather than build the scheme around the players. That should change with Mike Pettine in charge. Pettine is a Rex Ryan disciple, and Rex’s defenses did not adhere to a single scheme or label (they officially ran a 3-4). The duo seemed to get the most out of their defensive players regardless of their ideal fit. This means that Gutekunst will have more flexibility with regard to the types of players he can pursue.

Ranking the defensive needs for the Packers is not an easy task since the team could benefit from an influx of talent at every position. The interior defensive line is likely not very high on the team’s list of priorities. Every other position can be addressed early in free agency or the draft, or both.

Here is a look at ten defensive players the Packers should pursue in free agency:

Honorable mentions

  • Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence: If it looked like there was any chance Lawrence was hitting free agency, he’d be number one on this list. All the reports indicate that the Cowboys will tag Lawrence if they can’t sign him to a long term deal.
  • Saints SS Kenny Vaccaro: Strong safety will be a need for the Packers if Morgan Burnett departs in free agency. Vaccaro is a talented player who has struggled with consistency through his career. He has most recently missed nine games over the last two seasons due to various injuries. If Green Bay wanted to take a flyer on his talent, he probably will not come with a hefty price tag.
  • Lions DE Ezekiel Ansah: If you exclude three of Ansah’s last 27 games, he has just five sacks. Given the lack of pass-rushers available in free agency, someone will pay a pretty penny for the 28-year-old. The Packers are better off not overpaying here.
  • Rams CB Trumaine Johnson
  • Patriots CB Malcolm Butler: When it’s all said and done, Johnson and Butler will be two of the highest paid corners in free agency. Johnson was graded as the 15th best outside corner by Bleacher Report in 2017 and the 68th best corner by PFF. Butler ranked as BR’s 42nd outside corner, and 51st by PFF. While both players would be welcome additions to the Packers secondary, there are options out there that are better and cheaper.

Other honorable mentions: Eagles CB Patrick Robinson, Colts CB Rashaan Melvin, Redskins CB Bashaud Breeland, Redskins ILB Zach Brown, Redskins ILB Mason Foster, Titans ILB Avery Williamson, Redskins EDGE Junior Galette, Seahawks EDGE Dion Jordan, Seahawks DT Sheldon Richardson.

 

10. Raiders LB NaVorro Bowman

Bowman used to be one of the premier two-dimensional inside linebackers in the game. He had excellent coverage skills and few were better at defending the run. As he showed in his brief stint with the Raiders, he can still make a significant impact as a run defender. Injuries have taken their toll, and the three time pro-bowler’s coverage skills have deteriorated because of it. That being said, he’d still be the most impactful inside linebacker the Packers have had in a long time.

9. Bills CB E.J. Gaines

Gaines doesn’t have the name recognition of Malcolm Butler or Trumaine Johnson, but he is arguably just as effective. PFF gave Gaines a grade of 85.9, which is third amongst free agent cornerbacks. The 25-year-old graded out well in coverage as well as run support, but has had durability issues throughout his career. Gaines won’t be cheap, but the fact that he has missed 10 games over the last two seasons could drive his price down.

8. 49ers SS Eric Reid

Reid is another talented player who could come at a discount due to health issues. There are many similarities between Reid and Morgan Burnett (Reid has dabbled at LB for the 49ers). The 26-year-old would be a sufficient fallback option if Burnett were to sign elsewhere.

7. Cardinals CB Tramon Williams

If you were to play a game of connect the dots, it would lead you to the conclusion that Williams will end up in Green Bay. The 34-year old played in Green Bay for nine seasons before signing with Mike Pettine’s Browns. Williams was PFF’s eight ranked corner in 2017 and finished with the highest grade of his career. If Ted Thompson were still GM, I’d bet the house on this reunion taking place.

6. Saints EDGE Alex Okafor

Okafor looked really good this season before a torn Achilles put him on IR. His 21 run stops ranked third amongst edge defenders at the time of his injury, and he had 4.5 sacks to go along with it. Okafor’s best season came in 2014 under a Todd Bowles scheme that's not dissimilar to Pettine’s. It’s possible that the 26-year old would be willing to do another one-year “prove-it” deal like he did with the Saints.

5. Rams SS Lamarcus Joyner

PFF gave Joyner a grade of 90.3; good enough for third amongst all safeties. Comparatively, Morgan Burnett finished with a grade of 77.3. The 27-year old had a better coverage grade than any other safety in the league, according to PFF. If he hits the market, the Packers should prioritize him over Burnett.

4. Eagles WLB Nigel Bradham

I don’t think the transition from 4-3 outside linebacker to 3-4 inside linebacker would be a difficult one for Bradham. The 28-year old’s best asset is speed, and he has the athletic ability to get from sideline-to-sideline with ease. What Bradham lacks as a run defender, he more than makes up for in coverage (only Deion Jones and Bobby Wagner got higher grades from PFF). He and Blake Martinez (8th in run defense) would complement each other nicely and together form one of the better inside linebacker duos in the game. The fact that he has experience as a signal caller is an added bonus.

3. Redskins EDGE Trent Murphy

One thing is clear from his tape, Murphy can rush the passer. After having a career-year in 2016, the 27-year old missed the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL and MCL. Murphy is an excellent bull rusher and also possesses an effective inside move due to his quickness. Murphy is a terrific run defender as well because of his wingspan and sheer strength. The Packers need edge rushers and size, and Murphy brings both. It’s hard to imagine him costing too much coming off an ACL injury and a four game PED suspension.

2. Jets LB Demario Davis

Davis’ explosiveness is the first thing you see when watching the Jets 2017 defense. The 29-year old has excellent speed and his ability to react quickly allows him to explode through the hole. These traits earned him the 11th best run grade at the linebacker position and led to him garnering the most pressures of any off-ball linebacker in 2017. He also finished with an above average grade in coverage (79.7) – a good 36 points higher than Blake Martinez.

1. Bears CB Kyle Fuller

Bleacher Report graded Fuller as the 10th best outside corner in 2017, while PFF had him at 23. The inconsistencies are still there, but he is quietly ascending into one of the better young corners in the game. To a lesser extent, Fuller could replicate what Revis did for Pettine in New York. The 25-year old might be pricy, but he’d be well worth it for the Packers.

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Comments (50)

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dobber's picture

January 24, 2018 at 05:13 pm

You point out my biggest knock on Ziggy Ansah. Living in a Detroit market, I see him play regularly...well, disappear regularly : he really hasn't been very effective for a couple years now...and neither has the Detroit pass rush in general. That's in part what cost Caldwell his job.

Nice work, Elisha. An interesting read.

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 24, 2018 at 06:40 pm

The one thing I really wonder with Ansah is how would he be surrounded with better players? Where he wasn't the focal point of most offenses?

While I agree that I wouldn't over pay for him, I would consider him if the price was right.
Honestly, of the pending available free agents i would prefer to go into the draft and find one. Unless someone is cut or they could potentially trade for someone, I don't really like the current list of prospects.

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dobber's picture

January 24, 2018 at 07:11 pm

What I'll give Ansah is that he's willing to play hurt...but he always seems to be dinged up. Maybe this is part of his issue, or is it that he's lost his fire, or that he's been surrounded by a weak cast since Suh and Fairley left? Hard to say, but I think a guy who's been working hard and playing hard wouldn't be invisible as much as Ansah has...especially in a contract year.

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stockholder's picture

January 24, 2018 at 07:13 pm

Suh made Ziggy good. The list is a waste of money. Lawrence will be tagged.

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worztik's picture

January 25, 2018 at 03:33 pm

Very succinct Dob... me too!!!

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KenEllis's picture

January 24, 2018 at 05:25 pm

I almost typed why bother this is Green Bay, but then realized we have a GM who may actually take part in free agency.

Thanks for the list.

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rdent's picture

January 24, 2018 at 05:58 pm

Nice article, although 5 of the players you mentioned have injury issues and 2 are on the last 1 or 2 years of their careers. This should be a concern when you look at the Martellis Bennett failure, and most of the others would cost more than they are worth.

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Coldworld's picture

January 24, 2018 at 07:02 pm

Ok for depth players perhaps, but not starters.

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dobber's picture

January 24, 2018 at 07:08 pm

I haven't looked at the timing for some of those injuries and when they can expect these guys to work out. An achilles injury scares me more than an ACL (unless you've got major damage alongside the ACL a la Teddy B), but if the guy hasn't tested either kind of injury, it's hard to take a chance unless he lingers on the market so long that his price drops to a point that he's hard to ignore.

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The TKstinator's picture

January 24, 2018 at 10:12 pm

How come none of these guys play offense? Did I miss something? ~~~

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Nick Perry's picture

January 25, 2018 at 04:52 am

I'm thinking the authors next piece is "Ten Offensive Players the Packers Should Pursue in Free Agency". On THAT list there should be at least 3 options for both WR, TE, and O-Line, in no particular orders.

With a little less than $22 Million in cap space the Packers will HAVE to do something with with one or all of the contracts for Cobb, Nelson, Bulaga, and possibly Matthews. Out of those 4 I think Nelson and Bulaga would renegotiate...happily. Cobb and Matthews I'm not so sure. They'll NEED the money they can gain by adding a year or two to the contracts of these guys to be players in FA.

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HankScorpio's picture

January 25, 2018 at 08:25 am

"I'm thinking the authors next piece is "Ten Offensive Players the Packers Should Pursue in Free Agency""

That was last week. And yes, there were plenty of WRs, TEs and OL mentioned.

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dobber's picture

January 25, 2018 at 09:29 am

They're funnin' on the guy who said, last week, why are there no defensive players on this list? ;)

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The TKstinator's picture

January 25, 2018 at 10:24 am

Thank you!

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HankScorpio's picture

January 26, 2018 at 12:11 am

Ah, missed that one.

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Coldworld's picture

January 24, 2018 at 07:01 pm

Interesting thoughts.

There are only a couple I see as upgrades. Fuller and Murphy. Murphy can play but injuries like ACL may signal less effective this season and that PED ...

After Fuller the rest of the CBs are likely expensive and I’m not sure will add much except prove expensive depth. I suppose it depends on your views of King and Randall as starters. I think only Fuller would justify taking playing time from them on the outside.

At safety, Joyner seems more of a HHCD type than a Burnett replacement.

Okafor might be worth a look as depth rotation and to allow Clay to move around. Ansah just isn’t a worker: talent but no fire.

The ILBs don’t excite me. I am not sure any of them are currently an upgrade except Davis, but then again I think Ryan is better than given credit for over the last half of the season. I also don’t know that we need a coverage backer conversion with Jones/Burnett if still with us.

But then none of us know what Pettine would like to change if the opportunity presents. One thing that came out of today is the change of philosophy is deeper than I had felt able to hope for! Hooray for that.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

January 24, 2018 at 07:33 pm

Is it just me or is this an uninspiring year for defensive free agency?

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 24, 2018 at 07:41 pm

Its not just you. This is a down year.

But we will have to wait to see who gets released to see who is really available.

I will say though that if they can get some quality backups or rotational types of players that would help too. We don't necessarily need stars in free agency. What we really need is to not have a huge drop off between starters and backups.

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MedicMike's picture

January 24, 2018 at 07:47 pm

Lessen the gap! Dilly! Dilly!!

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rdent's picture

January 24, 2018 at 10:52 pm

If GB is looking for a impact type player in FA I believe they wait until March.

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dobber's picture

January 25, 2018 at 07:13 am

Yes! Let the cuts begin!

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EdsLaces's picture

January 24, 2018 at 08:26 pm

I'd love Fuller or Johnson ...the rest ...meh...

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Tundraboy's picture

January 25, 2018 at 12:33 am

Meh is right.

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Lphill's picture

January 25, 2018 at 06:08 am

Nobody to get excited about , depth players like Francois was now he is in the Super Bowl, I don't think getting back Tramon Williams is worth it kinda like House just a guy . I think we had a chance for Mason Foster awhile ago but I could be wrong.

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Packer_Fan's picture

January 25, 2018 at 07:16 am

Good list. Anyway you look at this, GB will have to bring some new and better talent through free agency. Especially in the DB position. Perhaps Edge rusher too. After reading how other teams built their rosters, it took a few years of getting the right guys because there wasn't an already establish star at QB. We have that. Gives a chance if they bring in some good players. And I think Pettine would like a lockdown corner to build a defense around.

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dobber's picture

January 25, 2018 at 07:53 am

In the end the Packers don't have a tremendous amount of cap space to work with (even though the cap is expected to make a significant jump in 2018) and they have a looming extension to #12 to worry about. They might be able to save themselves some money now by pushing out the guaranteed money on ARod, but you've got to pay the piper eventually. Plenty of talk about cuts to create space: cut Nelson, cut Cobb, cut Matthews. Every one of those cuts creates a hole that needs to be filled. Are you going to be able to fill those holes with a guy who can play now (draft) or with a guy who won't cost nearly as much on the open market?

I don't see splash moves coming this offseason. I don't see them signing a Trumaine Johnson or DeMarcus Lawrence. By signing one of those guys you give away the ability to fix several other things. I'd rather take my chances on an ascending Blake Martinez on his rookie deal than a declining NaVorro Bowman who will likely need more than the $2.6M he got from the Raiders this season.

This ultimately is where the Packers need to be better: they have to put their faith in the right guys and personnel needs to find those pieces that can at least prop up those areas where ascending players aren't present. I think the splash moves will be in restructuring and extending deals to create room for those other moves that raise the talent floor on the roster...and through the draft.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

January 25, 2018 at 10:37 am

I've made this same suggestion. I got downvoted as well. TT did not leave us in bad cap shape, but you're right that we aren't going to have a lot of money to spend on FAs, unless the big 3 or 4 guys are cut, which means they have to be replaced.

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

January 25, 2018 at 09:15 am

Cleveland Browns will have $100 million to spend on Free Agents in 2018.

Browns may make a good run this year. Worst to 1st...There will be competion in free agency.

NFL.COM
CLEVELAND BROWNS
Factoring in rollover cap space, the Browns are expected to have north of $100 million to spend in free agency with only one unrestricted free agent of note: running back Isaiah Crowell. Of the good players on the current roster, many are already under contract long term, meaning the Browns can focus on the open market instead of in-house extension.

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 25, 2018 at 12:05 pm

Dorsey is honestly going into a really good situation.

He has the first and 4th draft picks. He can take the best QB available, and then take one of the best position players available 3 spots later.
Or
My guess is he will get a lot of calls for the 4th pick to trade down to a team looking for a QB, and get multiple more draft picks.
Think of all these teams below their 4th pick that could possibly looking to draft a QB in the first round. #5 Broncos, #6 Jets, #11 Dolphins (not likely, but are a team that is being projected to take a QB in some mocks), #13 Redskins, #15 Cardinals, #17 Chargers, #21/22 Bills. Any or all of these teams could look to pay a ransom to move up for one of these QB's. As many as 5 QB's could go in the first round. If 2 of them go in the first 2 picks, and someone traded up to the 4th pick to get another one, the first part of the draft could get really exciting, and the Browns could really benefit from it.

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worztik's picture

January 25, 2018 at 09:22 am

Right now I feel it’s time to be patient, and I am NOT a patient person, before we go hog nuts wild on free agents. Maybe some of the players are legitimate game changers and maybe some contribute to the team’s D through the scheme and are the next Reggie that we’re all hoping for... it ain’t gonna happen! Pettine is intriguing to me because he mainly coached AFC teams that I didn’t watch much if at all. I would take Fuller for the right price, but I’d rather we draft for immediacy right now (trade up a couple of times or trade for another Al Harris as someone mentioned) and not take a flyer on another Joe Johnson... if ya get my drift. Opinions are like tongues... everyone has one! (Notice that I did change that a bit... HAHA)
Ok then, let the THUMBS FLY!!!!!!!

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Duke Divine's picture

January 25, 2018 at 10:11 am

Fuller would be a nice scoop up. I've always loved his scrappiness. He loves getting his nose in there and has the pedigree. He was the one who got under Bennetts skin in training camp so much so that that big baby wanted out...Just like he always does. With PEtine's coaching Fuller could really excel in GB.

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

January 25, 2018 at 10:50 am

Interesting how Mike Mcarthy says stopping the run is the #1 priority and then Mike Pettine gets up on the podium an hour later and says stopping the pass is the #1 defensive concern.

Miscommunication? Let's hope not.

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Finwiz's picture

January 25, 2018 at 12:01 pm

I don't like the sound of that at all.
Lack of consistency in overall philosophy lies with the HC.
Why would we be surprised they lack some of that? (consistency in messaging)

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TXCHEESE's picture

January 25, 2018 at 10:50 am

So many of these guys are on the downside of their careers. If you can get them on one year cheap deals as depth, great, but few of them would be what I would consider a core starter. To be sure, there are holes to be filled, but I would prefer to draft and be patient in the free agency process. There will be a few talented players out there that will be released due to contract issues or cost, that may relish the chance to play for a contender. I do believe that Pettine will be much more flexible with working with what he has instead of trying to plug the proverbial square peg where it won't go.

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Spock's picture

January 25, 2018 at 10:50 am

Given the Packers' cap space I expect any FA forays to be for cheap, mid-level types. Which is fine. If Gute can draft well and get some stop-gap veterans as short term starters or veteran depth for 2018 this team w/ AR will be as competitive as anyone!
I liked the look of many of the 2nd year players this last year and, if they continue to improve, I like the Packers chances. Go, Pack Go!

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

January 25, 2018 at 10:55 am

Just a question:

How many people like the DC up in the booth calling plays or a DC on the sidelines.

I know my dad likes the DC up in the booth, but I prefer the DC on the sidelines. Any preferences? Does anyone think it makes a difference one way or the other?

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worztik's picture

January 25, 2018 at 11:21 am

I prefer the DC on the sideline just cause he seems more engaged! I think it’s a matter of preference for the coaches but, the Eagles’ and Pats’ DC are on the sidelines... Just sayin’...

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

January 26, 2018 at 02:15 pm

I agree. I always liked it where the DC can actually physically know how the players are playing, can talk with them and know how physically exausted they may be.

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dobber's picture

January 25, 2018 at 02:00 pm

I like a DC that can coach a defense that gets off the field on 3rd down. Don't much care where he does it from...

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worztik's picture

January 25, 2018 at 03:35 pm

See above Dob...

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246toothpicks's picture

January 25, 2018 at 11:50 am

Of the guys on this I would make the big swing and go after Fuller. It shows we're not messing around. I also like the signing of Nigel Bradham. A speedy LB who can cover to pair with Martinez would be a great LB combo. Of those not mentioned. I'd love for them to make a play for TE, Trey Burton of Philly. Finally I'd look at WR's Ryan Grant of Washington and Jaron Brown of Arizona.

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DD's picture

January 25, 2018 at 11:50 am

FA? Two edge rushers, veteran shut down corner. Draft? Quick route, speed receivers and a big, speed TE. Then, draft two fast cover linebackers,and two huge, quick offensive lineman. Also, have a walk on day or two at Lambeau for undrafted players to try out!!

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dobber's picture

January 25, 2018 at 01:05 pm

"Also, have a walk on day or two at Lambeau for undrafted players to try out!!"

They essentially do this already.

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The TKstinator's picture

January 25, 2018 at 10:44 pm

What color is the sky in your world, DD?

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billybobton's picture

January 25, 2018 at 02:04 pm

Nothing would say messing around and inept more than chasing Kyle Fuller. We played the bears twice this year. He is terrible. Go back and rewatch because we won both games

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246toothpicks's picture

January 25, 2018 at 04:39 pm

Well, he had the third most pass breakups in the league this year. He graded out as the # 10 cornerback in the league this year by bleacher report. He played well this year.

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Lphill's picture

January 25, 2018 at 04:17 pm

Mason Foster resigned by Skins.

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

January 26, 2018 at 03:13 pm

This just on the news.

"Well running dry with WRs Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson expected to be franchised"

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

January 26, 2018 at 03:17 pm

Not many options. ...

Jarvis Landry
Donte Moncrief.
Did great when Luck was healthy
and Martavious Bryant

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