We’re through the first wave of 2017 NFL free agency, but there’s still plenty of talent to be had if the Green Bay Packers are looking to spend.
Through the first week, it’s been a lackluster showing for the Green Bay Packers. The first wave of 2017 NFL free agency is in the books, and all they have to show for it is an aging tight end and two depth signings.
The worst part of it, though, is the talent the Packers haven’t re-signed. Micah Hyde, T.J. Lang, J.C. Tretter and Julius Peppers are all gone, and Jared Cook is as good as gone with Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks now on the roster. The re-signing of Don Barclay isn’t nearly enough to make up for the losses of Lang and Tretter.
It’s not just the offensive line—Green Bay has other positions that need support as well. Cornerback is still a significant concern, and finding a complement to Ty Montgomery at running back would be ideal. Luckily, the Packers have about $26 million in cap space still available with which to do some damage (via Spotrac.com).
Still, despite the rumors of their willingness to spend, the Packers have played it conservatively. They reportedly low-balled Lang, and will likely lose Lacy to a higher bidder. After making a sizable addition with the Bennett deal (three years, $21 million), they may be done with the big spending.
If they do end up spending, though, the Packers could look at these five big names to continue reloading what was an outstanding roster a season ago. The market is thinning quickly, but playmakers are still out there for the taking if general manager Ted Thompson is willing to pay for them.
Unless the Packers plan on moving Clay Matthews back to the middle, some more talent is needed at inside linebacker. I’m confident Blake Martinez can be an exceptional starter, but an upgrade on Jake Ryan is sorely needed.
Unfortunately, the options may be a bit limited for Green Bay. Dont’a Hightower is still available, but signs are pointing towards him re-upping with the New England Patriots. Zach Brown is the next best option, but has proven to be a better fit in a 4-3 defense. The same goes for Perry Riley. That leaves Kevin Minter as the top candidate to assist this Packers defense.
Minter has spent all four of his NFL seasons in the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense, including the last two as a full-time starter. During that time, he’s quietly emerged as one of the NFL’s more consistent inside linebackers. He’s no star, but he routinely makes plays as an standout linebacker who can shine on all three downs.
If the Packers decide to add another linebacker before the draft, Minter seems like the best potential fit. He may not be the biggest name out there, but that might actually make things easier on a Green Bay team that isn’t fond of spending big via free agency.
When free agency began, it was assumed the Packers would make a big run for one of the top cornerbacks on the market. Instead, they failed to sign any of them, leaving themselves still searching for a top cover man in a watered-down market.
At this moment, most of the top players available fit more of the No. 2 cornerback role. While finding that type of talent would help, it’s not the clear-cut improvement Green Bay needed this offseason. That would leave them with Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and Ladarius Gunter all still playing prominent roles in the secondary.
Now I want to make it clear that Alterraun Verner is no home run. In fact, he’s coming off of three lackluster seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There’s a reason why they gave him the ax a few weeks back—it wasn’t solely for financial reasons.
Still, before signing with the Buccaneers, Verner was nearing star status. During his first four seasons in the NFL, he quietly worked his way towards an eventual All-Pro selection in 2013. Maybe a change of scenery could bring that type of effectiveness out in him? Signing with the Packers may be Verner’s best bet to get his NFL career back on track.
After losing both J.C. Tretter and T.J. Lang to free agency, the Packers are suddenly in a tight situation along the interior of their front five. Unfortunately, less than a week into free agency, the market for interior linemen is already drying up.
One big name who can still help Green Bay, though, is Nick Mangold, formerly of the New York Jets. The 11-year NFL veteran may be 33 and coming off a season hindered by injury, but can still be considered one of the better centers in the league. If the Packers aren’t sold on Corey Linsley as the starter, Mangold could certainly help fill the void.
Age and durability are obvious concerns here. However, based on what we’ve seen from him in previous seasons, there’s plenty of reason to believe Mangold can still be a stout addition to any NFL offensive line. There’s a belief he could even be asked to play guard (via ESPN’s Dan Graziano), which appears to be a bigger need for the Packers at this moment.
Mangold’s play may be on the decline, but he’s still an impact starter when healthy. Assuming his ankle is on the mend and he doesn’t cost too much, Green Bay seems like a reasonable landing spot for him—likely on a short-term deal.
Unfortunately, this is what it’s going to come to if the Packers plan on addressing the cornerback position via free agency. They already missed on talents such as A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore, meaning they’ll need to settle for the second (or third) tier of cornerback talent.
Right now, Morris Claiborne is arguably the best cornerback still available. While some might find that laughable, it’s not as terrible as you might think. In fact, the former first-round pick is coming off a strong 2016 campaign that would have earned him more respect had it not been muddled by injuries.
Signing Claiborne would be a risky move, especially if he costs the Packers more than $5 million annually. However, with his athleticism and playmaking abilities, it’s easy to understand why teams would be intrigued. Especially for a Green Bay team that needs more starting-caliber talent at cornerback, Claiborne would be a worthy addition.
More than likely, he’ll sign a one-year “prove it” deal. Claiborne has the talent to serve as a No. 1 cornerback, but needs to convince teams he can play consistently and stay healthy. If the Packers get desperate enough for a boost to their pass defense, signing Claiborne could be an option.
There are a number of running back options out there. While the Packers’ appear focused on re-signing Lacy, I’m getting the feeling that won’t happen. They’ve already failed to sign just about all of their internal free agents, so why would it be different in Lacy’s case?
That means they’ll have to look elsewhere to provide some support for Montgomery in the backfield. While that’s not to say the receiver-turned-runner can’t get the job done, but some significant depth would be ideal. It would also help to have someone who can better handle short-yardage situations.
While Murray wouldn’t be a home-run signing, the Packers would welcome his skill set. He’s a proven starter who can pick up big chunks of yards in a hurry. There are concerns about his ability to make defenders miss and battle through initial contact, but I’m still convinced he can be a big-time playmaker in the right situation with his rare mix of size and speed.
Assuming they can secure things along the interior, the Packers possess an exceptional offensive line. It’s definitely stout enough to open some holes for Murray, who can help create a valiant one-two punch for the Green Bay backfield. Especially with the lukewarm interest he’s received so far, the Packers would be wise to kick the tires.