2018 NFL free agency: Possible fits for the Packers
FOX Sports Wisconsin
Under general manager Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers usually didn't dip into the free-agent waters. But Thompson is out and Brian Gutekunst is in. How will the Packers' new GM approach free agency? Green Bay has around $20 million in cap room this offseason, which might seem like a lot but is actually 23rd in the NFL and includes money for rookies, re-signing their own free agents and perhaps a new contract for Aaron Rodgers. With that in mind, here's a few players which might interest Green Bay once the league year begins on March 14. (Note: We took a look at Green Bay's own free agents back in February.)
Prince Amukamara, cornerback
How confident are the Packers in their cornerback situation? Maybe the last thing Green Bay wants is a corner with a history of injuries -- Amukamara has played all 16 games just once in his seven seasons -- but the former No. 1 pick is solid in coverage and was ranked by Pro Football Focus as "above average" in 2017, when he played in Chicago after five years with the Giants and one with the Jaguars. Among the corners available, he should come at a reasonable price as well.
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Trey Burton, tight end
Perhaps now best known as the player who threw the "Philly Special" pass in the Super Bowl, Burton has been the third tight end with the Eagles for a couple of years but is someone who could now be ready for a bigger role. Burton had his biggest game in 2017 against the Rams when Zach Ertz was out with an injury, catching five passes for 71 yards with two touchdowns. Over the past two seasons he's recorded 69 receptions for 575 yards and six TDs. Burton is a willing blocker, but at 235 pounds, isn't exactly a mauler.
Malcolm Butler, cornerback
Butler, who had a good 2016 but a subpar 2017 and then was benched by New England in the Super Bowl, could be someone with a lot of upside who won't cost as much as he would have a year ago (or as much as someone like Trumaine Johnson). Of course, there is risk as well. But even in what was considered a down year in '17, Butler had two interceptions and 12 passes defensed. Over the past three years he has 159 tackles, eight INTs, 47 PD, four forced fumbles and two sacks.
T.J. Carrie, cornerback
A former seventh-round draft pick, Carrie had what Pro Football Focus rated an above-average season with an 84.3 rating (the above-mentioned Butler had a 79.2 rating). In 2017 with Oakland, Carrie had 70 tackles, nine PD and two fumbles recovered. He could be an under-the-radar signing … although few quality cornerbacks are under the radar.
Ed Dickson, tight end
If Green Bay can't land a higher-profile tight end in free agency or the draft, it could do a lot worse than Dickson. He's big (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) and can block, but Dickson also averaged 14.6 yards per catch last season and 13.4 in 2016. However, he's never been a high-volume receiver, topping 30 receptions just once in his career (54 in 2011, his second season). Last year with Carolina he had 30 catches for 437 yards and a touchdown.
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Tyler Eifert, tight end
When healthy, Eifert is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. Unfortunately, Eifert hasn't been healthy often in his five-year career, playing in just 39 games including only 10 in the past two seasons. Eifert had back surgery in October and presumably is ready to go for 2018. There's obviously risk here, but there's a lot of potential upside -- just look at Eifert's 2013 season, when he caught 52 passes for 615 yards with 13 (yes, 13) touchdowns.
Taylor Gabriel, wide receiver
If Green Bay wants a downfield threat without laying out big bucks, Gabriel could be a good fit for the Packers. He is coming off a subpar season with the Falcons in which he caught just 33 passes for 378 yards (11.5 average) with one touchdown. But Atlanta's offense as a whole took a dip in 2017; the previous year he averaged 16.5 yards per reception with six touchdowns. And as a rookie in Cleveland in 2014, he averaged 17.3 yards per catch -- with Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw as his quarterbacks. Imagine what he could do with Rodgers.
Josh Kline, right guard
The Packers have a decision to make at right guard. Re-sign veteran Jahri Evans, go with one of the younger players on the roster, hope to find someone in the draft or fill the hole in free agency. Klein would be a solid option for Green Bay. He's been in the league since 2013 and a starter for the last three (one with New England and the last two with Tennessee). Kline started all 16 games for the Titans in 2017, allowing just one sack and committing two penalties. He might be one of the more costly right guards on the market, but still should be affordable and able to fit in with Green Bay's cap space.
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Rashaan Melvin, cornerback
Playing the last two seasons in Indianapolis, where he got a chance to start, Melvin might not be the most well-known name on the market. But the 6-foot-2 former undrafted player out of Northern Illinois is coming off a very good season would be an upgrade at corner for Green Bay. Pro Football Focus deemed Melvin's play as "high quality" and ranked him as the 17th-best cornerback in the NFL last season when he had three INTs and 13 PD in 10 games for the Colts.
Jack Mewhort, right guard
Another player who kind of gets lost in the shuffle since he played for Indianapolis, Mewhort has been a starter since he entered the NFL. In 45 career games, he's allowed just four sacks (and 2.5 of those came as a rookie). However, knee injuries limited him to five games in 2017 and 10 the year before. Green Bay might want to avoid another player with knee issues on its offensive line (i.e. Bryan Bulaga), but the price should be right for Mewhort, who turns 27 in August (Evans, last year's starter for Green Bay turns 35 a week earlier).
Donte Moncrief, wide receiver
Even if Green Bay doesn't make any moves with its wide receivers, the Packers really don't have a burner, someone who can stretch the field and open things underneath. Moncrief, who averaged 15.0 yards per catch for the Colts last year despite below-average quarterback play, could be that guy in Green Bay. Moncrief reportedly might just want a one-year deal and should be attainable for a reasonable price. Of course, Green Bay isn't the only team that needs a downfield receiver and plenty of teams have more cap space and can win a bidding war.
Trent Murphy, outside linebacker/defensive end
Once considered one of the up-and-coming players in the NFL, Murphy's 2017 season was sidetracked after he suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee during the preseason. Before that, he was tagged with a four-game suspension for use of performance-enhancing substances. So he's not without risk. But the Packers are looking for a better pass rush. Clay Matthews isn't getting any younger, Nick Perry has never played a full season and who knows what Vince Biegel can do. In 2016, Murphy had nine sacks and three forced fumbles and was ranked 10th among OLBs in pass-rush productivity by Pro Football Focus.
Patrick Robinson, cornerback
Robinson is no youngster -- he'll be 31 in September -- but he's coming off arguably his best season as a professional. Used in Philadelphia primarily as a slot corner, he played all 16 games and had four interceptions. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the sixth-best CB in the NFL last season. After his stellar season, Robinson is in line for a bit of a salary bump (he made just $775,000 last year), but the Eagles have little cap room, so he's fair game for all comers. He could provide some stability to a Green Bay unit that needs it.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, tight end
Jimmy Graham is the big name among the free-agent tight end group, but while he's still a great red-zone threat, he's lost a step and is going to command big money. May we present Seferian-Jenkins, who at 6-5, 262 is big enough to block and also be a good pass-catcher. Seferian-Jenkins has been limited somewhat in his career by injuries as well as alcohol abuse, the latter of which he appears to have behind him after going to rehab. He showed glimpses of the player he can be last year when he had 50 receptions and three TDs for the Jets. Give him a quarterback like Rodgers, and he could really be a breakout performer in 2018.
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Sammy Watkins, wide receiver
The Rams didn't put a franchise tag on Watkins, leaving the wide receiver unencumbered to sign with any club. He likely won't come cheap, however, which means if Green Bay wants to make a big splash, it could mean the end of Randall Cobb and/or Jordy Nelson (or restructuring their deals), both of whom underperformed in 2017 and have big cap hits in 2018. While Watkins has just one 1,000-yard receiving season, he has a knack for getting open and has averaged 15.9 yards per catch in his four-year career with Buffalo and Los Angeles.
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Muhammad Wilkerson, defensive end
Wilkerson was cut by the Jets, so he can sign at any time and already has visited Green Bay. He has a ton of talent -- 10.5 sacks in 2013 and 12 in '15 -- and despite being 6-4, 315, he can play all along the defensive line. Wilkerson has a history with new Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as well. However … Wilkerson has been wildly inconsistent (8 sacks combined over the past two seasons) and appeared to play with less enthusiasm for New York as it continued to lose more games than it won (what happens if things go bad in Green Bay?). Also, he won't come cheaply. We've used "upside" a few times, but the former first-round pick has a ton and could be just what the Packers need to reinvigorate their defense. Or he could be the same underperformer he was with the Jets.