20 Packers free agents: Who will stay and go?
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The list of free agents for the Green Bay Packers this offseason is lengthy. With 17 unrestricted free agents, two restricted free agents and one exclusive-rights free agent, that’s 38 percent of the Packers’ roster without a contract in place for next season.
Though the beginning of free agency isn’t until March 11, here’s a look at the 20 players that Green Bay’s front office has to make a decision on.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
B.J. Raji: Reportedly having turned down an $8 million per year extension, Raji seems more likely to sign elsewhere than he does to re-sign with the Packers. Though he doesn’t have the statistics to back him up, Raji, at age 27, has value in the NFL. And it would make sense that he’d want a chance to do more than what he’s been allowed to do in recent years in Green Bay’s defense.
Ryan Pickett: He’ll turn 35 years old one month into the 2014 NFL season, but Pickett showed he still has something left in the tank. If the Packers can get Pickett back on a cheap contract (significantly less than the $6.7 million he made in 2013), he’ll spend another year in Green Bay.
Johnny Jolly: Rounding out the Packers’ big defensive linemen, Jolly made an impact in his return after a three-year absence. Turning 31 years old in February, the bigger issue for Jolly is the neck injury that he suffered late in the season that landed him on injured reserve. That issue will have to be resolved before a contract is negotiated.
Jermichael Finley: Speaking of neck injuries, Finley’s could be career-threatening. Only turning 27 in March, Finley would have been seeking a huge payday had it not been for neck surgery. Recent history in Green Bay with neck injuries had Nick Collins forced to retire early, but Sean Richardson was eventually cleared to come back. Finley’s situation is complicated, but if he’s able to play football in 2014, it will likely be for another team.
Andrew Quarless: Is Quarless good enough to be the Packers’ No. 1 tight end going into the 2014 season? Probably not. But if Green Bay can get him back on a reasonable deal and have Quarless be second on the depth chart, he’s proven capable of fulfilling that role quite well.
James Jones: Jones wants to stay with the Packers. Though, like most players, he’s not likely to turn down an offer elsewhere if it’s for substantially more money. But how valuable is a receiver who’s about to turn 30 and has been playing with one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks? Greg Jennings found out how difficult that transition can be. Jones will likely still be playing in Green Bay next season.
John Kuhn: Another Packer who wants to come back, Kuhn will likely have to accept less than the $2.5 million he made in 2013 to continue his career in Green Bay. The "unsung hero" is a pass-blocking specialist in the backfield, and even at age 31 (32 in September), he’ll definitely draw interest across the league.
Sam Shields: Arguably the most important Packers free agent, Shields is easily in the conversation to be among the NFL’s 15 best cornerbacks. Having just turned 26, Shields is entering the prime of his career and will get paid like it. Perhaps commanding somewhere in the $8 million per year range, Shields seems to be worth it, but Green Bay will have competition for his services.
Evan Dietrich-Smith: The starting center that Aaron Rodgers wants back, Dietrich-Smith wasn’t spouting the same "I love Green Bay" message at the end of the season that Jones and Kuhn were. Still, Dietrich-Smith is more valuable to the Packers than he is to the rest of the NFL, so it’s likely that Rodgers gets his guy back in 2014.
Marshall Newhouse: With Newhouse unable to win the starting right tackle job in 2013 against Don Barclay, he was already expendable. Add in the return of Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga, and Newhouse is all but certain to not be back in Green Bay.
Matt Flynn: Perhaps the most complicated case of the team’s free agents, will Flynn get interest from other teams? The Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills both released him in 2013, and the rest of the league showed no interest when he was available. Did Flynn’s performance as the Packers’ spot starter late in the year change the perception of him? Flynn works well in Mike McCarthy’s offense, and Green Bay clearly doesn’t want to go through another situation at backup quarterback like the team did in 2014. It’s wise for both parties to continue this relationship.
Seneca Wallace: Yeah, he won’t be back.
James Starks: The Packers’ running back group is deep, with Eddie Lacy as the starter and DuJuan Harris returning from injury, while also waiting to see if Johnathan Franklin can make a big improvement in Year 2. However, Starks was very good in 2013 as Lacy’s backup. Starks will likely find a better opportunity elsewhere given the crowded running back room in Green Bay.
C.J. Wilson: Wilson was a healthy inactive for multiple games in 2013, falling out of favor in Dom Capers’ defense. Maybe if the Packers opt against re-signing Raji and Pickett and Jolly, then Wilson might be in the mix to return. Otherwise, with a talented and young defensive line that includes Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Josh Boyd and Jerel Worthy, Wilson isn’t likely to be back.
Robert Francois: Playing for Ted Thompson, the worst combination is being an aging veteran (Francois will be 29 in May) and coming back from a major injury (he tore his Achilles in 2013).
Kahlil Bell: Added late in the year, Bell is a longshot to be brought back to Green Bay for the entire 2014 season.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
M.D. Jennings: Expected to perform as a starter (he started 26 games combined in 2012 and 2013), Jennings fell short. But if asked to come off the bench, that’s a role that better suits him. With the Packers thin at the safety position, Jennings won’t be a starter anymore in 2014, but it’s unlikely that he’s not at least on the team.
Jamari Lattimore: Very athletic but limited elsewhere, Lattimore is a dependable backup-type player that likely isn’t going anywhere.
Chris Banjo: Making the roster as an undrafted rookie in training camp, Banjo was a good tackler in special teams and got a few chances to contribute on defense. He’ll likely be back in Green Bay.
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