Green Bay Packers 2021 impending free agents primer
Brian Gutekunst has not been shy in making free-agent moves in his first two years as general manager, signing Adrian Amos, Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, for example. However, he’s not been as big in re-signing Packers players who became unrestricted free agents. Over the past three seasons Green Bay had 43 unrestricted free agents entering the offseason and the Packers brought back just six. Tight end Marcedes Lewis, who is again a free agent, represents half of those signings. Besides Lewis, Gutekunst and the Packers have several other key players who they’ll have to make decisions — think running back, especially — on whether to bring back to Green Bay or not. FOX Sports Wisconsin takes a look at the 19 players set to hit free agency. (Note: free-agent and salary information via OverTheCap.com; statistics courtesy pro-football-reference.com).
The exclusive rights free agents
An exclusive rights free agent can only be signed by the Packers, as long as Green Bay tenders that player an offer. If not, that player becomes an unrestricted free agent. Green Bay’s exclusive rights free agents are: WR Allen Lazard, OT Yosuah Nijman, OLB/DE Randy Ramsey and WR Malik Taylor.
DT Montravius Adams, unrestricted
2020 stats: 8 games, 11 tackles
2020 cap number: $1,206,194
Why the Packers would re-sign him: Green Bay needs someone to back up Kenny Clark in the 3-4 and Adams fits the bill. As it stands, the Packers are a bit strapped in the salary cap (they’ll need to clear around $25 million by the start of the league year just to get under the cap; that doesn’t leave much room in free agency) and Adams won’t command much.
Why they wouldn’t: He hasn’t done much in his four years (22 tackles, 1.5 sacks in 45 games) and there’s a new defensive coordinator — meaning a new scheme and/or terminology — which doesn’t help Adams coming back because he knows the system.
WR Tavon Austin, unrestricted
2020 stats: 4 games, 5 receptions for 20 yards; 3 punt returns for 14 yards
2020 cap number: $220,588 (prorated from $1,050,000 base salary)
Why the Packers would re-sign him: The Packers need someone to return the ball and Austin didn’t really have a lot of opportunity to show what he could do. He could also be a mini-Randall Cobb out of the slot after a full offseason with the playbook.
Why they wouldn’t: He showed no juice with Green Bay and really hasn’t for a couple of years. And he’ll be 31 next season.
QB Tim Boyle, restricted
2019 stats: 8 games, 13 rushes for -9 yards
2020 cap number: $752,000
Why the Packers would re-sign him: He’s been in the system a couple of years. He’s not going to be causing any quarterback controversy as a backup.
Why they wouldn’t: Is it time for the Packers to make Jordan Love the No. 2 QB? Would Boyle as a No. 3 be a luxury instead of a cheaper quarterback? Perhaps Green Bay would prefer not even carrying three quarterbacks on the active roster and use that slot for another position.
LB James Burgess, unrestricted
2020 stats: 4 games, 3 tackles
2020 cap number: $410,295 (prorated from $825,000)
Why the Packers would re-sign him: They didn’t really get a chance to see what Burgess could do as he was placed on injured reserve Nov. 25. He’s had fairly productive seasons with Cleveland in 2017 and the New York Jets in 2019.
Why they wouldn’t: The old Packers defensive regime couldn’t have thought too much of him as he played strictly on special teams.
RB Tyler Ervin, unrestricted
2020 stats: 8 games, 13 rush, 67 yards; 11 rec., 84 yards; 5 PR, 4.0 avg; 34 KR, 19.6 avg
2020 cap number: $887,500
Why the Packers would re-sign him: Aaron Rodgers seems to like him and with a few other better-known running backs on the team also hitting the market — and who will cost more to keep — Green Bay needs someone else in the backfield. Ervin makes a fine third-down back as well as kick returner.
Why they wouldn’t: While Ervin supplied some juice to the return game in a short four-game stint in 2019, his numbers were below average in 2020, although he did have one kick return for a touchdown. Ervin turns 28 in October. Finding someone younger and cheaper who has a similar skillset shouldn’t be too difficult.
S Raven Greene, restricted
2020 stats: 10, 44 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PD, 1 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 QB hits
2020 cap number: $676,168
Why the Packers would re-sign him: Played well as a backup safety before being hurt in Week 13, often being on the field for more than half the defensive snaps. Also played a decent amount on special teams. Just the kind of low-key, solid player every team needs. As a restricted free agent, less chance of him being poached by another team.
Why they wouldn’t: This can be said for any of the players on the defensive side of the ball, but just never know what a new staff will think of each player. Opposing quarterbacks who targeted Greene had a 70.6% completion rate and decent, but not great, 88.6 passer rating.
DT Damon Harrison, unrestricted
2020 stats (with Packers only): 1 game, no stats recorded
2020 cap number: $44,118 (prorated from $1,050,000)
Why the Packers would re-sign him: Sure, who couldn’t use a solid veteran former All-Pro run-stuffer in the middle?
Why they wouldn’t: Harrison has been a starter all his career. He might want to get back into that role. He also wasn’t the big lift Green Bay expected, recording one tackle while playing 25% of the snaps in the playoff loss to Tampa Bay.
RB Aaron Jones, unrestricted
2020 stats: 14 games, 201 rush, 1,104 yards, 9 TD; 47 rec., 355 yards, 2 TD
2020 cap number: $2,182,002
Why the Packers would re-sign him: He’s been one of the leading running backs in the NFL the past couple of years, with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and leading the league in touchdowns in 2019. Jones has rushed for 5.5 yards per carry in three of his four years (4.6 in the other) and has averaged over three receptions per game over the last two seasons. This just in: he’s a really good fit in this offense.
Why they wouldn’t: First, can they afford it? Second, is it worth it? Big, long-term contracts for running backs — which Jones will certainly be seeking — usually don’t work out well for the team.
CB Kevin King, unrestricted
2020 stats: 11 games, 57 tackles, 5 PD
2020 cap number: $2,252,998
Why the Packers would re-sign him: Maybe injuries hampered his play in 2020 and he can get back to his 2019 performance, when King recorded five interceptions and had 15 passes defensed.
Why they wouldn’t: He became a scapegoat for fans in 2020 and having no picks and only five PD doesn’t help his cause. It might be time to find Jaire Alexander a new partner at corner.
DL Tyler Lancaster, restricted
2020 stats: 15 games, 23 tackles, 1 PD
2019 cap number: $750,000
Why the Packers would re-sign him: Hard to see him getting a big offer on the market as a restricted free agent (Packers could match). He plays an unsung position in Green Bay’s 3-4 defense.
Why they wouldn’t: Maybe this new Packers defense wants more pressure from the defensive ends — not exactly Lancaster’s strength. His role is more against the run, although Green Bay’s rush defense has been somewhat lacking over the past couple of years.
TE Marcedes Lewis, unrestricted
2020 stats: 15 games, 10 rec., 107 yards, 3 TD
2020 cap number: $2,300,000
Why the Packers would re-sign him: LaFleur obviously likes him, as does Rodgers. He might not be the pass catcher he once was, but Lewis knows his role and does it well.
Why they wouldn’t: He’ll be 37 next season. We’ve gone over this in other stories, but you just don’t see too many tight ends who aren’t big pass-catching threats (i.e. Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, etc.) at that age.
C Corey Linsley, unrestricted
2020 stats: 13 games, 0 penalties, 1 sack allowed
2020 cap number: $10,500,000
Why the Packers would re-sign him: He’s been mostly durable and the leader of Green Bay’s offensive line since coming into the league in 2014. He doesn’t make many mistakes, having committed just two penalties over the last three years, and both of those occurred in 2019.
Why they wouldn’t: He won’t come cheap and Green Bay already has salary-cap issues. Green Bay was preparing for this day when it drafted Elgton Jenkins, who could slide over into this spot from guard.
CB Parry Nickerson, restricted
2020 stats: 1 game, no statistics
2020 cap number: $555,882 (prorated from $750,000)
Why the Packers would re-sign him: Green Bay might want to see what it actually has in Nickerson. He played just two special teams snaps before landing on injured reserve. Clearly, the Packers saw something in him to make them sign Nickerson. They can find out in training camp, at worst.
Why they wouldn’t: He’ll be 27 in October and Green Bay is his third team in three years after being drafted in the sixth round in 2018. Perhaps there’s no need for additional evaluation.
S Will Redmond, unrestricted
2029 stats: 13 games, 28 tackles, 2 QBH, 1 PD
2020 cap number: $750,000
Why the Packers would re-sign him: He’s been a nice find after being added to the practice squad in 2018 as an extra defensive back and special teams player. The Packers don’t need him to play a big role, just a complementary one.
Why they wouldn’t: He’s 27 (drafted back in 2016) and never really challenged for a starting role. Going younger at a complementary position might be the way to go. Also, he allowed a 102.1 passer rating by opposing quarterbacks in 2019 and 114.6 in 2020.
CB Chandon Sullivan, restricted
2020 stats: 16 games, 41 TKL, 1 INT, 6 PD
2020 cap number: $750,000
Why the Packers would re-sign him: Sullivan started 10 games in 2020. Turning 25 this August, he’s got potential, as demonstrated in 2019 when opposing QBs had a 34.3 passer rating when targeting him. Sullivan noted on Twitter he wasn’t beat deep this past season.
Why they wouldn’t: Pressed into a larger role in 2020, Sullivan didn’t do as well. Despite no big gains, opposing QBs still had a 95.8 passer rating when targeting Sullivan.
OL Lane Taylor, unrestricted
2020 stats: 1 game, no sacks allowed or penalties
2020 cap number: $2,400,000
Why the Packers would re-sign him: He certainly knows the system, having been with the team since 2013. With Green Bay already letting Rick Wagner loose and Linsley returning seeming doubtful, the Packers could use some experienced depth.
Why they wouldn’t: He’s played just three games in two years due to injuries and turns 32 in November. For a team with salary-cap issues, even at a veteran discounted rate (and Taylor took a pay cut last year, so who knows if he’d be willing to do it again) he might be a tough fit for a team with other needs.
TE Robert Tonyan, restricted
2020 stats: 16 games, 52 receptions, 586 yards, 11 TD
2020 cap number: $750,000
Why the Packers would re-sign him: He quickly developed into a favorite target for Aaron Rodgers — there were only seven incompletions thrown his way, including playoffs (where he was 8-for-8 on targets) — and as a result Tonyan had a breakout, career season. Green Bay can match any offer, so certainly the Packers have an advantage in bringing him back.
Why they wouldn’t: As mentioned, Green Bay has cap issues and needs to prioritize. What if another team gives Tonyan a huge offer? It only takes one.
OL Jared Veldheer, unrestricted
2020 stats (with Packers): DNP
2020 cap number: $0 ($1,050,000 base salary)
Why the Packers would re-sign him: Green Bay had Veldheer briefly in 2019 as well (two games), so he does know the system. There’s a reason the Packers brought him back in 2020 (albeit he was sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols) – he’s veteran depth. And as noted above, they could probably use a little more of that in 2021.
Why they wouldn’t: Veldheer will be 34 in June. Also, while Green Bay signed him late in the year it’s not like the Packers tried to bring him back in training camp or earlier in the season. He didn’t sign with Indianapolis until the end of December.
RB Jamaal Williams, unrestricted
2020 stats: 14 games, 119 rush, 505 yards, 2 TD; 31 rec., 236 yards, 1 TD
2020 cap number: $2,274,498
Why the Packers would re-sign him: A fourth-round pick in 2017, Williams has been steady in his four years in Green Bay, rushing between 460-556 yards and 25-39 receptions every season, recording 18 total touchdowns in the process. He’s a nice weapon to have and has shown he can succeed in Matt LaFleur’s offense. His yards per carry and number of receptions each of the last two seasons were better than his numbers in his first two years when Mike McCarthy was head coach.
Why they wouldn’t: Cost. What will Williams want? Does he want to see if he can be a starter, or at least get the ball more, elsewhere? If not, can the Packers even afford to bring him back? This might come down to what other teams are willing to offer him.
DL Billy Winn, unrestricted
2020 stats: 6 games, 6 TKL, 2 PD
2019 cap number: $485,294 (prorated from $910,000)
Why the Packers would re-sign him: Just a fantastic story, having not played since 2016 due to injuries, Winn could offer some nice veteran defensive line depth at a low cost.
Why they wouldn’t: He barely played in 2020 — 41 defensive snaps and 37 on special teams in his six games — and found himself injured again. Not a good sign for the soon-to-be 32-year-old.