Packers free-agent preview: Defense

Signing free-agent inside linebacker Mason Foster (left) from Tampa Bay could make sense for the Packers.

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It turns out that the NFL’s legal tampering period essentially just means that free agency begins three days earlier now. So many signings have been agreed to in recent days that it’s made a mockery of the process, to the point that the league sent out a memo to teams that there will be an investigation into any violations.

Of course, in Green Bay, all has been quiet when it comes to any possible discussions with non-Packers free agents. Ted Thompson does business just as the NFL would like all of its general managers to do.

On Monday, we looked at the offensive side of the ball for Green Bay’s crop of unrestricted free agents. While Randall Cobb and Scott Tolzien were already locked into new contracts before officially hitting the open market, the Packers still have many decisions to make with their free agents on defense.

This list will examine which of Green Bay’s own unrestricted free agents on defense are likely to re-sign, which are more likely to sign elsewhere and a couple of external names that the Packers could consider.

Packers unrestricted free agents — Defense:

Cornerback Tramon Williams — Most soon-to-be 32-year-old NFL players have started to become injury concerns. Not Williams, who’s missed just one start in the past five seasons. Like Julius Peppers, Williams has the fairly clean bill of health that would keep Thompson interested in an older player. However, that doesn’t mean Green Bay is going to exceed what it deems to be the right value for Williams. With money flying around for cornerbacks, Williams should be able to get more than what the Packers are willing to offer. This will likely be his last chance at a significant pay day in the NFL, so taking a "hometown discount" like 24-year-old Cobb does not represent the same type of situation.

Most likely outcome: signs elsewhere

Cornerback Davon House — He’s the most physical cornerback that Green Bay has had in a group mostly made up of speedsters. That physicality has led to an injury history with House, though. Thompson would surely seem intent on keeping either Williams or House, but it might not be that simple. House is just 25 years old and should have his best football ahead of him. But with Sam Shields making an annual average of $9.75 million, plus Casey Hayward seemingly ready to become a full-time starter outside and one year away from hitting free agency himself, the Packers might feel comfortable not retaining Williams or House. It should be noted that House has long maintained a strong preference to remain in Green Bay, but that feeling hasn’t been reciprocated by the team yet.

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Most likely outcome: signs elsewhere (UPDATE: House is signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars)

Defensive lineman B.J. Raji — There was mounting evidence in training camp last year that Raji was about to break out of the slump he’d been in. The move back to nose tackle was just what Raji needed. Then he suffered a torn biceps and missed the entire season. Raji could only get a one-year, $4 million offer from the Packers last offseason. Now, coming off an injury, he’d likely prefer to try the prove-it type deal again in Green Bay. But Raji won’t be getting $4 million this time.

Most likely outcome: re-signs with Packers

Defensive lineman Letroy Guion — Somewhat surprisingly, Green Bay did not let Guion’s two felony counts in Florida deter its interest in him. The Packers really wanted Guion back on a multiyear deal before his arrest, and Mike McCarthy was very supportive of bringing him back in his February comments at the Scouting Combine. Guion’s contract will certainly be for less money now, though. Splitting up playing time between Raji and Guion could be a problem, but it’s a good problem for a defense to have too many options in the middle of the line.

Most likely outcome: re-signs with Packers

Defensive back Jarrett Bush — McCarthy wants starters to play more on special teams going forward, and Bush’s 45 defensive snaps in 2014 certainly aren’t representative of a starter. Like Guion, Bush was arrested this offseason. Unlike Guion, Bush was not charged. Based on his recent on-field contributions, it’s probably time that Green Bay decides to move on from Bush.

Most likely outcome: signs elsewhere

Inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore — He had his shot at being part of the solution at inside linebacker, but Lattimore was instead part of the problem. The Packers have already washed their hands of A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones this offseason, so it would make no sense to then re-sign Lattimore.

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Most likely outcome: signs elsewhere

Two notable defensive free agents across the NFL:

Inside linebacker Mason Foster — This is not the year to need help at inside linebacker, at least not if looking to acquire an automatic starter at that position in free agency. Foster could make sense for the Packers, though. He’s not been a great player in Tampa Bay, but he only just turned 26 years old and has started 54 games in the NFL. If Green Bay showed interest, one would think Foster would see an opportunity to start on a Super Bowl-caliber team and think it’d be a wise move for him to make.

Cornerback Patrick Robinson — Realistically, the Packers could lose House and Williams yet still be OK. Having Shields and Hayward start outside, with Micah Hyde in the slot and the duo of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett at safety is still a good group. But if Green Bay doesn’t re-sign House or Williams, Thompson could look to replace them with one new acquisition. Robinson, a former first-round pick who’s now 27 years old, could be an option. So could 25-year-old Cleveland Browns cornerback Buster Skrine. Who knows, maybe the Packers go after another 34-year-old former Chicago Bear and sign Charles Tillman. Anything is possible in free agency, even when it’s Thompson running the show.

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