By Tuesday, March 12, 3 p.m., the Green Bay Bay Packers will face a decision on how to proceed with the five restricted free agents among their ranks.
What will be their direction and what can they afford at this point?
Of the five – Sam Shields, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Tom Crabtree, Frank Zombo and Robert Francois – it will be Shields and Dietrich-Smith who will command at least a bit more than the veteran minimum. Published reports today are saying that those two, who were starters for portions of last season, will be offered about a combined $4 million and some change.
Throw in Crabtree, who will be offered just more than another million and you’ve got three solid, contributing players at about $5 million against the Packers salary cap, which currently sits at around $20 million.
As for Zombo and Francois, they are on their own. Unless someone else swoops in and picks them up at a price they can live with they most likely will be brought back to compete for a spot on the team. Zombo, the ever-injured linebacker, may simply be cut, but Francois has contributed in spot linebacking situations and has been a contributor on special teams, so he is valued a bit higher.
However, the Packers certainly value the contributions of Shields, Dietrich-Smith and Crabtree and will probably give them what they need for them to stick with the team. Shields, especially, has shown he deserves a shot as a starter next year. Though he started very slowly in training camp, by the time the regular season began, he was a regular contributor and showed some spunk and aggression in coverage. He was starting to come into his own before he got injured against Houston. He was out several weeks, but came back without missing a beat – demonstrating to the Packers that he is a player with which to reckon.
Dietrich-Smith, most well known as the player who was stomped on by Mr. Suh in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day 2011, took over as the starting center at the end of last season after Jeff Saturday was benched. He played well, but not great, and isn’t a shoe-in to be a starter next year. In fact, the packers most likely will go out and secure at least one lineman in the draft to compete.
Crabtree has shined in specific spots, most notably last year on the fake field goal against the Bears when he scored untouched and on a long pass play against the Houston Texans for a touchdown. He’s a decent blocker and gets open against specific coverages – and he’s a fan social media favorite. The Packers like his blue collar work ethic and will probably make sure they keep him on the roster.
The bottom line question is whether the Packers will make more room on the roster and attempt to clear more cap space as we move through free agency and into the draft. One of the bigger questions is whether the Packers cut ties with A.J. Hawk and Jermichael Finley to help with the camp situation. My guess is that Finley sticks and Hawk goes – just a gut feeling. Maybe Ted Thompson feels good enough with the cap money they have and moves on with Hawk and Finley … we shall see.