An important morsel of information leaked just as the chaos brought on by the Percy Harvin and Anquan Boldin trades reached its apex yesterday. Evan Dietrich-Smith, restricted free agent and the presumed starting center for the Green Bay Packers, was tendered at the lowest level.
For those unfamiliar with the system, restricted free agents can be tendered by their teams at one of three levels. The highest level, which carries a price tag of $2.879 million, entitles the tendering team to a first round pick if another team signs the player. The middle level, coming in at a slightly cheaper $2.023 figure, returns a second round selection if another franchise signs the tendered player. The lowest tender, coming in at the very reasonable $1.323 million, will net the tendering team a pick in the same round where the player in question was selected. If the player was originally undrafted, as is the case with Dietrich-Smith, there is no draft pick compensation if another team signs the player away. Each tender provides the team with the right to match any contract signed by the player.
By tendering Dietrich-Smith at the lowest level, the Packers risk losing the only player on their roster with any game experience at center for nothing. That reveals a lot about how GM Ted Thompson views Dietrich-Smith. While any objective observer favored Dietrich-Smith over the aged Jeff Saturday last season, the 26-year-old Idaho State product is still far from a dominant center. By letting Dietrich-Smith dangle in the wind, Thompson has effectively told the rest of the league what Green Bay thinks of the center’s long-term future. It’s not that Thompson doesn’t think someone will attempt to sign Dietrich-Smith – though it’s possible no team tries – but rather that Thompson sees no reason to give this player a cent more than required. Dietrich-Smith is still the odds-on-favorite to be snapping the ball to Aaron Rodgers this year, but barring an incredible improvement in play, this is probably Dietrich-Smith’s last season in Green Bay.
This can also be read as strong indication that the Packers will acquire a center in the draft. It’s a two-man race between Alabama’s Barrett Jones and Wisconsin’s Travis Frederick as to who is the first center off the board. The Packers are on the short list of teams that project to make that call.
More tender and free agency news is soon to come. Keep your browser fixed to Lombardi Ave for breaking news and analysis.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Lombardi Ave. He has previously written for Hail to the Orange, College Hoops Net, Mocking the Draft, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JBHirschhorn.