It’s less than a year away, but the 2014 free agent season will be upon us before we know it – and there are plenty of Green Bay Packers who will be eligible for new contracts either with the Packers or elsewhere.
In all, our count is at 19 players who will be free agents next February.
We all know that there are players who will move on, it’s inevitable either because their price range is out of reach or they have played out their welcome. Some get away (Tom Crabtree), some could have stayed (Greg Jennings), but in the end free agency in Green Bay is one of those NFL seasons that don’t get much play.
GM Ted Thompson doesn’t play the game the bidding wars. He targets the players he feels he wants on his team and then works out contract extensions well before the players have a chance to sniff the market. We’ve seen it occur time and again. The most recent high profile cases have been Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. But prior to that, we’ve seen him sign players that have turned out to have great value … a prime example being Jordy Nelson.
So, who will come up as free agents in 2014? Here’s the list:
B.J. Raji – The debate on whether the Packers should expend a big contract on Raji has been raging for months. It was clear the Packers had to sign Rodgers and Matthews first, with the popular notion that they would then target Raji. He has said he wants to stay and he’s ready to sign. However, if he isn’t signed before the start of the season, the chances of him sticking around diminish. If that’s the case, the Packers may allow him to test the market waters.
Ryan Pickett – He has been a steady player and solid influence over the past several years, but because of his age it’s highly unlikely the Packers will keep him past this season.
Jermichael Finley – The Packers will wait Finley out. I don’t see them signing this mercurial one anytime soon. The Packers will evaluate after the season, but the fact of the matter is that if he has a huge season, he will price himself out of the Packers market. He will most likely be gone after this season.
James Jones – If there’s one player the Packers are most likely targeting for an extension before he gets to free agency, it’s Jones. He re-signed with the team after testing the market three years ago, but couldn’t find a taker. His coming back to Green Bay was a godsend and looks even bigger now that they’ve lost Greg Jennings. His breakout year last season displayed his talent and penchant for finding the end zone. I think the Packers do everything in their power to sign him.
John Kuhn – The Packers’ fan favorite has seen the ball less and less the past couple of seasons. Though fans love him, he most likely will be gone after 2013. With the evolution of the Packers backfield and the addition of the rookies, it looks like Kuhn could see even less playing time in 2013.
Morgan Burnett – Here is another player Ted Thompson is most likely targeting. If he can lock Burnett up to a long-term contract, the safety position will
be in good shape for years to come. The Packers can’t afford to let this guy walk.
Mike Neal – Depending on how 2013 plays out for Neal, the Packers may take a shot on re-signing him to at least a two-year extension. However, his injuries raise red flags and Thompson may not want to take the chance. In the end, he will most likely walk.
Andrew Quarless – Coming off a serious knee injury, Mike McCarthy said Quarless is in the best shape of his career. If that’s the case, he will make the team this year and will be playing with that long-term contract in mind. I don’t see the Packers re-signing him before or during the season, but if he has a strong campaign in 2013, they may do everything they can to keep him in the fold, especially in light of Finley’s situation.
Marshall Newhouse – The two-year starter will have to fight for a position this training camp and may find a niche at right tackle. However, if he doesn’t earn the starting job and gets buried in the depth chart, Newhouse may be allowed to find a new home after the 2013 season.
James Starks – The message has been sent to James Starks. With the drafting of the rookies, the offensive backfield went from a position of weakness to a position of strength. Whether the injury-plagued Starks fits into the Packers plans remains to be seen. He may be the odd-man out and might not even make it out of training camp.
Sam Shields – Though he still needs to sign his restricted free agent tender, Shields will play one more year with the Packers. If he has a solid season, his demands in free agency may be too steep for Green Bay. With the depth and talent the Packers have in the defensive backfield, Shields may be allowed to walk.
C.J. Wilson – Pretty much the invisible man on the Packers defensive line, Wilson will have to be noticed this year if he is to stick around. However, with the futures of Pickett and Raji still not determined, he may be one of those value players that Thompson likes. We’ll keep the door open at this time for Wilson.
Graham Harrell – With little experience and not much leverage, it’s difficult to prognosticate on this one. Harrell might be allowed to stick around simply because it’s doubtful there will be much of a market for him come next February.
Jamari Lattimore – Here is another of those value players that Thompson likes to keep on the roster. He has been mentioned as one of the sleepers who may push for more playing time, but that won’t be known until the pads come on in training camp. He’s another that might silently re-sign without the fanfare before free agency comes around.
M.D. Jennings – With the safety position as thin as it is, Jennings will be fighting for a starting job. If he plays well again this season, Thompson may go after him. Unless he has a breakout season with huge numbers, the free agency market for him will most likely be very soft.
Evan Dietrich-Smith – Penciled in as the starter heading into training camp, Dietrich-Smith could take the next steps in improving. If he is the starter, the Packers will need him to come through and anchor the revamped offensive line. If he does, he may want to stick around and the Packers may want him to stick around.
Matthew Mulligan – One of Ted Thompson’s rare free agent pick-ups, Mulligan is an unknown at this point. He will compete for playing time at tight end and may be one of those players who sticks because of the roster situation.
Robert Francois – Here is one of those guys who gets playing time as a special-teamer and has performed admirably in game situations when given the chance. Francois is another unknown and his status will be determined by his place on the depth chart and his overall value.
Johnny Jolly – Lastly, but not least, Johnny Jolly will be one of the more intriguing story lines heading into training camp. Everyone in Packers Nation is rooting for him to be the team’s comeback player. He has shown the talent in the past, but he hasn’t played football in three years and will be fighting for a job on a line that has added talent. The fact that Jerel Worthy will most likely be out for at least part of the regular season increases Jolly’s chances, and getting him for the veteran minimum is surely one of those value factors. We’ll see what transpires in training camp and also keep the door open on Jolly’s chances.