The first week of free agency started out like every other year for the Green Bay Packers: quiet.
With much speculation swirling about how Ted Thompson would loosen the green and gold purse strings, with nearly $34 million in free cap space, not much of that hypothesis was confirmed until Saturday night.
As expected, Thompson inked a few hometown deals; the recipients of those deals were a pleasant surprise. Sam Shields, Mike Neal and Andrew Quarless were brought back on cost-effective contracts, with the exception of Shields’ 4-year/$39 million paycheck. With rumors circulating that Shields and the Packers were at a financial impasse before the start of free agency, many expected him to depart in the opening rounds. Fans awoke to very good news the Saturday night prior to the start of the frenzy.
Saturday of the first week of free agency, Packers’ fans got what they had been pining for: a free agent acquisition that rang a few bells. After the rival Chicago Bears released Julius Peppers in a cost-saving move, the Green Bay Packers management reached out to the 12-year veteran. Peppers signed a 3-year deal worth (at the maximum) around $30 million. While this seems a bit out of character for Thompson and Co., let’s dig deeper into the details:
- Peppers is a $3.5 million cap hit in the current year; his $7.5 million signing bonus being spread out over the life of the contract.
- Packers’ brass isn’t expecting Peppers to compete at a high level for three years. They are, essentially, giving him a look-see. They manipulated the money out in such a way that, if the experiment is unsuccessful — he can be released and preserve future cap space.
- If the Peppers experiment is a runaway success — expect a salary redistribution in 2015.
Thompson extended a “prove it or move it” contract to B.J Raji, who accepted. He is likely looking for a big payday similar to the one achieved by Michael Bennett after his one-year deal with the Seahawks last year. His market wasn’t forming as expected after his underwhelming season in 2013. Along with re-signing the 340-pound run stuffer, Thompson allegedly promised him a switch back to nose tackle, where he starred in seasons prior. All of these circumstances bode very well for the Packers.
After the big Julius Pepper grab, Packers’ fans likely thought the excitement to be over. However, in another surprising move, Thompson nabbed ex-Vikings DE Letroy Guion. While his play leveled off some as of late, he showed great promise at times; in the right scheme and under the right coordinator, he could be a solid rotational guy or provide quality depth on the defensive line — something that was lacking at the end of last year. His contract is worth near $1 million for the year: no splurge on the part of Packers management.
It came as a surprise to see Evan Dietrich-Smith sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the midst of such free agency joy. Many fans were concerned about the center position if Dietrich-Smith headed for warmer climates. While the offensive line has been a trouble spot for the Packers in previous years, it was supposed to be a
strong suit last year.
Early injuries to Bryan Bulaga and J.C. Tretter, Derek Sherrod‘s slow rehabilitation and late season injuries to David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay made fans nervous about protecting Rodgers. This year, a healthy crop of offensive lineman are back. If the injuries subside in 2014, it could actually be a strong suit again. It is likely that Tretter will see early snaps at center in offseason workouts; he was, in fact, drafted for such use.
Likewise, news fell that James Jones signed a 3-year deal with the Oakland Raiders. Unlike Greg Jennings, his departure was quiet and dignified. While most fans wanted Jones back in green and gold, Thompson and McCarthy felt like the emergence of Jarrett Boykin was enough to let Jones walk. I, for one, will miss his sure-hands, the ability to extend the play and of course, his turtlenecks.
It is still possible that the Packers will target a receiver in the later rounds of the draft. Perhaps there is another Donald Driver waiting in the 7th round? But for now — new deals should be on the horizon for big-time threats, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Jarrett Boykin is emerging as an Aaron Rodgers favorite and the Packers seem poised for excellence on offense.
James Starks was another free agent scare, as many believed with so much young talent (Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris) in the Packers’ backfield that Starks would be expendable. However, the 1-2 punch of Lacy and Starks last season was formidable and I certainly wanted him back. It looked bleak —
Starks scheduling a visit to the Pittsburgh Steelers — but the Packers signed him to a 2-year-deal that solidified our offensive backfield as one of the deepest and most talented in the league.
This time in previous years, crickets could be heard in the conference room holding the Packers free agency board. However, this year had a different feel to it from the get-go. Aaron Rodgers talked about the closing of a window as 2013 came to a close. He also put the idea out there that another window was opening … another championship window; and that starts with a championship-caliber offseason.
As the free agency crickets head for the hills in Green Bay, Wisconsin — it sure feels like that kind of offseason to me.