Green Bay Packers free agents: Who to keep, who’s gone


Jan 5, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) intercepts a pass during the third quarter of the NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Just about one month from today, Saturday, March 9, the National Football League’s most interesting period – free agency – begins. Teams are allowed to begin negotiating with other teams’ players who are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the league year. This is the first time the NFL is providing a window to negotiate with other teams’ free agents prior to the start of free agency.

What will that mean for the Green Bay Packers? Well, just like every year, it will mean losing some players and, perhaps, the addition of one to two quiet signings – maybe.

But I wouldn’t count on it. We all know how Ted Thompson has addressed free agency in the past and shouldn’t any different behavior from the team’s general manager this year.

Here’s a look at each of the Packers players who will enter free agency and what I think will occur with these players:

Cedric Benson Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Unrestricted free agents: 

RB Cedric Benson – The Packers, if they can get him to sign on at the veterans’ minimum, should try to bring the Benson back. The team didn’t have much of a chance last year to see what he could do and they should give him another shot. At a minimum, he will bring competition to camp and at a maximum, he will end up being the Packers’ starter.

RB Ryan Grant  – The Packers will have no need for him and his on again, off again relationship with the team he helped so much from 2007-09 should come to an end – quickly.

WR Greg Jennings – The Packers cannot afford to keep their number one wide receiver and have to allow him to walk. If, for some reason, he can’t find a team to utilize his services, the Packers might take a look at bringing him back, ala James Jones. But that’s not going to happen. We wish Jennings the best and hope he signs with a team far away from the NFC North, such as Miami.

ILB Brad Jones – Jones stepped in and played well down the stretch after the Packers inside linebackers dropped like flies early in the season. Because of his value on special teams and his ability to step in as either a backup or starter, the Packers should sign him.

OLB Erik Walden – Walden was like a roller coaster this season and hasn’t played up to what everyone thought he could, especially after his run-in with the law in 2011. The Packers should allow Walden to walk and offer his services elsewhere.

Restricted free agents:

Tom Crabtree

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Restricted free agents: 

TE Tom Crabtree – Crabby will never be a starter, but his play on special teams and his ability to pick his spots for big plays makes him a valuable asset to the Packers pass and run game. He’s a feisty, competitive athlete who can block, so the Packers should try to secure his services.

C Evan Dietrich-Smith – EDS stepped in at the end of last season for starter Jeff Saturday, who seemed to run out of gas as the season progressed. Though EDS wasn’t a standout, he should be kept around to provide competition. His ability to play other positions along the line also gives him a leg up.

ILB Rob Francois – Aside from special teams, Francois hasn’t been able to make the field. The Packers should let him test the waters.

CB Sam Shields – By the end of last season, Shields was playing as well as anyone in the defensive backfield – that despite a slow start last training camp and an injury that caused him to miss several games mid-season. The Packers should make signing Shields one of their top priorities.

OLB Frank Zombo – The injury-plagued Zombo hasn’t been healthy enough to give the Packers any reason to keep him. I doubt he will be anything more than a serviceable special teams player for any other team.