Too early to covet outside free agents, Green Bay Packers fans

Jimmy Graham

as a Green Bay Packer? Not likely. Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

One fan over at asked Green Bay Packers reporter Vic Ketchman to imagine Aaron Rodgers throwing passes to New Orleans Saints free-agent tight end Jimmy Graham.

Mmmm. It stirs all kinds of fun images, doesn’t it. Not so fast.

“Everybody, please,” Ketchman wrote, “I am begging you to stop this free-agent talk until after the [franchise] tags go out.”

That franchise tag is March 3, which is about six weeks away. A lot can get done in the NFL in six weeks, such as a team negotiating a contract extension or a complete new contract with one of its star players. Ketchman believes that is exactly what will happen in New Orleans.

I’ve also read a couple of speculations that Jairus Byrd would be a lovely way to patch the gaping hole that exists in the Packers’ safety crew. Maybe, but if Erik Lambert over at NFL Mocks knows anything (and I believe he does), Byrd is the fourth-best free-agent-to-be who, while he may not get a new contract from the Bills or even a franchise tag (he was tagged previously), will not be a bargain in free agency. Packers GM Ted Thompson likes bargains. In short, it’s way, way, way too early to be coveting other teams’ free agents.

Of the NFL Mocks Top 10, the guys the Packers could probably use most would be Graham and Byrd, along with Browns safety T.J. Ward, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, and possibly any one of several free-agent-to-be defensive ends.

Consider Orakpo: He may not want to sign a contract with the woeful Washington Redskins, and the ’Skins don’t want to lose arguably their best defensive player from that inarguably awful defense. That has all the makings of a franchise tag, meaning Orakpo would be hands off for the Packers.

As for Ward, Cleveland has a solid defense and is probably a quarterback away from contending in a year or two. As Lambert pointed out, the Browns have cap room. That looks like a re-sign.

The Panthers’

Greg Hardy

seems likely to stay in Carolina. Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive end Greg Hardy is not going to get away from the Panthers this year – I agree with Lambert that he’ll get the tag. And Michael Johnson of the Bengals may well hit the open market, but his skill set is probably best suited to a 4-3 scheme as opposed to Dom Capers’ 3-4. Will a switch be made? Capers hinted it could happen, but it isn’t likely.

Raider Lamarr Houston may hit the market as well, but he also is best suited to a 4-3, and I agree again with Lambert that it’s more likely Oakland re-signs its young defensive star-in-the-making.

I’m willing to bet that once again we’ll see an off-season that has Thompson flirting with one or two open-market free-agents, but paying more attention to retaining the guys he wants from the current Packers roster and searching for bargain help in the draft and in the scraps left behind after the March free-agent frenzy is over.

Anything is possible; the Packers took a shot at Steven Jackson last year, after all. But let’s remember that Eddie Lacy is a prime example of why Thompson avoids overpaying for guys whose best years may be behind them. He avoided paying Jackson up to $10 million a year, and in the process got a strong rookie-of-the-year candidate in the draft.

In short, prepare for a lot of teeth-gnashing by Packers fans between now and late March.