Green Bay Packers: Don’t count them out of the free agency chase


Tony, Wisconsin, native Jim Leonhard has always been a hard-hitting, ball-hawking defensive back. He’s said he would love to play for his home state Packers. Might he be a target of Ted Thompson’s come free agency time? Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

When someone mentions free agency, the furthest thing from their minds are the Green Bay Packers and most notably the team’s general manager, Ted Thompson.

We know all about Thompson’s aversion to free agency; we know all about his love of the draft and his role in helping to develop the players selected through the draft.

But if there’s an offseason when Ted Thompson might actually jump into the free agency chase, this may be it. With the number of his own veteran players headed to free agency at more than 15, Thompson is faced with losing at least half of them, and probably more, to other teams. There’s just not enough money to go around to sign everybody – choices will have to be made – tough choices.

The Packers may lose three of their defensive linemen – B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, and Johnny Jolly; they may lose the likes of James Jones, James Starks, and

James Starks carries against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field last November. He might draw interest in free agency.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

John Kuhn; they may lose their best cornerback, Sam Shields.

I can’t see Thompson paying Raji what the defensive lineman wants – he turned down an offer of $8 million per year that had already been on the table. Considering that Raji is ranked 54th out of the 56 free agent interior linemen, according to Pro Football Focus, there’s no way Thompson should spend a dime on the guy. While Raji may have some years ahead of him, they won’t be in Green Bay; his best days with the Packers are long gone.

We don’t see Thompson bringing back Pickett or Jolly either. Unless they settle for the veteran minimum, they too will be gone.

And that’s just the defensive linemen.

Because it’s going to be impossible for Thompson to bring those players back, he’s got to find ways to fill the void left by the exodus of so many veterans. Yes, he will be able to fill some of the holes in his roster through the draft and by signing undrafted free agents, but Thompson is still going to be woefully short.

That’s where free agency comes in.

There are plenty of mid-level players at various positions who might be good value signings for the Packers. We know Thompson will never go with the higher priced players but he could do well to sign a couple of those mid level players.

One of the biggest needs on the team is at safety. Why not reach out to some of the decent experienced safeties who could come into camp and provide competition and depth.

While the sexy choices would be the guys at the top of the list – T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner, and Jairus Byrd – don’t expect it.

What’s more exciting than Charles Woodson with the football? Will Ted Thompson consider reaching out to the former Packer in free agency?

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

But Thompson might be swayed to consider guys like Miami’s Chris Clemons, Tennessee’s Bernard Pollard, and Carolina’s Quintin Mikell. These are the type of players who could bring instant credibility to the Packers defensive backfield.

What might be really interesting is if Thompson considers bringing Charles Woodson back into the Packers family. Woodson had a decent year in Oakland this past season, playing nearly 1,100 snaps and once again showing his leadership on the field. Even former Wisconsin Badger Jim Leonhard has mentioned that he would love to play for the Packers. The Tony, Wisconsin, native has expressed an interest in coming home.

Here’s what he had to say recently:

"I’d obviously love to come back to Green Bay and play for the hometown fans. That would make a lot of people happy, a lot of my family happy. They wouldn’t be quite as conflicted having to cheer for some teams that they maybe rather wouldn’t, but you never know. Obviously there’s got to be mutual interest on both ends."

Now before you get the rope ready for my lynching, you gotta admit that anything can happen in the NFL.

Heck, if Thompson even considers jumping into free agency, that will be a huge surprise. We saw how the Packers were mentioned in the running last spring when guys like Steven Jackson and even Greg Jennings hit the market. And don’t forget that Thompson did bring in one free agent last year – tight end Matthew Mulligan. That didn’t work out, but it showed that Thompson has considered at least flirting with the concept.

Packers GM Ted Thompson will have his hands full this offseason in trying to figure out how to retool his team. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

This just might be the year when Thompson gets serious about utilizing the free agency tool to improve his football team. Don’t forget, the team also has close to $30 million in salary cap space.

Though it probably won’t be to pick up of a Charles Woodson, I wouldn’t count the Packers out of some kind of free agent shopping.

What are your thoughts? Do the Packers sit on the sideline once again or do they hit the free agency field and bring in players who could make an impact?

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