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Green Bay Packers Free Agency Tracker: Signings, Targets and Rumors

Matt SteinCorrespondent IIMarch 3, 2012

Green Bay Packers Free Agency Tracker: Signings, Targets and Rumors

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    After an incredible 2011 regular season that saw the Green Bay Packers go a franchise best 15-1, the team suffered a heartbreaking loss in the divisional round of the playoffs.

    That loss exposed some major flaws that Green Bay will need to address during the 2012 offseason. You can be guaranteed that there will be plenty of action in quick succession as we build up to the start of the 2012 regular season.

    Luckily, we've compiled all the offseason information you need in one handy place with the new Packers' offseason tracker.

    We'll first look at the Packers' salary cap status. From there, we'll take an in-depth look at where the biggest holes on the roster are. After that, we'll look at current free agents and determine what their contract value will be and whether or not Green Bay will decide to re-sign them.

    Once we've looked at which players Green Bay will take care of from their own team, we'll look at what their potential cap situation after re-signings, which players they may go after in free agency that fit the best and the possible contracts they might offer these free agents.

    When we're through with that, we'll look at the 2012 NFL Draft last. We'll determine what needs Green Bay will still need to fill through the draft, and analyze which prospects will fit best.

Tracking Free-Agent Signings, Re-Signings and Roster Moves

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    We'll be updating this page as transactions happen for the Green Bay Packers, so don't forget to check back consistently for all the news and analysis you need.

     

    March 20, 2012: The Green Bay Packers re-signed CB Jarrett Bush. This was a move that the Packers were expected to make. While Bush doesn't offer much help in the secondary, he is a fantastic special teams player who still has room to improve as a cornerback.

    March 18, 2012: The Seattle Seahawks have signed ex-Packer QB Matt Flynn. This signing isn't a huge surprise as the sweepstakes for Flynn were already down to Seattle and the Miami Dolphins. Flynn enters a good situation in Seattle with a top receiver in Sidney Rice and an absolute stud at running back in Marshawn Lynch. With Flynn at the helm, Seattle may make a run at the NFC West.

    March 16, 2012: The St. Louis Rams signed ex-Packer C Scott Wells. This could out to be a huge loss for Green Bay if they can't find a viable replacement. Wells was one of the best centers in the NFL during 2011, and the Packers currently don't have anyone on his roster to fill in. For St. Louis, this was a huge signing in their continuation of upgrading their offensive line. Sam Bradford is most likely a happy man.

    Feb. 23, 2012: The Green Bay Packers re-signed TE Jermichael Finley. This was an extremely smart move by the Packers' front office. Finley has all the potential in the world, yet hasn't quite put it all together. So, instead of signing him to a long-term contract, Green Bay will give him two years to see if he can finally make the impact everyone thinks he is capable of.

    Jan. 20, 2012: The Green Bay Packers sign QB Nick Hill, formerly of the AFL's Orlando Predators. With the impending decision to be made on Matt Flynn's future, Green Bay obviously felt the need to get another quarterback on their roster. Hill has good size and his time in the AFL has really improved his overall mechanics. He'll be a nice player for Green Bay to develop.

Salary Cap Status

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    If you look at Spotrac, the Green Bay Packers have $115,423,448 on their books for 2012. With the projected salary cap to be around $125 million, that leaves the Packers right around $10 million to work with. While that may not seem like very much, and in all reality it isn't, Green Bay should be able to alleviate some of that money with careful planning.

     

    Problematic Cap Hits

    Two names stick out right away when you look at cap hits: Chad Clifton and Donald Driver. Both players are set to make over $5.6 million next year, and neither is worth that type of money this late in their careers. With Clifton dealing with hamstring and back injuries during the 2011 season, plus his recent back surgery, his career with Green Bay may be over.

    With Driver, his production has dropped the past two seasons and there is no denying it. Also, with so many young receivers ready to produce at a higher level, it doesn't make sense to keep paying him his high salary.

    Look for Green Bay to get both of these contracts off their books to add a little over $11 million in salary cap.

     

    Value Contracts

    Three key players—James Starks, Marshall Newhouse and Morgan Burnett—are all making less than $1 million in the upcoming season. Add to that Bryan Bulaga's $1.3 million contract and you have four key players who only take up three percent of the current books.

    Green Bay has done a fantastic job in recent years to build through the draft and these four key contributors are the perfect example of what a value contract is.

Last Year's Holes

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    Defense, defense, defense.

    There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the defense was the biggest hole for the Green Bay Packers last year. When you have an offense that is historically dominant, and still lose games, you know there is something wrong with your defense.

    They finished dead last in the league against the pass, giving up nearly 300 yards per game. They also finished last in the league in total yards given up with a whopping 411.6 yards per game.

     

    Defense

    There are numerous positions across the defense that need to be addressed. While injuries did play a part in last year's struggles, Green Bay didn't play all that well when completely healthy. 

     

    Outside Linebacker

    This is probably the biggest single hole that the Packers have. Neither Erik Walden nor Frank Zombo were able to get any type of pressure on the quarterback in 2011. That allowed teams to focus solely on Clay Matthews and take him completely out of games.

    Finding a pass rushing outside linebacker is the top priority. This will likely happen through the 2012 NFL Draft, but there are also some interesting free agents available who could also add depth to the roster.

     

    Defensive Line

    While the Packers' defensive line is relatively young, they are also relatively unproductive. B.J. Raji appeared to take a step back last year. The Packers certainly don't need to replace him, but adding some depth behind him would be a good idea.

    At defensive end, neither Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal nor C.J. Wilson were very effective. Losing Cullen Jenkins in free agency was a bigger hit than anyone could have imagined and neither of the three players mentioned above were able to fill his shoes.

    In order for Green Bay's defense to work effectively, they need to get pressure and penetration from their defensive linemen, and they simply weren't able to do that in 2011.

     

    Safety

    Safety only becomes a need if Nick Collins can't return to football. Hopefully, he can come back to the team, but there are still doubts about his return.

    If Collins can't come back, there will be a glaring need at strong safety opposite Morgan Burnett. Charlie Peprah was a serviceable replacement in 2011, but definitely isn't the long-term answer for the Packers.

     

    Offense

    When you look at how good Green Bay's offense was last year, it makes it really difficult to find holes on the roster. However, there is one position that Green Bay will need to improve on for 2012.

     

    Offensive Line

    Injuries decimated the offensive line in 2011 as Chad Clifton, Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton all missed time due to a variety on injuries. While the backups played relatively well when needed, adding depth is a must.

    If Clifton retires, the likely situation would send Bulaga to left tackle and Marshall Newhouse to right tackle. With Derek Sherrod recovering from a broken leg, Green Bay doesn't have much on their roster behind those two players.

    Adding another offensive tackle to the roster would be an intelligent move by the front office.

Listing the Packers' 2012 Free Agents

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    According to Spotrac, the following players are listed as unrestricted free agents (UFAs). This means that unless the Green Bay Packers sign these players before free agency begins on March 13th, they are free game for the rest of the NFL:

    C Scott Wells

    CB Jarrett Bush

    DT Howard Green

    QB Matt Flynn

    CB Pat Lee

    RB Ryan Grant

    LB Erik Walden

    The Packers don't have any restricted free agents (RFAs) on their roster.

Determining Contract Value and Worth for Every Green Bay Free Agent

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    What the Green Bay Packers lack in number of free agents, they make up for in the talent that this group of players have. Both Scott Wells and Ryan Grant have significant starting experience. Heck, Wells is one of the best in the game at his position.

    Throw on top of that, the potential that Matt Flynn has as a starting quarterback, and it is easy to see just how valuable this group of players are.

    Let's take a look at the projected worth of each of these free agents to see what the Packers would have to pay them to keep them on the roster (the amounts are annual salaries):

     

    Scott Wells: $6 million (estimated)

    Wells had a phenomenal year in 2011 and established himself as one of the top centers in the game. He is a physically and mentally strong center and does a good job in both the run and pass game.

    The Packers paid Wells $2.95 million in 2011, but considering the top two centers in the league (Ryan Kalil and Nick Mangold) each make over $7 million, it would be safe to say that Wells is in for quite the pay raise.

     

    Jarrett Bush: $1.3 million (estimated)

    There is a team that is almost certain to overpay Bush. While Bush played better in 2011 than in previous years, he still is better on special teams than he is in the secondary. He doesn't quite have the ball skills you want in a cornerback, and he also isn't very physical at the line of scrimmage or in the open field.

    Green Bay matched an offer on Bush in 2009 that payed him about  $1.5 million in 2011. He isn't nearly worth that much, but a team in need of desperate help in the secondary will gladly pay him close to that much.

     

    Howard Green: $900,000 (estimated)

    Green was expected to soften the blow of losing Cullen Jenkins in the offseason, and he didn't really do that anyway. However, he appeared to be in the best shape of his life and showed flashes of being able to consistently contribute.

    One thing that will make Green valuable is his ability to play a few different positions across the line of scrimmage. His best fit is at defensive tackle, but he could also lineup at defensive end every now and then.

    In 2011, Green Bay paid Green $765,000, and he's likely to receive a slight pay raise for 2012.

     

    Matt Flynn: $9.5 million (estimated)

    There are fewer free agents as closely followed as Flynn. Thanks to his extremely impressive Week 17 performance against the Detroit Lions, any team that needs a quarterback is desperately hoping that the Packers don't place their franchise tag on Flynn and let him hit the open market.

    Flynn only made $555,000 in 2011 and will likely see the largest pay increase of any free agent available.

     

    Pat Lee: $600,000 (estimated)

    The Packers were hoping that Lee would eventually become the replacement for Charles Woodson at cornerback, but things haven't quite gone that way. Lee has struggled to make much of an impact since he entered the league in 2008. He is still a relatively young player and he can still make an impact on special teams.

    Lee was paid $555,000 in 2011, but he's only likely to see a minuscule pay raise in 2012.

     

    Ryan Grant: $1.8 million (estimated)

    When healthy, Grant has the ability to be a quality running back for a team. He doesn't have top-end speed, but he hits holes quickly, can catch out of the backfield and is a serviceable blocker. He split time in 2011 with James Starks, and at times Grant appeared to be the better player between the two.

    The Packers paid Grant $2.5 million in 2011, but he is unlikely to reach that figure again in 2012.

     

    Erik Walden: $1.2 million (estimated)

    Everyone was hoping that Walden would play the Robin to Clay Matthews' Batman. However, it was pretty clear pretty quick that Walden wasn't capable of doing that. He saw plenty of playing time, but was never able to make the most of it. He struggled mightily with getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which was really the only thing asked of him.

    Walden had a base salary of $555,000 and should see a nice pay raise thanks to expectations and his youth.

Projecting Which Free Agents the Packers Will Re-Sign, Which Will Walk

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    With such little cap room available, the Green Bay Packers will have some difficult decisions to make regarding their free agents. The biggest decision begins with Matt Flynn. Green Bay only has until March 5th to decide on whether they want to franchise tag Flynn or let him hit free agency.

    Other decisions regarding Scott Wells, Ryan Grant and other key contributors will also weigh heavily on the front office.

    Here's a projected look at which free agents the Packers will decide to re-sign:

     

    Scott Wells: Released

    While it will be difficult to lose such a high-caliber player like Wells, the truth is that the Packers simply can't afford to pay him what he will likely ask. It is true that Wells could lower his amount to stay with Green Bay, but even a reduced rate will be difficult for Green Bay to manage.

    Look for Wells to sign a big, fat contract elsewhere for the foreseeable future.

     

    Jarrett Bush: Re-signed

    Green Bay is going to need to keep some players in their secondary for 2012, and Bush is the most versatile of the group. He has the ability to play cornerback and safety, and he also contributes heavily on special teams.

    Green Bay has a history of not being willing to give up on players too soon, and re-signing Bush will be the perfect example of that.

    Estimated Contract: 2 Years, $2.6 Million


    Howard Green: Released

    Expect the Packers to focus heavily on their defensive line during the 2012 NFL draft. With that strategy in mind, Green Bay is unlikely to re-sign Green, especially after his relatively unproductive stint with the Packers. He simply hasn't shown the ability to be consistently effective in the defense that Green Bay runs.

    He'll likely get a chance with another team looking to add some depth to their defensive line.

     

    Matt Flynn: Released

    As much as I'd love to see Green Bay place their franchise tag on Flynn and then trade him for substantial draft picks, it's unlikely to happen. The Packers would have to pay Flynn $14 million and change to franchise tag him, and that is way too much money for a two-game wonder.

    However, there will be plenty of suitors waiting for Flynn to hit the market. Since he has been productive when on the field, any team that needs a potential franchise quarterback will look to make a deal. 

    Look for the Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins to be the most aggressive in going after Flynn.

     

    Pat Lee: Released

    It just doesn't make sense for the Packers to re-sign Lee to a contract. He has hardly done anything to earn a contract, and Green Bay has players with more potential on their roster that can take Lee's place. The smart move for Green Bay would be to release him and if he doesn't sign anywhere else, negotiate a very low-paying deal for a year or two.

    Lee may get looks from other teams and will likely sign a one-year contract elsewhere for 2012.

     

    Ryan Grant: Released

    As much as I'd love to have Grant back in 2012, it just isn't logical to keep him. With James Starks, Brandon Saine and Alex Green all extremely capable running backs, Grant is the odd man out. 

    However, Grant still definitely has the skill set to make an impact in the NFL. He isn't close to being "washed up", and could still give a team quality play for at least a few years.

    Grant will likely take a pay cut to join a contending team that is looking to add some depth to their running back corps. A team like the Baltimore Ravens would fit that billing.

     

    Erik Walden: Released

    Much like Lee and Green, the Packers won't sign Walden because of his inability to produce on the field. He had extreme difficulties with making an impact in both the run and pass game, and there simply isn't a place for him in Green Bay anymore.

    What makes this even more likely is the fact that Green Bay is probably going to spend a high draft pick on a pass-rushing outside linebacker.

    Look for Walden to end up somewhere in the league, though. A team that thinks he could make it as a 4-3 outside linebacker might be willing to give him a contract for a year or two.

Available Cap Space After Re-Signings

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    Available Cap Space (estimated): $8.8 million

    Only signing one of their potential free agents will leave the Green Bay Packers with a decent chunk of money for free agency and rookie contracts. Of the estimated $125 million salary cap for 2012, Green Bay will only have spent about $117 million of that.

    Now, there is still the situation of Chad Clifton and Donald Driver that will need to be dealt with. Clifton is set to make $5.7 million in 2012 and Driver will pull in another $5.6 million. Both of those figures would be grossly overpaying for their services.

    One option would be to offer Clifton and Driver to take significant pay cuts to remain on the team for another year or two. However, the most likely scenario involves Clifton retiring and Driver either retiring or being released.

    That would add roughly $11.3 million to Green Bay's salary cap and give them right around $20 million of cap space to work with. That type of money could help in landing a rather high-profile free agent on the defensive side of the football.

Biggest Needs After Re-Signing

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    Since the Green Bay Packers are only likely to re-sign one player, there will still be plenty of needs that they'll need to address via free agency and the 2012 NFL Draft.

     

    Defense

    Outside Linebacker

    Erik Walden did start for Green Bay in 2011, so finding his replacement is easily the biggest need that the Packers have. They desperately need someone to create pressure opposite Clay Matthews.

     

    Defensive Line

    Losing Howard Green will hurt the depth that the Packers have on their defensive line, so that will need to be replenished. Considering that both Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson have proven to be extremely injury prone, depth and insurance is a huge need for Green Bay.

     

    Secondary

    Once again, this need all rests on the shoulders of Nick Collins. If Collins can return in 2012, Green Bay should have one of the better secondaries in the NFL. 

    However, if Collins' career is done, Green Bay will have a big hole to fill opposite Morgan Burnett.

     

    Offense

    Offensive Line

    We discussed previously how losing Chad Clifton is an extremely likely scenario in 2012. That will leave the Packers rather thin at offensive tackle. Considering the injury history of Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod, it would be nice to add some depth for worst case scenarios.

Identifying Potential Free Agents the Packers Could Sign

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    Outside Linebacker

    If the Green Bay Packers can figure out how to clear up enough space, I'd love to see them go after a player like Mario Williams. While Williams is extremely raw as a 3-4 outside linebacker, there is no doubting his athleticism and skill set. 

    Another player that would fit well for Green Bay would be Jarrett Johnson of the Baltimore Ravens.

     

    Defensive Line

    This is a difficult position for Green Bay to address during free agency, simply because there aren't many 3-4 defensive ends available. One name that instantly pops out is Adam Carriker of the Washington Redskins. He had a career year in 2011 and has the ability to create some pressure on the quarterback.

     

    Secondary

    With Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields holding down the cornerback position, Green Bay is unlikely to go after a big name free agent at this position. However, they could look to add some depth with a players like Corey Graham, Nathan Jones or Kelly Jennings.

    At the safety position, Jim Leonhard of the New York Jets would be an extremely big pickup for the Packers. He would fit perfectly into Green Bay's defense and would be a positive asset in the locker room.

    Reggie Nelson of the Cincinnati Bengals or Tyvon Branch of the Oakland Raiders are also two players that Green Bay could target.

     

    Offensive Line

    The Packers will be looking to add depth at offensive tackle, and will likely be looking for a replacement for Scott Wells.

    At offensive tackle, King Dunlap is the type of quality backup player that the Packers would be looking for.

    At center, Green Bay will take an extremely hard look at Chris Myers of the Houston Texans and Nick Hardwick of the San Diego Chargers. Both players are extremely talented and would fill the hole left by Wells nicely.

Projecting Contract Values for Packers' Free-Agent Targets

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    To quickly review, here are the players that would fill the needs of the Green Bay Packers nicely:

    OLB Mario Williams (Houston Texans)

    OLB Jarrett Johnson (Baltimore Ravens)

    DE Adam Carriker (Washington Redskins)

    CB Corey Graham (Chicago Bears)

    CB Nathan Jones (New England Patriots)

    CB Kelly Jennings (Cincinnati Bengals)

    S Jim Leonhard (New York Jets)

    S Reggie Nelson (Cincinnati Bengals)

    S Tyvon Branch (Oakland Raiders)

    OT King Dunlap (Philadelphia Eagles)

    C Chris Myers (Houston Texans)

    C Nick Hardwick (San Diego Chargers)

    Obviously the Packers won't be signing all of these players, and the more likely scenario is that they only go after one or two of the players on this list. GM Ted Thompson isn't a huge fan of spending lots of money in free agency, and would rather build his roster through the draft.

    With that said, here are the potential contracts that we could see the Packers offering to the players above:

     

    OLB Mario Williams: Four Years, $34 Million

    While this is probably way less than Williams is worth, the Packers may be willing to get it to slip by thanks to Williams' torn pectoral muscle that kept him out of the majority of the 2011 season.

    Adding a player with Williams' skills would be a huge signing for Green Bay. Just remember when they broke the bank for Charles Woodson in 2006 and think of the impact he has had on this franchise. Williams could have a very similar one.

     

    S Jim Leonhard: Three Years, $5.5 Million

    This is less than what Leonhard was making for New York, but he is another player coming off an injury (torn knee tendon) that forced him to miss some time. 

    Leonhard is one of the most valuable players to the Jets' organization, but he also happens to have played his football at the University of Wisconsin. He may also want to get away from the locker room in New York for a much more private locker room in Green Bay.

     

    C Chris Myers: Three Years, $11 Million

    The probability of losing Scott Wells will leave a gaping hole in the interior offensive line for Green Bay. 

    Myers is coming off an extremely productive season for the Texans where he was voted to the Pro Bowl. The fact that he is so successful in the run and pass game is what makes him so attractive to Green Bay.

    Replacing one Pro-Bowl player (Wells) with another Pro-Bowl player (Myers) would be a massive free-agent signing for the Packers. It would also go a long way to keeping Aaron Rodgers off his backside.

Analyzing the Packers' Draft Strategy, Positions of Need

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    Don't be surprised to see the 2012 NFL Draft bring in defensive player after defensive player for the Green Bay Packers.

    Both outside linebacker and defensive line will be two positions that will be looked at early and often by the front office. They'll generally be looking for athletic pass rushers who can instantly make an impact in terms of getting pressure on the quarterback.

    The players that they eventually draft may be players who are raw or one-trick ponies that Green Bay can mold into the exact player that they are looking for.

    Green Bay could also look to add some depth to their secondary, both at cornerback and safety. While they have talented starters at these positions, this unit was pitiful in 2011 and could use some fresh blood.

    Even though the Packers spent a first-round pick on an offensive lineman in the 2011 draft, they will likely spend a late-round pick on a developmental type player. This player will be a player that will sit on the bench for a few years as the coaches decide if he can eventually make an impact.

    One thing that we've seen in recent years from GM Ted Thompson is his willingness to simply draft the best player available, regardless of need. This happened with Randall Cobb last year when they drafted him in the second round. 

    This makes predicting what the Packers will do rather difficult. For example, if an ultra-talented player drops to Green Bay, they could draft him, even if he doesn't fill a need at the exact moment.

    What we can be assured of is that Thompson will do another great job of bringing in some valuable talent to the roster for 2012.

Draft Names to Keep an Eye on

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    As we get closer to the draft, here are a few names to keep an eye on who the Green Bay Packers could end up drafting:

     

    Outside Linebacker

    The three big names here are Nick Perry of USC, Melvin Ingram of South Carolina and Courtney Upshaw of Alabama. Either one of these three players would be a fantastic fit for Green Bay.

    Unfortunately, the Packers would likely have to trade up to snag one of them, and they simply don't have the firepower to currently do that.

    More likely, they would go after Bruce Irvin from West Virginia. Irvin is a raw, but natural athlete. He excels at rushing the passer and is the type of player that Green Bay could put in the lineup and let loose.

    In the mid-to-late rounds, look for Green Bay to target guys like Kyle Wilber of Wake Forest and Brett Roy of Nevada.

     

    Defensive Line

    Quinton Coples of UNC is the crowned jewel of the draft at defensive end, and there is no way that the Packers will get him. He also wouldn't be a good fit, so it's a win-win situation.

    A player that skyrocketed up draft boards after the NFL Combine is Fletcher Cox from Mississippi State. Cox is athletic for a player his size and has a non-stop motor. He possesses great instincts and could play a few different positions across the line for Green Bay.

    Andre Branch of Clemson and Chandler Jones of Syracuse could also end up with Green Bay as second or third-round picks.

     

    Secondary

    Two players that could drop to the later rounds where Green Bay would actually be looking to take a cornerback or safety are Josh Robinson of Central Florida and Aaron Henry of Wisconsin.

    Both of these players would need time to develop, but both have great upside and could eventually turn into quite the players.

    Since Green Bay doesn't have a desperate need here yet, they will simply be looking for the players available with the most upside.

     

    Offensive Line

    If Green Bay strikes out with Scott Wells and in free agency, they could address this need in the first round with a player like Peter Konz out of Wisconsin. Konz is the best center available and looks like a player ready to come in right away and make an impact.

    Other than Konz, an experience center like Mike Brewster from Ohio State or a developmental player like Nate Potter of Boise State would be a nice fit.

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