If it's time for free agency, that usually means the Green Bay Packers and their fans go into hibernation. The other teams go bonkers trying to immediately improve their team and Packers general manager Ted Thompson goes into seclusion in full preparation for the NFL Draft, which is where he really shines.
At least that's been the game plan Thompson has mainly followed since his arrival in Titletown in 2005. This offseason, however, Thompson has waded into the free-agent waters, signing not one but TWO "name" free agents in Jeff Saturday and Anthony Hargrove. He re-signed a couple of his players as well as the free-agency period has been anything but quiet for the Packers.
Maybe the Mayans were onto to something with the world ending in 2012.
With the draft still a few weeks away, it's too early to assign an overall grade for the Packers' overall performance for this offseason. Instead, we can look at each move made (and not made) and see what positive and/or negative effects they could have on the team.
First, let's look at who Thompson kept.
TE Jermichael Finley, Two-years for $14 million
Finley's potential is well documented. We could go on for hours about Finley's freak athletic skills and his unique size for a tight end. If he ever can put together a complete season, he could be another player like the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and revolutionize the tight end position.
Instead, the main focus regarding Finley this offseason has been his hands. He earned the scorn of many a cheesehead this season by dropping balls he very easily should have caught. Finley's drops were particularly an issue in the playoff loss to the Giants (in Finley's defense, it was a widespread problem on offense that game).
By signing a two-year deal, Thompson gives Finley more time to build his game while keeping him in Green Bay. Letting him walk and possibly bloom elsewhere (maybe even in the NFC North) was a risk too high for the Packers to take. At $7 million for each season, this could be a steal should Finley finally play up to his potential.
CB Jarrett Bush, Three-years for $5.25 million
This was likely a move aimed at providing stability on special teams. Bush has been one of the most consistent players on an improving Packers special teams unit, and he has seen time in the secondary as well.
Despite making a few plays in the run up to Super Bowl XLV in 2010, Bush had more of a down year in the defensive backfield. As just a small piece in a very poor pass defense, Bush struggled.
It's a decent value for a special teams playmaker. If Bush can improve his pass defense, he likely will increase the dollar amount he sees on his next contract.
Next, there's the players the Packers lost and really only one name stands out (so far).
C Scott Wells Signs with St. Louis Rams as a Free Agent
Losing Wells came as a surprise. He was the one player fans thought Thompson had no choice to keep. Quarterback/center chemistry is a key element to maintaining a strong offense and it bordered on crazy that Thompson would let Wells walk and leave NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers with a new center.
This move earns a B+ because of who was named as Wells' replacement.
C Jeff Saturday Signs a Two-Year Deal Worth $7.75 million
Thanks to the fire sale by the Indianapolis Colts after their disastrous 2011 season, the Packers may have actually upgraded at the center position despite Saturday being much older than Wells.
Saturday was the man snapping the ball to Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, and as the leader of their offensive line, he played a big role in Manning becoming one of the league's all-time great quarterbacks.
Rodgers won the 2011 NFL MVP without Saturday. Think of how good No. 12 could be with Saturday now the leader of the offensive line in Green Bay,
DE Anthony Hargrove Signs a One-Year, $825,000 Contract
Even though the minimal contract amount makes this basically a risk-free signing, this move deserves some scrutiny.
On the surface, it makes perfect sense. The Packers had a horrible pass rush last season after losing Cullen Jenkins in free agency, and Hargrove specializes in rushing the passer. It seems putting him on the end could open things up for Clay Matthews and the linebackers.
The downside? Hargrove has character issues. He's been suspended twice (one suspension was for a full year) for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy and now is possibly being implicated in the Bountygate scandal from his time with the New Orleans Saints. Another suspension, potentially a lengthy one, could be looming for Hargrove.
The Packers don't take character risks often so it's likely Thompson did his homework on Hargrove. He can help the defense, but only if he is on the field and not at home.
Finally, let's look at a move the Packers could have made this offseason, but did not.
Not franchise tagging QB Matt Flynn
This would have been a gamble bordering on the insane.
If the Packers had tagged Flynn, and then found no trade partners, his salary would have skyrocketed and would have crippled the Packers' ability to sign any free agents.
Instead, Flynn left for Seattle and the Packers' franchise tag went unused.
There's still a lot of unknowns for the Packers heading into the draft. What will become of RB Ryan Grant? Will he be back in Green Bay to back up James Starks? Will the Packers cut popular veterans Donald Driver and Chad Clifton? Will they sign a backup QB or draft one?
Mike McCarthy has said both Clifton and Driver are in the Packers' plans but nothing is certain until the lineup is set after the final preseason game,
It's been an usually active offseason for the Green Bay Packers. Thompson's forays into free agency have paid dividends in the past (Charles Woodson), but it remains to be seen what impact the new members will contribute.
That, as they say, is why they play the games.
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