Ranking the Biggest Free Agency Priorities for the Packers

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Ranking the Biggest Free Agency Priorities for the Packers
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General Manager Ted Thompson shocked many in Packer nation in 2012, when he signed a number of free agents before training camp. Included in that group were defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, center Jeff Saturday, defensive lineman Daniel Muir and defensive lineman Phillip Merling. Later, after training camp started, Thompson also signed running back Cedric Benson.

Saturday and Benson made the club, while the others did not.

Will Thompson try free agency again in 2013? Perhaps. But first he has to determine what to do with the free agents the Packers have on their own roster.

After the release of defensive back Charles Woodson and center Jeff Saturday, the Packers are now around $20 million dollars under the 2013 salary cap, which is expected to be around $122 million per team in the NFL.

The Packers currently have a number of unrestricted free agents. This list includes Benson, wide receiver Greg Jennings, linebacker Erik Walden and linebacker Brad Jones. I would not be surprised if Jones was the only one re-signed in this group.

Plus, you have the restricted free agents. This group includes includes center Evan Dietrich-Smith, tight end Tom Crabtree, linebacker Robert Francois, linebacker Frank Zombo and cornerback Sam Shields. Expect a portion of the money that the Packers have available to go towards contract tenders to these players, especially Dietrich-Smith and Shields, who should get the highest tenders.

The Packers also need to make sure that they have several million dollars available for the 2013 draft class.

Finally, the Packers are evaluating at what point they will do contract extensions for core players such as quarterback Aaron Rodgers, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive lineman B.J. Raji.

Bottom line, I expect Thompson to continue to do what he does best—using the draft to supplement the roster. The Packers are a draft-and-develop team. Thompson also uses "street" free agency quite often in adding undrafted rookies and other players of that ilk, like cornerback Tramon Williams.

Thompson has used that method to secure players such as Shields in 2010, plus last season when he signed offensive lineman Don Barclay and outside linebacker Dezman Moses as undrafted rookies.

If Thompson uses free agency again this year, expect him to be quite thrifty. There won't be any big splashes. Expect a number of veteran minimum-type signings to be the norm if Thompson does indeed use free agency.

I'm listing some of the position areas in which Thompson and his scouting staff, led by Eliot Wolf (director of pro personnel), may look at in free agency.

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