Projecting Green Bay's NFL Free-Agent Targets

Bob FoxContributor IMarch 8, 2013

Projecting Green Bay's NFL Free-Agent Targets

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    General manager Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers certainly caught quite a few folks off-guard last season when he signed a number of free agents. Among the group was center Jeff Saturday, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, defensive lineman Daniel Muir, defensive lineman Phillip Merling and running back Cedric Benson.

    Only Saturday and Benson made the 53-man roster, however, and Benson was lost for the season in Week 5, while Saturday was benched late in the season. Still, Thompson's activity in free agency was quite surprising.

    Thompson is a draft and develop-type of general manager. That is how he has built the Packers. When he does dabble into free agency, it's usually by signing "street" free agents or undrafted rookie free agents. However, he did hit it big in 2006 when he signed both defensive back Charles Woodson and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

    So, what will happen this year? Expect Thompson to prioritize the players on his own roster. That includes unrestricted free agents like linebacker Brad Jones, as well as restricted free agents like cornerback Sam Shields and center/guard Evan Dietrich-Smith.

    Plus, it has been reported via Pro Football Talk.com that quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be getting a long-term extension in the near future. You can also expect one soon for linebacker Clay Matthews as well. Rodgers and Matthews also have the same agent...David Dunn.

    In addition to Rodgers and Matthews, the Packers also want to extend the contract of defensive lineman B.J. Raji.

    Even with all that, the Packers will probably sign two or three free agents. I expect the compensation to be quite minimal, though—similar to the contract Benson got last season, which was at the veteran's minimum.

    Maybe with the right player, the Packers may give a reasonable offer.

    Let's look at some of the Packers' potential free-agent targets.

Defensive Lineman Chris Canty

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    Defensive lineman Chris Canty arrived in Green Bay Wednesday night and spent Thursday meeting with Packer team officials and having a physical exam. According to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, there have not been any contract talks yet.

    Canty was a player the Packers were interested in back in 2009 when he was a free agent after playing in the 3-4 defense with the Dallas Cowboys. But Canty decided to play for the New York Giants instead, where he played in a 4-3 defense.

    Canty was part of a dynamic and productive defensive line rotation that helped the G-Men win Super Bowl XLVI.

    The 30-year-old Canty has the size that the Packers are looking for with their defensive ends. Canty goes 6'7" and weighs 317 pounds. Canty had seven sacks the past two seasons with the Giants.

Defensive Lineman Cullen Jenkins

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    Since being released by the Philadelphia Eagles in late February, Cullen Jenkins has been on quite a free-agent tour.

    So far, Jenkins has visited the New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.That tour might include a stop in Green Bay, at least according to his agent in an article in the Green Bay Press Gazette.

    The 6'2, 305-pound Jenkins had a pretty productive career with the Pack when he played in Green Bay. Jenkins had 29 sacks in seven seasons with the Packers, plus was very solid against the run. When the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, Jenkins had seven sacks, as the Packers finished second in the NFL in that statistic.

    The Packers let Jenkins walk in free agency after that Super Bowl victory, as the Packers were concerned about his recent injury history, plus the team thought it had a capable replacement in Mike Neal.

    The 32-year-old Jenkins signed with the Eagles after that and has not missed a game in those two years, plus he added 9.5 sacks the past two seasons as well.

Defensive Lineman Ricky Jean-Francois

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    The San Francisco 49ers had one of the best defensive front seven groups in the NFL last season, and defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois played a key role in serving as the top backup in the defensive line rotation.

    According to NFL.com, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Packers have some interest in Jean Francois, who was a very solid run defender for the 49ers last season.

    Late last season All-Pro defensive lineman Justin Smith was hampered by a triceps injury, and it was the 6'2", 295-pound Jean-Francois who filled in quite capably in Smith's absence.

    Jean-Francois only had two sacks last season and only has three total sacks in his career, but he is very active in stopping the run. The 26-year-old former LSU Tiger plays with a non-stop motor and has a very nasty attitude on the football field.

Running Back Steven Jackson

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    Based on his interview with Sports Illustrated, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it appears that Steven Jackson wants to play for a "contender" with "strong fanbase".

    That seems to mean the Green Bay Packers would be a viable candidate for his services in 2013. The Atlanta Falcons have also been linked to Jackson, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

    The 6'2", 240-pound Jackson has put together a fantastic career with the St. Louis Rams, as he has rushed for 10,135 yards in nine seasons and scored 56 rushing touchdowns. In addition to that, Jackson has caught 407 passes in his career, for 3,324 additional yards and eight more touchdowns.

    The 29-year-old Jackson is a bruising back, who has the ability to stay on the field for all three downs, as not only does he catch the ball well, but he is also a very effective blocker in picking up blitzes.

    If there is any player with whom the Packers might be very competitive from a cost standpoint in free agency, it would be Jackson. 

Safety Kenny Phillips

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    With the recent release of safety Charles Woodson, the Packers now have two very young players who will be competing for the strong safety job opposite free safety Morgan Burnett. The players are M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian, who are still both in the developmental stage, although they both received considerable playing time in 2012.

    The Packers are sure to add some depth to the position, either via the draft or through free agency. If the Packers decide to go the free-agent route, one viable candidate would be Kenny Phillips, who has played the last five seasons with the New York Giants.

    The issue with Phillips has not been his production on the field, but rather staying healthy. Last season, Phillips only played in seven games, due to a knee injury. However, in 2010 and 2011, when Phillips started in 15 games each season, the former Miami Hurricane averaged over 60 tackles per year, plus had five interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

    The sturdy Phillips goes 6'2" and is 217 pounds, and he is just 26 years old.