The Green Bay Packers certainly don't have the worst salary-cap issues heading into the 2014 season. Their salary cap sat at just over $122 million, which left them with right at $9 million in cap space according to Spotrac.com.
However, with a large number of players becoming either unrestricted or restricted free agents, the Packers currently sit with an estimated $18.5 million in cap room, the ninth-most in the NFL. That's a good chunk of money to work with to sign players and re-structure contracts for key players already on the roster.
Today, we are going to look at where the Packers money is best spent. We'll look at the Packers own free agents who deserve new contracts as well as other players Green Bay should pursue in free agency.
Finally, we'll take a look at players who are currently under contract, but who the Packers would be wise to sign to long-term deals before they can hit free agency.
Packers' 2014 Free Agents
First, let's take a look at the free agents that the Packers have to make decisions on heading into the 2014 season:
|Name||Position||Type of Free Agent||2013 Cap Hit|
|Jermichael Finley||TE||UFA||$8.75 million|
|Ryan Pickett||DL||UFA||$6.7 million|
|B.J. Raji||DL||UFA||$6.6 million|
|James Jones||WR||UFA||$3.75 million|
|John Kuhn||FB||UFA||$2.5 million|
|Sam Shields||CB||UFA||$2.0 million|
|Andrew Quarless||TE||UFA||$1.4 million|
|Marshall Newhouse||OL||UFA||$1.4 million|
|Evan Dietrich-Smith||OL||UFA||$1.3 million|
Of those above names, there are a handful that we can instantly dismiss as money that'd be poorly spent on. There's no reason for Green Bay to bring back offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse, safety M.D. Jennings or quarterback Seneca Wallace. Those are the easy decisions to make.
Unfortunately, there are also a number of difficult decisions for the Packers to make concerning re-signing their players. Tight end Jermichael Finley was on pace for a career year before suffering a serious neck injury. Defensive linemen B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett have also been productive before this season.
Who is the most important free agent for the Packers to re-sign?
You can also throw wide receiver James Jones, fullback John Kuhn and outside linebacker Mike Neal into the pile of difficult players to decide on.
However, spending money on any those players wouldn't be too wise, unless their contracts were extremely team-friendly for the 2014 season and beyond.
Of the 2014 free agents, the Packers best spend their money on the following five players: cornerback Sam Shields, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, defensive end Johnny Jolly, running back James Starks and inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore.
Shields and Dietrich-Smith are the obvious candidates, and Green Bay should be willing to pay them whatever is far and desired. Both Jolly and Starks had productive seasons in 2013 and can still make a big impact for the Packers. As for Lattimore, he showed just enough potential during his time on the field this year to challenge for a starting job in 2014 in Green Bay.
As long as the Packers are wise by signing the players they need to and not bringing back players who don't belong, they should be able to come out on top in terms of using their money wisely.
NFL Free Agents
General manager Ted Thompson hasn't made his living by signing big-name free agents. In fact, he's done the exact opposite, often shying away from being a player at all during free agency.
Unfortunately, the Packers have too many holes on their current roster for that to be an acceptable option this year. They don't necessarily need to be overly active and bring in player after player—but one or two free agents would be worthwhile spending some money on.
The first name to come to mind is safety Jairus Byrd. Sure, he may be quite expensive, but he's a premier safety in this league who would instantly improve the position where the Packers received the least amount of production.
Even if the Packers can't get a player like Byrd, there are a handful of other free agents such as tight end Fred Davis, safety T.J. Ward or inside linebacker Donald Butler who would be great signings for the franchise.
Contracts to Re-Structure
Heading into the offseason, there should be two players the Packers are looking to work out long-term deals with and re-structure their contract. Those two players are wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
Both players become free agents in 2015, and Green Bay simply can't afford to let either player hit the open market. The reason for this is that Nelson and Cobb could easily receive huge contracts once they become free agents. They're simply that good of players.
Instead of letting that happen, the Packers need to work out long-term deals with them this offseason. Sure, it might take up more salary cap for the 2014 season, but it'll be a better move in the long run.
Outside of Cobb and Nelson, the Packers really don't have any contracts that need to be re-structured.
As long as the Packers can bring back the key free agents, at least one big-name free agent and re-structure some contracts, they should be able to have an extremely productive offseason in terms of using their money wisely.