Weighing the Pros and Cons of the Packers' Top Free-Agent Targets
In less than a week, starting on March 11, the Green Bay Packers can begin signing free agents. Since Ted Thompson took over the front office of the team in 2005, the use of pure free agency has been rare, and even then, that was done after the initial wave of free agency started.
That normally is the right way to proceed fiscally. Why pay an extraordinary amount of money to a potential free agent on the first few days of free agency?
Some NFL teams have done that in the past, and that decision has come back to bite them in terms of being in salary-cap hell later on. Especially when the player the team had signed turns out to be a bust.
The Packers under Thompson prefer to let the free-agent market settle down after that first wave and then move on to potential free-agent candidates.
That will probably be the case again in 2014. That being said, the Packers have plenty of cap money to work with. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has calculated that the Packers are almost $35 million under the salary-cap limit of $133 million.
Also, Ian Rapoport recently reported that the Packers could be big spenders in free agency this year. Rapoport thinks the Packers might sign as many as five free agents. That hasn't happened in Green Bay since 2006, which was Thompson's second year as general manager.
To add to the free-agent situation with the Packers, the team itself has 19 players (17 unrestricted and two restricted) who could be free agents starting March 11.
In terms of the free agents who would fill a need on the Packers in 2014 and beyond, I have listed five of those players in this slideshow, with the pros and cons of signing each one of them.
Safety Jairus Byrd (Buffalo Bills)
Jairus Byrd is the top safety in the 2014 free-agent market without a doubt. All you have to do is look at what he has already accomplished in his five-year career in Buffalo. Byrd has 22 interceptions (two for touchdowns), 33 passes defended, five fumble recoveries and 11 forced fumbles in his time as a Bill.
That productivity has garnered him three Pro Bowl invites. The Packers desperately need someone like Byrd to give the safety position that same type of playmaking capability.
In 2013, the safeties of the Packers were involved in way too may blown coverages and missed tackles. Not one of the safeties on the team had an interception either.
Byrd will have many NFL bidders looking to sign him to a deal. Potential landing spots include Cleveland, where his former defensive coordinator in Buffalo, Mike Pettine, is now the head coach of the Browns.
Byrd played his college ball under Chip Kelly at Oregon, so the Philadelphia Eagles also appear to be a possible new location for Byrd.
Also, as Mary Kay Cabot of the Northeast Ohio Media Group wrote, Byrd is looking to become the highest-paid safety in the NFL and is looking for over $10 million a year.
Safety T.J. Ward (Cleveland Browns)
Safety T.J. Ward has also had a productive four-year career in the NFL as a member of the Browns, although not to the standard of Jairus Byrd. Ward has five career interceptions (one for a touchdown), 24 passes defended, one fumble recovery and five forced fumbles.
Like Byrd, Ward is a solid tackler, and he would add a physical presence to the Green Bay secondary. Ward was named to the Pro Bowl in 2013.
If the Browns pursue Byrd as a free agent, it would seem unlikely that the Browns would be able to keep Ward as well.
If the Browns do not try to sign Byrd, the team has plenty of cap space to re-sign Ward, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.
Also, like Byrd, Ward played his college football at Oregon, so a landing spot could also potentially be with the Eagles and Chip Kelly.
Safety Chris Clemons (Miami Dolphins)
Compared to either Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward, the track record of Clemons will make him much more affordable to a team like the Packers, who have been fiscally conservative under Ted Thompson.
That being said, Clemons has had 187 combined tackles the past two seasons.
Also, according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, the Dolphins have brought in free-agent safety Louis Delmas for a visit. If the Dolphins do sign Delmas, it would be difficult to keep Clemons.
Clemons has not been overly productive in his career in terms of making big plays. The Packers desperately need a playmaker at the safety position.
Tight End Garrett Graham (Houston Texans)
Tight end Garrett Graham of the Houston Texans had a breakout year in 2013, when he had 49 receptions for 545 yards and five touchdowns. Over the past two seasons, Graham has a combined 77 catches for 808 yards and eight touchdowns.
According to Ian Rapoport, the Packers would be interested in bringing Graham to Green Bay if the Texans can't re-sign the former Wisconsin Badger.
Because Graham went to Wisconsin, he is very familiar with being able to run block on a consistent basis. That will be a key factor, as the Packers developed a productive running game in 2013 behind Eddie Lacy and company.
As noted in the tweet by Rapoport, the Texans are trying to re-sign Graham. Also, even though his production is ascending in the NFL, Graham would be replacing the productivity of both Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless (who are also free agents), as the two combined had 57 receptions for 612 yards and five touchdowns in 2013 for the Packers.
Defensive Lineman Linval Joseph (New York Giants)
Defensive lineman Linval Joseph picked a good season to have the best year of his four-year career as a New York Giant. In 2013 and the year before he was to become a free agent, Joseph had 59 total tackles, three sacks, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.
With the Packers having four defensive linemen (B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and C.J. Wilson) who all will be free agents on March 11, adding a player like Joseph would be a big addition to the front seven of the defense.
Joseph also has the size that the Packers would like on their defensive line, as he is 6'4", 328 pounds. He obviously has proven to be a solid run-stuffer for the G-Men, plus he has flashed some pass-rush ability as well, as evidenced by his career total of nine sacks.
Joseph will be highly sought-after as a free agent, as he has proven he can play effectively in the 4-3 defense utilized by the Giants. He also has the athletic ability and size to be productive in a 3-4 scheme. Bottom line, any NFL team with needs on their defensive line will be looking at a young talent like Joseph in free agency.
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