Green Bay Packers Final Free-Agency Outlook and Predictions

Matt SteinCorrespondent IIMarch 6, 2014

Green Bay Packers Final Free-Agency Outlook and Predictions

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    Could the Packers actually make a move for safety Jairus Byrd in free agency?
    Could the Packers actually make a move for safety Jairus Byrd in free agency?Steven Senne/Associated Press

    With the start of free agency fast approaching on March 11, the Green Bay Packers have an opportunity to improve their roster in a huge way. Of course, they'll need to take chances and spend money, but this might finally be the year that the Packers are ready to do that.

    Today we're going to take you through a final outlook for the Packers in free agency. We'll break down the team's cap space, its current free agents, the team needs and some potential targets.

    Finally, we'll give you predictions on what moves we expect the Packers to actually make. Let's get started.

Cap Space

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    What's funny about the Green Bay Packers and their estimated cap space is that it differs depending on who you're talking to.

    For example, Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel has the Packers at $34.7 million in space. However, Spotrac.com has the Packers with just over $35.1 million in space, while OvertheCap.com has them with just $35 million.

    What we can take away from this is that Green Bay will probably have approximately $35 million to spend, which is one of the highest amounts in the league. We also need to remember that the salary cap will pay for the rookies that the Packers draft, so they can't spend all $35 million in free agency.

    With that said, we still shouldn't be surprised if Green Bay is willing to spend a good chunk of it on free agents in the coming weeks. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com has already reported that the Packers could spend more than they've spent in years, so we should see them make some moves in free agency.

Current Free Agents

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers have a total of 19 of their own free agents who will become available to the entire league on the afternoon of March 11.

     

    Offensive Free Agents: C Evan Dietrich-Smith, FB John Kuhn, QB Matt Flynn, QB Seneca Wallace, RB Kahlil Bell, RB James Starks, OT Marshall Newhouse, TE Jermichael Finley, TE Andrew Quarless, WR James Jones

    While most of the talk this offseason has been about defensive free agents, the Packers have a number of key offensive free agents whom they could also lose. Dietrich-Smith, Kuhn, Jones, Starks and Finley were all impact players last year for Green Bay.

    Losing all those players would be a bit hit for the offense to take. However, it's also rather unlikely that all of the above players will sign with other teams. For example, it's likely that Dietrich-Smith will be back with the team, and Kuhn, Starks and Quarless are also possibilities for Green Bay to re-sign.

    The most likely candidates to leave via free agency are Jones, Wallace and Newhouse. While Jones has been a quality receiver the past two seasons, the Packers already have depth at his position, and he will be able to make more money elsewhere.

    It'll be interesting to see what the Packers do with players like Flynn and Finley. Both have their place on the roster, but they also have big questions surrounding how much production they'll provide in the near future.

    Ultimately, the Packers could find themselves lacking at a handful of positions on the offense side of the ball if they aren't able to re-sign some of their bigger offensive free agents.

     

    Defensive Free Agents: CB Sam Shields, DL Johnny Jolly, DL B.J. Raji, DL C.J. Wilson, DL Ryan Pickett, LB Robert Francois, LB Jamari Lattimore, LB Mike Neal, S M.D. Jennings

    This is the side of the ball where the Packers could potentially lose a ton of talent. For example, Jolly, Raji and Pickett was the starting defensive line for the majority of the 2013 season. It's a definite possibility that all three won't be in Green Bay at the start of the 2014 season.

    However, the highest priority is cornerback Sam Shields. If they are unable to re-sign him, the secondary would instantly become an even bigger liability than it already is. Green Bay should basically be ready with the checkbook to match any offer that he may receive on the open market.

    Outside of Shields, the Packers don't have any defensive free agents that they must bring back. They could move on from all of the above personnel and be just fine defensively.

Team Needs

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Safety

    This is the biggest need for the Green Bay Packers. With M.D. Jennings being a free agent and Morgan Burnett struggling, it's possible that Green Bay will be looking for a handful of safeties during free agency.

    If the Packers are going to break the bank on a free agent, this is the position that they should spend money on. No position needs to be upgraded more, and adding a quality safety would make the defense much better.

     

    Defensive Tackle

    What the Packers need is a true 3-4 defensive tackle. They need to add a big, athletic body that can eat up blockers and stop the run.

    One option at this position would be to re-sign B.J. Raji and move him back to defensive tackle. However, the Packers want to become faster along the defensive line, according to Dan Hanzus at NFL.com, and Raji doesn't seem to fit in that scenario.

    The most likely scenario is for the Packers to bring in a defensive tackle via free agency.

     

    Defensive End

    With Johnny Jolly, B.J. Raji and C.J. Wilson all potentially moving on, the Packers have a need at defensive end. What they ultimately desire at this position are players who can not only slow down the run but also create pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

    Even if Green Bay decides to bring back Jolly, Raji or Wilson, the team will still likely look to add other defensive ends in free agency.

     

    Inside Linebacker

    This might not seem like a huge team need, but it is. While A.J. Hawk is coming off a great season, it's the linebacker spot opposite him that needs to be improved.

    With Robert Francois and Jamari Lattimore being free agents, that leaves Brad Jones with the starting job. Unfortunately, he showed last year that he isn't the long-term solution at inside linebacker.

    Look for the Packers to attempt to bring in some young talent at this position.

     

    Tight End

    The only real need on the offensive side of the ball is at tight end. The two biggest producers at this position, Andrew Quarless and Jermichael Finley, are both free agents.

    If the Packers were to pass on re-signing both of them, they would have to find a replacement in free agency. However, if they bring back one or both, then it's possible they could wait until the draft to add another tight end.

Possible Targets

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

    Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills

    Byrd stands atop the list of free agents as the premier player available this offseason. If the Green Bay Packers want to sign him, it's going to take quite a bit of money to do so.

    However, he is capable of being an instant difference-maker for a defense. Signing him would make the Packers defense feared in the league.

     

    Donte Whitner, S, San Francisco 49ers

    If the Packers don't want to break the bank for Byrd, they could look at the second-tier of safeties and still improve their secondary.

    Whitner is going to bring a physical presence at the safety position that Green Bay lacked last year. Unfortunately, he doesn't have anywhere near the playmaking skills of Byrd.

    Nevertheless, he'd be an improvement over the Packers' current safeties.

     

    T.J. Ward, S, Cleveland Browns

    Ward is another big-name free agent who will need to get paid in order to be signed. The only problem with him is that he plays strong safety.

    That's the position that Morgan Burnett is most comfortable at, so if the Packers sign Ward, they would probably also need to look at adding a free safety. We saw what Burnett could do at free safety last year, and it wasn't pretty.

    Adding Ward would be huge for Green Bay, but it would also cause a little extra work to truly improve the safety position.

     

    Lamarr Houston, DE, Oakland Raiders

    Houston hasn't been talked about much heading into free agency, but he is a big-time player. He was the 11th-best 4-3 defensive end last year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    He's likely going to be expensive to sign away from the Raiders, but it's also possible that he wants to leave Oakland. He would be most valuable for the Packers against the run.

     

    Garrett Graham, TE, Houston Texans

    Graham has never been utilized to his full potential in Houston, but he's been a productive player for the Texans. He'd also be a great fit offensively for the Packers.

    In fact, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com has already said that the Packers will pursue him if the Texans don't re-sign him. By signing Graham, the Packers would be able to let both Andrew Quarless and Jermichael Finley leave via free agency.

     

    Brandon Spikes, ILB, New England Patriots

    There's no doubt that Spikes would be a great addition for the Packers due to his ability to stop the run at an elite level. However, that's the only thing that he does well as an inside linebacker.

    While the Packers don't necessarily need another one-trick pony on defense, he is so good against the run that they could still be interested.

     

    Linval Joseph, DT, New York Giants

    Joseph is another player who isn't quite getting enough attention as he should be heading into free agency. He graded out as the No. 21 overall defensive tackle in the NFL last year, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    What makes him such a great fit for the Packers is that he's already an established run-stopper, but he also has the ability to create pressure on quarterbacks when he needs to. He'd be the ideal fit at defensive tackle for the Packers 3-4 defense.

     

    Randy Starks, DT, Miami Dolphins

    Starks is coming off a solid season for the Dolphins and should have plenty of suitors in free agency. Unfortunately, he is also already 30 years old.

    If the Packers are looking to draft a young defensive tackle in May, they could sign Starks to a deal for only a few years while they develop their draft pick.

Predictions

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    What makes predicting what the Green Bay Packers will do in free agency so difficult is the man in charge, general manager Ted Thompson. We've seen him spend money (2006), and we've also seen him do basically nothing in free agency (2012).

    This year, we'll likely see him spend at least a little. This team has too many needs not to at least spend a good chunk of its money in free agency.

    Now that doesn't mean they'll sign a premier player like safety Jairus Byrd, but we shouldn't be surprised if Thompson and the Packers don't bring in some big-name players this offseason.

    As for the team's own free agents, look for Green Bay to re-sign cornerback Sam Shields and center Evan Dietrich-Smith first. After them, the most likely candidates to get re-signed are defensive end Johnny Jolly, inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore and tight end Jermichael Finley. The other 14 free agents are likely to be with new teams during the 2014 season.

    While the Packers may not make the big splash that everyone wants them to, they should be more active this year than they have been in recent seasons. Look for Thompson to improve his overall roster by making plenty of smart moves in free agency.