Ranking the Green Bay Packers' Best Remaining Free Agency Options

Bob FoxContributor IMarch 17, 2014

Ranking the Green Bay Packers' Best Remaining Free Agency Options

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    The Green Bay Packers had a very interesting first week in the 2014 version of NFL free agency last week, especially on Saturday.

    At the early stages of free agency, which began on March 11, general manager Ted Thompson was not making a peep about going after other free-agent players around the league, but instead concentrated on his own players who shared that same designation.

    The Packers were able to re-sign cornerback Sam Shields, defensive lineman/outside linebacker Mike Neal, tight end Andrew Quarless and nose tackle B.J. Raji last week.

    The Packers also lost two players to free agency, as safety M.D. Jennings signed with the Bears, and center Evan Dietrich-Smith signed with the Bucs.

    The big news of the week for the Packers came on Saturday, when it was announced that defensive end Julius Peppers had signed with the Pack.

    I had written that the signing of Peppers by the Packers was a definite possibility on two occasions early last week, here on the very first day of free agency, and also here.

    The Packers still have some work to do in free agency as they try and get some more help to add to the depth chart before the 2014 NFL draft.

    I believe that there are three players from other NFL teams that the Packers should take a close look at in free agency, plus there are at least two current Packers whom I believe the team will re-sign.

Safety Chris Clemons

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    In the first week of NFL free agency, the safeties who were allowed to shop themselves in that process were flying off the shelves.

    Players like Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner, Antoine Bethea and Louis Delmas all found new NFL homes.

    If there was one position that was a sore spot for the Packers in 2014, it was the safety position. Not one of the safeties had an interception, plus there were multiple blown coverages by both of the starting safeties, Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings.

    In addition to that, both Burnett and Jennings missed far too many tackles.

    Jennings is now gone, signing with the Bears after the Packers did not tender him a contract offer when he was a restricted free agent.

    I believe the Packers will select a safety in the early rounds of the 2014 draft, but they also want to try and bolster the position in free agency.

    That need might not seem that apparent, as it looks like Micah Hyde will get some time at safety in 2014, but that is only if slot cornerback Casey Hayward is 100 percent healthy after missing most of last season due to hamstring issues.

    The two best possibilities that the Packers have in free agency at safety are with either Chris Clemons or Jim Leonhard. Both will not cost that much, either.

    Clemons is younger and bigger than Leonhard and has been a starting safety for the Miami Dolphins for two consecutive years.  Clemons has been a solid safety over the past two seasons, with 187 tackles, three interceptions, 12 passes defended and one fumble recovery.

    While Clemons is just 28, Leonhard is now 31. He is also small by NFL standards, as he is just 5'8" and 190 pounds. Clemons, on the other hand, is 6'1" and 210 pounds.

    But Leonhard provides an important intangible: He always seems to be around the ball. The former Wisconsin Badger had four interceptions last year with the Buffalo Bills.

    Leonhard can also return punts.

    Either player could be an option to help provide depth at the safety position, which will surely get more help in the draft.


Tight End Owen Daniels

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    The Packers definitely still have questions at the tight end position, even with the re-signing of Andrew Quarless.

    Jermichael Finley made a visit to Seattle last week, but still hasn't been signed. No team will sign Finley unless it is absolutely sure that No. 88 is sufficiently healed from his neck injury, which needed a fusion procedure to help it heal.

    Because the procedure was between the C3 and C4 vertebrae (which is higher in the neck), there is a fairly high amount of risk in returning from this type of injury and playing football again.

    That is the same area in which Nick Collins had his surgery after his neck injury early in the 2011 season. The Packers never medically cleared Collins and released him.

    Both Sean Richardson and Johnny Jolly of the Packers had a similar procedure, however, those were between the C5 and C6 vertebrae. The Packers eventually cleared Richardson to play in 2013, while Jolly recently had his surgery done.

    Coincidentally, I also had a fusion procedure done between the C5 and C6 vertebrae.

    Bottom line, the odds don't favor Finley returning to the Packers. At least the Packers know that Quarless will be back, which may have been spurred on by the recent visit of tight end Owen Daniels, formerly of the Houston Texans.

    The former Wisconsin Badger should still be an option for the Packers, as he has had a solid eight-year career for the Texans. In his time in Houston, Daniels had 385 receptions for 4,617 yards and 29 touchdowns.

    The Packers also still have tight ends Ryan Taylor, Brandon Bostick and Jake Stoneburner currently on their roster.

    No matter what happens, I would imagine that the Packers will select a tight end in the 2014 NFL draft, probably in the early rounds.

Center Brian De La Puente

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    I just happened to be talking with scout Chris Landry right after the Tampa Bay Bucs announced that they had signed Evan-Dietrich Smith last Friday.

    Landry thought the the signing of Dietrich-Smith was a good one by the Bucs. He also told me that he talked to Ted Thompson at the NFL Scouting Combine in February and that Thompson had told him that he wanted Dietrich-Smith back.

    That obviously didn't happen. But Chris gave me the name of a free-agent center that he thought would be a great replacement for Dietrich-Smith. That center would be Brian de la Puente of the New Orleans Saints.

    The former Cal Bear has started at center for the Saints over the past three years. De la Puente is also accustomed to centering in a fast-paced offense like the Saints run under head coach Sean Payton and with Drew Brees at quarterback.

    De la Puente is just 28 and is listed at 6'3" and 306 pounds.

    The Packers do have options should they decide not to look for a center in free agency. They can utilize the draft again, or they can look at JC Tretter at center.

    The Packers drafted Tretter in the fourth round last year, but he broke his ankle during an OTA, didn't return to the roster until late in the season and never saw any playing time. Tretter has the ability to play all three offensive line positions and is very athletic.

    Other options for the Packers at center include left guard T.J. Lang, who played some center last year briefly while Dietrich-Smith was hurt.

    Another option is right tackle Don Barclay, who got some reps at center in training camp last year.


Fullback John Kuhn

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    I hear the same question every offseason from some readers. Why do the Packers hang on to fullback John Kuhn?

    There are a number of reasons. For one, he is a special teams dynamo. No. 30 is also the best blocking back on the team, and it was never so apparent like it was in the last game of the season in 2013, when the Packers and Bears were playing a game at Soldier Field that would determine the NFC North champion.

    The Packers were 7-7-1 going into the game, while the Bears were 8-7. It came down to this: The Packers had a 4th-and-8 situation with 38 seconds to go at the Chicago 48-yard line.

    As quarterback Aaron Rodgers went back to pass, the Bears were blitzing and left tackle David Bakhtiari tried to fend off a blitzer from the inside. That gave right defensive end Julius Peppers of the Bears (now of the Packers) a free shot to sack No. 12.

    He would have done that, too, if not for a great block by Kuhn, which allowed Rodgers to escape to the left and then throw a game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Randall Cobb, as the Packers won 33-28.

    Kuhn is also very adept at catching the ball and can get short yardage when needed, like he also did earlier on that game-winning drive against the Bears. Overall, Kuhn has had a solid career with the Packers, at a position that several teams in the NFL aren't utilizing anymore.

    According to a recent report by Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Packers and Kevin Gold, Kuhn's agent, will continue to keep talking during the free-agency process.

Quarterback Matt Flynn

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    After the Packers were destroyed by the Detroit Lions 40-10 on Thanksgiving day last season, a lot of folks were giving up the Packers for dead regarding winning the NFC North divisional title. That loss put the Packers at 5-6-1, while the Lions were 7-5, with just four games to play.

    One of the reasons for all the doom and gloom in Green Bay was that starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers was out with a fractured clavicle he had suffered in Week 9. Because of that, the team had to try and survive with Matt Flynn at quarterback for the next few games until Rodgers returned.

    Flynn had been a very capable backup to Rodgers from 2008-2011, before he left the Packers to sign a free-agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks. After that situation didn't work out, nor did subsequent stops in Oakland and Buffalo, the Packers brought back Flynn midway through the 2013 season.

    In Flynn's first appearance as a Packer last season, he brought the team back from a 20-point deficit in the third quarter in relief of quarterback Scott Tolzien to at least get a tie against the Vikings at Lambeau Field.

    After the loss in Detroit, Flynn really got into his groove. He led the Packers to comeback wins against the Falcons and the Cowboys, and almost did the same thing against the Steelers.

    When he finally handed the starting quarterback job back to Rodgers in Week 17, the Packers had a chance to win the NFC North with a victory against the Bears, which is what the Packers did.

    For the season with the Packers, Flynn threw seven touchdown passes versus four picks for 1,146 yards.

    Flynn is now an unrestricted free agent. Based on his history with the Packers, and also his history with other teams in the NFL, it seems like Titletown is the best possible destination for No. 10.

    The Packers also have Tolzien on the roster, and although the Packers love the former Badger's ability, Flynn is a proven commodity.

    The Packers may also select a quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft.