It's early in the negotiation process between the Packers and their five UFAs and their eight RFAs. I will take a quick look at the projected salary requirements to resign each, with my personal guess as to whether the number will be met by the club.
DT Ryan Pickett is at the top of the priority list. He's been a huge presence in the center of the Packers' 3-4 defensive line. He's played nine years in the league and earned $2.6 million in '09. Age is only a marginal issue, as he likely has three to five very productive seasons remaining.
Pickett is probably the key UFA when it comes to whether the Packers use a Franchise or transition tag. The cost of assigning the Franchise tag would be $7 million, so a team signing him beyond that level would have to give up two first round draft picks.
The transition tag would carry a $6.35 million tag, but would net only the right to resign him, and no compensation should he walk (other than the supplementary value the next draft).
One advantage is that the top eight teams from the playoffs cannot make this type of offer prior to losing a player of greater value themselves. Only Arizona looks to lose free agents of the necessary value to take a run at him, plus the 24 teams below the Packers in the playoff pecking order.
While I expect some very hard negotiations to take place between now and the Mar. 5, I fully expect him to sign a three or four-year deal in the $24–30 million range. A contract of that size would make him somewhere around the Packers' fifth highest-paid player. If he does not sign a contract prior to Mar. 5, then I am very sure he will receive a transition tag.
Aaron Kampman is most likely second on the Packers' value scale. He is currently approaching 30 years old, and was paid a $3.1 million contract last year. His value to the Packers is higher than his value to other teams. The transition tag number for a LB is $8.37 million, which is very clearly beyond the grid of Packers’ players salaries at the position.
The Packers will likely offer him a contract of roughly three years for a total of $12 million. A good agent will have Kampman look elsewhere, and there are many teams who will offer in the vicinity of $5.5 million per season. The only way Kampman is back with the Pack is if he decides that playing for Green Bay will give him the best chance at winning at a championship before he retires. For the benefit of his family, we must wish him well.
Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are in very similar situations. Both are operating on $5 million plus per season pro-rated contracts, going into a situation where elite linemen are getting nearly paid nearly $10 million a season. Neither Clifton nor Tauscher has more than a season or two left. Also, neither have been immune to the boon of older players and the injury bug. Neither is a lock to maintain a starting role going into next season.
While both have given valuable and faithful service to the Packers over the years, a contract of over $3 million would be an injustice to those competing to improve. I expect Clifton to announce his retirement as early as April, and Tauscher to be given the $5 million plus by another team as training camp approaches.
Ahman Green, due to his age and "mileage," has little value this offseason. I expect will eventually sign with a bad team to finish off his career.
As the CBA status stands now, the Packers will have eight RFAs.
The tender requirements to maintain the restricted status for the seven fourth-year players are $1.17 million for a same round draft pick, $1.75 million for a second round pick, $2.52 million for a first round pick, and $3.17 million for first and third round picks.
Due to the fact that there is no longer a salary cap, and that these players have proven they can compete if not excel in the NFL, I expect Kuhn, Martin, and Bigby are tendered at the $1.75 million second round compensation levels.
All are replaceable, but hold more value than someone elses castoffs. None would be worth more than a three-year $5 million contract. Martin is not playing at a level to warrant a qualifying tender offer of over $1.75 million. But in an uncapped year, his special team impact may get him the offer anyway.
Colledge, Spitz, Jolly, and Blackmon all have plenty of playing time and are players that have shown an ability to compete as starters. Losing them would force the need to acquire another starter-level player. I expect these four to be tendered at the $2.52 million first round compensation level. The tender of course will only be if three-to-five year deals near that level can be reached.
These players are the four that are badly hurt by the current lack of a new CBA. All four of these have more value to other teams, but the loss of a first rounder makes them very risky for other teams to try to sign them. I fully expect these four all back in significant roles with the Packers in 2010.
The catch for all of them is that they were drafted high enough that low-ball offers of $1.17 million will get the Packers back the second or third round picks they were originally taken in. In the end, I do not expect the $4.7 million to be an issue as Clifton and Tauscher both will leave more of that on the table when they go.
Safety Collins is in both the toughest and most enviable position of them all. As a repeat pro-bowler he clearly has by far the greatest market value of any Packer FA, regardless of category. As a five-year player, first round compensation contract offer of $2.62 million is required while a $3.27 million offer would force a signing team to give up both a first and third round choice.
Clearly the Packers will need to tender at the $3.27 level and could still run the risk of losing him.
This is potentially the ugliest negotiation that could happen. Collins is clearly in a situation to be under-compensated due to his CBA status. Basically all he can do about it is hold out. He has no bargaining leverage, and the Packers hold all the cards. They will try to sign him long-term, and even if that fails, can basically force the tender number, with the hang over the head possibility of a “tag” being applied to a potential lockout season of 2011.
This is a drastic situation to be in for Collins as an elite player in the league. This is also an ugly situation for the Packers even though they have a great deal of leverage over Collins. Green Bay needs performance or significant replacement value for Collins. Nobody wants team controversy. I believe that negotiations in a three or five-year range at $3.5–$4.5 million per season seem fair. But Collins and his agent may feel he is worth even more, even exceeding the $4.6 million Troy Polamolu got from Pittsburgh. I Packer management and Collins can come to an agreement in the five-year $20 million range.
Regardless of exact numbers, I hardly expect more than one of the five UFAs to return, only Pickett. On the flip side, I expect at least seven of the eight of the RFAs to return. I can see only four or five players leaving this roster.
The Packers team has stability at its core, and a great opportunity to become one of the NFL's elite teams in 2010. It will be a nice training camp. seeing only a few players trying to break into the roster, and only a few real competitions for starting jobs. That is the sign of stability I have been looking for the past several years.
After the 2010 draft, Ted Thompson finally will have completely built his team. After the 2011 Super Bowl will be the time to begin the real judgements.