As the combine begins to wind up, many players are signing deals with their clubs in lieu of testing the uncertain waters of free agency.
An astonishing 13 franchise tags have been placed on players, but luckily for the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, almost none on players who would fit in nicely for them as potential targets in free agency.
Now, we know GM Ted Thompson doesn't like to acquire big-time players through free agency, but it is nice to dream right? Here are a few players who would look good in Green and Gold, and the reasons why.
RB: DeAngelo Williams
Yes, DeAngelo could be a fit for the Packers. Now, before you bring up the sensation that is playoff hero James Starks, let me state my case. Williams is a young runner with only 841 career carries, and he's never had to truly carry the full load for the Panthers. He's only 27 years old and with his light workload from previous years, should stay productive until the age of 31-32.
He's averaged an astounding 5.0 yards per carry for his career and rushed for over 1,500 yards and 18 TD's in 2008. The Panthers placed their franchise tag on C Ryan Kalil, showing he is indeed their top priority. There has been talk of retaining Williams, but he will be an unrestricted free agent and does not have to talk exclusively with the Panthers.
Brandon Jackson is a free agent for the Packers and will most likely be retained if they don't acquire someone else. Jackson is the ideal third down back, as he catches the ball well and is quite apt at picking up blitzes. James Starks has all but locked up a roster position with his youth and hard running in the playoffs.
Incumbent Ryan Grant is the real wild card here. He will make around $6 million next year, and while that isn't very much in terms of starter money, he is coming off a major injury. The Packers almost assuredly will retain Grant, Starks and Jackson. But a release of Grant and pickup of Williams? Crazier things have happened in sports.
DeAngelo Williams: Very Unlikely
CB: Nnamdi Asomugha
Asomugha's contract was unexpectedly, not to mention mysteriously, voided after the season, as he did not match certain predetermined numbers. This made him an unrestricted free agent who could not be tagged by the Raiders, who subsequently used their tag on LB Kamerion Wimbley.
Now, Asomugha will be 29 years old and the Packers have an unexpected surprise in rookie Sam Shields, but everyone knows the good that can come from signing a veteran cornerback from Oakland. Expecting the same impact from Asomugha as Charles Woodson has provided would be ridiculous at best, but Asomugha would definitely help as the Packers gear up to defend their title. Woodson broke his collarbone in the Super Bowl and is now 34 years old, and he did have a slight decline in his play compared to his DPOY season of 2009.
Tramon Williams emerged as the Packers new top corner, and Shields showed he could play as well, sticking with the fastest receivers throughout the season. Behind them is where the conversation gets iffy. Pat Lee has been disappointing, Brandon Underwood is a development player, and Jarrett Bush is a disaster waiting to happen (excluding his unbelievable interception against Pittsburgh).
Asomugha would be quite pricey, and this is why Thompson will most likely stay away. He does not give out large contracts to players outside the organization, aside from Woodson, and if he can find gems like Shields on a regular basis, he will see no need to ink out a fat contract to someone from a different team.
Nnamdi Asomuga: Unlikely
WR: James Jones
Yes, James Jones already plays for the Packers. He is still a free agent however, and re-signing him should Thompson's No. 1 priority.
Yes, he makes incredibly boneheaded plays, but his talent is real. He's a big, fast, strong and physical receiver who will be the ideal No. 2 in the offense now fan favorite Donald Driver is being phased out of his role. Playing opposite Pro Bowler Greg Jennings allows Jones to step up and also allows Jordy Nelson to play from the inside slot.
Nelson is a little big for a slot man, but he too has shown that he will be important in the offense. His plays in the Super Bowl were MVP discussion worthy, and he will be elevated to No. 3.
But with Jones re-signed, Driver would be able to take on a lesser role and prolong his career, hopefully long enough to get some Hall of Fame discussion, although that's highly unlikely.
A lot of the mistakes Jones makes are drops, which is a clear sign of concentration issues and in turn can be corrected with more coaching. Receivers coach Jimmy Robinson has moved on to Dallas, so whoever takes that role will be trusted with the task of correcting Jones' drops and turning him into a legitimate playmaker in his own right.
James Jones: Very likely
DE: Shaun Ellis
Now, this is totally, 100 percent dependent on several factors.
The first: Cullen Jenkins. Jenkins has showed he can play in a 3-4 as an end and play well. However, there is a solid chance he will be one of the higher regarded players in free agency and could fetch a higher price if he is, a price the Packers may not be willing to match.
The second: Mike Neal. Neal was a second round pick last year but ended the season on IR and did not get much seasoning beforehand. If Thompson does not believe Neal is ready (which is unlikely), Ellis has shown he can play in a 3-4 and will not require as much money to sign as Jenkins will.
However, Ellis is 34 years old and is clearly on his way down in his career. But he may not be a bad stop-gap player to hold down the fort until Neal is ready. Fellow end Justin Harrell will finally be out of Green Bay, and this opens up a spot on the line rotation. Thompson will look to promote from within or acquire through the draft, but if Jenkins walks in free agency, there will be worse backup options than Ellis.
The odds of him coming to town are unlikely, as Thompson had the perfect opportunity to sign fellow 3-4 end Igor Olshansky several years ago but opted against it. Olshanksy is several years younger than Ellis but now plays for the Cowboys in their 3-4 alignment.
I highly doubt Ellis will be brought in, but if Jenkins leaves, he would be an ideal No. 2 option.
Shaun Ellis: Unlikely
DE/LB: Mathias Kiwanuka
Mathias Kiwanuka? Yes. Kiwanuka was the last pick of the first round in 2006, made by the New York Giants. He was expected to be a role player behind Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, and when Strahan retired, Kiwi was supposed to take the reigns. He didn't. Now, he plays behind Justin Tuck and Umenyiora and has been thought to be a possibility as a 3-4 rush linebacker.
One of Kiwi's major issues has been injuries. He's ended up on IR twice in five seasons, once for a broken leg and last season for a herniated disk. He may be looking to escape New York and slide into a starter's role, but that will be difficult to come by. He's definitely got the talent, but needs to put it all together.
The Packers are desperate for a sidekick to Clay Matthews. Frank Zombo, Brad Jones and Erik Walden have all had their moments, but none compare to Kiwanuka in terms of talent. The three of them have been injured, non-effective and have disappeared at times, especially when Matthews injured his hamstring in the middle of the season.
Kiwanuka will require a fair contract but not one that is unreasonable. Once again, Thompson dislikes looking outside the organization, but an upgrade at the other outside spot is a priority this offseason. Matthews can't do it all alone, and someone who could take pressure off of him would be welcomed to Dom Caper's defense.
Mathias Kiwanuka: Even
LB: Tamba Hali
Boy, wouldn't this be a dream come true? Hey, this was meant to be "dream free agent pickups."
Hali was a productive 4-3 end for the Chiefs prior to his move to 3-4 rush linebacker, where he has blossomed into one of the elite players. Hali has 41.5 sacks in his five seasons in the league, including his career high 14.5 last season. Hali is only 27, is in the prime of his career, and would have been a free agent if he wasn't tagged by the Chiefs. If another team were to sign him they would be forced to surrender two first round picks, which the Packers simply will not do.
Hali would be able to slide right in opposite the Claymaker and allow him to be freed of consistent double teams. Hali would also see a nice improvement in his numbers, since he too couldn't be double teamed nearly every play as the only consistent pass rusher. Both would likely see double digit sacks, while the defense as a whole could improve tremendously. The Packers were already the No. 2 scoring defense last season and would see a huge jump if Hali were dressed in Green and Gold.
If Hali were to be acquired (via trade), he would require a fat new contract and would most likely seal the deal on Cullen Jenkins not returning, along with the possibility of not signing anyone else in free agency. He would be well worth the haul it takes to acquire him though and would only increase the Packers odds of repeating as champs next year.
Tamba Hali: Nothing but a dream