Green Bay Packers: Top NFL Free Agents the Team Must Target This Offseason

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2011

Green Bay Packers: Top NFL Free Agents the Team Must Target This Offseason

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    Win the Super Bowl and sign your head coach to a multi-million dollar deal.  Yep, it's been a fairly productive start to the offseason for the Green Bay Packers.

    When they haven't been taking trips to the NFL scouting combine or giving long-winded conferences with the press, the Packers have kept fairly cool heads.  Mike McCarthy has handled just about every situation with a smile on his face, while CEO Mark Murphy continues to pave the way behind the scenes as the 2011 season approaches.

    Welcome to crunch time, folks. 

    Yes, the Packers now look toward April—the time of year when the draft comes into perspective.  Along with prospects and promising recruits, though, free agency is also in Green Bay's viewfinder, as this year's pool of talent is swarming with potential picks.

    You don't have to be a genius to realize the Packers are fairly laid-back during the free-agent period.  Ted Thompson is fickle at best when it comes to considering players, a common area of aggravation for Packer fans.

    This year may be no different, mind you.

    Nevertheless, here's a select group of free agents Thompson may like to consider, keeping in mind the team's needs as time progresses.

Clinton Portis

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    The Washington Redskins finally parted ways with veteran running back Clinton Portis.  It was a move that seemed inevitable many months ago, but the future of the 10-year running back is now undetermined as he awaits free agency.

    Relating to the Packers, Green Bay's run game is far from bad.  Rookie James Starks rose to the ranks when it mattered during the playoffs last year, placing 315 yards and a score next to his name in Ryan Grant's absence. 

    But Portis can't be overlooked by the Packers.

    On Green Bay's young offensive roster, a veteran presence at the running-back spot is missing.  Starks is young, Grant is entering his fifth season and John Kuhn's experience doesn't compare to that which Portis bears.

    Portis wasn't completely useless last season in Washington, where he ran for 227 yards and two touchdowns.  He did, however, miss 11 regular-season games.  Perhaps this is why interest has been so low lately.

    The Packers could do with a veteran runner.  Portis could also help out on 3rd-down situations, a problem that seemed to seep out of the woodwork during the NFC Championship Game in Chicago.

Eric Wright

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    Cornerback Eric Wright saw his mailbox flooded with death threats last season, as the "Dawg Pound" unleashed a plague of hate on one of the NFL's once promising young studs.

    So why would the Packers want anything to do with this mess? 

    Don't get out your 10' pole, yet.

    Aside from the low financial risk that comes with making a move, Green Bay could pick up a cornerback rather easily, especially if a young draft prospect doesn't fall the Packers' way.

    For the most part, an assessment of Wright comes down to how optimistic you are.  Experts remain faithful, stating that there is a chance of a turnaround somewhere in the future, while others cast Wright aside and choose to place him in the "miscellaneous drawer" until that distant day arrives.

    Statistically speaking, Wright isn't all that bad.  If you exclude the death threats and unwanted e-mails, Wright has recorded nine interceptions in his three-year career, along with 225 total tackles.

    If the Packers wish to gain a cornerback, free agency offers up a few underrated picks.  Wright is one of many that could prove himself as he matures over time.

Jared Gaither

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    Offensive tackle Jared Gaither has been a disgruntled player lately.  The Baltimore Ravens are yet to meet his free-agent needs this offseason, while Gaither continues to push for a move back to left tackle next year.

    Therefore, a stalemate has been reached—opening up a world of possibilities for the other 31 teams.

    Coincidentally, Green Bay's left tackle spot has been a sore point this offseason.  Current starter Chad Clifton is in his 12th year, but the need for a younger, more versatile linemen continues to pop up as a concern.

    Hello, Gaither.

    Green Bay isn't a favorite. Heck, no one is. 

    The Ravens have been in talks with Gaither recently, as the team still seems eager to form a new contract despite the controversy that surrounds.

    Speaking of controversy, Gaither's fitness and performance are also concerning, seeing as he hasn't played in a regular-season game since 2009.  A back injury made his return uncertain, and, of course, with this kind of injury, the future is always questionable.

    Again, Ted Thompson will likely remain quiet on this one.  Gaither is one of the most sought-after offensive lineman in this year's free-agency pool, even though it is a position the Packers really need to take a look at.

    It is no guarantee the Ravens will come to terms with Gaither, so who knows?  Green Bay may pick up the pieces.

Mike Sims-Walker

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    Mike Sims-Walker was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars recently, and is now a free agent in serious need of a new home.

    It's arguable as to whether or not the Packers need another wide receiver ahead of this season.  Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and James Jones are all suitable targets for Aaron Rodgers in the future, but the days of Donald Driver are slowly winding down after hoisting his first ring.

    What Sims-Walker brings to the table is an explosiveness that several receivers lack.  Last season in Jacksonville, Sims-Walker picked up 562 yards and seven touchdowns, and was one of several reasons for quarterback David Garrard's severe progression.

    Other than that, the cliche factor of youth is also present.  Sims-Walker is entering his fifth season in 2011, and is a viable young asset for any team looking to build for the future.

    One of the beauties of the Packers organization is the team's ability to grow.  The Packers snap up players whom they believe will be valuable in years to come, setting themselves up for Super Bowl rings and numerous playoff appearances.

    Does Sims-Walker fall into this category?

    In my opinion, yes, he does.  With a good quarterback like Rodgers and some solid coaching, Sims-Walker is a step away from a bigger role.  Playing time will be competitive—that's a given—but there's no reason for Ted Thompson to overlook Sims-Walker as a prospect.

Nnamdi Asomugha

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    It's no big shock, nor is it a huge surprise, to see Nnamdi Asomugha crack this list.  He's the man everyone has an eye on, the player every fan dreams of watching on Sundays and, most importantly, one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league.

    On the Packers' front, this is an option that isn't entirely necessary to consider.  Yes, Asomugha is a great player to keep in mind, but he isn't the type of free agent that general manager Ted Thompson would normally consider.

    Nevertheless, I'll entertain the idea for a moment.

    Asomugha in a Packer uniform means more than the obvious.  It also means quite possibly one of the best cornerback tandems in NFL history, even if Charles Woodson is slowly declining as the years trudge on.

    But with that in mind, the future of Asomugha and Tramon Williams brings a smile.  Two talented players who have combined for 27 interceptions in their careers; what's not to like? 

    In Green Bay's case, money, among other things.

    Where Asomugha's interest currently lies is unclear.  We know that he is good friends with Woodson, but the wheeling-and-dealing ways of the New York Jets also act as a distraction. The wallet of Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum is always open for discussion.

    Chances are it won't happen, but it isn't totally off the table.  If one thing is for sure, the Packers defense would be full to capacity with weapons to choose from.

Rocky McIntosh

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    The outside linebacker position is one of Green Bay's biggest concerns this offseason.  Currently, the Packers feature three key players in Clay Matthews, Frank Zombo and Erik Walden, all of whom contributed to last season's success.

    Super Bowl or not, though, some work is left to be done.

    With teams slapping tenders on many defensive players, the pickings are slim in free agency.  Bigger names such as LaMarr Woodley and Tamba Hali are no-brainers, while the list continues to grow shorter in terms of options.

    So who can the Packers consider?

    Among the options is Washington Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh.

    Firstly, McIntosh is an inside linebacker, but don't write him off because of it.  In 2010, he accounted for 110 tackles and two sacks, although the Redskins' 26th-ranked rush defense is not flattering.

    Secondly, McIntosh is young.  He's a six-year player with a tremendous amount of strength. 

    But at the same time, discipline is an issue, as he failed to show up to the Redskins' offseason workouts last season.

    And thirdly, McIntosh knows the 3-4 scheme.  Most folks felt that he was forgotten within Washington's defense last year.  However, in Green Bay, McIntosh would at least be stepping into Dom Capers' preferred scheme as one familiar with the program.

    It's a shady option at best, and by all means, the draft could be the better way to fill this need.  Still, McIntosh has failed to receive any interest from the Redskins, leaving the door open for the Packers.

Roman Harper

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    The Packers' safety position looks set for the future, wouldn't you say?  Nick Collins recorded a memorable pick-six against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl, while Charlie Peprah will remain with the team for at least the next two years.

    But this isn't enough to avoid a worst-case scenario.

    Six years into his career, Roman Harper is now a restricted free agent in New Orleans.  The call for a new home hasn't been heard from Harper yet, but with criticism buzzing around his performance against Seattle in the playoffs, testy times lay ahead.

    Those testy times could hurt Harper, but they shouldn't deter the Packers from at least taking a look at him.

    Weighing 200 pounds, Harper has a hefty frame that most cornerbacks view as a disadvantage.  Hard hits aren't always on the menu, but nine times out of 10, he will engage in strict coverage with a receive and he had six forced fumbles last year.

    For Green Bay, most of the playmaking during last year's regular season came at the cornerback spot.  Fans have groaned at the thought of Jarrett Bush for months, and even after a commendable performance in the Super Bowl, some attention to detail is needed at the safety spot.

    Harper won't easily be persuaded—it will likely take a wad of cash for him to raise an eyebrow.  This could be a beneficial move for the Packers, though.

Tommie Harris

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    The Chicago Bears released three players several weeks ago, tossing veteran defensive tackle Tommie Harris into the wilderness.

    It was a surprise to say the least.  Why would Chicago tell a former Pro Bowl tackle to walk on such short notice? 

    Obviously, there was much more to it than we originally thought. 

    Harris hasn't played consistently since 2007.  A pesky knee injury has bothered him for the later half of his career, giving Chicago no other choice but to release Harris heading into 2011.

    Needless to say, though—one man's trash is another man's treasure.

    The Packers aren't short at the tackle position, but they aren't overflowing, either.  B.J Raji was 2010's shining light, especially in the playoffs.  On the other hand, Ryan Pickett enters his 11th season, while Cullen Jenkins is also no spring chicken.

    Some may say it would be foolish to replace one veteran with another, yet at the same time we mustn't overlook Harris' ability either.

    Prior to injury, Harris was tormenting on defense.  After the Bears' 2006 Super Bowl run, he accounted for eight sacks on the season, earning him his third consecutive Pro Bowl induction.

    Teams that are rumored to be interested in Harris' services include Tampa Bay and Carolina, two franchises in need of some defensive muscle. 

    The Packers aren't in dire-strait mode, but the one thought remains in the back of my mind: Harris provides valuable insight when facing the Bears. 

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