Free Agency Part 1: Bigby, Spitz, Hall

At some point, there will be offseason football and decisions to be made with 11 free agents. We use this multipart series to talk about the players and the issues surrounding the world champions. We lead off with three players who were not tendered restricted free agent contracts.

At some point, whether it's by the apparently forgotten art of negotiation or a court ruling, there will be football this year. That means there will be free agency.

The Packers have 11 free agents — six of whom are unrestricted and five of whom may or may not be restricted, depending on the verbiage of the NFL's 2011 rules.

In this series, we will look at those players and tell you who should stay and who should go.

Safety Atari Bigby, fullback Korey Hall and guard/center Jason Spitz may or may not have been restricted free agents, pending the collective bargaining agreement, but the Packers did not give them tenders, meaning they will be unrestricted whenever free agency begins.

Bigby and Spitz were given second-round tenders last year but both had miserable 2010 seasons. Korey Hall, who was playing out his rookie contract, had a typical Hall season: versatile on offense, productive on special teams and out of action too often because of injuries.

Bigby misplayed his hand from the get-go. An impact player when healthy — the Packers were 24-9 when he started from 2007 through 2009 and 5-10 without him — Bigby was unhappy that he was given a one-year tender rather than the security and wealth of a long-term contract. So, Bigby refused to sign the tender and the Packers countered by hand-picking his successor, Morgan Burnett, by moving up 15 slots in the third round.

Bigby finally signed his tender but an ongoing ankle injury popped up during his pre-training camp conditioning test. He landed on the physically unable to perform list and managed to play in just six games (including playoffs) while also missing time with hamstring and groin injuries.

Because the Packers didn't draft a safety, it's possible Bigby will return if the price is right but there's no doubt he'd rather sign elsewhere for a chance to play more than special teams. At this point, not only is Burnett the long-term hope at the position but veteran Charlie Peprah surpassed expectations when replacing an injured Bigby and Burnett (torn ACL) starting with the Week 5 game at Washington.

For Spitz, it's been a long, fast fall. A full-time starter since his rookie season in 2006, he beat out Scott Wells to be the starting center in 2009. But an early-season back injury required surgery and ended his season and allowed Wells to recapture the position. Spitz, meanwhile, barely got a shot to unseat Daryn Colledge at left guard last summer.

With Wells solidified at center and Josh Sitton at right guard, only left guard remains — but the coaching staff harbors high hopes for young T.J. Lang and Nick McDonald, and Colledge, the incumbent starter, may or may not return, depending upon the CBA. Bryan Bulaga or Derek Sherrod could be in the mix, too. Throw in sixth-round pick Caleb Schlauderaff, and there's really no space on the roster for Spitz.

Injuries and numbers on the roster also might spell the end of the line for Hall. A situational starter on offense and a stalwart on a special teams unit that badly needs stalwarts, Hall simply hasn't been reliable. The former college linebacker started 14 games and missed two with a hip injury as a rookie. In 2008, he started five games and missed five games with knee problems. In 2009, he started five games and missed five games with calf and elbow ailments. Last season, he started six games but missed four others with hip, back and knee injuries. Add it together, and he's started 16 games but missed 14 due to injuries over the last three seasons.

Eight or nine is the typical number on the regular-season roster at halfback, fullback and tight end. With five halfbacks, six tight ends and three fullbacks, Hall simply might be the odd man out.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.


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