Packers Free Agent Overview: Offense

Of the Packers' 19 free agents, Jermichael Finley, James Jones, John Kuhn and Evan Dietrich-Smith are starters on offense. Plus, Matt Flynn and James Starks are coming off productive seasons.

The free-agent signing period begins on March 11, though negotiations can begin on March 8. The Green Bay Packers have 19 free agents. Here is a look at the 10 who line up on offense.

Quarterback: Matt Flynn and Seneca Wallace. Flynn and Green Bay go together like green and gold. He performed poorly at times but the Packers wouldn't have made the playoffs without him rallying the team from big deficits to beat Atlanta and Dallas and tie Minnesota. Unbelievably, the Packers had lost in every single game under coach Mike McCarthy in which they trailed by more than one score in the second half. Flynn got two wins and a tie.

"We like to sign our own guys back and Matt is definitely a part of that conversation," McCarthy said at the Scouting Combine. "I thought Matt Flynn came in and did a number of good things. There's a lot of stability he brings to the quarterback room as far as the role that he needs to play and his role to the starting quarterback to help them scout and so forth, so Matt is obviously a good fit for our program. I thought he definitely gave us a shot in the arm when we needed it. Free agency is upon us, we'll see what happens."

Flynn's passer rating was 86.1, with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. In his final two starts, he led the Packers to a total of 68 points against Dallas and Pittsburgh. After what happened in Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, it would be a surprise to see Flynn get another shot to start elsewhere. But a team could do much worse than Flynn if it needs a safety net to a young starter. So, his return isn't exactly a slam dunk.

Running back: James Starks, John Kuhn and Kahlil Bell. Without Starks, the Packers probably wouldn't have won the Super Bowl. In his next two seasons, however, Starks played in 19 of a possible 32 regular-season games and rushed for 833 yards and two touchdowns.

It was a different story in 2013, as he stayed healthy for 13 games. While he carried just 89 times behind workhorse Eddie Lacy, Starks rushed for 493 yards and three touchdowns. His 5.54 yards per carry led the league among runners with at least 80 attempts. It was the best rate by a Packers runner since Eddie Lee Ivery averaged 5.58 in 1984. Only one other running back (Billy Grimes, 5.71 in 1950) topped Starks' average in franchise history. Despite the limited opportunities, Starks tied for second in the league with three touchdown runs of 20-plus yards. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Starks ranked second in the league with 3.0 yards after contact per rush.

The Packers probably feel good about the trio of Lacy, DuJuan Harris and Johnathan Franklin, and Starks probably feels good about his chances of landing a bigger role elsewhere.

It's hard to imagine Kuhn in any color scheme other than green and yellow. His knowledge of the offense, his reliability in pass protection and his knack for converting in short yardage make him one of the league's top fullbacks. Kuhn, who will turn 32 on Sept. 9, had a cap number of $2.57 million in 2013. It's hard to imagine he gets that much money this time.

Wide receiver: James Jones. Jones' situation isn't all that different from what he faced during his first foray into free agency following the 2010 Super Bowl season.

To be sure, Jones is a proven commodity now unlike a few years ago, when he had a reputation for having butter fingers. Now, he's one of the most sure-handed receivers in the league, with his drop rate of 3.28 percent ranking third among receivers, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He caught 59 passes for a career-high 817 yards in 2013, despite missing two games with a knee injury, fighting through broken ribs at the end of the season and dealing with instability at quarterback.

"He's like the iron man," receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. "He's by far one of the toughest guys on the team, period. He brings a lot to the room. You're talking about a leader, you're talking about a guy that plays with passion. He enjoys it. He loves being out there. He loves competing. In the end, that's what it's about. We're here working for this organization to win championships. That's the bottom line, and he enjoys that and that's what he's about. It's not about the personal accolades. It's about winning. It's about winning championships. It's about putting that ring on your finger. That says it all when I'm thinking about and describing James Jones."

Still, what will be Jones' market? He has below-average speed. He'll turn 30 on March 31. The draft is overflowing with quality receivers, meaning teams can get a younger, faster, cheaper player. Three years ago, Aaron Rodgers went to bat for Jones. That stands in contrast to Jones' agent, Frank Bauer, telling the Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn recently that he believed general manager Ted Thompson had no interest in re-signing his client. The Packers have a similar player in Jarrett Boykin waiting in the wings, and Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are in line for big contract extensions.

Tight end: Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless. Assuming Finley, as expected, gets medical clearance after needing spinal fusion surgery, he'll be one of the hot commodities on the free-agent market. That fact is amplified by New Orleans giving Jimmy Graham the franchise tag and Baltimore signing Dennis Pitta to a five-year deal worth $32 million. That leaves Finley as far and away the best tight end on the market.

Finley was well on his way to a monster season before the injury. He finished with 25 receptions for 300 yards and three touchdowns while essentially playing in just five games. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Finley had 238 yards after the catch. Among tight ends with at least 25 catches, Finley led the league with 9.5 yards after the catch per reception. Almost unbelievably considering he missed the final 10 games, Finley tied for seventh among tight ends by forcing 10 missed tackles.

"I think not having him had an impact across the board because whenever you have a big guy, you're not afraid to put the ball up in the middle and have him go up and get it," tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. "A guy who can stretch the field vertically like he can and the guy who has yards after the catch like he does, it's going to have an impact (on offense."

Moreover, his presence in the run game can't be overstated. With Finley on the field, the Packers averaged 5.65 yards per carry, according to league data. Only Minnesota's Rhett Ellison (5.66) meant more to the run game.

"James Jones, Jermichael Finley, we'd love to have those guys back," McCarthy said. "We'd like to build off some of the things we were able to do last year and be better than we've ever been."

Quarless was so-so in taking Finley's spot in the lineup. He had six catches in back-to-back games — the first time a Packers tight end accomplished that feat since Jackie Harris in 1992. Quarless is a decent blocker and a decent receiver but really is nothing more than a role player.

"I thought we made strides in the right direction but I think we have more in the tank," Fontenot said of Quarless.

Offensive line: Evan Dietrich-Smith and Marshall Newhouse. The Packers figure to be in wait-and-see mode with Dietrich-Smith. Without a center ready to step into the lineup, the Packers clearly would like to have him back, but at what price?

After replacing Jeff Saturday late in 2012, Dietrich-Smith had a solid debut in 2013. He graded out as ProFootballFocus.com's eighth-best center. Of this year's top free agents, Cleveland's Alex Mack — who is going to hit the free-agent lottery — ranked fourth and New Orleans' Brian De La Puente ranked 16th. However, only New England's Ryan Wendell was charged with more sacks than the five yielded by Dietrich-Smith.

"I think he grew as the season went along," offensive line coach James Campen said. "He got better with communication. His command with tempo and getting people set and where they had to align, I thought he did a good job with that. I think still he's a player that has room to grow. So, the first time out and starting 16 games plus a playoff game, I think he did OK."

Newhouse almost certainly will not return. He proved to be a serviceable starter at left tackle in 2011 and 2012 but continually confounded Campen with his inconsistency. Given the Packers' depth at tackle, it's hard to envision a scenario in which he re-signs.


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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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