With the free-agent signing period starting at 3 p.m. (Central) on Wednesday, most of the intrigue centers on the Green Bay Packers’ free-agent defenders.
Offensively, Green Bay’s unrestricted free agents are offensive tackle Don Barclay, receiver James Jones, fullback John Kuhn, tight end Andrew Quarless, running back James Starks and quarterback Scott Tolzien. None of them are absolute must-signs.
Starting in the backfield, Starks set career highs in rushing yards (601), receiving yards (392), total yards (993), receptions (43) and total touchdowns (five). Whether it’s receiving or blocking, he had never been an asset in the passing game until this past season, when he didn’t allow a sack and led the entire NFL with 11.37 yards after the catch per reception by almost 2 yards. However, his five fumbles matched Starks’ total from his first five seasons and ranked third among running backs. He also turned 30 on Feb. 25. That’s seen as some sort of tipping point in a running back’s career, but he doesn’t have a ton of wear and tear on his body. The Packers have no proven depth at running back. Conventional wisdom says the odds of Starks returning are higher than adding a veteran like Matt Forte.
Conventional wisdom says the Packers will bring back Kuhn, as well, even though he’ll turn 34 on Sept. 9. As last season progressed, Kuhn played more and more. He averaged about 37 snaps per game over the final six games (including playoffs) vs. about 12 snaps over the first 12 games. However, Aaron Ripkowski, a sixth-round pick last year, is waiting in the wings and could be an upgrade as a run blocker.
Speaking of waiting in the wings, with Brett Hundley waiting in the wings at quarterback, what will be the Packers do with Tolzien as they decide who will serve as Aaron Rodgers’ backup? Based on preseason success the past two summers, Tolzien is one of the better backups in the NFL. Hundley, however, got better and better with each week of training camp last year. One scenario to consider: The Packers keep Tolzien to be the long-term backup to Rodgers and try to deal Hundley for a premium draft pick next offseason.
With a healthy Jordy Nelson and Ty Montgomery joining Randall Cobb and Jeff Janis, do the Packers need Jones to challenge Davante Adams and Jared Abbrederis for the final spot or two at receiver? Doing his best to fill the void left by Nelson, Jones caught 50 passes for a career-high 890 yards and eight touchdowns, ranking No. 1 on the team in yards, tied for No. 1 in touchdowns and No. 1 (and No. 3 in the NFL) with 17.8 yards per reception. Remarkably for a player with limited speed, he somehow managed to get open for 15 receptions of 25-plus yards — fourth-most by a Packer since 1991 and good for fifth in the league. However, his zero-catch performance at Arizona in the playoffs marked the sixth time he had had zero or one catch.
Coming off a torn ACL that cost him all of 2014, Barclay started five games (four at right tackle and one at left tackle) and played extensively at left tackle in another (Detroit in Week 10). Of his 10.5 sacks allowed, 6.5 came at right tackle. J.C. Tretter should be the team’s sixth man and at least a mid-round pick likely will be used on another offensive lineman.
Quarless’ year hardly could have gone worse, with a late-night gun incident in Miami on July 4 resulting in a year probation and the death of his daughter upon delivery later that month. After a 2014 in which he caught 29 passes for career-high totals of 323 yards and three touchdowns, a knee injury limited him to only four grabs for 31 yards. The knee and the possibility of a suspension aren’t going to help his chances of re-signing in Green Bay or getting a job elsewhere.
Green Bay’s final unrestricted free agent is always-reliable long snapper Brett Goode. The timing of his torn ACL — Week 15 vs. Oakland — could hardly have been worse. Will the 31-year-old even be cleared for Week 1?
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.