Ted Thompson’s track record as Green Bay Packers general manager has been well-established.
In five of the previous six offseasons, Thompson hasn’t signed a single unrestricted free agent. The lone exception came in 2012, when he signed defensive end Anthony Hargrove and center Jeff Saturday — not exactly budget-busting, difference-making transactions.
So, why should anything change when this year’s free-agent signing period begins at 3 p.m. (Central) on Wednesday?
“I don’t think we go through life in the NFL saying, ‘OK, now we’re going to have this philosophy or a few years from now we’re going to have to change to some other philosophy,’” Thompson said at the Scouting Combine. “I think you have a philosophy in how you think is the best way to build a team. We’re not going to chase ghosts because we think the clock is ticking” on a supposed window of opportunity.
As teams make last-minute moves to get their salary caps in order for the start of free agency, the chopping block has been busy. So, while Thompson’s history suggests unrestricted free agency probably won’t be an option, perhaps he’ll make a run at a street free agent to bolster positions of need.
“That pool of players is probably bigger this year than I think I recall in prior years. There’s a lot of opportunity out there,” coach Mike McCarthy said at the Scouting Combine.
The difference between an unrestricted free agent and street free agent is critical. Signing an unrestricted free agent likely will cost the team a compensatory draft pick gained should the Packers lose, for instance, cornerback Casey Hayward. There are no such strings attached to a street free agent. The trade-off is there are prescious few in-their-prime players on the street free-agent market.
Here are a few names worth remembering from the street free-agent list at positions of need.
Running back: The Packers are more likely to re-sign their 30-year-old free-agent running back, James Starks, than to sign a soon-to-be 30-year-old free-agent running back, Matt Forte. However, in four games last season with Houston, Arian Foster caught 22 passes. In seven NFL seasons, Foster played in at least 13 games four times. Foster averaged 1,378 rushing yards in those seasons.
Tight end: With the Rams, Jared Cook caught 39 passes for 481 yards, with his 12.3-yard average ranking among the leaders at the tight end position. In seven seasons, Cook has averaged 12.8 yards per catch and scored 16 touchdowns — with three of those covering at least 59 yards. Cook (6-5, 254) would provide some of the game-breaking element the Packers lack with Richard Rodgers. With the Patriots, Scott Chandler caught 23 passes for 259 yards (11.3 average) and four touchdowns. Chandler (6-7, 260), who will turn 31 in July, has caught 21 touchdowns over the past five seasons and has a career average of 11.6 yards per catch. On Tuesday afternoon, the Broncos released Owen Daniels, the former Wisconsin standout who played a key role in the Broncos’ championship team. When he was a free agent in 2014, he visited the Packers before signing with Baltimore. In 10 seasons, he’s caught 479 passes for 5,661 yards and 36 touchdowns. The 33-year-old Daniels (6-3, 245) caught 46 balls for 517 yards and three touchdowns with Denver.
Defensive line: It’s slim pickings, as you’d expect, on the street. The Redskins released Jason Hatcher this week, though, and he’d provide necessary depth with Mike Pennel opening the season with a four-game suspension. Hatcher (6-6, 299) will turn 34 during training camp. His production has waned since recording 11 sacks for Dallas in 2013 — he had 7.5 sacks in two seasons with Washington — but he remains durable and reliable, having missed only five games over the past four seasons and starting 58 of a possible 64 regular-season games during that span.
Inside linebacker: Daryl Smith, Stephen Tulloch and DeMeco Ryans head this list. Smith (6-2, 250) started all 48 games with Baltimore the past three seasons and piled up 372 tackles, nine sacks and five interceptions. He will turn 34 next week, however. The 31-year-old Tulloch (5-11, 245) spent the past five seasons with Detroit. Other than 2014, when he played in only three games due to an infamous knee injury sustained against Green Bay, Tulloch averaged 116 tackles. That includes 107 tackles in 2015. Ryans, who will turn 32 at the start of training camp, is from the same draft class as A.J. Hawk. He had 49 tackles while starting 13 games with the Eagles last season. In four seasons with the Eagles, Ryans (6-1, 247) had two 100-tackle seasons and intercepted five passes.
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.