Free Agency is Near: Here’s What Packers GM Ted Thompson Should Do

Here are five moves Packers GM Ted Thompson should make with the start of free agency approaching.

The free-agent feeding frenzy begins at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

According to OverTheCap.com, the Packers entered Tuesday with $20.85 million of cap space. Deals signed by guard Lane Taylor and safety Chris Banjo will eat into that by a couple million bucks.

How should general manager Ted Thompson use the rest of the loot, keeping in mind he's got to sign his draft class and fill a 90-man roster?

Sign B.J. Raji: The defensive line was arguably the best unit on the team last season, so bringing back Raji would have been key under any circumstance. Throw in the season-opening suspension to Mike Pennel, and keeping Raji looks like a really big deal — regardless of the depth in this year’s draft class. Without Raji and Pennel, the Packers would have to turn to Datone Jones in the base defense. Fellow defensive tackle Mike Daniels called Raji the “brains” of the defensive line. He’s more than just brains: Opposing offenses averaged a half-yard less per carry with Raji on the field.

“I felt like when I’m healthy, I’m one of the better nose tackles in the league,” Raji said at the end of the season. “But that’s a tough position to stay healthy at all year and I felt like I had a few things that I nicked up and just proud of the way I kept playing.”

Sign Scott Tolzien: Is Brett Hundley ready to be the backup quarterback? Perhaps. But Hundley might be a hot commodity in a trade at this time next year. Sign Tolzien for a couple of years and drafting a quarterback becomes a luxury rather than a necessity.

“I’m in the unique situation where I get every day to be around the best player on the planet,” Tolzien said at the end of the season. “You can’t put a price tag on that experience, what I’ve learned from just being around Aaron (Rodgers) and observing him in a practice week leading up to a game. You learn a lot about how to prepare for a game and how to lead a team. I’ve been fortunate to have some great coaches, too, and a great quarterback room with Brett, too, so I’ve learned a lot. You’re always trying to improve yourself, no matter what profession you’re in, you want to get better every day and I think I was able to do that.”

Sign Nick Perry (or Mike Neal): With Clay Matthews back at outside linebacker, the Packers don’t have to sign both Perry and Neal. Perry was a disappointment as a first-round pick in 2012 but he’s found his niche. Opponents averaged 0.96 yards per carry with the powerful Perry on the field — easily the biggest difference on the team — and he matched his regular-season production with 3.5 sacks in the playoffs. Chances are, the rest of the league views Perry as the better player, too. Neal’s versatility makes him a pretty good Plan B.

Sign Jared Cook: The Bears are willing to part with Martellus Bennett but it’s hard to imagine them dealing the productive tight end to a division rival. And if oft-injured Dwayne Allen is worth four years and $29.4 million to remain with the Colts, then chances are San Diego’s Ladarius Green and Indianapolis’ Coby Fleener will be too pricey, as well. Cook, who was released by the Rams, is coming off a disappointing season, with just 39 receptions and a 52.0 percent catch rate. However, he’s averaged more than 5.0 yards after the catch in four of his last five seasons. Richard Rodgers averaged 2.75 in 2014 and  3.78 in 2015. Another street free agent, Owen Daniels, was released by the Broncos on Tuesday. He’s 33 and isn’t a game-breaker anymore but he’s sure-handed and productive.

Sign Matt Forte (or James Starks): If the price is right, Forte would be the perfect complement to Eddie Lacy. Forte, 30, is one of the top backs of this era with more than 12,700 yards from scrimmage and 64 total touchdowns in eight seasons. In 2014, he piled up 1,846 total yards on the strength of 1,038 rushing yards and 102 receptions. He’s the definition of the three-down back that Packers coach Mike McCarthy covets. Starks’ best season doesn’t even rival anything Forte has accomplished. Last year, he had career-high totals of 601 rushing yards, 43 receptions, 392 receiving yards and 993 total yards. His five fumbles are a huge asterisk. Starks also is 30 but the wear and tear don’t compare: Forte has 2,522 touches compared to 661 for Starks. Starks will be much cheaper — a big deal considering Thompson likes the forward-thinking flexibility that comes with ample cap space.


Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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