Looking for a few good men

If the Green Bay Packers are going to make a move in free agency or through a trade, they'll have to free up some money under the projected salary cap for 2002. That means that the team may have to part ways with some veterans who helped them win Super Bowl XXXI.<p>

Wide receiver Antonio Freeman appears to be the main target because he is scheduled to count $5.7 million against the team's salary cap next year. But the Packers also may release running back Dorsey Levens, center Frank Winters, and defensive end John Thierry, which reportedly will give the team more than $6 million in cap room. Levens and Winters were backups this season. Thierry, in his second season with the Packers, suffered a knee injury late in the season and was placed on injured reserve. Thierry had three off-season surgeries in 2001.

Last year at the start of free agency, a handful of veterans restructed their contracts or took pay cuts in an effort to stay together and make a run at the Super Bowl. Now the Packers have to figure out how to get past the St. Louis Rams. That may mean signing a big-name free agent to fill a need at wide receiver or the defensive line. Coach/GM Mike Sherman didn't rule out trading for a player, either.

"Things have to pan out," Sherman said. "You have to see how things are falling. I do want to be fairly proactive. I want to look at our roster and see how can we make or create? I think there's a player out there in the league right now that maybe isn't a free agent but maybe get on our team somehow, some way, whether it's through a trade or whatever the case may be.

"I think you have to look at every nook and cranny on how you can make your team look better. That's what we're going to do here in the next few months. Not just through the draft. In the draft they fall to you. We'd like to be able to pick No. 1 but we're not. We got to pick 28th. Whatever is there, we'll take the best guy and we'll go from there.

"Hopefully we can create something here in free agency and sign our own players that we want to keep here. That's our major priority at this present time."

The Packers will be at or near the projected salary cap of $71.7 million when the free agency period begins on March 1. The Packers are expected to re-sign a few of their own free agents before pursuing anyone else. Look for Sherman to pursue return specialist Allen Rossum, guard Mike Wahle and fullback William Henderson.

Wide receivers Bill Schroeder and Corey Bradford will become unrestricted free agents, but it is not certain that the Packers will make strong bids to keep both of them in Green Bay. The same goes for defensive tackles Gilbert Brown and Jim Flanigan.

The Packers are expected to soon begin talks with Freeman's agent, Joel Segal, regarding restructing the veteran's contract. The Packers asked Freeman to restructure the seven-year, $42 million deal he signed in 1999 last year, but he refused. If he refused to restructure again, the Packers probably will release him after June 1, so he won't count as much against this year's salary cap.

"Creating new money is a big part of the National Football League right now," Sherman said. "You have X amount of dollars. How can we create more money to make our team that much better and to be able to sign the people we have to sign, and make sure we're paying people what they need to pay – market value. That's all part of the process. We need to look at that and go through it.

"As I told the team, I said, 'Football's a great game. You make great friendships, great challenges every single week.' But I also said, 'Football's also an ugly business, but I don't want that to interfere with relationships that we have. You've got to do what's best for your family. I've got to do what's best for the Packers. We'll keep an open line of communication. Just please listen to me when we talk and then we go from there.' But this is the business side of football that has to happen in order to be successful."

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