Packers gamble with Davenport

The day before the deadline to deliver offers to their seven restricted free agents, the Green Bay Packers on Monday made their pitch to at least three players.

Several newspapers reported the Packers gave the lowest of the three tenders to running back Najeh Davenport, quarterback Craig Nall and offensive tackle Kevin Barry. A fourth restricted free agent, defensive end R-Kal Truluck, was signed to an incentive-laden one-year contract.

In restricted free agency — awarded to players with three years of NFL service whose contract has expired — the Packers have the choice of three, one-year tender offers.

— The low tender is worth $656,000. If that player signs elsewhere, the Packers would be given a draft pick corresponding with the round in which that player was drafted. If an undrafted free agent such as Barry departs, the Packers would receive no compensation.

— The middle tender is worth $1.43 million. If that player signs elsewhere, the Packers would receive a first-round pick.

— The high tender is worth $1.9 million. If that player signs elsewhere, the Packers would receive first- and third-round draft picks.

Starting Wednesday, restricted free agents are able to shop themselves to other teams. The Packers have the right to match a signed offer sheet to retain the player. Players not given a tender are free to sign anywhere, with the Packers having no right to match the offer and getting no compensation in return.

The Packers' other restricted free agents are defensive end Aaron Kampman — the only starter of the bunch — No. 3 quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan and linebacker Paris Lenon.

Kampman definitely will receive a tender from the Packers, likely the low offer because of the Packers' salary-cap problems but perhaps the middle offer because of Kampman's importance. The Packers were high on O'Sullivan, who was part of the Mike McKenzie trade, so he likely will receive a low offer. The Packers' plan for Lenon, a decent special-teamer who has done little in the base defense, is not clear. It's possible he will not be tendered an offer and will become an unrestricted free agent.

There was plenty of speculation Davenport would receive the middle tender to scare teams away from the talented runner and kickoff returner. Last summer, Davenport was part of a rumored trade to the Miami Dolphins. Davenport would have been the replacement to the retired Ricky Williams, and the Packers would have received holdout conference sack leader Adewale Ogunleye in return. Ogunleye wound up being traded to Chicago.

After rushing for 420 yards in 15 games in 2003, Davenport's shine tarnished a bit last season after rushing for 359 yards. In his only start, Nov. 29 against the St. Louis Rams on a Monday night, Davenport ran roughshod for 179 yards on 19 rushes, including a game-capping 40-yard touchdown.

But the 250-pound Davenport only played in 11 games last season due to rib and hamstring injuries. While averaging 5.1 yards per carry, Davenport was stopped more often than not. He averaged 0.5 yards per rush in the opener at Carolina, sat out the next three games and did not run with the ball the following game against Tennessee. Six days later, Davenport rumbled for 62 yards against Detroit. The next week against Dallas, Davenport averaged 3.1 yards on 12 rushes.

After his breakout game against the Rams, Davenport rushed 25 times for a measley 71 yards in four December games and the January playoff game against Minnesota. Davenport did not play in the season finale at Chicago.

With a decent group of free-agent running backs available, a bounty of quality running backs available in the draft next month and most teams set at the position, the Packers perhaps thought interest in Davenport would not be overwhelming and therefore they could save nearly $800,000 by giving Davenport the low instead of the middle tender.

If Davenport signs an offer sheet too rich for the Packers to match, however, they would receive only a fourth-round draft pick in return — a far cry from a player the caliber of Ogunleye.

If the Packers lose Nall or Kampman, they would receive a fifth-rounder. If given an offer, O'Sullivan would be worth a sixth-round pick.

Neither Barry, Truluck or Lenon were drafted. Having given Barry the lowest of the tenders, the Packers would receive no compensation. The ability to match an offer is critical for the Packers, however, because with Mike Wahle and/or Marco Rivera likely signing elsewhere, Barry could be in line for a starting position.

Signing Truluck reduced the Packers' list of restricted free agents to six. Truluck signed a one-year deal worth the league-minimum $455,000. With incentives, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, Truluck could earn as much as the low tender amount of $656,000.


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