Coach upbeat despite losses

With the season opener about six months away, coach Mike Sherman is not about to panic over the inability of the Green Bay Packers to retain its free agents. Sherman spoke to the media after answering questions from fans at Fan Fest on Sunday in the Lambeau Field Atrium.<p>

The Packers last week released safety Darren Sharper in a salary cap move, and Sharper signed a multi-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings Saturday. The Packers also have lost guards Mike Wahle, Marco Rivera and safety Bhawoh Jue in free agency, and had to release reserve offensive lineman Grey Ruegamer to clear room under the cap.

Green Bay has interviewed a few mid-level free agents such as offensive lineman Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack and tight end Freddie Jones, but has yet to sign anyone. By releasing Sharper, the Packers saved about $3.4 million against this year's cap. Green Bay is currently about $6 million under the cap, but will need about half of that money to sign its draft picks.

"We have a great personnel staff led by Ted (Thompson) and his staff," Sherman said. "They're outstanding guys. They work around the clock. We'll have a great draft."

Green Bay has seven selections in this year's draft, which takes place on April 23-24. Most of the emphasis will be on defense – defensive line, linebackers and safeties. But the Packers will need to fill the vacancies left by Wahle and Rivera, and draft a quarterback to eventually compete for a starting spot when Brett Favre retires.

Sharper, Wahle and Rivera were with the Packers before Sherman arrived in 2000, and Jue was selected by Green Bay in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft.

"We've been fortunate enough to be able to hang on to people for a while," Sherman said. "It's very unique to hang on to an offensive line as long as we had - that's an oddity. All of a sudden there's change, (but) these changes happen to every team every year. It just didn't happen to us recently because we've been able to keep them on board, but the numbers get so prohibitive and we had to make a move. This will be a good thing for us and we'll get it worked out and it's a good thing for those players.

"But obviously, we don't have to play a game tomorrow, or the next day, or even the next day. We'll line up in September and we'll have a good team ready to go and make a run at this thing come September."

The Packers named tight end Bubba Franks a transition player in February, meaning they have the right to match any offer to Franks made by another team. Franks has yet to entertain any offers, but Sherman is confident the Packers will re-sign him.

"Bubba Franks is one of my favorite all-time players," Sherman said. "I just can't imagine going out there without Bubba Franks. We're going to work hard and see if we can get a deal going with him. I know Bubba wants to be here and we want him here."


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