Packers kicker is a keeper

If there is any player currently under contract on the Green Bay Packers' roster who could hold out for a bigger, better deal and probably get away with it, it would be Ryan Longwell. Of the players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the 2005 season for the Packers, Longwell is the most valuable to the team.

Longwell has been a scoring machine for Packers while kicking the majority of the time in the most unfriendly of conditions. Lambeau Field can turn into a sandbox, or skating rink, as the weather turns ugly late in each season. Yet, Longwell has adjusted well enough to become the team's all-time scoring leader with 964 points. He owns a number of Packers individual records and has been knocking on the door to the Pro Bowl in the last couple of seasons.

Last year, Longwell delivered four game-winning kicks, bumping his total to nine since he made the team as an undrafted free agent in 1997. Simply put, Longwell has been as reliable at making field goals and extra points as Brett Favre has been starting games at quarterback for Green Bay.

Besides Longwell, running backs Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport, center Mike Flanagan, defensive tackle Grady Jackson and fullback William Henderson are among the veterans who are entering the final season of their current contract. All of the above are fine players and have contributed to Green Bay's success in recent seasons. But Longwell, by far, should be No. 1 on the team's list of upcoming free agents that it will try to keep in Green Bay beyond 2005.

Longwell is entering the final year of a five-year, $7.5 million contract that he signed in the off-season of 2001. That deal included a $2 million signing bonus. At the time, Packers vice president of player finance/general counsel Andrew Brandt said, "We paid a premium to make him a Packer for the next five seasons."

Longwell, no doubt, will be commanding a more lucrative contract this time around, and the Packers again will have to dig deep into their pockets to keep Longwell. If he and the Packers are unable to agree on an extension during the season, he will be pursued by many other teams, and there's a good chance Green Bay will lose him.

Longwell golfs competitively during the off-season and recently purchased a home in the Orlando, Fla., area. He sold his Green Bay home last year. Kickers love to work in warmer climates for obvious reasons, so he may be playing out this season for a chance to play with a warm-weather team and a big contract next season.

If the Packers allow Longwell to reach free agency, they'll probably lose him. It is important for the Packers to keep the veteran kicker in Green Bay as long as possible.

Todd Korth

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of and Packer Report. E-mail him at

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