Defense! Defense!

With some money to play with in free agency, the Green Bay Packers have been negotiating with a handful of defensive linemen and linebackers. The Packers are trying to plug holes left when they released three veterans in February.<p>

In recent days veteran unrestricted free agent middle linebackers Robert Jones (Washington) and Stephan Boyd (Detroit) have visited with the Packers in Green Bay for individual workouts and physicals. Green Bay also may make a run for Chicago's Warrick Holdman.

The Packers were pursuing Henri Crockett and Ted Johnson, but Crockett signed with Minnesota and Johnson re-signed with New England last week.

The Packers also have been pursuing three big-name defensive linemen that are unrestricted free agents: New Orleans defensive end Joe Johnson, Oakland defensive tackle Grady Jackson, and Jacksonville defensive tackle/end Renaldo Wynn.

The Packers reportedly are about $1.1 million below the National Football League's $71.101 million salary cap. They probably will have to release other players in order to sign Johnson or Jackson, both of whom are seeking a contract that includes at least a $5 million signing bonus and a salary cap figure that exceeds $1.5 million for 2002. Johnson would be the higher-priced of the two linemen.

A number of other teams also are in the running for Johnson, Jackson and Wynn.

Sherman last Thursday flew to New Orleans to meet with Johnson.

Prior to the start of free agency, the Packers released defensive tackle Santana Dotson, defensive end John Thierry and middle linebacker Bernardo Harris in salary cap related moves.

"You've got to be aggressive and go after them all," Packers coach/general manager Mike Sherman told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "You don't know which one you're going to be able to afford or which one will want to come. (Free agency) has been all-consuming. You have to like the guy, they have to like you and the money's got to work."

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