Finicky in free agency

Don't expect Packers to bid for big-time free agents

When free agency begins in early March shift your eyes to the Green Bay Packers and monitor what GM Ted Thompson has in mind.

In my mind (yes, I do have one), expect Thompson to do what former Packers GM Ron Wolf did, which was concentrate on his own free agents, not others.

The Packers have 14 unrestricted free agents and among them they are kicker Ryan Longwell, running backs Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher, defensive end Aaron Kampman and wide receiver Rod Gardner.

Because the Packers finished 4-12 last season, don't expect Green Bay to go shopping too much out of its own store to sign notable players. The franchise is expected to go after Kampman first, but Longwell, Green and Gardner also could be targeted.

Based on quarterback Brett Favre's decision to retire (around $20 million available under the salary cap) or return ($15 million), the Packers will have money to make solid offers to whomever they want to retain. The key is to not overpay a player like Kampman, a good player, but never a difference-maker and never will be (see Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila).

But for those who want the Packers to pursue a top-level free agent, don't hold your breath. The last time the Packers did this they signed defensive end Joe Johnson to a $33 million contract and he was as effective as Jamal Reynolds.

That contract hurt the Packers for several seasons, and is a prime example why Green Bay likely won't follow this path again. A couple years ago, Philadelphia signed Jevon Kearse to a big-time contract and what has he done?

The key in free agency is spending money wisely. Yes, it's sexy to land a notable player like Reggie White or Sean Jones, but more times it's smarter to sign players who are fringe starters. For instance, last year Tennessee inked defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch to a one-year deal, and outside the state of Tennessee, did anyone care or notice? A year later, Vanden Bosch is in sight after being one of the top sack leaders in the NFL.

For whatever reason, when big names move to new teams they often fall back in their production. We would all like to see the Packers add players like Minnesota did a season ago, when it signed former Packer Darren Sharper and cornerback Antoine Winfield. Good players, but not great. Both started, helped the Vikings' secondary, and neither stole every dollar out of Minnesota's bank.

Looking at free agency, expect these things to happen for the Packers: * Retaining Kampman. He's earned a pay raise, and if the Packers lose him, they become thin as Paris Hilton at the position. Think of keeping Kampman and adding defensive end Mario Williams from North Carolina State with the fifth pick in the draft. All of a sudden, the Packers have Kampman, Gbaja-Biamila and Williams in a rotation at the position. This is where defense starts – defensive line – and this would be good start.

* Longwell gone. He wants to kick either in warm weather or in a dome. A combination of this is Dallas, which almost plays in a dome in a warm city. Losing Longwell would hurt, because he's been so reliable throughout his career, but I think he's kicking the Packers to the curb.

* Green stays. He is coming off an injury, can't demand a lot of money and certainly he isn't an attractive starter for any team. Look for him to sign a one-year deal in Green Bay and try to rediscover his form. Meanwhile, Davenport is gone and Fisher leaves also.

* Gardner stays. With the possibility of underachieving Robert Ferguson getting waived at some point, Gardner could become Green Bay's No. 3 wide receiver behind Javon Walker and Donald Driver. The Packers can't afford to use Antonio Chatman at the No. 3 position when he's nothing more than a No. 4.

* Jackson and Flanagan leave. Defensive tackle Grady Jackson wants too much money (can you blame him, he has a lot of tummy to fill), while center Mike Flanagan is decreasing on the field due to injuries.

* Nall likely gone. Quarterback Craig Nall likely won't come back, thinking he has a better chance elsewhere. I would wait, if I was him.

* Sign a guard. Thompson failed last season in replacing the departed Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, so expect Thompson to find a guard who has experience as a starter. Adrian Klemm and Matt O'Dwyer were brutal additions (O'Dwyer didn't make the final cut), and the lack of not finding a solid starter cost the Packers most of last season. If Green Bay can have a solid offensive line, everything else on offense will get better. That's just the way it works.

* No big signing. It won't happen for a lot of reasons, but the major one is that isn't Thompson's style.

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at

Packer Report Top Stories