Five free agents Packers should pursue

PackerReport.com's Matt Tevsh lists five players that Ted Thompson and Company should seriously consider pursuing when free agency officially gets under way Monday. With plenty of room under the salary cap, the Packers have money to burn on these five players who can help the Packers go from worst to first in the NFC North Division, Tevsh insists.

Interesting decisions lie ahead as the Packers and the NFL enter the free agency period, scheduled to begin at midnight tonight. General manager Ted Thompson has a reported $22 million under the salary cap to work with yet has given the indication that the Packers will not be making any blockbuster moves. Still, the team needs more help than just the five picks (not including compensatory selections) in the draft can give it. So who might they target in the coming month?

While labor talks between the league and the players association continue to dominate headlines, Thompson will focus on the open market of players available this month. Here is a look at those players who fit Thompson's philosophy and may just end up in Green Bay:

1. Rocky Bernard, DT (Seahawks) – Bernard is considered one of the top defensive tackles available in free agency, but may not come with such a hefty price tag or signing bonus. The Packers may have competition for him with the Seahawks among other teams, however. That could drive the price higher than the Packers want considering Bernard had the best season of his career last year with 8.5 sacks.

Thompson should be familiar with Bernard, 27, and knows what he is about. Thompson was with the Seahawks when Bernard was chosen in the fifth round of the 2002 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-3, 293-pound tackle is not the run stuffer that Grady Jackson is, but he would seem to fit the mold of players like Colin Cole, Cullen Jenkins, and Corey Williams, three Packers that found success in a new defensive system a year ago.

The signing of Bernard will hinge on the status of Jackson, an unrestricted free agent as well.

2. Stephen Neal, G (Patriots) – The Packers missed on one mid-level free agent from the Patriots in Adrian Klemm a year ago, but Neal is younger and fits more of what the Packers will be trying to do on offense this year with zone blocking schemes. He also just may be on the cusp of becoming a starter, or at the least, a capable backup at a position the Packers desperately need help.

Like the Packers' guard Scott Wells, Neal knows how to use leverage to his advantage. Both were wrestlers in college. Neal did not even play football at Cal State Bakersfield, but has shown enough as a professional football player to warrant a chance as a free agent. The Packers should grant him that opportunity.

Headed into free agency, the Packers have second-year players Will Whitticker and Junius Coston, Wells, Klemm, and rookie Pete Traynor as those listed at guard on the roster.

3. Ben Leber, OLB (Chargers) – The Packers have youth and uncertainty at their outside linebacker positions and will likely add another body to the mix through free agency. Leber is a guy they may target because of his athletic ability and age (27).

Packers' fans might remember the lick Leber laid on Brett Favre during a 2003 game in San Diego. He was a starter with the Chargers until Shawne Merriman took over his spot late in the season. He had a career-high 91 tackles in 2003.

Na'il Diggs will likely start for the Packers at one outside linebacker position next year should he get back to form from injuries which plagued him a year ago. The other spot should be open with competition among Brady Poppinga (coming off an ACL injury), Roy Manning (a rookie free agent a year ago), Kurt Campbell (a rookie on injured reserve last year), and Robert Thomas. Paris Lenon is an unrestricted free agent.

4. Michael Bennett, RB (Vikings) – In five seasons with the Vikings, Bennett has been jerked around as a full-time starter, part-time starter, backup, special teams performer, and dog house dweller. It is time for him to find a new team that will utilize his talents, most notably his blazing speed.

Bennett would be a good fit for the Packers as a backup running back, a threat on the forgotten screen pass, and as a much-needed kick return specialist. He could also start if called upon. Any way he is used, he is a big-play threat, and the Packers know how valuable that type of player can be after last season.

The safe bet has free agent running Ahman Green returning to the Packers for another year and Samkon Gado building on his big rookie year of 2005. Najeh Davenport is the wild-card as a free agent. If he leaves, the Packer will have to choose their third back. That could mean re-signing Tony Fisher, keeping Noah Herron, or bringing Bennett aboard. Bennett is the best option because of his success in the NFL as a runner and the possibility of him being used in a bigger role gives him an advantage over Fisher and Herron.

5. Jeff Garcia, QB (Lions) – WHAT? It may seem preposterous to bring Garcia aboard at first thought, but the Packers need insurance at quarterback. Regardless of whether Brett Favre retires, signing Garcia gives the team security.

If Favre returns, then the Packers take a look at Garcia in the off-season camps and decide whether he has value as a No. 3 quarterback. If not, he is released at little cost, granted he signs for the veteran's minimum. Yes, he has a Pro Bowl background, but he is also 36 and looking for a job and many teams will not look at him as a full-time starter.

If Favre does not return, then the fun begins. The Packers are looking at having heir apparent Aaron Rodgers and first-year free agent signing Brian Wrobel at quarterback. Now that deserves a WHAT?

With Craig Nall set to become an unrestricted free agent and possibly moving on, the Packers need quarterbacks. They could shock the world and take one of the top quarterbacks, should one of them be available with the No. 5 overall pick in the draft, but that would still leave them without an experienced quarterback. Every team needs an experienced quarterback to lean on.

Garcia is the best fit of the free agent quarterbacks for the Packers for so many reasons. He will come cheap, can still play on a moment's notice, and knows the "West Coast" terminology. Most importantly, he fills a need the Packers need now.

Others who should get a look from the Packers: Mike Cloud, RB (Patriots), Jared DeVries, DE (Lions), Austin King, C (Falcons), Sean Mahan, G (Buccaneers), Bart Scott, LB (Ravens).


Matt Tevsh

Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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