Off-season fun is just beginning

A few good men who could help the Packers turn it around

The NFL is officially now in the "free agent zone." After the owners and players were finally able to hammer out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, free agency began at midnight on Friday.

The Green Bay Packers are poised to be players in the market. The Packers entered free agency about $35 million under the new salary cap of $102 million per team. And Green Bay got some positive things accomplished before free agency started.

First, the Packers re-signed RB Ahman Green to an incentive-filled one-year deal. The Packers are taking little risk in the transaction while also hoping that Green can return to Pro Bowl player form. Green Bay also freed up some cap space by releasing veteran linebacker Na'il Diggs, who was scheduled to count nearly $3 million against the cap this year.

On the eve of free agency, the Packers re-signed DE Aaron Kampman to a four-year contract worth about $20 million. Kampman is a steady and high effort player that will help stabilize the Packers defensive front. Expect more weaponry to join him soon.

The Packers also have had some recent issues. For one, Brett Favre has not made up his mind about returning for a 16th season in the NFL. I am in the forum that believes Favre will return. Ted Thompson's actions in the next few days can cement the decision for Favre to come back. Re-signing Green and Kampman will help the cause.

Then we have the annual Javon Walker complaint fest. For the second year in a row, the Packers' talented wide receiver is voicing his dissatisfaction with the club. This year Walker is even more rebellious. He says he will never play for the Packers again. That he will retire first. Yeah, right Javon! It was hoped that when Walker fired Drew Rosenhaus as his agent, that the new representative for Walker, Kennard McGuire, would offer better advice. That obviously hasn't happened. The Packers need to keep their resolve regarding this situation.

Walker needs to find a better agent, again, and keep quiet. Keep quiet and keep rehabilitating. The money and respect will follow. One Pro Bowl doesn't equate to the off field antics that Walker is putting the team through.

The Packers also have let several players hit the free agency market, including K Ryan Longwell, C Mike Flanagan, FB William Henderson, WR Rod Gardner, DT Grady Jackson, OL Kevin Barry, RBs Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher, and QB Craig Nall. The Packers can probably get a few of these players back because of age and injury issues. Two that would fall into that category are Henderson and Flanagan. Jackson might fall into that group as well. Both Henderson and Flanagan still have tread left on their tires, plus they are team leaders. They are both true professionals.

The Packers tried to re-sign Longwell, but the kicker looked like he would fly south to Tampa Bay, where his old friend P Josh Bidwell resides. However, in a surprise move, Longwell signed with the Vikings on Saturday.

The Packers also can see value in the other players as well. Gardner played well when given an opportunity last year and he fits the profile of the type of WR head coach Mike McCarthy is looking for. That would be big targets for Favre or who ever lines up behind center. Barry is a talented player that can be a dominant run blocker. The new offensive staff might be able to better utilize his talents, possibly inside at guard. Because the situation at RB is still somewhat murky, the Packers may still bring back Davenport or Fisher. That probably won't be decided until after the draft. The Packers also would like Nall to return as well, but have allowed him to test the market. The fact that he is going into free agency might be a hint that Favre is returning. Nall probably knows as he is Favre's best friend on the team. If Favre was leaning toward retirement, Nall would be in a position to compete for the starting job at QB with Aaron Rodgers.

But who will the Packers target from other teams? I have listed a few that I would look at, or who the Packers have reportedly shown interest in.

S Marquand Manuel (Seattle Seahawks)
It was reported earlier this week that the Packers would sign the Seahawk safety to a multi-year deal early in free agency. Those reports were true as the Packers and Manuel agreed on a contract on Saturday. Manuel started most of last year for the NFC champions and played well.

Thompson knows Manuel well, as he signed him as a free agent while he was still in Seattle. New defensive coordinator Bob Sanders knows Manuel as well, having been on the coaching staff at Florida when Manuel played his college ball in Gainesville.

DT Ryan Pickett (St. Louis Rams)
It has been reported that Pickett will pay the Packers a visit on Sunday. Pickett has his best pro season in 2005. Pickett would fill the large void left by the loss of Grady Jackson. Pickett has youth and talent on his side in that comparison. The addition of Pickett, along with the re-signing of Kampman would really make the defensive front formidable.

The Packers still have DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and are in position to get DE Mario Williams in the draft as well. Sanders has to like that possibility. Everything starts in the trenches and the Packers could have one of the best fronts in the NFL under this scenario.

DT Rocky Bernard (Seattle Seahawks)
It has been reported that the Packers are interested in Bernard, which makes sense. Thompson drafted Bernard and the DT had his best season as a pro in 2005. Bernard is a classic one-gap DT that also has pass-rushing skills as evidenced by his 8 1/2 sacks in 2005.

K Adam Vinatieri (New England Patriots)
The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years. They won all three Super Bowls by a field goal. Vinatieri is the guy who kicked those field goals. He might be the best "clutch" kicker in NFL history. And he's no stranger to cold weather. The Packers have had one of the best kickers in the league recently with Longwell. Longwell is good. Vinatieri is great. The Packers found out last year what a difference a kicker can make in a game. In a season. Vinatieri has proven he is a difference maker. In big games. A weapon like that can not be under estimated. The Packers should aggressively look at signing Vinatieri. It might help that Vinatieri's former agent is Andrew Brandt, the Packers VP of Player Finance/General Counsel. Vinatieri could be the difference for the team making the playoffs. And succeeding in the playoffs.

LB Nick Greisen (New York Giants)
Greisen has the ability to play inside or outside. He also is always around the football. He was a tackling machine when he played at Wisconsin. I'm sure he wouldn't mind returning to his home state, especially if opportunity presents itself. And judging by the lack of depth at the position, opportunity is knocking.

CB Deshea Townsend (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Townsend would be an instant upgrade over CB Ahmad Carroll. He also has a knack for finding the football with 14 interceptions since he became a starter in 2001. Townsend plays a physical style at corner, similar to Al Harris. Townsend can also bring pressure to the QB, as he is an excellent blitzer.

G Steve Hutchinson (Seattle Seahawks)
Hutchinson is a transition free agent which means the Seahawks can match any offer. Still, Hutchinson will test the market, but the Minnesota Vikings have already offered him a seven-year, $49 million contract.

Hutchinson would be a natural fit for the Packers. Thompson knows him well as he drafted him. Hutchinson is one of the top guards in the league and he already knows the Packer offense. He probably will cost too much, but the Packers need to take a serious look at him.

WR Brian Finneran (Atlanta Falcons)
New Packer offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski is very familiar with Finneran. Finneran is a large target at 6-5, 210 pounds, and would be a dangerous receiver in the red zone. Finneran has the ability to get separation in the secondary as well.

Time will tell who the Green Bay Packers will look at and sign in free agency. They are in a great position to make some serious noise. What they do in free agency will also impact what they will do in the draft. Not to mention the impact it will have on a quarterback who is probably on a tractor right now.

The candy store is officially open. Is Ted Thompson the kid who wants all the candy he can get his hands on? Or is he the kid that has his eyes only on certain candy? I believe the latter is the case, but still the Packers will most definitely improve their talent and depth on the squad. Sit back and enjoy the fun!

Bob Fox is a longtime Packers fan and frequent contributor to E-mail him at

Packer Report Top Stories