Packers going nowhere fast in free agency

Two weeks into free agency, the Green Bay Packers seem stuck on a treadmill. For every step forward made by Ted Thompson and Co., the Packers seem no closer to the goal of winning the NFC North and returning to the playoffs.

Heck, they're no closer to six wins.

The latest transactions saw Thompson signing linebacker Ben Taylor and kicker Billy Cundiff while letting veteran mainstays Mike Flanagan and Tony Fisher leave for greener pastures.

Flanagan joined former Packers coach Mike Sherman in Houston while Fisher joins a loaded backfield in St. Louis. Flanagan reportedly signed a three-year deal worth $9 million. That's way too much, considering chronic knee problems seemingly had Flanagan's career in jeopardy last season. Being an ultimate tough guy, Flanagan fought through the knee problems, and missed just two games after sports hernia surgery, but, at 32 years old, he's clearly on the downside of his career.

Losing Fisher was really no loss for the Packers, either. With a barrage of injuries wiping out the running back position last year, Fisher had his chance to be an every-down player but was not fit for the task. Playing in 30 of 32 games the last two seasons, Fisher carried 125 times for 397 yards, or just 3.2 yards per rush. That's a particularly dreadful average when you're the third-down back, and most of your carries are coming in passing situations.

The Packers didn't put up much of a fight to keep either player, yet another sign that, despite what Thompson says, the Packers are in a full rebuilding mode. On a contender, players like Flanagan and Fisher — smart, unselfish, intelligent leaders — are invaluable. On a team that's trying to get younger and better, it's time for fresh faces.

Their losses — along with the departures of quarterback Craig Nall (by Buffalo) and linebacker Paris Lenon (by Detroit) — were of minor consequence, and the same can be said for the guys the Packers have signed this off-season. The Packers have signed four unrestricted free agents of significance: Taylor, Cundiff, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett and safety Marquand Manuel.

Taylor, the likely starter at strong-side linebacker, is a player without a sack, forced fumble or fumble recovery in his career. Manuel, a likely starter at safety, is a player without a career interception. Pickett is a younger, but less accomplished, Grady Jackson. For the short term, at least, the tradeoff is likely a downgrade. As for Cundiff, well, he won't make anyone forget Ryan Longwell or Chris Jacke.

To be sure, this kind of inactivity is March Madness, NFL free-agency style, to Packers fans. The Packers entered free agency with the most money to spend, and they seem destined to end free agency with the most money to spend. Hey, at least they'll lead the league in something.

With almost all of the difference-making players off the market and most of the quality players gone, as well, you have to wonder what Thompson's plan is. Yes, it's fine to prefer to build through the draft. But what's the point of being $35 million under the salary cap if you aren't going to spend it?

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is a contending football team. But it would be nice if Thompson showed something more than token interest in winning a few games in 2006.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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