No need to overpay for average talent

Thompson, Packers wise to shy away from fool's gold in free agency

So I'm sifting through the NFL player wire last night only to come across a signing that summarized the free agency period this off-season.

Vonta Leach, you remember him don't you? The backup fullback, who ex-coach Mike Sherman was hoping would succeed William Henderson but never did because of his stone-like hands and slightly above-average blocking ability, signed an offer sheet as a restricted free agent with the New York Giants. Leach is currently back with his former coach in Houston, but the Giants thought (this is debatable) so much of Leach that they offered him a four-year, $7 million deal. The Texans have seven days to match or lose Leach for no compensation because he was tendered at just $850,000.

Look for Leach to officially become a member of the Giants within the next week. This is the same guy was was cut by the Packers early last season, then signed by New Orleans only to get cut again. Leach is a backup at best in the NFL, but is getting paid like a starter due to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that enabled the salary cap to balloon to $109 million for the 2007 season.

Leach isn't the only player lucky enough to be a free agent and hit the jackpot this off-season. The Vikings signed former Giants backup tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (who?) to a five-year, $18.2 million contract that includes $7 million in guaranteed money. The Dolphins are shelling out $3.57 million over three years, including a $1.2 million signing bonus, to ex-Packers backup tight end and oft-injured David Martin; and aging Ahman Green signed a $23 million deal, including $8 million in guaranteed money, with the Texans.

The list goes on and on throughout the league, but fortunately for the Packers and their fans, general manager Ted Thompson has shied away from overpaying for average talent this off-season. The Packers signed free agent cornerback Frank Walker to a one-year deal last week that will pay him $1.5 million in 2007, if he hits all of his incentives. It can be argued that the Packers overpaid for Walker, but that's the insanity of free agency this year.

Fortunately, the Packers are currently working on retaining some of their own players, who could become free agents next season, and have plenty of room under the cap to sign them long-term. The team is in the midst of talks with linebacker Nick Barnett and defensive tackle Corey Williams. The Packers recently re-signed cornerback Al Harris and defensive end Cullen Jenkins. Don't forget that Green Bay also owed linebacker A.J. Hawk an $11 million bonus this month as part of the rookie contract he signed last season. So the team's salary cap may be much less than the $21.8 million figure that has often been reported recently.

If Thompson had gone out and gotten into bidding wars with other teams over players that other teams never made a push for, like tight end Daniel Graham and safety Deon Grant, the team may not be in position with players they know will help the team win. Guys like Graham and Grant might be able to help, but there would still be a lot of uncertainty on how much they could help considering their price tags.

Thompson and Co. obviously are leaning toward the draft to fill holes in the roster, and are not discounting some of the young talent currently on the team. Mike McCarthy has stressed repeatedly this off-season that sometimes all players need is a chance to prove that they can play in the NFL. So, look for tight end Zac Alcorn, running backs Vernand Morency and Arliss Beach, safeties Marviel Underwood and Tyrone Culver, and wide receivers Ruvell Martin and Carlyle Holiday to get their opportunities this off-season.

Does this mean the Packers will shy away from trading for Randy Moss? Not necessarily. If the Packers can get Moss at their price, he'll be wearing Green and Gold in 2007, but that's a big if. At this point, it appears Oakland's asking price may be too high for a trade to happen. Moss is a great receiver, despite his numbers the last two seasons, and he would give Brett Favre an instant weapon, but the deal has to be reasonable. If not, look for the Packers to stick to their plan of unearthing young, up-and-coming stars to help the team improve and refraining from overpaying for free agents.

Todd Korth

Todd Korth is managing editor of and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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