Free agents who can help Packers

Green Bay can improve depth with a few of the following players, says's Doug Ritchay

As free agency approaches you wonder what, if anything, the Green Bay Packers will do to improve for 2008.

Last year, GM Ted Thompson basically did nothing, signing Frank Walker to a one-year deal. However, after going 13-3 and reaching the NFC Championship Game you wonder if getting soooooooooo close to the Super Bowl will force Thompson's hand to do something this time around.

If so, the good news is there are plenty of players who likely will be available who fit needs for the Packers. They need to upgrade the guard spots, in addition to adding depth at tight end, and the entire defense.

Friday, the Falcons released tight end Alge Crumpler basically in a cost-cutting move, although he had 42 receptions, his lowest number since 2002. That number fell off because Michael Vick wasn't around (Crumpler was always Vick's No. 1 target) and he had some knee issues. Think Crumpler would be a nice addition to the offense? You would think he has more left in him than Bubba Franks has left.

Meanwhile, Green Bay's guard position needs upgrading after the Packers continually rotated players trying to find the right combination. They never found it.

Longtime Steeler Alan Faneca is available, but would the Packers pay a high price for him? Former Packer Mike Wahle was thought to be a possibility, but he was signed by Seattle on Thursday, preventing a return to Green Bay.

If not Faneca, the Packers could look at cheaper candidates, but they did that in Thompson's first year (see Matt O'Dwyer and Adrian Klemm) and that bombed. It's likely the Packers will look to the draft, which is no guarantee (see Jason Spitz and Daryn Colledge).

This might be the Packers' biggest need, so the right decision needs to be made. Since Wahle and Marco Rivera left via free agency, the guard position has been disappointing.

Defensively, some big-name cornerbacks will likely be available, including Asante Samuel (New England) and Marcus Trufant (Seattle). The likelihood of either of them coming to Green Bay, which already has Al Harris and Charles Woodson, is nil.

Therefore, the Packers need to think smaller (contract-wise) and look at someone like Drayton Florence (San Diego) or Eric Green (Arizona). Both have five years or less experience, and although they have started, they don't have Samuel or Trufant's price tag. So maybe a nice contract and promised playing time, since teams throw the ball so much now, could be enticing.

The odds of these guys coming to Green Bay as a backup aren't good, unless the contract talks. Thompson did sign Woodson to a $39 million deal, so you never know. These two are younger.

Linebacker might be the deepest with talent, as Lance Briggs (Chicago) Terrell Suggs (Baltimore), Karlos Dansby (Arizona) and Michael Boley (Atlanta) are on the market. With Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk already in Green Bay, these guys won't be coming to Titletown. They need to be the man.

Still, the Packers could use somebody like Dhani Jones (Cincinnati) or maybe even Boss Bailey (Detroit). Bailey can move sideline to sideline and both of these guys would be an upgrade over Brady Poppinga.

Poppinga is a solid player, but adding somebody who can cover in space would improve the defense tremendously and the depth at the position. Hawk was put in coverage a lot last season, but anybody who watched him at Ohio State knows he's best at the line of scrimmage, where he can make plays.

Also, at safety, the Packers have youngsters in Nick Collins and Atari Bigby, who have good athleticism, but neither have the total package. Can the Packers win with them? Yes, they did last year. Still, it wouldn't hurt to challenge them, and at the worst add depth. Aaron Rouse could be an up-and-comer for the Packers, but beyond him there's no good depth. Where could the Packers go?

How about veterans like Mike Doss (Minnesota) and Tank Williams (Minnesota)? Neither likely could start in Green Bay, but they would add depth.

Looking for a starter who might come to Green Bay? How about the Giants' Gibril Wilson? Good player on a Super Bowl champion team.

As you can see, there are plenty of players Thompson can consider spending some of the $25 million that the Packers have under the salary cap. Many of these players listed likely won't come to Green Bay, even for a visit. Still, it appears the menu is plenty full for Thompson to add talent to a team seemingly on the cusp of a Super Bowl trip.

Think if the Packers add a healthy Crumpler, Florence and Williams this team wouldn't improve? It's likely none of them would break the bank, so Thompson could get value for some talent.

And, if Thompson wants to make his second big splash in free agency (the first being Woodson), what about adding Suggs? He's a mean pass rusher, and his addition could allow the Packers to either restructure or release Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, giving the Packers future room under the cap and one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL.

Sounds like a good idea, but don't expect it to happen. Thompson will do it his way, meaning lower-level players with a hopeful upside.

Nonetheless, this is the offseason to make some moves. The Packers are close to a Super Bowl, but need to upgrade with Brett Favre's days winding down. And if Favre doesn't return, the Packers can still upgrade key areas of the team.

Doug Ritchay is a regular contributor to and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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