NFL free agent whispers: Volume 5

Packer Report's Bill Huber puts a Packers slant on some hard-hitting free agent storylines. Today, he looks at the Packers, where Mark Tauscher, Colin Cole and Mike Montgomery are the only unrestricted free agents, and updates some other league news.

The Green Bay Packers enter free agency in an enviable position.

When the free-for-all begins on Feb. 27, general manager Ted Thompson won't have any sleepless nights worrying about his roster being raided. The Packers have just three unrestricted free agents: starting right tackle Mark Tauscher, who is coming off of knee surgery and might not get much attention from other teams, backup nose tackle Colin Cole and backup defensive end Michael Montgomery.

The Packers have eight restricted free agents, but only one of those — safety Atari Bigby — is a starter, though fullback John Kuhn and receiver Ruvell Martin are key reserves and athletic Jason Hunter might get new life as an outside linebacker.

In restricted free agency, the Packers have the right to match any contract as long as they have tendered an offer by Feb. 26. If the team refuses to match the offer, they are compensated by receiving a draft pick in the same round that player was selected.

Bigby was an undrafted free agent, so the Packers have other options. To protect their players, teams can place a first-round tender on a player ($2.198 million), a second-round tender ($1.545 million) or first- and third-round tender ($2.792 million).

The Packers probably will place a second-round tender on Bigby, meaning he would play for $1.545 million in Green Bay or the Packers would receive a second-round pick as compensation.

Green Bay's unrestricted free agents

Four or more accrued seasons; can sign with any team:

OT Mark Tauscher: Tauscher will be 32 next season and will be coming off of his second knee reconstruction. When healthy, he wasn't the same player he was in 2006. Still, he would have been headed to a big payday. He won't get it now.

DT Colin Cole: The Packers are starved for defensive tackles, and Cole would be a decent backup to Ryan Pickett. But, the hard-working 330-pounder might get a big offer because he can eat up blockers and get a little push as a rusher.

DE Mike Montgomery: Montgomery had his moments in place of an injured Cullen Jenkins last season. He was hard-working and productive. At 275 pounds, though, the Packers have to determine if he's strong enough to play end in a 3-4.

Green Bay's restricted free agents

Three accrued seasons; Packers have right to match any accepted offer:

S Atari Bigby: The hard-hitting Bigby's season was ruined with ankle and hamstring injuries. His worth was evident at the end of 2007, when he raised his level of play, and when he was limited or absent in 2008, when the defense suffered.

FB John Kuhn: Kuhn played well enough last season to merit a shot at replacing Korey Hall as the starter.

WR Ruvell Martin: The 6-foot-4 Martin is a big target and close friends with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He's a good possession receiver and blocker.

TE Tory Humphrey: The Packers waited and waited and waited for the oft-injured Humphrey to be healthy. He was last season, and he delivered a few big catches.

DE Jason Hunter: Hunter looks like he should be a player, but thus far, he hasn't been anything more than a special-teams performer. Maybe outside linebacker will suit him better.

DB Jarrett Bush: Bush went from nickel cornerback in 2007 to special-teams player in 2008. He was productive in that area but also was slapped with six penalties.

WR Shaun Bodiford: He sat out last season with a back injury and likely won't be back.

OLB Kenny Pettway: A blown-out knee ended his season. He didn't do much on defense but his absence showed up on special teams.

For a how-it-works piece on restricted free agency, see Ed Thompson's explainer.

Green Bay's exclusive-rights free agents

Zero to two accrued seasons; can't negotiate with any other teams if the Packers have tendered an offer:

CB Tramon Williams: The Packers will be able to get by cheap for one more season with the budding Williams. If he continues to make strides, he may be a candidate for a long-term extension at some point in 2009.

Elsewhere around the league

— The Atlanta Falcons are going to use their franchise tag on punter Michael Koenen, according to NFL.com. Koenen, who yielded a record-low 49 return yards and also can kick off, will cost the Falcons $2.48 million (the average of the top-five punters in the NFL).

Few teams in the league punted the ball worse than the Packers last season. They have Jeremy Kapinos, who kicked in the last four games of the season, and Durant Brooks, who beat out Derrick Frost in Washington as a rookie but was cut by midseason.

Oakland punter Shane Lechler, who is one of the best in the history of the game, will be hotly pursued this offseason and could fetch $4 million per season. He was recruited to Texas A&M by new Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum.

— Interested in Ray Lewis? The heart and soul of the Ravens will be a free agent, but coach John Harbaugh told USA Today that team owner Steve Bisciotti is willing "to pay a lot of money" to keep Lewis.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.


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