Hunt is the Packers' best tackle along a line that needs to be re-inforced this off-season. The Packers struggled against the run last year and will probably lose Vonnie Holliday through free agency. The Packers need new and improved linebackers as well, but keeping Hunt at tackle with, perhaps, a draft pick or free agent will help improve the team's defensive line.
Re-signing Hunt does present somewhat of a gamble for the Packers. The fifth-year pro has two strikes against him for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He served a four-game suspension early in 2001. He will be suspended for a year if he tests positive again.
But Hunt seems to be on the right track and, hopefully, realizes the penalty he faces if he violates the policy again. He is a good locker room guy who appears to get along well with his teammates. He can often been seen joking around with teammates when the media is allowed locker room access.
Losing Hunt to another team would be a severe blow to the Packers, who ranked 21st in run defense in 2002. The list of top free agent defensive tackles is slim after Daryl Gardener, who has been negotiating a contract extension with the Redskins. The transition tag allows the Packers to retain the right to match any offer made to Hunt by other teams. That means the tag will deter another club from taking the time to negotiate with Hunt, knowing that the Packers probably will match the offer.
Hunt was suspect in his first three seasons in Green Bay, but part of that was due to him rotating between tackle and defensive end. It was difficult for him to focus on one position. But in his first year as a starter solely at tackle last year, Hunt had 48 tackles, a career-high 5.5 sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, four passes defended and a blocked extra-point attempt. Hunt is quick and strong. He will apply pressure up the middle, allowing for Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Joe Johnson to close in on the quarterback.
Timing is everything, and Hunt had a solid season in a contract year. Now he soon will be receiving the biggest paycheck of his life.
Hunt is believed to be seeking a signing bonus of about $5 million to $6 million with an average yearly salary of around $4 million. Holliday is seeking similar numbers, prohibiting the Packers from re-signing both players and remaining under the $74.4 million salary cap. Of the two, the Packers obviously showed that Hunt is more valuable and economical to them at this point.
Look for the Packers to re-sign Hunt to a long-term extension prior to March 15 in order to retain the transition tag for future use. If both sides are unable to reach an agreement before that date, the Packers will have to wait until July to re-sign Hunt to an extension. That won't happen. Packers' negotiator Andrew Brandt has been very efficient re-signing key players since he arrived in 1999. It would be very surprising if Hunt is re-signed prior to the start of free agency on Feb. 28.
So far, so good for the Packers, and free agency hasn't even begun!