Free Agent Frenzy
By Walter Rhein
Martellus Bennett’s agent waited patiently on hold while Ted Thompson talked with Jared Cook’s representation.*
“Three years, twenty-one million, yes or no?” Ted barked.
“Uhhh,” Cook’s agent replied.
“Too late!” Ted screamed, slamming down the receiver and flipping the line over to Bennett’s man. “We have a deal!” He slammed the receiver down again and smashed his big red “upgrade” stamp across the tight end depth chart. He’d hit the same chart with another stamp a few days later after signing Lance Kendricks.
“I’m killing this chart,” he growled as red ink spattered his face and white shirt from the force of his repeated blows.
It’s been an unusual first week of free agency for the team that’s usually the quietest talent poacher in the league.
“Ted better do something this year!” has been the refrain throughout the state.
“Rodgers voiced his support for Cook, so I hope they get that deal done!”
Yeah, well, you don’t ask Ted Thompson to throw a game-winning TD, and you don’t ask Aaron Rodgers which personnel move is best for the team. The Vikings tried that when Favre insisted they trade a third-round pick for Randy Moss. It didn’t work out.
“Thompson never signs free agents!”
Raise your hand if you noticed that this year Ted Thompson signed the most coveted pass rusher available on the market: Nick Perry, 5 years, $60 million.
“Oh, that doesn’t count as a free agent signing!”
Perry was a free agent, the Packers signed him.
Done and done!
The thing that makes the Bennett signing a little questionable is that he was a true free agent which means he will count against the Packers in the compensatory draft pick formula. Since that formula seems to be most dependent on the salary of the departing free agent, it’s almost a surprise that the Packers coughed up the cash for Perry, as GMs often trip over themselves to overpay pass rushers. Letting a guy like that go is a way to manufacture picks.
But Bennett is a big improvement over Jared Cook. Prior to last year, the word on Cook was that he bubbled with potential, but couldn’t seem to produce anything more than a few dizzying flashes. He was basically the Jay Cutler or Jeff George of tight ends. It seemed like you could rely on him and then…
Bennett went to the pro-bowl after a 90-reception season in 2014. He’s developed a reputation as a guy you don’t want to face in fantasy football. If we hoped Cook could get to the Bennett level with a QB like Rodgers, what’s the hope for Bennett? Gronk numbers?
Lance Kendricks is another tight end who could benefit from having more stability at the QB position. Since he was a 2nd round pick in 2011, he’s received passes from Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis, Shaun Hill, Nick Foles, Case Keenum, and Jared Goff. His 50 receptions last year were a career high (20 more than Jared Cook caught), and it’s a good bet Kendricks will build on his 2016 season with a guy like Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. The tight end group alone is reason enough for Packer fans to be excited about this off-season.
“Oh no, we lost T.J. Lang and J.C. Tretter! Why does Thompson hate players who use their initials as first names?”
Although these moves don’t bode well for Thompson making a move for A.J. Green, the offensive line situation doesn’t seem all that concerning. The Packers traded up to get Jason Spriggs in round 2 last year because they had a first round grade on him. They’ll figure out a way to shuffle the line around to protect Rodgers. The Packers also signed Justin McCray in what is probably a developmental move. Justin’s twin brother Jordan was on the Packers practice squad in 2014, so they probably have a pretty good idea of what they’re getting in McCray.
Speaking of protection, go and check the game tape from last year. There are a couple of instances where Rodgers throws TD passes after having his head nearly ripped off. Rarely does Rodgers stand flat-footed like Brady and have time to read a book and check his email before even surveying the field for open receivers. A little shuffle up might result in an improvement just like it did when they jettisoned Sitton.
“Our secondary is a mess! We need some help!”
Well, Micah Hyde slipped away, which is a bit of a shame, but the $30 million the Bills are set to pay over 5 years is too much and should produce a nice compensatory pick. Thompson filled this hole with Davon House on a 1 year, $3.5 million dollar deal. House set a Jaguars record with 23 pass break ups in 2015, but somehow got into the Jacksonville doghouse last year. Was it injury? Was it ego? Was it a fluke caused by the coaching change? Who knows? House now has a one-year “prove it” deal, and if he leaves after the season the Packers will get another compensatory pick for him just like when he left in 2015. Also, look for Rollins and Randall to bounce back after finishing off the 2016 season injured.
“Eddie Lacy to Seattle? How did we let this happen?”
Seattle fans are already referring to Lacy as “Feast Mode” which doesn’t bode well. This is a guy you have mixed feelings about showing the door, but the fact is the Packers are a pass-first team and don’t use a back like a battering ram the way Seattle will use Lacy. The word is the Packers offered a similar deal, but Lacy wanted a shot with a run-first team. He’ll factor in to the compensatory formula in a year, and the fact is the Packers didn’t have him for most of the season in 2016 anyway.
Jayrone Elliott is back, but Julius Peppers went to Carolina and Datone Jones went to Minnesota. Of those two, Jones is the one you’d have liked to see stick around, but Elliott’s stats compare favorably to Jones, so it’s kind of a wash. Plus, Elliott was arguably Green Bay’s top special teams player last year.
Rickey Jean Francois is the kind of inexpensive veteran pick-up that can pay great dividends. Francois has been in the league since 2009, and although he’s not a flashy name, he’s the kind of guy who will bring a veteran presence you want on your team. You can expect Francois to provide a smattering of critical plays this year. The Packers also took a flyer on Ego Ferguson, a former Bears’ second-round pick who hasn’t lived up to expectations. Players don’t get drafted in the second round unless they have some physical talent, and sometimes getting cut can light a fire under a player in a way that brings tremendous dividends. But he failed his physical, so the Packers cut him and lost nothing.
Although from the surface this seems like a flashy free agent season for Thompson, the moves are all consistent with his philosophy. Just as he is adept at finding gems in Day Two of the draft, Thompson is good at grabbing free agents late in the signing period. There are still some big names out there that Thompson hopes will end up on the bargain shelf. The draft, too, will produce the final couple necessary starters to fill the holes that have been left behind.
We can only hope that Thompson’s aversion to players with initials for first names doesn’t hold true if T.J. Watt is available when the Packers are calling out their first round pick.
*The above scenario with Ted Thompson at the beginning of the article involves serious projection by Walter Rhein in the interest of humor. Although it has been reported that Bennett’s agent was on the other line when Thompson’s negotiations with Cook’s agent broke down.