It’s been well documented, and complained about, that Ted Thompson hasn’t been a big spender in free agency. He is also a man who recognizes when his team has a legitimate chance at winning a Super Bowl, as the Packers do next year. He saw Super Bowl potential when he signed Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett all those years ago, and he saw it again last off season when he made a double-dip into the free agent market and signed Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion.
The ability to sign a good free agent or two will depend on a few key roster decisions. As pointed out in this article by Andy Herman, if Thompson chose to release Brad Jones and AJ Hawk, both of whom saw less and less playing time as the season went on, the Packers would save $7.25 million of cap space next year. Thompson could save even more money, potentially as much as $5 million, if he agreed to a contract restructure with Julius Peppers, who may be willing to make a financial sacrifice in order to finally win a Super Bowl. So even after re-signing some key in-house free agents, Thompson could have some money to play with.
Before considering free agency, there are some Packers that need to be re-signed in order to keep this Super Bowl window open. Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga and Davon House are likely to be the three biggest priorities in the coming weeks. Deciding to let any of these players leave in free agency would drastically change the order of team needs, but I don’t think Thompson lets any of them go. Two weeks ago, I would have included Letroy Guion in this list, but after his legal problems, his status for next season is up in the air.
So here’s a look at five potential targets for Thompson and the Packers, at the biggest areas of need.
Rolando McClain -Linebacker -Dallas Cowboys
Even with Clay Matthews’ position switch and the maturation of Sam Barrington, inside linebacker remains arguably the biggest need for the Packers this off season. Rolando McClain was out of the NFL completely after having some serious discipline problems while playing with the Raiders. The Cowboys were very wise to give him a second chance as he had one of the best years of his career for a very good Dallas defense. He’s clearly grown up a lot and shown that with good coaching he can flourish. He would be a perfect fit in a rotation with Matthews and Barrington, and would give the Packers the pure athleticism they currently lack in the position.
Charles Clay -Tight End -Miami Dolphins
The go-to free agent at the tight end position is obviously Julius Thomas, but I have three problems with that. First, he is recently on record as saying he wants to be among the highest paid tight ends in the league, and signing him would likely cost us the ability to re-sign Randall Cobb or Bryan Bulaga. Second, he has a history of dealing with nagging injuries and has never played in all 16 games of a season. And finally, tight end is not enough of a need to justify spending that kind of money with the potential that Richard Rodgers has. I do still see it as a need though, which is why the Packers may show some serious interest in Charles Clay. He’s a solid blocker and a good pass-catcher, and he would provide a reliable veteran for Aaron Rodgers to throw to.
Jason Worilds -Linebacker – Pittsburgh Steelers
Outside linebacker is not exactly the Packers biggest weakness, but solidifying the position would have a domino effect on this defense. A great pass-rush improves the secondary by making sure they don’t have to cover opposing receivers while the quarterback sits in the pocket. This signing would also signal the permanent move of Clay Matthews to inside linebacker, where he put up some of the best stats of his career. Signing Worilds is a long-shot, but he has the potential to change the dymanic of this whole defense, and could be acquired at a fairly reasonable price.
Bruce Carter -Linebacker -Dallas Cowboys
This is not a particularly strong draft for inside linebackers, so if Thompson is going to make a move in free agency, this position is a good bet. Carter is another former Cowboy who has put up some solid numbers and could make a difference in the middle of this Packers’ defense. He’s also still quite young. At the age of 26, he’s just entering the prime of his career and will likely still perform at a high level for the next 5-6 years. I think Thompson will sign an inside linebacker this year, and Bruce Carter is sure to catch his eye.
Terrance Knighton -Nose Tackle -Denver Broncos
Of the players mentioned on this list, Knighton is the one I would most like to see in green and gold next year. At 6-3, and 331 pounds he’s big enough, and is more than capable of plugging up the middle; stuffing the opposing running game. He’s 28 years old and has only missed three games due to injury in his career, playing in all 16 regular season games in 5 of his 6 seasons. He’s exactly what the Packers need in the middle. Thompson may elect to bring back BJ Raji instead and acquire depth through the draft. This is a very solid, and financially responsible option. But if the Packers are truly going all-in for a Super Bowl this year, Knighton could be a difference maker on this defense.
What are your thoughts on these potential additions? Is there anyone you would rather go after? Should the Packers make a bigger splash by going after Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas, Ndamukong Suh or Dez Bryant? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.