Robert Francois is more than open to returning to the Packers even if the team doesn’t him the lowest restricted free agent tender, which is looking more and more likely.
With the relatively high cost of even the cheapest tenders, the Packers probably will try to save valuable cap space by tendering only two of their five restricted free agents and re-signing some of the others for the league minimum. The low tender, which carries the right of first refusal, is $1.323 million, whereas the minimum salary for the same players is $715,000.
If the Packers don’t tender Francois by the March 12 deadline, he would be an unrestricted free agent. They then could try to re-sign the backup inside linebacker to a deal at or near the minimum. Francois’ representatives acknowledged the likelihood that their client is one of many restricted free agents around the league facing that likelihood, and that Francois’ strong preference is to remain with the Packers regardless.
“If the situation goes that way where Green Bay essentially makes him an unrestricted free agent, he’d be very closed minded to not look and see what other opportunities could be available,” said Noel LaMontagne, who is one of Francois’ agents. “But he’s obviously going to keep a hand on that doorknob on Green Bay where if there’s a way to stay here (where Francois can say), ‘that makes sense for them and makes sense for me and gives me an opportunity to show what I can be down the line,’ we’re going to have to weigh that incredibly heavily.
Francois has been a core special teams player but has hardly played at inside linebacker in his three years with the team. The Packers need every bit of cap room they can get to facilitate expensive contract extensions with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive lineman B.J. Raji.
The Packers could save meaningful cap room if they’re conservative with their restricted tenders. That could mean tendering only two of their five restricted free agents, starters Sam Shields at cornerback and Evan Dietrich-Smith at center, and trying to re-sign some or all among Francois, tight end Tom Crabtree and outside linebacker Frank Zombo at the minimum.
Furthermore, they could save even more cap space by placing the low tender rather than the second-round tender on Shields and Dietrich-Smith. That would come with some risk, because though they'd have the right of first refusal, the Packers would get no compensation if they didn’t match a contract either player signed with another team. But the second-round tender is $2.023 milion, or $700,000 more than the low tender. So the Packers could save $1.4 million in cap room if they offered both the low tender.
The Packers also could make the tender moot by working out new, multiple-year contracts with one or both players.
The team would save another $608,000 on each of the other players, or $1.824 million total, by not tendering them and then re-signing them for the minimum, though the players would be free to sign with other teams if they choose. The Packers could save more cap space by not even bringing back one or two among Francois, Crabtree and Zombo.
The best guess is they’ll try to re-sign Francois and Crabtree for the minimum. The chances of Zombo’s return are more uncertain because of his injury history – he’s missed 23 games his three seasons combined because of knee, shoulder blade and hamstring injuries.