To save salary cap space, the Packers are taking a calculated risk by offering center Evan Dietrich-Smith the lowest restricted free agent tender.
Sources confirmed today that Dietrich-Smith will get the lowest tender, which carries the right to match any contract the player signs with another team or receive as compensation a draft pick in the round he was drafted. The risk in this case is that Dietrich-Smith entered the NFL undrafted, so the Packers would receive no compensation.
Dietrich-Smith goes into the offseason as the Packers’ starting center after he replaced Jeff Saturday in that role late last season, and coach Mike McCarthy gave him a strong vote of confidence last month at the NFL scouting combine. General manager Ted Thompson in effect is betting that no team will offer Dietrich-Smith a contract that he’d be unwilling to match.
The move for now saves the Packers $700,000 on the cap, because the low tender is $1.323 million, whereas the next-lowest tender, the second-rounder, is $2.023 million. Though the Packers have substantial cap room (about $21 million), Thompson is looking to save as much space as possible for renegotiating mega-rich contracts for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and possibly defensive lineman B.J. Raji. There’s also the chance he’ll try to sign a free agent or two, such as defensive lineman Chris Canty, who visited the Packers last week.
With their other top restricted free agent, cornerback Sam Shields, the Packers appear to be leaning toward offering at least the second-round tender, a source said. The deadline for offering tenders is 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Shields, a starter last season, also entered the league undrafted, so the Packers must think there’s a greater risk another team would sign him to a deal they wouldn’t be able to match.
The second-round tender lowers the risk because his new team would have to give up a second-round pick if the Packers don’t match. They also could offer a first-round tender, which costs $2.879 million and would further reduce the chances of another team signing Shields but at a cost of $856,000 more than the second-round tender. Thompson might think that losing a second-round pick is sufficient to dissuade other teams from signing Shields.
The Packers have three other restricted free agents: tight end Tom Crabtree, linebacker Robert Francois and Frank Zombo.
It appears the Packers might try to save more money by not tendering them, which means they won’t have the right of first refusal, and then trying to re-sign them for the NFL minimum. The minimum for players heading into their fourth NFL season is $715,100, so the Packers could save $608,000 on each going that route, though the players also would be free to sign with other teams with no restrictions.