Updating the free-agent countdown: Nos. 11-20

Apr. 2, 2014
Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly had to watch from the sideline after a neck injury late last season. He's a free agent and remains unsigned. File/Press-Gazette Media
Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly had to watch from the sideline after a neck injury late last season. He's a free agent and remains unsigned. File/Press-Gazette Media

Before the start of free agency, Press-Gazette Media ranked the Green Bay Packers’ top 20 free agents heading into this offseason.

Three weeks until the start of the Packers’ offseason program, six have been re-signed, one has been tendered a contract, five have left through free agency and eight remain unsigned.

With that in mind, we decided to revisit the countdown with financial numbers for both those who were retained and departed, and the outlook for those still awaiting an opportunity.

20. Chris Banjo, safety (re-signed on Feb. 26)

Banjo signed his exclusive-rights tender for $495,000, an accomplishment for a former undrafted free agent brought in a few days into training camp last summer. He played from behind early, but quickly made a name for himself and earned an unlikely spot as the fourth safety on the 53-man roster.

He played in all 16 games with 19 tackles and two pass deflections. Banjo played 457 totals snaps (192 defense, 265 special teams).

19. Seneca Wallace, quarterback (free agent)

Wallace, who’ll turn 34 in August, wants to keep playing and told NFL.com last month he hopes to be signed by training camp. At the same, he’s realistic in understanding how long it might take for an NFL team to come calling. The Packers still hope to re-sign Matt Flynn, but are also confident in 26-year-old Scott Tolzien.

Wallace was out of the league in 2012, but returned after nothing was solved during training camp with the Packers’ backup situation. Flynn’s return and Tolzien’s potential make it difficult to believe Wallace returns in any other capacity other than an emergency.

18. Kahlil Bell, running back (free agent)

All has been quiet on Bell’s front and the re-signing of Starks makes for a suddenly cluttered backfield in Green Bay behind offensive rookie of the year Eddie Lacy. Bell played three games with the Packers after Johnathan Franklin was lost for the season with a neck injury and returned one kickoff.

Bell is only 27, but the Packers are optimistic Franklin and DuJuan Harris (patellar tendon) will be back for the 2014 season. For the first time in McCarthy’s tenure, the Packers enter an offseason with few questions about the running back position.

17. Robert Francois, inside linebacker (free agent)

Francois is six months removed from surgery for a torn Achilles tendon and on track in his recovery, but it might be until after next month’s NFL draft that the special-teams stalwart is able to latch on with a team.

The Packers brought him back on a one-year deal last year. He was the top backup to both A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones at inside linebacker, but was lost for the season only 12 snaps into relieving an injured Jones during a 22-9 win over Detroit on Oct. 6.

Francois likely will be playing for a minimum deal. Given how much the Packers’ special teams struggled in 2013, he might be worth a shot.

16. Marshall Newhouse, offensive lineman (signed with Cincinnati on March 21)

The Packers didn’t show much interest in re-signing the swing tackle, partially due to the 12 offensive linemen already under contract and partially because of Newhouse's struggles when he did see the field in 2013.

After playing only 245 offensive snaps last season, Newhouse signed with the Bengals on a one-year deal worth $805,000 with a $50,000 signing bonus and $25,000 for workouts. A former teammate of Andy Dalton at TCU, he’ll compete for playing time behind Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith.

15. C.J. Wilson, defensive lineman (signed with Oakland on March 28)

Wilson is the most recent Packer to find a new home this offseason. Like Newhouse, he signed a modest one-year deal worth $795,000 with $65,000 bonus to show he’s deserving of a roster spot.

Coming in as a seventh-round pick, Wilson was productive in his four years in Green Bay, but was the forgotten member of the Packers’ defensive line in 2013 following the return of Johnny Jolly from league suspension.

14. M.D. Jennings, safety (signed with Chicago on March 12)

Actions spoke much louder than words when the Packers opted against tendering a first-right-of-refusal contract to their starting safety for the past 26 games.

Instead, they let Jennings walk before he agreed to a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears the following day for $645,000 with incentives that could boost his compensation an additional $100,000.

The Packers’ struggles in the secondary can’t be completely attributed to Jennings, a former undrafted free agent who otherwise was a fine special-teams player. However, his 2013 struggles reflected general manager Ted Thompson’s error in neglecting the position last offseason.

13. Jamari Lattimore, inside linebacker (tendered restricted contract on March 11)

Lattimore should sign his first-right-of-refusal contract for $1.4 million sometime between now and the start of the offseason program later this month.

There was some thought the Packers wouldn’t tender the reserve linebacker a contract, but outside interest and a relatively thin draft class of inside linebackers triggered Thompson to issue him one last month.

Lattimore is one of the team’s best special-teams players and was aggressive when given opportunity on defense. He struggled in the regular-season finale against Chicago after Brad Jones was a late scratch, but finished with his most productive NFL season (35 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble).

12. Johnny Jolly, defensive line (free agent)

Jolly tweeted earlier this week he’s returned to his full workout regimen, three months removed from having single-fusion neck surgery to relieve a bulging disc between his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae.

He was the team’s Ed Block Courage award recipient in the wake of his comeback from a three-year league suspension and could be an inexpensive rotational option on the defensive line if he’s cleared by training camp. His agent, Jack Bechta, remains hopeful.

Jolly played 287 snaps last season and had 21 tackles with a sack in 13 games (eight starts).

11. Matt Flynn, quarterback (free agent)

Flynn’s camp has been quiet all offseason, but the Packers remain interested. With how the market for backup quarterbacks has started to dry up, it might turn out to be Flynn’s best option.

There were some questions about the Packers moving forward with just Aaron Rodgers, Tolzien and a developmental quarterback, but coach Mike McCarthy indicated at last week’s NFL owners meetings that he wouldn’t be opposed to keeping three quarterbacks on the initial 53-man roster.

Flynn has his limitations, but managed to stop the offense’s bleeding when Rodgers was lost for two months to a broken collarbone. His 86.1 quarterback rating in five appearances helped the Packers pull off comeback wins over Dallas and Atlanta down the stretch.

About this blog

Get Green Bay Packers updates as they happen from our reporting team: (from left) Mike Vandermause, Wes Hodkiewicz and Pete Dougherty.

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