Kuhn not alone in offseason wait
As expected, the market for fullbacks has been quiet since free agency kicked off three weeks ago.
So far, only three unrestricted free-agent veterans — Jerome Felton (Buffalo), Henry Hynoski (New York Giants) and Jed Collins (Dallas) — have signed contracts during that span. Many others like John Kuhn still are waiting for their phone to ring.
In Kuhn's case, a call could be coming sooner than later. It was a year ago this week that the Green Bay Packers brought back the fan favorite on a one-year deal and they again appear interested in retaining the nine-year veteran, who was selected first-team all-pro and voted to his second Pro Bowl.
His agent, Kevin Gold, has remained in communication with the Packers about Kuhn's potential return and expects talks to heat up soon. Although Kuhn will turn 33 in September, the coaching staff felt he made strides in his blocking during his first season working with running backs coach Sam Gash, a two-time Pro Bowler at the position.
Kuhn is the eldest free-agent fullback who played in the NFL last season, so it remains to be seen what kind of interest he'll draw at a devalued position. However, his knowledge of the offense has made the 6-foot, 250-pounder a mainstay in Green Bay.
The Packers appeared to be moving away from the fullback in the early stages of last season, but leaned heavily on Kuhn in the second half, especially after Aaron Rodgers tweaked his calf against Tampa Bay in Week 16. The quarterback has since stumped for Kuhn's return.
However, it's not as simple as it once was. A quarter of the NFL didn't use a traditional fullback in 2014 and only 18 of the 32 have a designated fullback on their offseason roster. Only San Francisco's Bruce Miller (43.6) and Baltimore's Kyle Juszczyk (42.2) played more than 40 percent of their team's offensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders.
In 2007, there were 19 fullbacks who played more than 300 offensive snaps, compared to only four last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Kuhn played 56 offensive snaps in the Packers' first eight games before rallying to finish with 192, which was 18.3 percent of the offense's total snaps. He finished outside of the top 10 in playing time at his position, but rushed for 85 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown.
Some teams like Cincinnati have moved away from the traditional fullback in favor of an H-back, a position often associated with a hybrid tight end. Jacksonville reportedly is considering a similar switch with halfback Toby Gerhart after choosing not to re-sign Will Ta'ufo'ou and then cutting Bradie Ewing on Tuesday.
The Packers no longer carry three fullbacks on their active roster like they did in 2009, but still value the position for the time being. When asked about the future of the fullback in the offense, coach Mike McCarthy was non-committal at last week's NFL annual meeting in Phoenix.
"It's not really just a fullback," McCarthy said. "I've always preferred as many tight ends or fullbacks, a combination, as possible because it gives us great flexibility, the way we utilize our tight ends as far as playing on the line of scrimmage, off the line of scrimmage, in the backfield, displacing them. We displaced John sometimes last year. He was a major passing threat when we did it."
The Packers train their tight ends to be comfortable in the backfield, but there are some coaches who believe the more-compact fullback is better equipped to fulfill blocking assignments out of the backfield in addition to being a short-yardage rushing option.
Kuhn accepted a one-year, $1 million contract to return to Green Bay last March after his previous three-year, $7.5 million deal expired. In today's NFL, a $2.5 million annual salary has been difficult for any fullback to come by.
The Bills made the 28-year-old Felton one of the NFL's highest-paid fullbacks on the opening day of free agency with a four-year, $9.2 million contract that included a $2.6 million signing bonus. New head coach Rex Ryan said in Phoenix that "we're going to run it 50 times if we can on you."
Felton, who made a name for himself blocking for Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, trails only Oakland's Marcel Reece (three years, $11 million) and Carolina's Mike Tolbert (four years, $10 million) in average annual salary.
The contracts for Hynoski and Collins were less lucrative, but still better than the two-year minimum deal Ray Agnew signed with Dallas after being released in December by Cleveland.
Hynoski, 26, re-signed with the Giants on a two-year, $2.1 million contract with a $250,000 signing bonus at the start of free agency. Collins, 29, left Detroit for Dallas on a one-year, $810,000 deal with a $65,000 signing bonus. He'll count only $650,000 against the cap because of the veteran minimum salary benefit.
The Packers are rich in cap room — approximately $16.5 million under the cap after Letroy Guion and B.J. Raji's one-year deals — but may decide to go the same route with Kuhn, who'll call for at least an $870,000 base salary as a nine-year veteran.
Teams are permitted to offer players signing bonuses up to $80,000 and still be eligible for the benefit, which was added during the most recent collective bargaining agreement as a way to prevent pricing veterans out of the league. If a player of Kuhn's experience made the 53-man roster, he'd earn $950,000.
That's a little less than the $1.03 million package the Packers gave Kuhn last season, which included a $100,000 signing bonus, $50,000 roster bonus and $25,000 workout bonus.
Does Kuhn still have value with the Packers? McCarthy doesn't pause when replying, "Absolutely."
Now, it's up to general manager Ted Thompson and his front office to put a price on it.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod
Top free-agent fullbacks
John Kuhn, 32 (16 games, two starts, 192 offensive snaps)
Will Ta'ufo'ou, 28 (16 games, four starts, 230 snaps)
Tyler Clutts, 30 (16 games, one start, 161 snaps)
John Conner, 27 (12 games, three starts, 154 snaps)
Will Tukuafu, 31 (nine games, two starts, 140 snaps)
Jackie Battle, 31 (16 games, one start, 112 snaps)