Packers stand pat as free agency opens
If a shocking move is on the horizon, the Green Bay Packers apparently have it set on a delayed timer.
The first day of the new NFL year began Wednesday afternoon and Packers general manager Ted Thompson again stood pat during the opening wave of free agency. While many teams were penning zeros on oversized checks, Thompson attended the University of Wisconsin’s pro day like he does every year.
When the clock struck 3 p.m. CST, the only move the Packers made was tendering a contract to tight end Justin Perillo, an exclusive-rights free agent.
It really wasn’t any different than the last few years, other than the fact the Packers didn’t have any top-tier free agents on their own roster to address before the new league year began. Their top two targets, defensive lineman Mike Daniels and kicker Mason Crosby, were extended in recent months.
While frustrating for fans, Thompson’s frugality is understandable. After extending Daniels (four years, $41 million) and Crosby (four years, $15.1 million), the Packers entered free agency with only the 19th-most cap space in the NFL ($20,642,816) and with a slew of players coming up for contracts in the next year.
Fans might have been enticed into thinking the Packers were due for a big splash after coach Mike McCarthy foreshadowed a possible free-agent acquisition at the NFL scouting combine two weeks ago, saying “we’ll see how it shakes out. We might shock you this year,” but the Packers need to be smart.
Only four of their top 15 contracts expire after 2016, too. So while the NFL salary cap continues to grow by leaps and bounds, the Packers have to take into consideration the future of left tackle David Bakhtiari, guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton and running back Eddie Lacy with every move they make.
Green Bay was linked only to Chicago Bears free-agent running back Matt Forte during the legal negotiating period Monday and Tuesday. The two-time Pro Bowler agreed to terms with the New York Jets one day after ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Packers had expressed interest.
The market for running backs has been raging with Doug Martin (five years, $35.75 million), Lamar Miller (four years, $26 million) and Chris Ivory (five years, $32 million) all cashing in. ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Forte’s contract is expected to be about $2 million less per season than Ivory's, putting him in the $4 million range.
All those figures could contribute to Lacy’s price tag shooting up if he turns things around next season. The 26-year-old running back has been working with P90X founder Tony Horton this offseason after conditioning concerns contributed to an underwhelming 2015 campaign.
Lacy is still only one season removed from racking up 1,600 total yards for the Packers in 2014. Despite carrying too much weight on his 5-foot-11 frame last season, Lacy’s natural ability still was visible and there was thought the Packers might bring in a veteran like Forte to help motivate and shepherd him.
With Forte off the market, the Packers’ best option might be re-signing James Starks, who turned 30 last month but is coming off his most productive season. If they have confidence in new running backs coach Ben Sirmans, Starks’ five fumbles last season shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
Another popular train of thought is the Packers may find a capable free agent at arguably their two biggest positions of need at tight end and inside linebacker.
The market for tight ends has been pricey. Dwayne Allen (four years, $29.4 million), Coby Fleener (five years, $36 million) and Antonio Gates (two years, $12 million) reportedly all broke the bank. It’s likely Ladarius Green also will sign a lucrative deal with Pittsburgh once the numbers come out.
Denver’s Danny Trevathan made sense for the Packers, who are in need of a three-down inside linebacker to lessen Clay Matthew's burden. However, Trevathan quickly came off the market Wednesday in agreeing to a four-year deal with the Bears that reportedly is worth around $7 million per season.
This still could be the year Thompson signs his first unrestricted free agent since March 2012, but he won’t overpay. Whether it’s an unrestricted player or a street-free agent, the Packers’ 63-year-old general manager is going to allocate his money where it makes the most sense.
The Packers reportedly are interested in Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, but the only way Thompson is getting involved is if the Bears can’t find a trading partner and choose to release him. Based on all the recent tight end contracts, it’s hard to imagine a team not being interested in the Pro Bowler.
Thompson strikes when least expected. That’s how he landed Julius Peppers two years ago, flying the defensive end into Green Bay under the cover of darkness and working out a contract. It was a surprising move and one that has paid dividends.
This year’s shock might still be on its way. It’s just not on speed dial.
The Packers addressed the future of two pending free agents in tendering a contract to tight end Justin Perillo but not outside linebacker Andy Mulumba.
Mulumba, a restricted free agent, is now free to sign with any team. The lowest restricted tender the Packers could have issued the three-year veteran was worth $1.671 million, which is three times what Mulumba made when he had four tackles in six games last season.
As of Tuesday evening, the Packers hadn't given any indication whether they intend to re-sign Mulumba at a lower price.
Perillo, an exclusive-rights free agent, had 11 catches for 102 yards and one touchdown in nine games last season. He'll make $675,000 if he makes the team next season.
The two-year, $4.15 million contract that backup guard Lane Taylor signed Tuesday included a $1.1 million base salary for 2016 in addition to his $600,000 signing bonus and $50,000 workout bonus, according to an NFL source with access to the NFLPA salary database.
Taylor, who’ll count $1.45 million against the 2016 salary cap, can earn an additional $600,000 depending on his playing time, wins and playoff participation in each of the next two seasons.
Taylor, 26, counts $2.7 million against the 2017 salary cap with a $1.85 million base salary, a $50,000 workout bonus and up to $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses.