BOCA RATON, Fla. – It should come as a surprise to no one the Green Bay Packers again have been absent in free agency.
Barring an outside addition in the next week, March 30 will mark the four-year anniversary of the last time the Packers have signed an unrestricted free agent off another team: New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, who was later cut during training camp and never played another snap in the NFL.
Two years ago, the Packers made waves with the signing of “street” free agents Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion, who had been released by their previous teams. Instead of that signaling a change in philosophy, it turned out to be nothing more than an anomaly.
The Packers and general manager Ted Thompson again have been quiet this offseason despite coach Mike McCarthy’s assertion at the NFL scouting combine that the team “might shock you this year” in free agency. So far, the only surprise has been the untimely retirement of defensive tackle B.J. Raji.
With free agency entering its third week, there have been more than 80 unrestricted free agents who have signed contracts with new teams. So far, Green Bay and Cincinnati are the only teams that haven’t added an outside free agent, though the Bengals reportedly have a deal in place with former Oakland safety Taylor Mays.
Despite the empty shopping cart, Thompson maintains the Packers have perused the aisles of free agency.
“Well, just because we don’t sign somebody doesn’t mean we don’t consider people,” said Thompson at Monday’s NFL owners meetings. “We did a lot of considering, and we do all the time, wherever we felt like we could make our team better in the grand scheme things we’ve tried to do that. So far, it’s been kind of quiet from a fan’s standpoint and I’m sorry to say that.”
A temperate afternoon in Boca Raton did little to loosen the tip-lipped Thompson when addressing his team’s offseason. The Packers general manager was as vague as ever when asked about a variety of different topics relating to free agency and the outlook for 2016.
Has there been any conversation after bringing in former St. Louis tight end Jared Cook for a visit? “I wouldn’t care to comment on it other than … I wouldn’t care to comment on it.”
Does the team intend to re-sign outside linebacker Mike Neal? “Well, he certainly fits the profile, he’s one of ours and all that sort of stuff. We’ll see how that goes.”
What has he heard about Eddie Lacy’s offseason? “I haven’t gotten a lot. I hear he’s feeling good and got a big grin on his face. He usually has a big grin on his face.”
The only thing certain about Green Bay’s offseason motives is it again set out to keep its own free agents. Along with extending defensive lineman Mike Daniels in December, the Packers since have re-upped with Guion, kicker Mason Crosby, outside linebacker Nick Perry and running back James Starks.
All indications are the Packers were planning to re-sign Raji to a long-term contract before he announced last week that he won't play during the 2016 season. The former first-round pick cited family reasons and commitment issues in his decision to step away from the game at age 29.
Green Bay has a lot of areas of need — inside linebacker, tight end and offensive line — that Thompson evidently plans to address with his nine picks in April’s NFL draft, though he says his measured approach to free agency doesn’t put an extra pressure on his ability to hit on draft picks.
So how will Thompson allocate the $13.2 million he has in remaining cap space following Starks’ two-year, $6 million contract? Most likely he’ll use it to take care of his upcoming draft class and work toward long-term extensions with members of his 2013 draft class, including left tackle David Bakhtiari.
The Packers also have eight unsigned unrestricted free agents, though Neal is the only one who might sign for any more than the league minimum at this point. As for any outside candidates, Cook remains the only known veteran to visit with Green Bay this offseason.
Former Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte is the only other player the Packers have been reported to have had interest in this offseason.
Thompson is incredibly deliberate when he ventures into external free agency. The organization felt like it had a good handle on both Peppers and Guion when it signed the pair in March 2014. Peppers was an eight-time Pro Bowler and the Packers had significant interest in Guion during the 2008 NFL draft.
Thompson is quick to remind everyone that free agency isn’t over. The market is still littered with players who’ll end up on 53-man rosters come September. Still, there’s a reason each of them is on the market. If the Packers sign someone, chances are it will be a complementary player rather than a pivotal one.
Until then, Thompson keeps his voice measured and remains focused on improvement from within.
“It’s interesting that people keep score. It’s still on-going,” Thompson said. “There are still surprises down the road I’m sure. I hope they’re good surprises as opposed to bad. But yeah, you have to kind of wait this thing out and see how it goes. We feel pretty good where we are in terms of getting some of our guys back.”
Packers offseason signings
Feb. 12 – DL Letroy Guion (three years, $11.05 million with $500,000 signing bonus)
March 1 – K Mason Crosby (four years, $16.1 million with $5 million signing bonus)
March 8 – OL Lane Taylor (two years, $4.15 million with $600,000 signing bonus)
March 10 – OLB Nick Perry (one year, $5 million with $1.5 million signing bonus)
March 18 – RB James Starks (two years, $6 million with $1.5 million signing bonus)