BOCA RATON, Fla. - It’s not easy to get a bead on what Ted Thompson is thinking.
No one had the Green Bay Packers general manager taking Damarious Randall in the first round of last year’s NFL draft. Two years ago, not a single report came out prior to Julius Peppers flying into Green Bay and signing a three-year contract.
When Thompson makes a move, it’s calculated and pin-dropping quiet.
However, there is one hard-and-fast rule to how Thompson operates: He won’t bid against himself. Thompson is willing to wait. He isn’t going to overpay for something on Monday when he knows he can get it cheaper during the weekend close-out sale.
The question has been asked repeatedly during the past two weeks about why the Packers haven’t been quick to sign Jared Cook after the tight end’s recent visit. It’s obvious they have a need at the position, so why not pony up and do something about it?
As Packers president Mark Murphy said the NFL owners meetings, the organization is not going to overspend for players. It often adversely affects a team’s salary cap, occasionally leads to discord in the locker room and many times doesn't deliver what you paid for.
So the Packers wait. They wait to see what outside linebacker Mike Neal or fullback John Kuhn can fetch on the free-agent market. They maintain their patience to determine Cook’s value. If Thompson is going to bet on a signing, he’s going to make sure he’s getting the best odds on his wager.
“You want to sign all your free agents,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think it’s clear the direction we’re going in. It just takes time. It’s just certain deals get done at certain times in the process. There’s still a lot of time left.”
So far, the Packers are the only known visit that Cook has taken since the Los Angeles Rams released him Feb. 19. Only 28, Cook was entering the fourth season of the five-year, $35 million he signed with the Rams in 2013 and likely seeks a multiyear contract or a prove-it deal with incentives.
Neal reportedly has visited with Seattle and Detroit, but left both places without a contract. He worked on a two-year, $8 million contract the past two seasons. However, the likelihood of his return became unclear after Nick Perry’s one-year, $5 million contract and Datone Jones being slated to play outside rusher.
All indications are the Packers plan to bring back Kuhn on a one-year contract that likely will be for the veteran minimum. It took until April 13 to get a deal done last year, but the four-time Pro Bowl fullback remains too valuable to the offense with his durability and general knowledge of the system.
The Packers also haven’t closed the door on bringing back long snapper Brett Goode, who’s recovering from reconstructive knee surgery after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in Oakland on Dec. 20.
Goode, 31, rehabbed at the team’s facilities until the start of the new league year. Because he’s a free agent, he’s now working out at a nearby training center, but Green Bay is keeping an eye on him.
The Packers have four other free agents – offensive lineman Don Barclay, tight end Andrew Quarless, outside linebacker Andy Mulumba and safety Sean Richardson – who remain unsigned. Richardson (herniated disc) and Quarless (torn MCL) both finished last season on injured reserve.
Veteran receiver James Jones is also an unrestricted free agent, but McCarthy confirmed at the owners meetings that they don’t intend to re-sign him at this point. It would be stunning if Thompson signs any outside unrestricted free agents at this point.
Outside of the few veterans waiting out big contracts, a majority of the remaining players in the free-agent pool could be had cheaply once the unrestricted free-agent period ends. Last year, the NFL moved that date up to May 12 to allow players to sign with a team and participate in their offseason program.
After that date, any unrestricted free agent signed by a new team doesn’t count to the compensatory equation. While the Packers might end up with only one player – cornerback Casey Hayward – who could garner a draft pick, Thompson surely doesn’t want to compromise it.
“Free agency is a long process,” McCarthy said. “It’s not over yet, hopefully we can add a guy or two. But I’ve always focused on our own guys. I’m always open to improving our football team from the outside, but the draft has always been our lifeline and that’s where the majority of our emphasis goes in the offseason. Just because we don’t sign anybody, we are active on free agents. Whether we sign them or we don’t is a different matter.”
The Packers have $13.2 million left in remaining cap room for 2016 with a third of that already earmarked for signing this year’s draft choices. Green Bay must be mindful of that considering it doesn’t have many deals coming off the books. Of its top 15 contracts, 11 run through at least 2017.
Three starting offensive linemen and running back Eddie Lacy will be free agents next offseason. If Lacy turns things around in 2016, the Packers will have to pay top dollar to retain him based on the recent contracts given to running backs Doug Martin (five years, $35.75 million by Tampa Bay), Lamar Miller (four years, $26 million by the Texans) and Chris Ivory (five years, $32 million by the Jaguars).
The Packers made their big signing in December with defensive lineman Mike Daniels’ four-year, $41 million contract. Any improvement the Packers make this upcoming season largely will be based on whatever rookies they add to a young, developing roster.
If they find a bargain along the way, so be it.
“We get better by practicing better and doing better and finding better personnel and doing all the things that we do,” Thompson said.
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