Aaron Nagler talks to Ryan Wood of PackersNews.com about his takeaways after speaking with Packers president & CEO Mark Murphy at the annual league meetings in Phoenix, Arizona. Murphy touched on free agency and Aaron Rodgers' next contract.
PHOENIX – The monotony of the Green Bay Packers' past offseasons became familiar long ago for team president Mark Murphy.
There isn’t much March Madness in the NFL’s smallest city. At least not usually. Each spring, Green Bay is the place free-agent hopes go to die.
“This is the time of year,” Murphy said a year ago at the league’s annual meetings, “where I answer a lot of questions about how come you’re not doing this, how come you’re not doing that.”
This has been a different spring. Entering the 2017 league meetings in Phoenix, the Packers are a different team. And not just because they lost seven players – and more than 3,500 snaps – from their 2016 season.
General manager Ted Thompson also has done plenty.
Perhaps because of the departures, perhaps from a renewed willingness to explore all avenues of roster building, the Packers also signed players from outside their locker room: tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, cornerback Davon House and defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois.
Thompson will share some insights into his offseason approach when he speaks with the media Monday at the Biltmore Hotel, where the league meetings are being held. On Sunday, Murphy laughed when asked whether he’s surprised his general manager actually signed players from other teams this spring.
No, Murphy said, this isn’t the first time Thompson has been active in free agency, even if all that prior activity rarely led to signed players. But Murphy knows this spring has been unusual, at least compared to the past.
“We’ve brought in players in the past,” Murphy said. “Although, I think maybe it was his first or second year that we brought in as many as we did this year. I’m pleased. I think we’ve helped ourselves in a number of positions, and obviously the draft coming up is another opportunity to help ourselves.”
With all the pieces that have been dispersed throughout the league since losing the NFC championship game in Atlanta, the Packers likely didn’t have a choice but to sign players . It’s not just the raw number – seven – that grabs attention.
DOUGHERTY: Ranking Packers' top draft needs
The list of Packers who will be wearing a different uniform this fall includes three starters: right guard T.J. Lang (now in Detroit), running back Eddie Lacy (Seattle) and tight end Jared Cook (Oakland). Center JC Tretter (Cleveland) and defensive back Micah Hyde (Buffalo) weren’t full-time starters, but were certainly capable of filling those roles – and played enough snaps to prove it.
The Packers re-signed outside linebacker Nick Perry to a five-year deal, but needed to do more. Retention is key for a draft-and-develop team, and retention has not been a theme recently. Only one player from the Packers' 2011 draft class remained before House was re-signed this spring. Only two players from the 2012 class. Only one player from 2013.
“The reality,” Murphy said, “is you can’t pay everybody. It’s a hard cap, so you have to work within it. And, you know, each case is kind of unique. Obviously, disappointed to lose some of the players that we did this year, but … you have to look at each player and what are you comfortable paying.
“There’s certain players that other teams were willing to pay more than we thought was reasonable.”
The Packers have plenty of room to continue working within the cap this spring, if they’d like to. They’re roughly $24 million under the 2017 cap, thanks mostly to the league’s ever-growing money pool.
But that number can be deceiving. The Packers are slotted to spend just under $6 million on their 2017 draft pool, which includes one in each of the seven rounds as well as a fifth-round compensatory selection. They also rolled over almost $8 million from 2016, a common practice for Thompson.
The Packers don’t have to blow their cap space in one spring. On Sunday, Murphy hinted toward the future. For the first time since the new collective bargaining agreement made it possible in 2011, the Packers are likely to pick up a fifth-year option to retain 2014 first-round safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Murphy also mentioned receiver Davante Adams’ rookie contract expiring next offseason.
There’s also a bigger extension to consider. Aaron Rodgers’ contract runs through the end of the 2019 season, but the Packers will want to extend it before then – sooner, perhaps, than later.
“Obviously, Aaron is extremely important to the organization,” Murphy said. “I know they have a plan for him.”