Coming or going: Raji, Forte, Crosby

Pete Dougherty
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Each Monday last NFL season I shared online four quick takes from the previous day’s Green Bay Packers game. Here’s the first offseason version of "Four Downs with Dougherty":

Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji (90) reaches for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) in the fourth quarter during Sunday's game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.

First down: The Packers’ re-signing of defensive lineman Letroy Guion reduces the chances of B.J. Raji's return, but it doesn’t preclude it.

The details of Guion’s three-year, $11.25 million contract aren’t in, but it’s structure likely doesn’t include a salary-cap number this year out of proportion with a deal that averages $3.75 million a season.

A report by on Monday projects this year’s cap to be about $155 million, so the Packers had close to $25 million in cap room before the Guion signing. They have other impending costs, including free-agent kicker Mason Crosby, this year’s rookie class and any player or players general manager Ted Thompson might sign in free agency.

But there's still enough money to re-sign Raji if Thompson is so inclined. Raji made about $2.75 million in salary and bonuses last season. He’ll likely cost more than that on average on his next deal, but as a player who turns 30 in July, perhaps not a lot more.

The biggest difference will be in guaranteed money, and on that count I’d be OK if I were the Packers in guaranteeing him, say, $3 million or $4 million over a multi-year deal. He’s clearly committed to prolonging his career by keeping down his weight. At this point, I’d trust him.

The market will determine Raji’s deal, but the guess here is there’s not a big pot of gold out there for a run stopper his age. So there’s an OK chance he ends up back with the Packers.

Second down: I’ll believe Thompson will sign a 30-year-old free-agent running back when I see it.

Matt Forte will be a free agent in March, and the Bears have told him they’re not going to re-sign him. Several reports have suggested he could be the rare free agent attractive to Thompson. But if I were Thompson, I’d be very, very wary unless Forte is available for something approaching the NFL’s minimum salary, which is unlikely.

In Forte’s eight seasons with the Bears, he has been one of the NFL’s best, if under-appreciated, all-purpose backs. He has been a really good player for a a team that habitually has been undermanned on the offensive line and lacked quality play at quarterback.

But Forte has been a workhorse since entering the NFL in 2008. Guess what running back has the most touches from ’08 through last season? You got it. Matt Forte (2,522 carries and receptions combined). He’s got a lot of miles on him. Combined with his age, his crash could be imminent, even in a backup role. Buyer beware.

Third down: Teams can start applying their franchise tag Tuesday (through March 1), and the question is whether the Packers should use it on kicker Mason Crosby.

The tags’ exact values aren’t in yet, but the projected kicker’s tag is $4.5 million or a little higher. At that cost, I wouldn’t tag Crosby if I were the Packers. That’s a little too high. Instead, I’d rely on the March 9 deadline for the start of free agency to facilitate a deal.

Crosby will be 32 in September and is coming off three strong seasons after he nearly kicked his way off the team in 2012. His 85.7 percent field-goal rate from 2013 through last year ranks No. 12 among the 23 kickers who have played in at least 40 games over that time. That’s only middle of the pack in that group, but it’s plenty good for a kicker whose home games are outdoors in Wisconsin. He also didn’t miss from the new extra-point distance of 33 yards last season.

But Crosby’s next deal probably should average in the $3.5 million to $4 million range, and if you put the tag on him for $4.5 million or $4.6 million, it could get tough to get him to sign a longer-term deal at the lower rate. My guess is the deadline for the start of free agency will be enough to get a deal done.

Fourth down: Last week listed the Packers as tied for the fourth-best odds (10-to-1) to win next season's Super Bowl.

New England has the best odds (15-2), followed by Denver and Pittsburgh (9-1 each), and then the Packers, Carolina and Seattle (10-1).

What does it mean? Mainly that the odds-makers don't see the Packers' offensive issues in 2015 as likely to bleed into 2016. The Packers still have one of the game’s top quarterbacks and a roster good enough to put them in the thick of the race for the next several years, pending offseason moves.

Last March, the Packers were tied with New England for the second-best odds (7-1) to win Super Bowl 50, behind only Seattle (6-1). Denver, the eventual winner, was fifth (10-1), and the team the Broncos beat in the Super Bowl, Carolina, was tied for 17th (40-1).

— and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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