Let’s get this out of the way right at the top. We’d shit in our drawers if the Green Bay Packers signed any free agents that didn’t play for the Green Bay Packers last season. They never do, so this is really an exercise in futility. Yet, we do it every year because it’s fun to talk about.
The Packers have holes, especially on defense, and there are soon-to-be free agents that could help plug those holes. Here’s a look at our wish list if money and Ted Thompson were not obstacles. Players expected to be franchised, such as Arizona defensive end Calais Campbell, have not been included.
Mario Williams, DE/OLB, Houston — Williams is a top-tier pass rusher who switched from defensive end to outside linebacker when the Texans transitioned to the 3-4 last season. He played in only five games because of a torn pectoral muscle in 2011, but still recorded five sacks. He has 53 in his six-year career. The Packers need a pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews, badly, and Williams fits the bill. Houston isn’t likely to franchise him because their defense played well without him, so he could sign elsewhere. Unfortunately, we all know that won’t be with the Packers because Williams is expected to get $50 million on the open market. That’s a little steep for a team that will have to pare some salary in order to re-sign their own free agents.
Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit — After Williams, Avril is the most-attractive pass rusher on the market. He would have to transition to outside linebacker in Green Bay after playing 4-3 end in Detroit, but the 25-year-old can get to the quarterback. He had a career high 11 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2011. He’ll be cheaper than Williams and there’s a chance he’ll move on because Detroit has a stacked defensive line and may not have the money to re-sign him. Someone not named the Packers will probably throw an idiotic amount of money at Avril at the beginning of free agency.
Cortland Finnegan, CB, Tennessee — Finnegan is arguably the best cornerback on the market. He’s 28, a solid tackler (which is something the Packers lack) and brings an intensity to the field. After last season, it’s clear the Packers need to look at the cornerback position. Tramon Williams and Sam Shields both regressed after solid 2010 campaigns. Charles Woodson, although still an All Pro, will be 36 during the season. Adding someone like Finnegan would give the Packers flexibility in the secondary, which they may need if Nick Collins doesn’t return. Something tells us they’ll stand pat with the guys they have, though.
Tyvon Branch, SS, Oakland — Branch is a second-tier free agent, but he’s only 25 and has more than 100 tackles in each of the past three seasons. This again speaks to the possibility that Collins may not be able to return from a neck injury. Charlie Peprah proved he’s not the answer in 2011. Branch isn’t a big turnover guy, but at least he can wrap people up and bring them to the ground, which no one not named Woodson in the Packers secondary can do.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a hell of a lot more for the Packers to pick from even if they did want to delve into free agency. The strongest positions are wide receiver and offensive line, which are two areas the Packers are set, assuming they can re-sign center Scott Wells. After that, comes inside linebacker. The Packers need to replace A.J. Hawk, but it looks like they already have that person on the roster in the form of D.J. Smith.