The 2009 free agency signing period begins on February 27 and the Green Bay Packers are in very good shape, at approximately $25 million below the projected $123 million salary cap.
Before we reveal our list of free agency demands for 2009, let’s take a look at the Packers own free agents. The most substantial name on the unrestricted free agent list is tackle Mark Tauscher. As you may recall, Tauscher tore up his knee against the Houston Texans on December 7, and had reconstructive surgery on January 15.
Before the injury, Tauscher was one of the most attractive tackles entering free agency. Now, there will probably be very little competition for the Packers to re-sign the veteran to an inexpensive, short-term deal that is weighted with incentives based on playing time.
The Packers remaining UFAs are backup defensive linemen Colin Cole and Mike Montgomery. It’s unknown if either player will fit in defensive coordinator Dom Capers 3-4 scheme, so both players could be allowed to sign elsewhere.
Cole possesses the size to play nose tackle in the 3-4 (6-1, 330). So, while there is some question as to whether Cole can eat up the required blockers, he is probably more likely than Montgomery to be resigned. Montgomery, who played solidly in 2008 and recorded 59 tackles, appears too small to play defensive end in the 3-4 (6-5, 273). Unlike Aaron Kampman, he is unlikely to be moved to outside linebacker and may have played his last game as a Packer.
On the restricted free agent front, the Packers don’t have a lot of tough decisions. The only starter on the RFA list is safety Atari Bigby.
This is where I let the Green Bay Press Gazette explain the dynamics of RFAs:
The Packers also have until Feb. 26 to offer tenders to their six restricted free agents. The lowest of the four tenders ($1.01 million) carries the right to match a contract the player signs with another team or receive as compensation a draft pick in the round the player was selected. There also is a second-round tender ($1.545 million), which carries the right of first-refusal or a second-round pick as compensation; a first-round tender ($2.198 million); and a first-and third-round tender ($2.792 million).
However, the Packers have one starter who’s eligible, safety Atari Bigby. Bigby probably is too valuable for the low tender, because he entered the league as an undrafted rookie, so the Packers would receive no compensation if they didn’t match a deal he signed with another team. Bigby is a good bet to get the second-round tender of $1.545 million.
Five players probably will get the low tender: receiver Ruvell Martin (undrafted), defensive back Jarrett Bush (undrafted), outside linebacker Jason Hunter (undrafted) and fullback John Kuhn (undrafted).
Receiver Shaun Bodiford also will be a restricted free agent, but his injury history, which includes missing all of last season because of a back injury, probably precludes the Packers from tendering him any offer.
Missing on the RFA list above is tight end Tory Humphrey, who is third on the depth chart. Although Humphrey has shown potential as a pass catcher, something tells me Ted Thompson will find a better option on the open market or through the draft.
Lastly, Tramon Williams is an exclusive rights free agent. Although he isn’t going anywhere, Williams has demonstrated enough productivity to warrant a mid-level deal. If Al Harris’ age or the inability to adapt to zone coverage catches up with him, Williams may well find himself in the starting lineup.
The wild card this offseason is whether Thompson will lock up any players to long-term deals. Both Greg Jennings, who becomes a free agent after the 2009 season, and Nick Collins, who is a free agent in 2010, are prime candidates
After all of this maneuvering is finished, the Packers will likely be $15-$20 million under the salary cap, which leaves plenty of room to make a run at other teams free agents. Stay tuned, as we’ll take a look at those players soon.