As of March 12, teams can start negotiating with the agents of players who are about to become unrestricted free agents. Contracts can first be signed on Wednesday, March 14.
I’m sure there is a frenzy of activity right now at the Lambeau Field offices. Here’s why I think so.
Before a team can start to target free agents it might wish to employ, a full assessment must be done on every player on the current roster. You need to identify needs before you start looking at wants. Basically, it’s report card time.
Before March 12, I assume that the team has already made decisions as to which players it intends to release outright. For example, if Clay Matthews is going to be kept, that greatly affects the team’s position on how badly it wants to nab an edge rusher from the free agent pool. I suspect some of those closely-guarded decisions have already been made.
An evaluation needs to be made on every player on the roster. For example, how do the coaches rate the current cornerbacks, both individually and as a group? Do the Green Bay Packers most need a starter-quality addition or additions, a capable backup or several of them, or are they going to stick with what they have?
Of great interest, the team must make a determination of how capably it thinks each player can play in 2018. So often, we tend to look back at how a player has done in the past, rather than how he’ll do going forward – are they on the rise or on the descent? Frequently, these evaluations involve aging players near the end of their careers. For example, I would say that guard Jahri Evans played beyond the entire league’s expectations in 2017. If he is thought to have another such season in him (he’ll be 35 in August), I’d be trying to secure his services, and preferably before the free agency feeding frenzy begins.
It won’t be easy trying to assess the ability of quite a few current Packers players.
I actually feel I have a better handle on the team’s two second-year rushers than I do of fourth-year man Ty Montgomery. In 2018, will Montgomery be like the 2016 version, who rushed 77 times for a terrific 5.9-yard average, or will he be like in 2017, when he rushed 71 times for only a 3.8-yard average? This, along with determining whether Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams will continue to build on what they did in limited action last year must be decided upon before a decision is rendered on whether to target any free agent running backs.
I have no idea how well Vince Biegel is going to perform in this league. Making that prediction will influence whether the Packers go after a free agent edge rusher.
Another big question: does it make any sense to keep Brett Hundley as a backup? Would you believe there are 34 NFL quarterbacks about to become free agents? This sounds like a good topic for a separate analysis.
Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan made the team’s task a little easier at inside linebacker. They’ve got two quality starters, but what about backups? Here’s an area the Packers didn’t need backups last year – a bit lucky there. Both starters stayed healthy, though Ryan was called upon for less than half of the defensive snaps. Backup Joe Thomas was in on only 104 defensive plays, and over half of them came against Carolina. If injuries happen, I would think the Packers would like a better backup plan than moving Clay Matthews to the inside.
I think it unlikely that the Packers will compete for a star receiver via free agency. But the report cards are already in on their backup receivers and they tell me we could use two or even three new ones. Personally, I’d like to get Max McCaffrey back. Unfortunately, the Packers put him on the practice squad and he was picked off by the 49ers – they signed him to a two-year deal, so he’s not a free agent. But don’t despair – I count 55 wide receivers on the pending free agent list.
After the staff gets done with current player evals, the task of scouting almost every pending free agent remains. How much work is this? On the offensive side, there are: 34 free agent QBs, 42 RBs, 7 FBs, 55 WRs, 29 TEs, 31 OTs, 32 guards, and 16 centers. On defense, there are 25 DEs, 42 DTs, 37 OLBs, 35 ILBs, 55 CBs; and 37 safeties. That adds up to 246 offensive, and 231 defensive free agents ripe for the picking – all at once in three weeks.
And for those of you who, like me, have been feeling that Packers safety Morgan Burnett is underappreciated, weep not – various prognosticators have Burnett as the top-ranked free agent out of 37 safeties. If the Packers don’t re-sign him before March 12, as they did with Davante Adams and Corey Linsley, he’ll be snapped up by some happy GM at about 4:01, Eastern time, March 14.