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Free Agency Success Takes Lots of Preparation

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.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. MJ February 22, 2018

    Thanks for all.the research, Rob. It will be Montgomery’s third year, not his fourth. I point this out not to nitpick your very good article, but because when I read that I immediately thought “oh, damn, not again, a guy will play his contract year and we still don’t truly know what we have in him”. Then I quickly remembered he hadn’t been with us for that long. The thing is, in those cases you end up paying hefthily based on his contract year, which may turn to be an aberration and not the norm. We have been in such situation with Perry, for instance. Cobb’s case may also come to mind, but is a bit different, his play was excellent initially, and declined though recent seasons.

    On other note, I like Matthews’ play as ILB. Heck, he may benefit from that, as he is not the big threat he used to be as a pass rusher. Or maybe he is, but a Rob observed some time ago, our rushers overemphasize the attack from outside, seldomly trying to win on the inside against the OT. Maybe that last part changes under Pettine’s tenure.

    1. Howard February 22, 2018

      Hi MJ, it is Ty’s 4th year. Remember Ty missed almost his entire rookie year. The team kept trying to bring him back from a high ankle. When that hit happened against the Rams(?) I thought his knee was gone.

      1. MJ February 23, 2018

        Dang… Well, thank you. Then it is one of those cases where we don’t know what we have . The good thing is that RB talent is fairly abundant and they

        1. MJ February 23, 2018

          can’t command huge contracts. If he goes into FA as a WR after a good 2018, then yes, we will be forced to either commit a significant amount to him or lose him to other team.

  2. cz February 22, 2018

    if Rodgers gets hurt again, do we rely on Hundley carrying us, or do we trade for Nick Foles at that point in the season… or do we cut Hundley, since he has no trade value, and promote 5’6″ Joe Callahan, who can only see and throw when outside the tackles?

  3. PF4L February 22, 2018

    I’m not so sure why anyone thinks the Packers are in position to do anything in free agency. With 19 million, you still have to hold back 5+ million for the draft. That leaves you with 14 million. Enough to sign a couple low- mid level players. That’s IF they were willing to spend it all. If Ted was still running the show he’d want to hold back 10-12 million.

    So get excited if you’d like, but unless they dump some current salarys, Gutekunst will be able to sign a mid player, and maybe get a couple cheap crumbs at the tail end of free agency.

    Like i’ve stated before, all the past years of mistakes and setbacks won’t be fixed automatically, it will take time. The problem is, a new GM needed to happen years ago. Each year that they let the ineptness continue, the longer it takes to fix it.

    I hate to sound like a downer, i really do. But fiscally this team is burdened with bad contracts, failed high draft picks, and lets just say it, overall mismanagement.

    1. cz February 22, 2018

      I agree. Too early to ask Davante Adams to take a pay cut? LOL

    2. MJ February 23, 2018

      Yep. 19M doesn’t do much, at least if we plan to make a splashy signing.

      I took a look at our largest contracts and their hits this year. There are not many clearly overpaid guys beyond Matthews, Cobb and Nelson. To me, Adams and Linsley are as well, but Adams is our de facto WR1 (regardles of him being a true NFL WR1), and Linsley’s cap hit for this year is by no means outrageous. Then you have Daniels and Bulaga. As a good DL he could have commanded even more (it is a pricey position). He is the guy opposing OLs have to pay attention to. As for Bulaga, if it were solely based on his performance I would say he is fairly paid (not over, not under). However, he is a walking injury, and his lack of availability pushes him back to the overpaid bunch. Crosby’s cap hit is pretty hefthy for a kicker, but he has been pretty consistent. Remember the missed FGs and XPs in the superbowl. As much as possible you want your kicks to be automatic, and he has delivered in the recent seasons. And that’s it with the guys that have large non-rookie contracts. Next up is HaHa, with about 5M in cap hit due to his 1st rdr status.

      So there you have it. There aren’t many big-money contracts that are underperforming.

      Rodgers commands a significant portion of the cap, and will command an even larger one. But he is worth half a team, so he has earned every penny the team throws at him. Having said that, considering that consolidated QBs have longer active lifespans and are able to sign multiple contracts, he may choose to give the new regime a discount to bring one extra FA. As I said, we cannot really blame him if he doesn’t, but if the football god himself gives his team a discount, couldn’t that motivate other players to take a little less following his example? Having one less hole to plug will help steering the ship on course again.

      1. PF4L February 23, 2018

        Lol…Ok tiger.

        If a guy, who has serious, serious injury history, then gets a whole 11 sacks one season, then signs a huge contract and pockets over 24 million in the 1st 15 months of his contract, then…..he lands on the injury list 14 games in one season after. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that was a bad fucking sign, and he’s way overpaid.

        If another guy is ranked as the 55th best player at his position, but he’s getting paid top 6 money. i’m gonna go out on a limb and say that fuck is over payed, regardless of what anyone else thinks. I’d get into it more, but this is the kind of shit that gets me ramped up as i type, like i am now, so fuck it, it’s Friday, and i’m going to take a pass.

        Stay thirsty my friend.