With the debacle in Arizona now a few days behind us, we can start looking towards the 2010 season. Specifically, the makeup of the Packers' roster could very well be drastically different, depending on how Ted Thompson addresses the free agents-to-be that played for the Packers in 2009.
Below you will find the list of the potential free agents the Packers will have the opportunity to re-sign from this year's team, and what their status would be both in capped or uncapped years (I borrowed this list from JSOnline). Roger Goodell seems to think that since the uncapped year is already written into the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, play should remain strong and competitive. My hunch is that a number of free agents will wait as long as possible before signing a contract in case a new CBA is ratified, and that most teams will try to avoid giving long-term contracts to many players who are in a transitional phase between restricted and unrestricted free agency.
On to the players. I have listed them in the order that I think Ted Thompson should have them prioritized.
MUST RE-SIGN IMMEDIATELY!!!
1. S Nick Collins (restricted without cap, unrestricted with cap)
His injury in the early part of the season showed what an asset he is to the secondary. Having Collins in the lineup allowed Dom Capers to utilize his linebackers more effectively and creatively, both rushing the passer and in coverage. Without him, the defense became much more reliant on the pass rush of the defensive line while the linebackers were used more in simple coverages to hide the deficiencies of players like Aaron Rouse and Derrick Martin. I would like to see a long-term contract offered to Collins regardless of the CBA situation.
Key players to focus on
2. DT Ryan Pickett (unrestricted)
With B.J. Raji now playing nose tackle, Ted seems to have found his heir for Pickett. However, depth on the defensive line is always crucial, and Pickett proved this year that he still has plenty left in the tank. He takes up multiple blockers on every play, doing exactly the job he's supposed to.
3. LB Aaron Kampman (unrestricted)
If we were still running a 4-3 and Kampman were still playing end, he would obviously be at the top of this list. However, given his struggles in adapting to OLB and the emergence of Clay Matthews, losing Kampman to free agency would not be a killer blow to the defense. The locker room may be a different story. While Charles Woodson seems to have taken over as the leader of the defense, I believe Kampman still is a positive influence and great leader.
4. CB Tramon Williams (exclusive rights without cap, restricted with cap)
Even before his injury, Al Harris was having less of an impact in the Packers' defense because of the change in coverage schemes. While Williams still needs to work on his technique (see Ravens, Baltimore), he seems to be better suited to this zone scheme than Harris, and I think he might even start ahead of Harris next year if he's back.
The next tier
5. C/G Jason Spitz (restricted without cap, unrestricted with cap)
Mike McCarthy was high on Spitz in the preseason, when he graded him as the best lineman at the time (I think that's how I remember it, just couldn't find the article in the archives). I would personally like to see Spitz move back out to guard, Wells remain at center, and Daryn Colledge gone.
6. S Atari Bigby (restricted without cap, unrestricted with cap)
Bigby hits people. That is his biggest strength, and his biggest weakness. He's not outstanding in coverage (though he's less of a liability than Derrick Martin), and he has had some tackling issues, but he is capable of game-changing plays. I refer to the snowy 2007 divisional playoff game against Seattle for reference. While I'm not as impressed with his overall play as the maker of that video, it is his big-play ability that makes him valuable.
7. DE Johnny Jolly (restricted without cap, unrestricted with cap)
Jolly reminds me of Bigby, just taller and fatter. He's capable of big plays, but otherwise isn't really an imposing force on every play. I expect Thompson to wait a while in case there is any progress in his legal case before Ted considers giving him a multi-year contract.
8. OT Mark Tauscher (unrestricted)
The homegrown Wisconsin product's comeback was one of the team's feel-good stories of the year. If he's still got another season left in the tank, I'd like to see him back to fight for a starting job in camp. My best-case scenario on the line is to see Clifton let go, Tauscher back, a first- or second-round pick taken on a left tackle, and a wide-open competition for both tackle spots.
Others to consider
Don't touch them with a 39-1/2 foot pole
OT Chad Clifton (unrestricted)
My guess is that Clifton is done. His legs seem ready to finally give out at any minute.
G Daryn Colledge (restricted without cap, unrestricted with cap)
Frankly, I don't really want to see Colledge back either, as I mentioned above.
What do you think? Would you have ordered these guys differently?