With the first 8 days or so of free agency under our belts, I think it's time to take a closer look at some of the big signings that will affect the Packers in 2010 and beyond.
I'll start with the big news from this weekend, which is the signing of S Nick Collins and DT Ryan Pickett to long-term deals. Personally, I love the way Ted Thompson approached these contracts. Knowing that there's no salary cap this season, Ted loaded the contracts up for the 2010 season, allowing drastically diminished cap numbers for Collins and Pickett in the 2011-2013 seasons. Granted, that's assuming there's no lockout next year and that the salary cap is reinstated. I see no way that the NFL or the players union will allow a year without NFL football, and by next year at this time, we'll have a deal done. If that is the case, the structure of these contracts should pay off immensely.
If I calculated this right, here are the total numbers for the guys including this year:
Collins: four years (through 2013), $26.7 million total, $14 million in 2010
Pickett: four years (through 2013), $28 million total, $10 million in 2010
Add Chad Clifton's 3-year, $19.4 million deal to the mix, and we have solidified three major UFA's that we have all identified as being crucial to the team in 2010. I know that I said earlier this off-season that I didn't think Clifton was a very important signing, but I've long since softened on that stance and acknowledged his importance.
Cilfton staying in Green Bay was made all the more important because of the Bears' big, shiny new toy, DE Julius Peppers. The 30-year-old end from Carolina got a six-year deal for $91.5 million. Peppers has 10 or more sacks in six of his eight seasons in the league, and has forced three or more fumbles in all but one year. To put it bluntly, he's been a frightening pass-rusher, and will likely still have that presence in Chicago. The question is how much success he will truly have. Peppers is 30 years old now. As has been widely analyzed, there tends to be a significant dropoff in sack totals and pass-rushing effectiveness in defensive ends over the age of 30 (unless they're freaks like Bruce Smith or Reggie White). I see Peppers as following more of a Michael Strahan career track, staying productive until he hits about 33. As the Chicago Tribune notes, the Bears have an out after three years, and I would indeed expect a restructuring of the deal after the 2012 season.
The other signing I want to address is Aaron Kampman going to Jacksonville. I'm happy for Kampman, who gets to return to his natural 4-3 DE position and help a team with a struggling pass rush (32nd in the NFL with only 14 sacks in 2009). For the Packers, I'm relieved that Kampman signed with an AFC team that we don't play again until 2012. Everyone knew that Kampman wasn't coming back, and his class and hustle during his time in Green Bay definitely earned him the right to move on as a UFA in the manner he saw fit. I wish him the best of luck in Jacksonville.
Now on to what I think the Pack should do from here. As if the Packers needed more excuse to focus on the offensive tackle position, the Peppers signing is a definite reminder to do so. I'd like to see Mark Tauscher re-signed to a one or two-year deal with incentives. As for the draft, I firmly believe that one of Green Bay's first two picks should be an OT. What I hope, though, is that Thompson doesn't reach in the first round if the top tackles are gone and there are pass-rushers available like OLB Brandon Graham. At this point, I'm hoping for Graham to fall in the first round and for Ted to snag a solid 2nd round tackle like Rodger Saffold of Indiana or Vladimir Ducasse of UMass.