Every NFL team needs core special-teams players; there are guys who rarely if ever play a down on offense or defense, but who are critical pieces to the team regardless. For the Green Bay Packers of the mid-1990s, one of those players was Travis Jervey. In recent years, Ryan Taylor and Jamari Lattimore have taken on those roles. The subject of this article, Robert Francois, is another player who makes his mark on special teams and is a valuable piece to the Packers' free agent puzzle, even despite a lack of playing time on defense.
This past year, Francois played in all 16 games for the first time in his three-year career. However, not a single snap was taken on defense. This comes in contrast to the 2011 season, where he filled in as a starter for two games at inside linebacker and recorded two interceptions (including one great leaping play in coverage that I can still picture in my mind). No, Francois isn't flashy, but he's effective as a blocker and coverage man on special teams. Probably his best play of the 2012 season was assisting on Davon House's punt block against the Jaguars.
As far as his actual position of inside linebacker, the Packers have a number of bodies and still have a chance to retain Brad Jones' services. But as mentioned before, that's not what Francois' primary role, even if he did play reasonably well in two spot starts a year prior. No, the critical area is on special teams, where several players make up the core of the units. Taylor, Lattimore, and Francois are probably the three most critical of the medium bodies (i.e. not the gunners, returners, or big linemen). The team could feasibly let him walk without a tender and plug someone else in, but they could be missing out on one of the better special teams players in the division.
Likelihood of Re-Signing
It seems like it would be in Francois' best interest to remain with the Packers, a team with which he is familiar and who knows his abilities. Realistically, he would be a long-shot to sign a multi-year deal with another organization, so my guess is that instead of giving him a Restricted Free Agent tender, Ted Thompson will try to bring Francois back to Green Bay on a one-year contract for minimum salary.
Odds of re-signing: 75%
Other Packers Free Agent Previews:
Greg Jennings | Cedric Benson | Erik Walden | Brad Jones | Ryan Grant | Sam Shields | Tom Crabtree | Frank Zombo | Evan Dietrich-Smith