The internet is replete with “Team A should do X and Y in free agency” takes, and we at Acme Packing Company are no exception. However, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell — one of the NFL writers I respect most for his in-depth statistical analysis — recently published a list of five moves each NFC North team should make this year, and I have some disputes with a few of these.
We’ll look at each of these potential decisions in turn, and let us know which you agree with and which you don’t.
Number 1: Re-sign Jared Cook and T.J. Lang
It’s tough to argue too much with this choice. Cook had a massive impact on the Packers’ offense, even if — as friend of the APC Podcast Ben Fennell notes — his once-elite speed has left him. He is still a deep threat, though it is more thanks to his route-running and Aaron Rodgers’ accuracy, and Rodgers averaged almost two yards per attempt more when Cook was playing than when he wasn’t.
Lang is a tougher call, if only because of his injury history. Still, he was the Packers’ best interior lineman this year and absolutely deserved his Pro Bowl nod (which arguably came a couple years too late). The question, as always, is price. Still, Cook will likely re-sign for under $5 million per year, and Lang’s market - probably in the top 10 of all NFL guards - should keep him under $8 million a season. If the Packers can load up some play-time incentives or per-game active roster bonuses, that should be a doable number.
Verdict: No disagreement here.
Number 2: Re-sign Julius Peppers and let Nick Perry walk
I have trouble with this plan of action, as Perry was by far the Packers’ most effective player. In addition, Perry can be counted on to be a factor on all three downs, whereas Peppers was often washed out in the running game. The kicker here is Barnwell’s assertion that if Perry reaches the open market, he might command as much as $10 million per season. It’s not hard to imagine Ted Thompson setting a price for Perry and telling him to take it or leave it.
If you want the pass-rushing, elephant end kind of guy, bring back Datone Jones on a cheap deal instead of Peppers. He’s younger, doesn’t need his snaps limited like Peppers did, and is still developing.
Verdict: Re-sign Jones and make a run at Perry before the start of free agency, but stick to your price.
Number 3: Address the cornerback position
This is easier said than done. A veteran corner might be a nice addition, but at the expense of a compensatory pick? Barnwell mentions former Packer Davon House as a potential candidate to return, as he could be on the chopping block for the Jaguars due to his contract carrying no dead money. There could still be a few other veteran corners who get released by their old teams, however, a situation we discussed a few weeks ago. One of those players would be preferable to the stupid money it would cost to make a run at Trumaine Johnson or Stephon Gilmore.
Verdict: Bring Micah Hyde back, and wait it out to see if a player like Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie or Vontae Davis gets released.
Number 4: Add an inside linebacker
Barnwell mentions a few names who might be in play for the Packers on the market, and arguably the most interesting is Zach Brown, formerly of the Bills. He landed in Buffalo last year on a contract worth just $1.25 million, and provides some decent coverage ability.
He also mentions that David Harris will likely get cut by the Jets, but considering how rarely the Packers actually line up in a base 3-4 defense, it’s tough to imagine a good fit for a prototypical “thumper” linebacker like Harris. Still, Harris has been a rock for the Jets over the years, missing just six games in his entire ten-year career. He might come cheaply, which could make him intriguing if he does hit the market.
As usual, it’s a tough market out there this year. If Thompson wasn’t willing to give much consideration to a cheap, young player like Mason Foster over the past two years, it’s tough to imagine him doing so again this year, but a few names like Perry Riley (Oakland), Michael Wilhoite (San Francisco), or Brown could fit that bill.
Verdict: See about bringing in one of the three names listed above, but don’t bother with a 33-year-old Harris.
Number 5: “Add a starting running back, and give serious thought to signing Adrian Peterson.”
I put that one in quotes because it’s Barnwell’s heading, word-for-word. Personally, I agree in large part with Paul Noonan’s assessment of running backs (posted here at APC yesterday), which says that the Packers should focus much more on receiving ability and pass-blocking in their running backs. There is only one so-called “starting” running backs who possess the skill set that the Packers would best put to use: Le’Veon Bell. Backing up the Brinks truck for Bell is absurd, and he might get Franchise tagged by the Steelers anyway.
And then there’s the elephant in the room. Peterson is poor at best in both of those key competencies, he will probably be pricey, and yes, he has the whole child abuse situation hanging over his head. Absolutely not.
Instead of paying a lot for an old running back who is bad at what the Packers need, why not try to find a cheap player who at least has skills in those areas? If you can get someone in on a cheap deal, you can let him battle for a roster spot in training camp with any draft picks or undrafted free agents who come in this April, and then he could pitch in as a veteran presence if he makes the team. A couple of names who could do just that sound washed-up, but could extend their careers as third or fourth options. You might laugh, but Darren McFadden or Reggie Bush could fit that bill.
If you want to get really out there, how about making a run at Washington’s Chris Thompson in restricted free agency? While he’s likely to get a right of first refusal offer sheet from his old team, he has over 80 receptions for a 7-yard average over the past two years, plus a 5.6-yard-per-carry average on limited carries on the ground.
Verdict: Instead of opening up the vault for him, groom Ty Montgomery for the starting role while offering Eddie Lacy the $2 million deal (with incentives) that was reported earlier this week. If he turns it down, try giving Thompson an offer sheet and kick the tires on McFadden.
That is one writer’s take on these five suggestions. How would you approach each of them?