With almost all of the big-name free agent players around the NFL now signed, teams are down to the bottom of the barrel now, but there are still available players who might be able to help the Green Bay Packers if given a chance.
It has been a while since we had a Walkthrough piece, but today APC’s writers sift through the bargain bin of free agency to see if we can find some individuals whom the Green Bay Packers might be able to sign for little money. The focus here is primarily on journeymen and older veterans who have yet to latch on with another team but who could come in and compete for roster spots.
Evan “Tex” Western on Sam Acho
The Green Bay Packers are likely to pick an edge rusher or two in April’s draft, but I still think they would be well-served to pick one up off the free agent market to compete for a job in training camp. They did so last season with Lerentee McCray, and although it didn’t work out (he was eventually traded to Buffalo for a conditional draft pick), it was a worthwhile effort. In 2017, they would be wise to do so again, considering the departures of veterans Julius Peppers and Datone Jones.
Of the edge rushers still available on the market, one in particular has some measureables that make him an intriguing option. After all, the Packers tend to prefer top-level athletes, especially when taking a flier on someone. That player is Sam Acho, who spent the last two years with the Chicago Bears. He had a nice rookie year for Arizona in 2011, starting 10 games and recording 7 sacks, but after a dip in production his second year, he suffered a season-ending injury in 2013 and never regained a starting job. In Chicago over the past two seasons, he started 13 games and landed just one sack. Still, he has good size at 6’3” and 260 pounds, and his 2011 Combine numbers hold up well: 4.76 in the 40 and a very impressive 6.69 in the 3-cone drill. Furthermore, he has played OLB in a 3-4 his entire career, making him a scheme fit. If the Packers could get him on the veteran minimum, he might prove to be a worthwhile presence on special teams and in a rotation off the edge.
Jason B. Hirschhorn on Andrew Gardner
The list of interior offensive linemen with starting experience grows thinner by the day, but a few names remain available in free agency. One of those, former Philadelphia Eagles guard Andrew Gardner, could offer meaningful competition at the Green Bay Packers' now-vacant right guard spot. Gardner never played at an exceptionally high level, but he proved himself serviceable for several years and could have a season or two left in him at age 30. Given that the Packers' current array of options includes Don Barclay, Lucas Patrick, Kyle Murphy, and perhaps Jason Spriggs, Gardner on a cheap deal makes sense.
Jonathan E. Barnett on Jon Bostic and Mario Williams
Jonathan Bostic was a Second Round selection of the Bears preceding the 2013 season (50th overall selection). Bostic has faced some difficulty getting time and showing his skills. He played two years with the Bears under Marc Trestman, not a defensive wizard. Then John Fox came in and moved Bostic off to the Patriots before playing a single game. Bostic started eight games in 2014 and played in 13. He was second on the team in tackles and led all linebackers (58 tackles). In 18 starts, and 40 games in three seasons, he has 103 tackles. Bostic then spent the 2016 campaign on IR after being traded to the Lions. Bostic is young and likely cheap. He could add depth in the Packers linebacking corps. At 6’1” and 246 pounds, he also posted a 4.59 40-yard dash (Blake Martinez 4.71 and Jake Ryan 4.65). Interesting athletic prospect, but a depth target only due to injury concerns and lack of on-field production.
Mario Williams is by far the bigger name. Williams numbers over the course of his career have been great. Still, the Bills did not really try to keep him and the Dolphins reduced Williams’ usage as the year went on. Miami named Williams a healthy scratch to end the 2016 regular season. He had his worst season with just 1.5 sacks in 2016. Yet, Williams is five years younger than Julius Peppers. If used as a pass rush specialist on the limited snap count Peppers saw the last three years, Williams could have value. Williams does not have the leverage he once did so a one year deal with a team option for a second could be very doable. Gives him some incentive to make it work. Similar situation to both Chris Long and Paul Kruger, but those two players have rings already and Williams might be more easily swayed into a role position.
Mike Vieth on Johnathan Hankins and Sio Moore
The Packers still might have a hole in the defensive line with Letroy Guion serving another suspension. I say might because they recently signed Ricky Jean-Francois and they have Brian Price on the roster from last year. One or both of those might be an adequate stopgap for the four games that Guion is out but they aren’t a long term solution. The Packers have to be getting a little sour that Guion has been suspended four games in each of the last two years and they could look for a replacement/addition in Johnathan Hankins.
Signing Hankins would be an extreme longshot since he is rumored to be asking for $8-10 million per year and that is a ridiculous price to pay. However, once Hankins realizes he won’t get that kind of money and is willing to knock a couple million off that price, it might be a worthy investment. Hankins has been in the league four years and is about to turn 25 later this month, while Guion has eight years of service and will turn 30 prior to camp opening this year. If you look at the career stats, Hankins has been more productive than Guion as he has posted almost the same numbers in four year less service than Guion. Guion has 173 total tackles while Hankins has 140 and Hankins has 10 sacks while Guion only has 8.5.
Guion comes at a cheaper price than Hankins is asking, Guion’s cap hit will be $3.6 million this year and $3.9 million next year, but the Packers still have roughly $23.5 million in cap space according to overthecap.com. Hankins is still young but isn’t worth the $8-10 million asking price but I’d take a shot at him if he were willing to go $5-6 million per year and it won’t leave too big a dent in the Packers cap situation. The biggest advantage though is that Hankins will give the Packers a proven defensive tackle to hold the middle until Guion gets back. Then, those two could make an excellent rotation at the nose position for the rest of the season.
I really like Barnett’s choice of Jon Bostic. I was going to write on him when the idea for this article was posted but I’ll pick another linebacker to look at in Sio Moore. Moore won’t challenge Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan for playing time at the middle linebacker spot but he could give the Packers some nice depth alongside Joe Thomas. Moore played for three teams in 2016 and started seven games. His numbers weren’t too bad, recording 65 tackles but I like Moore as a special teamer more than anything. He gives the Packers another decent sized body (6’1”, 245 pounds) that can get down on kickoffs and punts to make tackles. The Packers could do better in signing a bigger name but Sio Moore will give the Packers exactly what they need, special teams help and depth for their linebackers.
Paul Noonan on Denard Robinson
When you go bargain hunting you know you’ll be looking at damaged goods, the key is to determine what’s still working, and how serious the damage is. Former Michigan quarterback and Jaguar “offensive weapon” Denard Robinson still has a good deal to work with. Robinson is just 26 years old and remains a special athlete in terms of speed and agility. The damage on Robinson is that he has never had a natural position outside of “college quarterback.” Most of the time 26-year-old NFL players are what they are in terms of development, but conversion projects like Robinson are often a special case.
The Jaguars, a dysfunctional organization if ever there was one, did him no favors by failing to convert him to a specialized position of some type as it impaired his ability to develop specific pro-ready skillsets. They typical Robinson play in Jacksonville involved trying to “get him the ball in space” and “let him create.” That simply doesn’t work in the NFL, as countless teams have discovered with their own Devin Hesters over the years. The fact is that you create space in the NFL by either running crisp routes or following your blocks, and Robinson has had little opportunity to develop either skillset in his NFL tenure. The Packers have recent experience with similar players, and training Robinson as a slot receiver would be a smart, and creative idea. Robinson obviously has a ton of warts including his hands, but practice makes perfect, and given the lack of interest on the market, he sticks out to me as a lowest-of-the-low risk, high reward play.
Jon Meerdink on Jahri Evans
Thought the importance of a right guard to the offense shouldn’t be overstated, the Packers would no doubt like to have as few questions about the group of players protecting Aaron Rodgers. That’s why the Packers should be in the market for a plug and play starter at the position, whether they choose to spend a draft pick on a guard or not.
Jahri Evans could be that kind of player. Though his best days are (long) behind him, he would be more than serviceable should he decide to return for a twelfth NFL season.
Taken with the appropriate grain of salt, Evans was a top-20 pass protecting right guard, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s higher than any other guard currently on the Packers’ roster, doubling the overall rating of the current presumptive starter Don Barclay.
What’s more, Evans would likely be even cheaper than Barclay. His last two contracts with the Saints have paid him $1 million on the dot, a cool $300 less than the less productive Barclay. Though he wouldn’t be anything more than a stopgap solution, Evans is worth a look.