The Green Bay Packers need some help on the defensive side of the football. The outside linebacker and safety positions appear to be the team’s biggest needs on defense, and this year’s crop of free agents appears to be an excellent group to help fill those holes.
However, franchise and transition tags could throw a wrench into the Packers’ plans.
Tuesday, February 19th is the first day that NFL teams are allowed to begin applying the tags to their soon-to-be free agent players, and several names near the tops of most free agent lists are expected to receive a tag of some sort. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the names of several players who his sources think will be tagged, and quite a few are at the two positions mentioned earlier.
Here’s a look at a few of those names and how that could affect the Packers’ plans for free agency.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Cowboys
If Lawrence gets a tag this year, that will be two years in a row. A franchise tag would pay Lawrence 120% of his salary from last year; because of his tag amount a year ago, this year’s tag amount would be just under $20.6 million. Is that a reasonable value? Lawrence does have back-to-back years with double-digit sacks and at least 20 hits on the quarterback, and he also has added six forced fumbles in that time. He is seen as one of the top edge rushers set to hit the market this year, and he would undoubtedly cash in with a huge deal if Dallas allows him to walk.
Jadeveon Clowney, Texans
While Lawrence is primarily a 4-3 defensive end, Clowney plays a hybrid position, lining up in both two- and three-point stances for Houston. That versatility should serve him well on the open market, but Schefter reports that he will likely be tagged as well.
After suffering injuries in each of his first two seasons, Clowney has missed just three games in the last three years. He finally seemed to turn it on in that stretch, and he has 18.5 sacks in the past two seasons. He would fit nearly any team, which would make him a highly-sought-after player.
Dee Ford, Chiefs
Ford being on this list is intriguing. He appears to be a great fit in a 3-4 as an outside linebacker, and indeed he had great production in his last two full seasons. He missed ten games in 2017 due to injury, but had 10 and 13 sacks in 2016 and 2018, respectively. However, with Kansas City reportedly moving to more of a 4-3 scheme, he will be asked to rush with his hand in the dirt more often if he returns.
For the Packers, Ford probably made the most sense as a target out of these three top edge rushers. He has familiarity with the Packers’ coaches, as new outside linebackers coach Mike Smith was his position coach last season in Kansas City. He also has extensive experience in a relatively similar scheme — KC’s recently-fired defensive coordinator, Bob Sutton, coached linebackers for the Jets while Mike Pettine was that team’s defensive coordinator.
Frank Clark, Seahawks
Seattle appears to be making retaining Clark a priority, and with his play on the edge since being drafted in 2015 it’s not hard to see why. Like Lawrence and Ford, he has two double-digit sack seasons, matching Ford’s numbers in 2016 and 2018 with 10 and 13. He added nine sacks in 2017 as well, and he has just enough positional flexibility to be a consideration for teams that run more 3-4 concepts like Green Bay.
However, Clark comes with plenty of off-field baggage, specifically a domestic violence allegation from the fall before his draft year and, in 2017, demeaning tweets towards a writer, Natalie Weiner. Weiner had reported on the allegations against Clark for SB Nation’s Field Gulls site in 2015. For Packers fans who care about such things, Clark being taken off the market should be a positive.
Landon Collins, Giants
The one safety on Schefter’s list is Collins, who burst onto the scene in 2016, his second season. That year, he led the Giants’ defense to a resurgence as a forceful in-the-box safety; his 125 tackles, four sacks, and five interceptions earned him first-team All-Pro honors, and rightfully so.
Since then, Collins has been a Pro Bowler twice more, but has not quite lived up to those lofty heights. In fact, 2018 saw him go without an interception, and he broke up just four passes.
The question the Packers need to answer this offseason when deciding whether to go after one of the top free agent safeties is if they want a physical box safety like Collins or if a deep cover safety like Earl Thomas will provide a bigger bang for the buck. Personally, I’m very much in favor of Thomas, so a tag for Collins would not bother me in the slightest.