It's the second week of free agency, which is usually when Ted Thompson decides to do some bargain shopping. So far, the team has resigned Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga, and Scott Tolzien, but have allowed defensive backs Tramon Williams and Davon House to depart.
The team will likely address the cornerback position early in the draft because the free agent pool is sparse in the secondary, so let's take a look at what's currently available at inside linebacker and defensive tackle and which free agents might fit into the Dom Capers scheme.
- 6'2, 255 pounds
- Age 27
- Played in all 16 games for the Buffalo Bills, started 10
- Finished with 54 tackles (32 solo), one sack
Spikes made a big impact in his one-year contract in Buffalo, despite only playing about half the team's defensive snaps. He was named a team captain and was stout against the run on one of the league's best defenses. He lacks pass rush moves, but his athleticism, size and speed more than make up for it.
I was hoping the Packers would add him last offseason after seeing him start his career in New England, and I think his one season in Buffalo only entrenched my belief that he can be a starting inside linebacker on a championship-caliber defense. His price tag will likely be over $2-3 million a season, but the Packers need to add experience to this position and he might be the best available. The only drawback is he would likely have to come off the field on passing downs.
- 6'3, 259 pounds
- Age 25
- Played in 13 games for the Dallas Cowboys, started 12
- Finished with 87 total tackles (67 solo), one sack, two interceptions
McClain had a bounce-back season with the Dallas Cowboys last year after having an injury-plagued season in 2013 with the Oakland Raiders. McClain is a physically-imposing player who is excellent against the run and surprisingly quick in pass coverage. He doesn't have much in terms of finesse pass-rush moves, but he has an above-average understanding of zone coverage drops which is something the Packers have struggled with in recent years.
I am surprised to see his name still floating around in the second week of free agency, but McClain could be a value buy for the Packers at this point. Pairing him with Sam Barrington would give the defense two of the hardest hitting linebackers in the league.
- 6'2, 245 pounds
- Age 26
- Played in 11 games, started five
- Finished with 37 tackles (22 solo), one INT
Lost in the recent news about Tramon Williams and Davon House is the fact that Jamari Lattimore is still on the open market. Ted Thompson has played free agency chicken with Williams and House and lost both rounds. While I don't mind seeing Thompson being diligent with the cap space, not giving Lattimore a full season to prove himself (under a likely cap-friendly price tag) would be a mistake. As I wrote in my offseason review:
The young, inexperienced linebacker played at a much faster pace than both Jones and Hawk, but it was often a chaotic pace with no control. The biggest issues with Lattimore are that he consistently gets beat in coverage and doesn't appear have a strong grasp of the Dom Capers' scheme. If he can correct those issues, he could be a plus-player for this team. He appears to be a long-term project at the position, so there's not a definitive answer on whether the team will offer him another contract or not.
Lattimore would be far from the home-run that Spikes or McClain would be, but he will have the cheapest price tag and already has a familiarity with the Dom Capers scheme. However, reports put him in New York visiting the Jets on Wednesday.
- 6'2, 337 pounds
- Age 28
- IR all season in 2014, 19 total tackles in 2013
Raji tore his bicep last August and missed the entire 2014 season after signing a one-year deal with the team. He was drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft and was a major factor in the team's Super Bowl run his rookie season. He had his ebbs and flows in the following three seasons and bounced back and forth from nose tackle and defensive end. All reports are that Raji is a dominant presence in the locker room and I would be surprised if the team isn't able to work out some sort of compromise after some bad injury luck.
- 6'4, 315 pounds
- Age 27
- Played in all 16 games, started all 16
- Finished with 41 total tackles (26 solo), 3.5 sacks
Guion had flashes of dominant play last season in place of Raji, and has some skills that Raji just simply doesn't have. He is a more effective pass rusher from the nose tackle position than Raji was at end in recent years, and is a little more athletic overall, but has trouble stopping the run at times. Guion's recent off-the-field problems make his future with the team a little murky, but if the team took a gamble on Johnny Jolly they might consider another rehabilitation project. Plus, Mike McCarthy said that he wants Guion back, even after his legal issues, so it seems likely to happen at this point.
- 6'2, 310 pounds
- Age 29
- Played in 16 games for the Oakland Raiders, started two
- Finished with 27 tackles (17 solo)
Sims would fit the Raji-mold of a run stuffing nose tackle, but would likely only be a two-down lane clogger in the Packers 3-4 scheme. Sims is a younger, smaller version of Kevin Williams and would be a solid back-up plan if Raji were to sign elsewhere.