There is not a fan in the NFL not thinking about how their team should consider signing the three big names just cut by the Rams. You should come out from under your rock if this article is informing you that Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Jared Cook are now on the open market. The cuts by the Rams saved the team nearly $23 million against the salary cap in 2016 and another $15.2 million in 2017. Each of these players are rather experienced - Cook has seven accrued seasons, Long eight and Laurinaitis nine. It would be hard to ignore the impact that these moves could have on the league, so here is a break down of each player with an eye on whether or not the Green Bay Packers should be interested in them.
The Rams are clearly looking to keep Alec Ogletree and Laurinaitis had a contract that was going to make that difficult. Everyone knows Laurinaitis' name, but he has seen decreasing production over the last three seasons. After putting up 100+ solo tackles in three of his first four seasons, he has had 85, 81 and 61 in the last three years. Still, Laurinaitis was able to rack up 109 combined tackles last season as his assists have increased. Laurinaitis was set to have a cap hit of $6.425 million this year.
Laurinaitis is still a valuable player, though. He is not the big play guy like he was, but he still finds his way to the ball. While the solo tackles have gone down, 2015 saw his highest number of assisted tackles. With the Packers hoping to move forward with Jake Ryan and Sam Barrington, a steady hand to lead the young inside linebackers might be very useful.
Overall, James Laurinaitis' statistics are very similar to Karlos Dansby, Jerrell Freeman and Bobby Wagner recently. Freeman was on the low end of recent contracts for these three other linebackers ($2.356 million in 2015), but he hits free agency this March. Dansby and Wagner have signed big contracts recently, as both made over $6 million in 2015. While Dansby has 12 seasons in the league, Wagner has just four seasons accrued. Laurinaitis is not likely to improve his numbers greatly, but he might be able to improve if placed in a strong system, and he might be willing to sign for a contract around $4 million a year depending on the team. If a bidding war breaks out he could demand $6.0 to $6.5 million on the open market.
Of all of these players, Laurinaitis has the best potential to be a Charles Woodson-type player and have a career resurgence. Laurinaitis is a leader and he plays a position that requires leadership. A strong presence in the middle of the linebacking corps would be much like having Woodson leading the secondary, leading Nick Collins and Al Harris. Of these three players, he is clearly the most interesting for the Packers' future. If a bidding war breaks out, there is no chance, but if other teams place an emphasis on the diminished production the Packers might have a shot at signing him for a reasonable sum.
Long is more of a name than a player at this point. While Long has 54.5 career sacks, he has only had 4.0 over the last two seasons. Long has also only started 11 games over the last two seasons and is no longer the player we all think of when we hear his name. Over the first six seasons of his career, Long had between 25 and 33 solo tackles each year, but he had a combined total of just 14 over the last two seasons. He was scheduled to make $14.25 million in 2015 before he hit free agency, which would have placed him at third among 4-3 defensive ends. Looking at all this, the cut makes absolute sense.
Long makes no sense for the Packers, however. He is a 4-3 defensive end, period. He would fit very much like Aaron Kampman did in this system, and has played eight full seasons without once covering a tight end or a running back in the flat. Howie Long's name still rings in the ears when we hear Chris' name called, and Chris was a high draft pick who performed very well for many years. Still, Long is a poor fit for the Packers under their current defensive alignment. Without looking too long at the comparable players, Long does not make sense.
Jared Cook has never started all 16 games in any season in the NFL. Cook joined the Rams in 2013 after four years with the Tennessee Titans. The Rams captured the best of Cook that year as he put up his best season of his career. In 2013, Cook had 51 receptions, 671 yards and five touchdowns. Those were career highs in yards and touchdowns (he managed 52 receptions in 2014). Still, 2015 was a let down. Last season Jared only managed 39 receptions, 481 yards and no touchdowns in 12 starts. Richard Rodgers had much better stats than that this year. In fact, Rodgers bested Cook's career highs in receptions and touchdowns last year. Yet, Rodgers had Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball instead of Sam Bradford and Nick Foles.
In terms of recent statistics, Jared Cook compares with players like Jordan Cameron and Will Tye. Cameron has experience much closer to Cook. Cameron also signed a contract recently that paid him $5.5 million in 2015 and will pay $9.5 in 2016. This would be far too much for the Packers to bear.
If Cook is willing to take $3 million to chase a title and boost his numbers over the next two years, then he might find himself in green and gold. If Cook chases the money (which he has every right to do) someone will likely pay him $5 million for 2016. If that is the sort of money he is looking to land, the Packers are likely out of the running.
The Lions have Eric Ebron, the Bears have Martellus Bennett and the Vikings have Kyle Rudolph. None of them are likely to chase Jared Cook. The Vikings have spent big draft picks on linebackers over the last few years and they are unlikely to chase Laurinaitis (although it would be a homecoming for the Minneapolis native). The Lions have Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy so they are likely out as well. However, the Bears might be willing to add someone next to Jon Bostic and that could change the market.
With a defensive head coach, the Vikings might be the team most interested in adding Chris Long. The idea of having someone across from Everson Griffen who is better than Brian Robison could excite Minnesota. The Lions would likely be keen on having someone bolster their pass rush as well. The Lions suffered from losing several linemen during last year's offseason, and that might make them very interested in getting back to having someone on the line who can help draw attention away from Ziggy Ansah. The Bears, who run a 3-4, are likely in a situation similar to the Packers regarding Long.
While Laurinaitis is likely the only player the Packers might target, Long is the one most likely to negatively impact their season.