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Packers' Worst Free Agent Signing? ESPN says it's Joe Johnson

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Remember the big contract that Mike Sherman gave to a free agent defensive end who burned out quickly in Green Bay? That probably still affects 's free agency strategy to this day.

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Last week, ESPN's NFL writers put together a piece breaking down the worst free agent signings in each franchise's history. The list contained some fascinating names, including former Green Bay Packers Matt Flynn (the choice for the Seattle Seahawks), Javon Walker (for the Raiders), and Bryce Paup (the pick for the Jaguars, after a stint in Buffalo).

For the Packers, the selection might seem difficult. After all, the team has had just three general managers in the modern free agency era: Ron Wolf, Ted Thompson...and Mike Sherman. For whatever positive qualities Sherman may have had as a coach, his tenure as GM was ugly at best.

Wolf signed impact free agents like Reggie White, Sean Jones, and Santana Dotson. Thompson rarely makes big splash signings, but there can be no argument that Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett were home runs, while Julius Peppers has been a definite success as well.

For Sherman? the signing of defensive end Joe Johnson will mar his record as GM for all time, as Rob Demovsky explains:

In 2002, the Packers gave the former Saints defender a six-year, $33 million contract that included a $6.5 million signing bonus. What they got in return was two sacks in 11 games over two injury-filled seasons before they cut him. It was one in a long line of mistakes made by Mike Sherman during his tenure with the dual role of coach and general manager. Johnson never played another down in the NFL after the Packers dumped him in June 2004.

Johnson benefited from a pair of big seasons right before he hit free agency. In 2000 he recorded a career-high with 12 sacks, and followed that up in 2001 with nine more. Plus, he was thought to be at least a safe player from an injury perspective, missing one season in 1999 with a knee injury but never missing more than three games in any other year. He also earned Pro Bowl honors in 1998 and 2000.

Instead, as Demovsky notes, he played just 11 games in Green Bay. Johnson's signing in 2002 was thought to give the Packers a great tandem at defensive end with Vonnie Holliday. Instead, he flamed out and Holliday departed after that season for a big free agent deal in Kansas City.

It's probably a safe bet that Ted Thompson looked to his predecessor's free agency failures when devising his free agency strategy after being hired as Packers' GM. It's funny money on bad signings like this that can hinder a team's roster-related and financial flexibility for years. Let's use Johnson as a reason to be grateful that the few Ted Thompson free agent signings that have failed were very low-risk situations.