With the 2020 NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror, teams across the league have finally locked in the bulk of their rosters for the upcoming offseason program. While that program will take place virtually this year, players (other than draft picks) still must be under contract to participate in virtual meetings with coaching staffs.
However, there are still some opportunities to improve a roster on the margins by signing veteran free agents. And starting with the end of the official league day on Monday, teams will no longer have a roadblock to bringing in additional unrestricted free agents. That is because April 27th is the final day of the compensatory pick calculation period.
Field Yates of ESPN explains:
Something to keep an eye on: any free agent signed after 4 PM EST today will not count towards the 2021 compensatory draft pick calculation. That could help create a market for the remaining unsigned players.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) April 27, 2020
Currently, Over the Cap projects the Packers to be in line for three compensatory draft picks in 2021: a fourth-rounder for losing Blake Martinez, a fifth for Bryan Bulaga, and a sixth for Kyler Fackrell. The team certainly does not want to jeopardize any of those picks by signing an unrestricted free agent on Monday, but come 4:00 PM this afternoon there could be a player or two they have their eye on.
After drafting nine players and reportedly agreeing to terms with 15 undrafted rookie free agents this weekend, the Packers have 88 players accounting for roster spots, leaving two slots open on the roster. One strong possibility to take up a spot is cornerback Tramon Williams; general manager Brian Gutekunst said that the team would make a determination on Williams’ future after the draft, and since the team drafted only one defensive back (with that selection coming on a college safety in round seven), it seems likely that Williams could be back sooner rather than later.
In the secondary, the Packers could also look elsewhere. Former Patriot and Titan Logan Ryan is available, as are fellow veterans like Johnathan Joseph, Darqueze Dennard, and Ross Cockrell, several of whom could be candidates to play in the slot.
If the Packers really want to make a splash, they could cut bait on a player like Lane Taylor, freeing up some salary cap space, and make a run at Jadeveon Clowney or Everson Griffen, a pair of edge rushers who remain available. Or the team could try to bring in run-stuffing nose tackle Damon Harrison, though he would not have counted against the comp picks anyway since the Lions released him this offseason.
How about a wide receiver? The bad news is that there aren’t really any proven, dynamic players available, aside from former Broncos star Demaryius Thomas, who has been on a steady decline recently. The Packers could bring in a player like Tavon Austin as a gadget player, but would he supplant one of the players already on the team? Taylor Gabriel seems like the best fit, given his familiarity with Matt LaFleur from their shared time in Atlanta, but like Harrison, he was released this offseason and could have been signed already without counting against comp picks.
Perhaps the wideout with the best possible upside would be former Browns receiver Rashard Higgins. The Packers were rumored to be highly interested in Higgins in the 2016 NFL Draft before Cleveland picked him in round five. At just 25 years old (turning 26 in October), Higgins is pretty young, and his 2018 season showed promise with 39 catches, 572 yards, and four touchdowns. His rate stats were also solid at nearly 15 yards per reception and a catch rage of 73.6%.
In any case, some of these players are sure to sign sometime soon, now that the comp pick window is closing. The Packers still have some notable holes on their roster coming out of the 2020 NFL Draft, so it would be understandable to see them look to the remaining free agents on the market to help bolster a position or two.