By Jim Weidner. With NFL Free Agency about to kick off, there is little doubt where the Green Bay Packers and their general manager Ted Thompson sit. To call Thompson frugal or even stubborn when it comes to free agency would be an understatement. Although he has a track record of succeeding when he steps out of his comfort zone and signs a free agent from another team, he still rarely does it.
Thompson’s stubbornness to engage in signing outside free agents has played a part in the Packers not advancing back to the Super Bowl. Thompson is correct in wanting to sign his own people that are free agents and that he deems worthy of returning, but to turn his back totally on utilizing a way that could help improve his team makes no sense.
Ted Thompson will have a lot of decisions to make on his own free agents, especially with the news that starting center Corey Linsley underwent ankle surgery, defensive end Letroy Guion has been suspended four games for PED use, and veteran outside linebacker Julius Peppers will play another season. Although chances are slim Thompson will look at outside free agents, if he does, here are some possible candidates who he could look at.
This list is broken down into two categories. The first are free agents whose contracts have expired with their teams and who might cause the Packers to lose compensatory picks, picks that the Packers receive for losing their own free agents.
Thompson is enamored with these picks, although they rarely turn out to be much help for the Packers. Thompson will be very reluctant to look at these players just for that reason, but it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t.
The second list is the players that Thompson will most likely look at if he does sign an outside free agent. These players were released by their teams and won’t affect the Packers compensatory picks.
Free agents that would effect compensatory picks:
Jarvis Jones, Outside Linebacker
Jones was a disappointment in his first four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The former 2013 first round pick never became the pass rushing threat the Steelers expected when he came out of Georgia. Many will compare Jones to Packers free agent Datone Jones, who also has been a first round disappointment. But Jarvis Jones is a pure 3-4 outside linebacker, something the Packers might need if they lose Jones, Peppers, and/or Nick Perry. Jones might just need a change of scenery to reach the potential he showed while at Georgia.
Chris Baker, Defensive Line
Defensive line didn’t appear to be a weakness two weeks ago, but with the recent news that Guion must miss four games for his usage of PEDs, it now gets bumped up near the top of the list. After what the Packers had to deal with last season with defensive tackle Mike Pennel and his off the field troubles, Guion will find himself on the unemployment line. A very solid replacement would be Washington Redskins defensive lineman Chris Baker. Baker has experience playing in a 3-4 defense, something he has done with the Redskins. Besides being hard to push around in the running game, he also has registered 9 ½ sacks the past two seasons. Baker would fit nicely with current Packers starters Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark.
AJ Klein, Inside Linebacker
Not well known to most, Klein seems like a Thompson type of guy, a grinder, and comes on the cheap. Klein, who is an Appleton native, has played his four year career all with the Carolina Panthers. Last season, when star linebacker Luke Kuechly was lost to a concussion, Klein stepped in and did a nice job for the Panthers. Although not a star, Klein could be an asset, not just on special teams, but also in the inside linebacker rotation.
Free agents that wouldn’t effect compensatory picks:
Davon House, Cornerback
This one seems like a no brainer. House was drafted by Thompson in the fourth round in 2011 and played for the Packers for four seasons. When it became obvious that the Packers wouldn’t be able to pay what House wanted when he became a free agent, he left for Jacksonville. House spent two seasons with the Jaguars, before recently being cut. His most productive season with the Jaguars was in 2015 when he picked off 4 passes. This past season, his last with the Jaguars, he saw his playing time dwindle. If the Packers and House reunited, it would make sense for both sides. The Packers need secondary help and House would return to a system he is familiar with.
Mario Williams, Outside Linebacker/Defensive End
If the Packers don’t re-sign Peppers, Williams might be a viable option. Williams is younger than Peppers and he might come at a less expensive price and that is due to the down season he had with the Miami Dolphins in 2016. With the Dolphins, Williams only had 1 ½ sacks, a career low. Williams’s sack numbers have declined the past two seasons, but like Peppers, Williams is a freak with his size and ability. Even though Williams is huge, he has some experience playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.