By Jon Meerdink
Though probably not exactly how some Packers fans would have liked it, this was a pretty active first week of free agency as far as Ted Thompson goes. He made four moves to lock up four consistent if unspectacular players who have proven their worth to Green Bay, two of whom may not have yet reached their full potential.
What’s more, he did it in such a way that the Packers still have more than $20 million dollars left to spend before reaching the cap, either in free agency or to lock up other home-grown products like Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb.
But first, the signings. Sam Shields was the biggest splash, and while his deal looked price on Saturday, it looks relatively palatable compared to the big money handed to Aqib Talib and Darrelle Revis, both of whom have been plagued by injuries the last few seasons. Shields probably will never be an ultra-elite cornerback like Richard Sherman or Revis, but he’s certainly a solid cover corner who will earn his money. This was a quality re-signing.
The same goes for Mike Neal, who, according to scouts cited by the Journal Sentinel, ranked second on the Packers in pressures last season. He improved as the year went on and ended up producing the most statistically pleasing year of his career. He’s still learning to be a linebacker, but he’s a good athlete and with an affordable contract, he’ll have both room and time to grow in Green Bay.
Andrew Quarless remains something of a mystery. A catastrophic knee injury derailed his career just when he seemed to be putting something together, but he improved down the stretch last year, including two back to back games of six catches, 66 yards, and one touchdown. It’s hard to say if Quarless has reached his ceiling yet, but at 25 he still may have room to grow. The knee injury may have robbed him of a little explosiveness, but Quarless is still a big body (6’4″, 248 pounds) and is a better blocker than Jermichael Finley, even if he’s not quite the receiver.
Finally, the Packers chose to tender Jamari Lattimore at the lowest level, giving them the right of first refusal, but no draft picks if Lattimore was offered a contract by another team. It’s a low-risk move for obvious reasons, and it gives them another year to sort out exactly what they have in the Middle Tennessee product.
Now, the Packers still have some holes to fill. B.J. Raji remains an option along the defensive line, but they will have to bring him help even if he’s re-signed. There are some big names out there (Julius Peppers is certainly an interesting one, even if he’s 34), but the Packers will likely stay away. It’s almost a sure thing that Ted Thompson will sign someone. Even the most draft-addicted general manager in all of football can’t fill more than a dozen roster holes with a single draft and a slew of undrafted free agents, can he? Wait, can he?! Don’t get any ideas Ted!