By Jon Meerdink
This time next year, the Green Bay Packers could look remarkably different, and it’s all thanks to free agency.
Or guys heading to free agency, rather.
Thirteen players will be up for new deals after this season, including five starters. Not all of them can return, but to stay competitive the Packers have to fit at least a few of them under the cap. Let’s take a quick look at all 13.
1. Randall Cobb – WR – If there’s any impending free agent that must be re-signed, it’s Cobb. Playmakers that can strike from multiple positions are rare finds, and Cobb certainly has that kind of ability. We talked a bit earlier this week about what sort of salary Cobb could command, which could be considered good news. Cobb has to be a priority. Let’s hope the Packers can get it done. I think it’s likely the front office makes it happen.
2. Bryan Bulaga – RT - Bulaga started his career strong, but he’s battled injuries each of his last three seasons. It’s hard to say exactly how good Bulaga is, since we haven’t really seen him at full strength for a full season since 2010. His injuries might drive down Bulaga’s price a little bit, but if he has a strong, full year this year, he could command a more premium price.
3. B.J. Raji – DT - “The Freezer” famously turned down an $8 million a year offer midseason last year, and unless he puts together a ridiculous season he almost certainly will not see something close to that number again. However, if Raji performs this year, he could price himself out of the Packers’ range. Now, on the other hand, if Raji plays like an average starting defensive tackle, he still could be a worth keeping, but with a lower price tag…and appropriately lowered expectations.
4. Tramon Williams – CB - Williams has not lived up to the deal he signed after his breakout 2010 season, but he is still a pretty decent starter. If he’s willing to come back at a significantly lower salary, Williams might be one of Ted Thompson‘s rare over-30 signings. If I had to guess, though, I’d say ascending younger players might force him out.
5. John Kuhn – FB - Folk hero, short yardage back, heroic block-thrower…and 31 year old fullback. John Kuhn is a bit of a mystery. He’s a cerebral pass blocker, an experienced run blocker…and a 31 year old fullback. His value is constantly mitigated by the fact that he’s an aging player at a dying position. Kuhn might mean more to the Packers than anybody else, but determining what that number is will go a long way to sorting out Kuhn’s future. If I had to guess, I’d say he comes back on a year-by-year basis.
6. Derek Sherrod – LT - Sherrod has been a three season mystery. He couldn’t beat out Marshall Newhouse as a rookie, then shattered his leg and missed two seasons. Sherrod has great physical gifts, and could represent a solid, affordable backup if he could show some of the potential that made him a first round pick. I think he’s back next year.
7. Matt Flynn – QB - Like Kuhn, Flynn is probably worth more to the Packers than to anybody else. He doesn’t practice well, he has limited physical abilities, and at 29 he’s as good of a player as he’s ever going to be. His future with the Packers might depend on what Scott Tolzien does this year.
8. Scott Tolzien – QB - Tolzien’s future depends less on Flynn and more than what he does during training camp. He has to show that he’s making the most of his physical tools. If Tolzien can demonstrate a command of the offense and a skillset that makes full use of his big arm, he could be back on a team-friendly deal. If he doesn’t, the Packers may be looking for multiple backup quarterbacks next offseason.
9. Davon House - CB - House is playing the best football of his career, and his previous underachievement could drive his price down. House is still young, still physically talented, and could still play a role in the Packers’ defense in the future. I think he’s back next year.
10. Jarrett Bush – CB - Bush keeps on keepin’ on, but he’s not getting any younger. He’s pretty much a one-dimensional special teamer at this point of his career, and if the Packers could find someone to duplicate his insane drive to succeed, even in the little things, he could become expendable. But…I think he’s coming back. He’ll be affordable and you’ll know exactly what you’re getting all the time.
11. Jamari Lattimore – ILB - His spot on this year’s roster is hardly guaranteed, and even if he does make the team, this is a “prove it” year for Lattimore. He’s not especially big or fast, but he plays tenaciously in spurts. He could be an affordable, stop-gap option next year.
12. Ryan Taylor – TE - Like Lattimore, Taylor doesn’t have a guaranteed spot, and even if he makes the roster, Taylor just isn’t that unique. It’s hard to see him staying around, even with his special teams contributions.
13. Letroy Guion – DT – Guion is a replacement level tackle. It’s hard to see him coming back next season.