Re-signing Casey Hayward top priority for Packers in free agency
There have been years in the past under Ted Thompson that free agency plan articles for the Packers were a complete waste of time. With $21.9 million in cap space at the moment, though, and glaring holes at multiple positions, it’s at least plausible they make some moves in free agency this year.
With multiple starters hitting the market, let’s put out a blueprint for the Packers’ offseason.
CB Casey Hayward
One of the premier slot cornerbacks in the league, Hayward transitioned to starter in 2015 and did not disappoint. He was the Packers’ highest-graded cornerback in 2015 in coverage, and 21st-overall in the entire NFL. His traits won’t likely command as much money as Sam Shields, but he should be just below that range. Even with Hayward’s apparent heirs already drafted in Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall, secondary is such a premium position that you can’t afford to bleed talent.
OLB Nick Perry
Green Bay’s draft-and-develop strategy seems to call for Perry to stick around for at least another year, and he has shown enough in limited roles throughout his entire career to warrant that. He’ll likely never live up to his draft billing, but if Julius Peppers is a cap casualty, the Packers will be thin on the edge.
OLB Mike Neal
The move to outside linebacker for Neal looks like a mistake in retrospect, and it’s one the Packers shouldn’t compound upon again. He’s been PFF’s second-lowest graded 3-4 outside linebacker for two years running.
NT B.J. Raji
With Letroy Guion already re-signed, the writing seems on the wall for Raji. He failed to return to his impact form on the nose last season, and graded out below average. With Mike Pennel producing more in limited snaps, it’s time to move on from the former top-10 pick.
WR James Jones
Jones exceeded all expectations after joining the Packers late in camp, but his success was almost exclusively due to his comfort with Aaron Rodgers as compared to the younger receivers, not his ability to separate. Ideally, the myriad of younger guys on Green Bay will have developed enough of a rapport with their QB to make Jones expendable in 2016.
RB James Starks
Starks will be 30 years old tomorrow, and he developed an unfortunate fumbling problem in 2015. He could be re-signed if the cost is minimal, but he doesn’t exactly scream reliable backup at this point.
LB Jerrell Freeman (Colts)
Inside linebacker is a glaring need, and there are multiple good options out there. Freeman won’t command top dollar at 30 years old, but he’s coming off a career year that saw him grade within the top five inside linebackers. He’d let Clay Matthews move back outside, and allow the Packers to look at other positions in the draft.
TE Dwayne Allen (Colts)
Yet another Colt—and another desperate need for the Packers. It’s not a deep draft class for tight end, but it certainly is in free agency. Allen was one of the most complete tight ends in the league his first three seasons before struggling without Andrew Luck last year. He’d be an immediate upgrade over Richard Rodgers.