Biggest takeaways from Packers first week of free agency
The NFL free agency period has been officially open for about a week now, and for the Green Bay Packers, it has been a relatively quiet start. Below I have some quick thoughts on what has transpired up to this point.
— A quiet start for the Packers to free agency shouldn’t come as a surprise. On the surface, the nearly $24 million in cap space that they currently have seems like a lot, but a small portion of that will actually be going towards other free-agent additions. Aaron Rodgers’ dead cap hit once traded will, at a minimum, reduce that available cap space amount by $9 million. There are also unaccounted-for expenses that will hit the books in the coming months, such as the draft class, practice squad, along with the final two players on the roster, among other things. Prior to free agency beginning, Ken Ingalls projected that the Packers would have about $11 million to put towards free agency, and based on their current signings, that amount is already over half gone.
— As far as creating more space goes, the Packers are pretty much all out of options. Restructuring Jon Runyan and extending Rashan Gary are really the two primary moves they have left. Trading Darnell Savage would create almost $8 million in cap space, but I’m guessing there aren’t many teams lining up to take that contract on.
— Of the signings that Green Bay has made, there is a clear emphasis on special teams–something that Brian Gutekunst told us that the Packers would again prioritize back in January. So far, the Packers have re-signed All-Pro return man Keisean Nixon, along with Rudy Ford and Tyler Davis, who led the team in special teams snaps in 2022. Outside additions include Tarvarius Moore, who has nearly 1,100 career special teams snaps, and long-snapper Matt Orzech. A strong special teams unit that can take advantage of field goal opportunities and win the field position battle consistently will go a long way in helping first-year starting quarterback Jordan Love.
— Orzech will be competing with Jack Coco this summer for the long-snapper role. While Orzech’s deal would be relatively easy to get out of if needed, the fact that he signed a three-year contract illustrates that he is the clear front-runner for that role.
— Of the free agents that the Packers have lost, there really aren’t any surprises. Allen Lazard was always going to earn more elsewhere than what Green Bay could afford. It was simply time to move on from Dean Lowry, while Jarran Reed could earn more money and playing time elsewhere, with Devonte Wyatt and TJ Slaton likely taking on larger roles. Even losing Robert Tonyan — more on that shortly — who I did think could be back, isn’t a shock with the Packers needing more upside in the pass game.
— The Packers have added two safeties to the roster, Ford and Moore, but I don’t believe they are done yet. With it not being a strong draft class at the top, I still wouldn’t rule out another free agent signing. But with that said, I fully expect them to make an addition through the draft as well.
— Tonyan reportedly signed a one-year deal with the Bears for $2.65 million. Either the Packers were ready to move on, or Tonyan wanted to play elsewhere because even for the salary cap-strapped Packers, that is a contract they could have fit on the books. I thought a reunion made sense, given his reliability as a pass-catcher, although that should not have impacted how the Packers go about the draft.
— Speaking of tight end, even though this is a loaded draft class at the position, signing a veteran makes a lot of sense as well. For one, the Packers need the depth, but also, it’s rare that even early-round draft picks make a big impact in Year 1. Playmaking in the passing game at this position was very much missing in 2022, and it’s something a number of playoff teams had. While Green Bay doesn’t have a large amount of salary cap to spend, several free agent tight ends have received contracts below projected values, perhaps creating an opportunity for the Packers to get a player that originally may have been out of their price range.
— Bringing back Justin Hollins is a low-key good addition for the Packers. He was very good against both the run and the pass with Green Bay, ranking 26th in pass rush win rate and 27th in run stop rate among all edge rushers from Weeks 12 through 18. He also fills a big need at edge rusher – although that shouldn’t stop them from adding to the room in the draft – and he will come on an affordable contract.
— The Packers remaining unsigned free agents include Adrian Amos, Mason Crosby, Marcedes Lewis, Randall Cobb, Eric Wilson, and Dallin Leavitt. My guess is that Amos will be out of their price range, and with his contract voiding on February 20th, leaving behind a dead cap hit of $7.9 million, I feel like if a new deal was going to be reached, it was going to happen prior to that date, to avoid the aforementioned dead cap hit. Lewis and Cobb will likely follow Rodgers to New York. I do think that Wilson will be back as a core special teams player, but I now do not expect Leavitt to return with the additions of Ford and Moore, both of whom can play special teams but also have defensive experience. Originally I predicted the Packers would move on from Crosby, but following the NFL combine, several reporters who spoke with Brian Gutekunst got the feeling that Crosby would be back.
— Green Bay’s positions of need that they should address this offseason haven’t really changed. Edge rusher, reciever, safety, tight end, and interior defensive lineman should all be priorities. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Packers add to offensive tackle or cornerback somewhat early on in the draft. Positions that I feel could specifically use a veteran are receiver, with four 2022 rookies under contract currently. Tight end, for the reasons already discussed. And interior defensive lineman, given that Wyatt and Slaton are both low on experience.