Everybody take a breath. NFL free agency has only just begun.
Living in Wisconsin my entire life (all 27-plus years of it so far), I’ve rarely seen a bad Green Bay Packers team. And since Ted Thompson took over as General Manager in 2005, I’ve grown familiar with what to expect:
- Draft and develop.
- Retain your own talent.
- Countless undrafted free agent signings.
- Find the right free agent, whatever that may mean.
So when Day 1 of NFL’s free agency came and went, no Packers fan should have been surprised that they didn’t do much Alas, sports fans will be sports fans—and the Thompson takes were plenty hot. But for Green Bay, it was what didn’t happen. Not that they didn’t make a big splash, but rather who they let walk. And, who may soon join them.
For starters, there’s center J.C. Tretter, who joined the Cleveland Browns on a three-year deal worth $16.75 million (only $10 million being guaranteed). For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus graded Tretter out to a mark of 84.1 last season (out of 100). That’s above average, and for a 26-year-old—who the Packers drafted in the fourth round back in 2013—it seems like Green Bay could have kept him without much risk.
Another Green Bay draft pick, fifth-rounder Micah Hyde in 2013, just signed with the Buffalo Bills for $30.5 million over the next five years (with less than half that—$14 million—guaranteed). Hyde would become one of the more important members of Green Bay’s secondary down the stretch, a secondary ravaged by both injuries and poor play for the majority of last season. He arguably had the game of his career against the Dallas Cowboys, but according to Hyde himself, Green Bay didn’t even offer him a new contract.
Now guard T.J. Lang, a fourth-rounder in 2009, is set to visit Seattle and Detroit. The Seahawks really need to address their offensive line while the Lions are showing promise going forward. Plus, Lang was born in Royal Oak, Michigan. Surely Thompson wouldn’t let both Tretter and Lang walk, right? That’s 40 percent of one of the best offensive lines in football. Plus, after re-signing 2012 first-rounder Nick Perry—with a cap hit of just $6 million in 2017—the Packers still have plenty (roughly $35 million) of cap space remaining.
They have to pay somebody, right?
Lastly, 2013 second-rounder Eddie Lacy is visiting Seattle and Minnesota. He’s dealt with injuries and weight issues over the past two seasons, but did average 5.1 YPC in 71 attempts before getting hurt last year. Given that he’s been injured often, one could assume his deal for 2017 will be relatively inexpensive. If Lacy walks as well, this leaves Green Bay with wideout-turned-tailback Ty Montgomery as the only halfback under contract.
Oh, and talks have reportedly broken off with tight end Jared Cook, a man Rodgers said “needs to be near the top of the priority list, the way he played this year.” Look, this isn’t a plea to spend all of the money, but if you’re not even keeping your own—at a reasonable cost, no less—what’s Thompson’s goal? While fans continue to foam at the mouth, I’m sure we’ll soon see. But I get the feeling that this isn’t what Aaron Rodgers meant when he said Green Bay should be going “all-in.”
Recent History of Big Free Agency Spenders
But this isn’t just about Green Bay or Ted Thompson. This isn’t just to rile up some of my friends (Yes, I do have some) who happen to be Packers fans. So, what else did Day 1 of NFL free agency show us? Well before we get to that, here’s a handful of fun facts (that aren’t so much fun for fans of the following franchises):
- Of the 10 biggest spenders from 2014-2016, only one team (Atlanta) has a winning record over those three regular seasons. And it’s only 25-23.
- Two of those 10, Miami and Philadelphia, have posted a .500 record. It gets much worse from there.
- The Jaguars, spending the most since 2014 at roughly $490 million on 28 separate signings, has posted an 11-37 record since.
- Denver has been willing to spend big in recent seasons—12th-most—but unlike many others, has found plenty of success. Their 33-15 record, two Super Bowl appearances and one championship is proof of that.
- Not surprisingly, Green Bay has been the second-most frugal franchise (roughly $68 million spent in this time frame), only head of Carolina, and has posted a 32-16 record in that time.
One more comment regarding the Packers – Yes, they are consistently successful. But it appears as though a lack of depth is on the horizon. You cannot rely on rookies forever and expect it to always work out. Also, and this is a little further down the road, you cannot expect a third consecutive Hall of Fame QB to take over when Rodgers decides to call it quits.
But I digress. No really, I mean it this time.
Matt Kalil, Really? (And Other Day 1 Takeaways)
On Thursday, the Carolina Panthers signed Matt Kalil. That’s fine, right? After all, depth is never a bad thing. But wait, they didn’t sign him for depth. They signed him to start, and at an outrageous price—$55 million over five years—and $25 million of that (or a whopping 45 percent) is guaranteed! Can you imagine? Here’s a nice tidbit from PFF’s Sam Monson:
“For what it’s worth, based on the past three seasons of play, PFF’s metrics say Kalil should be earning the veteran minimum, but instead, he is now paid like one of the better left tackles in the game.”
But seriously, that’s not good news for Green Bay if they’re hoping to keep Lang on the – No, dammit! I said I was done with the Packers for the remainder of this piece. (Yes, I understand Kalil and Lang play different positions, but if the Panthers paid that much for the former, there’s no saying how much some franchise will pay for the latter.)
Brock, We Hardly Knew Ye
The Houston Texans paid Brock Osweiler a lot of money last year. The Browns just paid them $16 million for a second-round draft pick. Osweiler came with, of course (that was the whole point), but I wouldn’t bank on him being the starter in Cleveland. The Browns will look to flip him and if they can’t, he’ll be released. It’s that simple. And that contract (four years, $72 million; $37 million guaranteed) is arguably the worst NFL free agent signing of all time. Salary dumps in the NFL aren’t all that common, and this certainly won’t start any trends, but it sure was a doozy of a dump.
…But We Can’t Let Cleveland Off The Hook Completely
Cleveland had a near-perfect Day 1, which is something that can rarely be said of any team. Every year is the same: fans want their team to spend, teams overpay for the biggest name out there (even if the class at that position is thin), then the cycle restarts. But the Browns did mighty well for themselves, especially on the offensive line.
Signing Tretter was not only a good move, but a financially responsible one as well. And while 27-year-old guard Kevin Zeitler was much more expensive (five years, $60 million; $31.5 million guaranteed) he graded out to a mark of 87.1 last season according to PFF. On the Browns current offensive line that would put him second-best, only behind Joe Thomas (89.1), based on last season.
If any team could afford to have some fun this free agency, it was the Browns, who entered with just over $100 million to spend.
And yet, they’re letting Terrelle Pryor hit the open market? Worse yet, they’re bringing Kenny Britt with the money they do have? In his first full season as a wideout, Pryor caught 77 passes for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns. His catch rate of 55 percent isn’t great, but again, this was his first full year at the position.
Meanwhile, Britt has been in the league since 2009 and just had his most productive season: 68 catches on 111 targets (61.3 percent catch rate), 1,002 yards and five touchdowns. For what it’s worth, Britt’s career catch rate rests at 53.5 percent. I probably would have ponied up for Pryor, but all in all the Browns are off to a fine start this offseason. Now it’s all about hitting on their draft picks. But we know there are no guarantees there, especially in Cleveland.
What did you think was the most ridiculous deal (or non-deal) of Day 1? Sound off in the comments below!
Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference