Some of the sure signs of spring: March Madness is in the air, mock NFL drafts are sprouting up everywhere and Ted Thompson will watch his roster get younger. With free agency opening up this week, it’s likely we’ll say ‘thanks for the memories’ to these good to great longtime Packers:
Chad Clifton, Scott Wells, Ryan Grant, Donald Driver.
OK, there’s a good chance Driver and the Pack will agree on a restructured deal to keep the future Packer Hall of Famer on the roster. But with five young WRs on the roster (Jennings, Nelson, Jones, Cobb and Gurley), Thompson may make the hard decision to part ways with #80. I wouldn’t have a big problem with this. The former 7th rounder from Alcorn State has had an amazing career and proved in the playoff game that he can still be counted on. But at 37 he’s entering an age when very few receivers can still be effective and unless he accept the veteran minimum, I think the Pack would be wise to keep Gurley and see what you have with him. Cobb will be a much bigger part of the offense in 2012 as well, limiting Drivers snaps.
Clifton is another guy who may agree to a restructured deal. Marshall Newhouse showed he is up to the challenge of manning the position, at least until Derek Sherrod gets healthy and grows into the role. As solid as he has been over the years, Clifton’s body is breaking down and would need to play at a much lower cap number, with incentives built in based on starts. My hunch is he’s a goner.
As I’ve written here before, I expect Scott Wells to move on as well. I don’t think he’ll get the money he thinks he’ll get, but I think he wants to go somewhere where he feels more wanted. If he leaves, look for Thompson to replace him with a free agent center. There are a handful of pretty good options out there.
It’s hard to believe anyone will be real excited about signing a soon to be 30-year-old running back, but Ryan Grant will explore his options. He may wind up back in Titletown, especially considering Alex Green’s injury, but Thompson probably views him as very replaceable and I think he’ll move on from #25.
A lot of Packer fans are dreaming about a Mario Williams signing and my response is ‘what planet are you living on?’ We can all dream about a stud pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews, but there’s no chance Thompson signs the young Texan star, who made the switch from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 backer in Wade Phillips’ scheme. He is going to get huge money (Chicago? Washington?) and that is something Thompson refuses to do.
Ultimately he may add a couple of guys in free agency, but outside of grabbing a center fairly early, the good bet is that Thompson will hang out on the sidelines during the frenzy of the first week and then jump on the phones after the first wave has passed. As you know, he regards free agency as a game for amateurs. Prime time for him comes at the draft.
It may cause some hand-wringing as we watch our competitors stock up in March, but we all know the Pack’s enviable young roster was built in April.