Free Agents: Back with Pack or Sent Packin'?

A wise person once said, 'Timing is everything.' It applies to all walks of life and for this year's crop of free agents it takes on extra meaning. With a very unpredictable labor situation hanging over their heads, this year's free agents will most likely be caught in no-man's land--forced to wait until a new labor agreement is reached. If it takes as long as some predict, there might be a mad rush sometime in August or September. A tough position for these guys to face.

The Packers' free agents who hope to stay face an additional hurdle: with 15 players on IR, the team turned to a bunch of players, many of whom earned roster spots, if not starting jobs (Walden, Zombo, Bishop, Bulaga, Peprah, Shields). The team has an inordinate number of players that are either under contract, or showed they belong.

Ted Thompson will have to weigh what the free agents might be worth on the open market, vs. their value to the team. Here's how I would rank the free agents I'd like to see back and my prediction on whether they'll wear Green & Gold in 2011.

1. Mason Crosby: OK, I'm not in love with the guy. But when you see good teams like the Steelers, Jets, Saints and Patriots, among others, either lose kickers to injury or decide to make changes in season, you see that it can cost you everything. Crosby can be maddening, but he's an above average kicker who can handle the climate and has a big leg. Pack may have to overpay a bit, but a Super Bowl champion that is in close games week after week does not need this position to be one in flux. Prediction: Back with Pack

2. Cullen Jenkins: A classic 4-3 end who made the conversion and was the Pack's second best pass rusher this season, despite a scheme that makes it tough for ends to stand out and the annual injury that cost him 3-4 games. The latter is what the Packer braintrust will have to consider, when another team comes calling with a mega-contract. And you can bet someone will. At 30, Jenkins has 4-5 years left and when he's healthy he's a difference-maker. The positive early returns on Michael Neal indicate that he could compete for a starting job. The work of youngsters like Wilson and Wynn showed that these guys have futures. The wildcard is Johnny Jolly, who if re-instated and is brought back by the Packers will add another talented, hungry player to the mix. Prediction: Sent Packin'

3. John Kuhn: Becoming a fan favorite does not guarantee you a spot, but this guy got more valuable as the season went on and proved to be a tough runner in short yardage and a good blocker as well. The success of the three-fullback package, along with his key third down conversions in big moments, has earned him a contract. Prediction: Back with Pack.

4. Darren Colledge: You sit down to a nice dinner. A steak, baked potatoes, grilled asparagus and a salad. Now think of that meal as your offensive line. Colledge is the salad. Never misses a start, but does nothing spectacularly. He probably had his best year with the Pack, and when he got a little nicked up, Jason Spitz came in and was a disaster in Detroit, nearly getting Rodgers killed. In Lang, McDonald and Newhouse the Packers have a few young guys who could get a shot at the spot. They could also find a top, young guard at the bottom of the draft. Colledge's durability and Super Bowl resume gets him noticed and signed for more than he deserves. Prediction: Sent Packin'

5. Charlie Peprah: This guy was a godsend as safeties started dropping like flies: Burnett, Smith, Bigby. Peprah stepped into a tough spot and held his own. Did he miss some plays? Sure, but when you have three Pro Bowlers in the secondary there's bound to be a weak link somewhere. He was solid and is an ideal third safety, which is where the Packers want him, behind Collins and Burnett. Prediction: Back with Pack

6. James Jones: The wildcard among all the free agents. Fantastic in the Falcons playoff game, but lousy in the Eagles game and Super Bowl. A feast or famine guy who looks like he should be great, but has lapses in concentration, causing drops at the worst possible times. The Packers love their four and five man receiver sets, and with Driver slowing down they could use Jones back. But the guess here is that an offer comes along that the Packers refuse to match or beat and Jones moves on. Look for the Pack to add a cheaper, veteran receiver via free agency if Jones leaves. Prediction: Sent Packin'

7. Brandon Jackson, Atari Bigby, Jason Spitz, Matt Wilhelm, Korey Hall, Anthony Smith: It wouldn't shock me if none of these guys is back. Of all of them, I give Hall the best shot. He missed some games this year, but is a very good special teams player and is useful in the three fullback package. He should be cheap. The others are all inter-changeable parts. Jackson proved he is not an every down running back, and with Grant and Starks the Pack can draft or find a third down guy. Spitz, Bigby and Smith will all move on and Wilhelm should be dumped if for no other reason than the penalty on the kickoff in the final minute in Atlanta. Prediction: Hall-Back with Pack. All the others: Sent Packin'


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