LOOKING AHEAD TO FREE AGENCY

Jones should be a very popular free agent

With the players and the owners finally making progress, information on what a new collective bargaining agreement may look like is starting to emerge. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported recently that the minimum number of years for unrestricted free agency will move from six back to four. That means the following Packers could hit the open market in a matter of weeks: safety Atari Bigby, offensive lineman Daryn Colledge, kicker Mason Crosby, fullback Korey Hall, running back Brandon Jackson, defensive end Cullen Jenkins, wide receiver James Jones, fullback John Kuhn, safety Anthony Smith, offensive lineman Jason Spitz and inside linebacker Matt Wilhelm.

Here’s the way I see things playing out:

Crosby, Jackson, Kuhn and Smith might flirt with other teams, but the odds are pretty good that each will eventually re-sign with Green Bay. Of the five, Crosby is the only one whom general manager Ted Thompson can’t afford to lose. And he won’t. Jackson will look to find a better opportunity elsewhere, but he probably has a lot more value to the Packers than he does to any other team. The former second-round pick would’ve been better off hitting the free agent market a year ago – before Ryan Grant’s injury fully exposed his many limitations as a runner. Kuhn loves it in Green Bay and won’t be eager to leave. Besides, he attracted little interest as a free agent in the past. Smith probably won’t make the final roster, but he’s worth bringing to camp.

Colledge, Jenkins and Jones will most likely sign elsewhere. Colledge has always thought very highly of himself, and now we’ll get to see if others agree. The guess here is that some GM will overpay the veteran guard based on his youth and his durability. Jenkins came into the league as an undrafted free agent and then signed a relatively modest extension (4 years/$15.5M) in 2008, so he’ll be looking to strike it rich this time. The Packers would like to keep him, but that hardly seems possible. Jones caught 61 passes and scored 7 TDs last season, but it’s the key drops that everyone remembers. Will that scare away potential bidders? Probably, but my hunch is that at least one GM will throw surprisingly big money at the enigmatic 26-year-old and then keep his fingers crossed and hope for the best.

The lockout allowed Bigby, Hall, Spitz and Wilhelm to remain part of a championship team for a little bit longer than expected, but the separation will commence as soon as there’s a new CBA. Bigby has lived off a few good games late in the ’07 season for the past three years. He could really use a fresh start. Hall is a solid special teams player, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy and the Packers are deep at fullback. Spitz hasn’t been the same player since injuring his back and undergoing surgery in November 2009. He was a rising star at one time, but he’s been eclipsed by T.J. Lang and Nick McDonald in recent years. Wilhelm was a stopgap signing last October who no longer possesses the physical skills to be effective in a 3-4.

Lost amid all the news surrounding the progress being made between the owners and the players was a little nugget of info courtesy of ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. He told a radio station in St. Louis that, once the free agency period begins, the owners want to have a right of first refusal on¬†three or four players per team.¬†Whether the players agree to such a demand remains to be seen. The other big question, at least to anyone reading this post, is how would a right of first refusal affect the Packers? The answer is not very much.

Other than Chad Clifton, I can’t recall a single significant player re-signing with Green Bay after hitting the open market. That’s because Thompson is adept at identifying and then extending the players he really wants to keep long before they become free agents. In my opinion, he would’ve at least spoken to the representatives for Colledge, Jenkins and Jones if he truly wanted to bring them back. The fact that he didn’t suggests he’s ready to move on. And so does the drafting of Derek Sherrod, Mike Neal and Randall Cobb.

About the author

Packer Update is the creation of a longtime fan. My name is Michael Rodney and I was a sportswriter in the early 1990s. I worked full-time for a newspaper in South Jersey, but I still managed to get quite a few articles about the Packers published during that time. I hope you enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing about the most storied franchise in all of pro sports.