Training camp doesn’t open for another three days and there may not even be a season in 2011, but that didn’t stop us from taking a quick glance at the Packers who could be unrestricted free agents next March. Assuming – and as of today these assumptions are about as enormous as Ryan Pickett’s pre-training camp belly – that the players and the owners agree to a new collective bargaining agreement and that the number of accrued seasons to achieve true freedom reverts back to four from six, here are the players who would be eligible to hit the open market (along with their age as of 3/31/2011 and their current salary): John Kuhn (27/$1.176M), Korey Hall (28/$550K), Brandon Jackson (25/$550K), Donald Driver (36/$7.206M), James Jones (27/$1.101M), Allen Barbre (26/$550K), Jason Spitz (28/$1.759M), Daryn Colledge (29/$1.759M), Cullen Jenkins (30/$3.2M), Desmond Bishop (26/$550K), Tramon Williams (28/$3.168M/), Atari Bigby (29/$1.759M), Will Blackmon (26/$1.176M), Charlie Peprah (28/$630K) and Mason Crosby (26/$1.0M).
This is hardly an imposing list, but there will be a few interesting decisions facing GM Ted Thompson. As of today, the most compelling scenarios involve Driver, Jones, Colledge, Spitz, Jenkins, Bishop and Williams.
It’s hard to imagine Driver in another uniform, but as Packer fans found out two years ago, you just never know. That said, the only way we see the veteran wide receiver leaving Green Bay is if he asks for too much money or if Thompson isn’t willing to let Jones get away. It’s unlikely that Jones would re-sign unless he foresees a better opportunity to play – something that won’t happen if Driver is still around. Of course, Thompson’s decision on Jones will only be difficult if the former San Jose State star performs at a high level in 2010. Otherwise, he’ll almost certainly be allowed to walk without a fight.
There’s almost no chance that both Colledge and Spitz will return in 2011, so Thompson will have to choose between the two. Spitz – if his health is OK – would be the logical choice since he can play three positions. Not having a CBA brought Colledge back to Green Bay for another season, but his somewhat arrogant personality and his finesse-style of play just aren’t a good with the Packers.
Jenkins already looked to be the key unrestricted free agent in 2011, and his importance to the team’s present and future only increased with the news of Johnny Jolly’s indefinte suspension. It’s very likely that Thompson will want to re-sign the veteran defensive lineman; the big question is whether the feeling will be mutual. For the most part, Jenkins kept quiet last season and admirably did all the dirty work that’s required of an end in the 3-4. Whether he’d voluntarily sign up for more of the same remains to be seen. We have our doubts. That’s why it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the franchise tag used – if there’s even a franchise tag to use.
While Bishop has handled his lack of playing time with great aplomb, you know he’s dying to get a legitimate opportunity to win a starting job. That almost certainly won’t happen this season, but the door could finally open for him in 2011. That’s because A.J. Hawk and his scheduled $11 million contract could be moving on. Of course, even if that happens, Bishop would still have to contend with another overpaid inside linebacker (Brandon Chillar), so he might just decide that parting ways with the Packers makes the most sense. And who could really blame him?
Thompson showed what he thinks of Williams by placing the highest tender on him in February, so the odds are very good that the former street free agent will be around for many years to come. But there are a few variables that could change things between now and next March. For example, what happens if both Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood step up this season? Or if Williams continues to be inconsistent – this time as a fulltime starter. Or if he plays so well that other teams are lining up to make him rich? In short, it’s probably safe to hold on to your No. 38 jersey, but you might want to have a backup number in mind just in case.
The remaining potential unrestricted free agents won’t cause Thompson to lose much sleep. He should be able to pick and choose who comes back and who doesn’t. As of today, we’ll put Crosby, Hall and Jackson in the former category and Barbre, Bigby, Blackmon, Kuhn and Peprah in the latter. But needless to say, all of this can change depending on how these 15 players perform in 2010 and how things go at the bargaining table over the next eight months.
(NOTE- In a few cases, the salaries listed for 2010 are estimates and do not include playing time bonuses, escalator clauses, etc.)