By Max Partlo
Those who have been keeping up with the general tendencies of NFL GM’s have come to understand that certain organizations can be pretty predictable in the offseason. The Colts will overpay for mediocre backups from solid teams. The Bengals will hoard all of their money without acquiring any new players. The Patriots will pull rabbits out of their hats and pull elite assets away from struggling teams. And the Packers… well Ted Thompson will, without failure resign his own players for a bit below market value, and only deign to dip into the free agency market to pick up a generational defensive talent who is moving on from their old team.
But, today we aren’t going to let boring Ted Thompson run things in Titletown. Today I’m going to lay out my plan for making the most out of Aaron Rodger’s prime. The packers have $33 Million in cap space after the cuts of AJ Hawk and Brad Jones. Let’s start with what to do with Green Bay’s own impending free agents.
WR Randall Cobb (Signed):
2014 Stats: 91 Rec, 1287 Yds, 12 TDs, 134.3 WR Rating.
Cobb led the NFL in WR rating last year, and put up elite numbers in all three of the major receiving categories, but teammate Jordy Nelson is the true #1 receiver on this team, as he led Cobb in targets, catches, yards, and TDs, while posting the second highest WR rating. Last year Nelson signed a 4 year, $39.5 Million deal before training camp that likely ended up being below market value after the year he had. Cobb, who was not franchise tagged, is likely worth less than that, but with Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas no longer available, Cobb is the number one option available to teams with young passers and deep pockets such as the Jaguars and the Raiders. This situation closely mirrors that which the Broncos found themselves in last year with Eric Decker, although Cobb is likely a superior player to Decker.
The verdict: Offer Cobb an identical deal to Nelson, or bump him up to an even $40 Million a year to soothe his ego, but don’t pay any higher. If he agrees, great! Now the packers have the best QB in football and two elite receivers he loves throwing to. If not, give Cecil Shorts III the Emanuel Sanders deal of 3 years $15 Million, and watch his numbers explode in a pass happy offense much the same as Sanders’ did.
OT Bryan Bulaga:
2014 Stats: 4 sacks allowed in 513 pass block snaps, 96.0 pass block efficiency, top five in PFF grade for right tackles.
Bulaga started 15 games at right tackle for the Packers last year, and did so at about as good a level as you can expect from a right tackle. Bulaga is the consensus best tackle on the market, but this year’s crop is shaping up very similarly to the summer of 2012’s, which saw weak left tackle prospects lead to the overpayment of right tackles, but no one is going to offer Bulaga 8 digits a year in the hopes of turning him into a blindside staple. Still though, it is hard to imagine Bulaga getting out of Green Bay’s price range, and it is important for the Packers to remember that receivers keep QB’s happy but linemen keep them healthy.
The verdict: Lock Bulaga up for 4 years $24 Million, a decent haul for a right tackle.
DT BJ Raji:
2014 stats: 0 games played due to torn triceps in preseason.
Raji signed a one year, $4 Million prove it deal, and never really got the chance to. While he most likely still has value as a run stuffer, and run stuffer is the Packers’ primary need this offseason, there really isn’t a price tag that both he and the team will like, and he doesn’t fit with my long term plans for the position.
The verdict: don’t offer him a contract, and thank him for the vital role he played in the 2011 Super Bowl run.
A couple more cuts to make:
DE Mike Neal:
2014 stats: 5 sacks and 31 total pressures in 386 pass rushing snaps. 6.3 pass rushing productivity. Graded as lowest rated 3-4 OLB by PFF.
Bad player with a cap hit of $4.25 Million, $3 Million of which goes away if cut before June 1st
OLB Julius Peppers:
2014 stats: 8 sacks and 50 total pressures in 447 pass rushing snaps. 8.8 pass rushing productivity. Graded positively as pass rusher and in coverage, but negatively in run defense.
It’s hard to cut a combined 13 sacks from the edge, but the combination of Clay Matthews and Nick Perry at OLB and Datone Jones and Mike Daniels at DE have done well in their own right, and Peppers has a cap hit of $12 Million for each of the next two years. Cutting him here accelerates his dead money to $5 Million this year, but saves $7 Million off of the cap this year and an additional $12 Million next year.
With $16 Million committed to the two marquee resigning, and $10 Million saved by releasing Peppers and Neal, the cap space heading into unrestricted free agency is now $27 Million. Given the late picks in each round of the draft, the Packers need only to commit $5 Million to rookie deals, which leaves $22 Million for a big splash and some depth signings.
In the Free Agent Market:
DT Ndamakong Suh (Signed by Dolphins) :
2014 stats: 8 sacks and 57 total pressures in 530 pass rush snaps, top 5 in pass rush productivity and run stop percentage for DTs, 3rd ranked DT by PFF.
Has Ndamakong Suh spent his entire career stepping on and kicking Packer players as they lie on the ground? Yes. Can you think of a player besides JJ Watt who can dominate the run and the pass single handedly like Suh did in that playoff game against an elite offensive line in Dallas? No? Well then maybe we can forgive him for having a bit of a mean streak, and look at a defense that ranked in the bottom 10 of rush yards against and YPA against, while allowing teams to convert their rushes into first downs at the second highest rate in the league. Suh is a nasty, well rounded, and elite player, likely the best defensive free agent since Reggie White, and that one worked out pretty well for Packers fans.
The deal: 6 years, $108 Million Dollars, $60 Million guaranteed. Slightly higher than Watt’s record breaking contract in terms of average value and guaranteed money. Some teams with worse records and more cap room could offer Suh more, but his postgame press conference following the Lions’ wild card loss was that of a man who desperately wants to start winning. Green Bay offers the best chance to get paid, win some games, and keep on tearing up NFC north interior O-lines while doing so.
Use the remaining $4 Million to resign own depth players, and build through the draft otherwise.
In the Draft:
Mock drafts don’t actually tell us that much, but we’ll use them as our best way to get a sense of who’s going to be around come the 30th pick. Both of the ESPN experts have the Packers selecting Jordan Phillips, a DT out of Oklahoma, but we covered that need pretty well with the Suh signing, so we’ll look for the best player available who fills a need. Fortunately, in most mocks, Minnesota TE Maxx Williams isn’t coming off of the board until early in the second, so we can grab him here. Williams has the athleticism to win one on one battles and the game speed to get up the seam, which will dissuade defenses from focusing too much on Nelson and Cobb, like the Patriots and Seahawks found success doing during critical games last season. In the later rounds, depth in the linebacking corps and behind Suh will help a team low on run defenders, but it’s hard to project specific players after the first round when we’re still this far out.
Outlook going into next year:
Coming out of this proposed offseason, the Packers are still a team built around an elite quarterback and some ideal complementary pieces on offense, but between Suh, Clay Matthews, and a possibly burgeoning star in HaHa Clinton-Dix, there are enough disruptive forces on this defense to get out ahead in games and protect those leads. Teams win Super Bowls with impact players on both sides of the ball, and Suh certainly adds to the Packers’ existing core.
 Ricky Jean Francious, Arthur Jones, Cory Redding, Greg Toler, Eric Walden, and D’Qwell Jackson all played significant snaps in the AFCCG where Indy couldn’t stop a Patriots offense revolving around a midseason pickup at running back.
 Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, and Darrell Revis have all been central contributors on some of Belichick’s best teams.
 Charles Woodson remains the only defensive Heisman winner, and Julius Peppers was a rare breed of prospect.
 The QB rating of Green Bay passers when targeting a giver WR.
 Percent of pass block snaps with no sacks, hits, or hurries allowed.
 Gosder Cherilus, Andre Smith, Sebastian Vollmer, and Phil Loadholt led the OT class with deals of 4 or 5 years for $6 to $7 Million a year.
 % of pass rushing snaps that result in pressure, with added weight for sacks.