By: Matt Bove
The Green Bay Packers have a ton of important players that are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next offseason.
Among those players are B.J. Raji, Sam Shields, Jermichael Finley, James Jones, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and Evan Dietrich-Smith. All of those players have performed very well over the first two games of the season and it will be tough to keep all of them.
Raji, Pickett and Jolly for the defensive line for the base defense that has been very physical and stout against the run. Alfred Morris did gain 108 yards on Sunday, but most of that was in the second half with the game out of reach. The Packers held Frank Gore to 44 yards on 21 carries against a very physical offensive line.
Raji will command by far the most money out of the three and is said to be seeking a deal worth around $9 million or $10 million. It has been rumored that Raji is Ted Thompson's first priority and that there have been negotiations taken place.
With everything being equal Raji is the best player out of the remaining free agents, but at that high price I would be a little weary. That high of contract is for the likes of guys like Geno Atkins and Haloti Ngata and Raji just has not performed at their level consistently. Also, his work ethic has been rumored to be sketchy, and that could rear its ugly head with a big money deal. Thompson loves big body athletes and the nose tackle is a critical position in the 3-4 defense, so he might feel differently.
Pickett and Jolly are likely to welcome the opportunity to come back for little money. At age 34, Pickett is about winning and his big family, so I doubt that he would want to go anywhere else. Even at his advanced age he is still fantastic against the run taking up double teams. Considering the faith that the Packers have shown in Jolly you would figure he would reciprocate that in his contract if the Packers want to re-sign him.
Shields is pretty much essential to re-sign in my eyes. Cornerbacks are so valuable and especially corners that can cover in man because they are becoming a rare bread nowadays. Shields still gets a little lackadaisical in zone, but his man coverage has been excellent and his tackling and physicality is much improved. He may be the Packers' best corner right now.
Finely and Jones had both performed well through two games. Even though Jones was shutout against San Francisco his stats against Washington would be considered good for two games. Jones had 11 catches for 178 yards. He has developed into a very reliable receiver who may not be very fast, but he still breaks a ton of tackles after the catch and now has very good hands.
Finley seems like he has turned a corner, as he has 11 catches for 121 yards and two touchdown in the first two games. He has been a monster to try to bring down after the catch, as Aaron Rodgers has found him open in the flats and has let him run over people. 59 of Finley's 65 yards came after the catch vs. Washington.
Finley is still huge for drawing coverage and now seems to be finding the athleticism that it looked like he lost after knee surgery. Losing him in free agency would be a much bigger loss than people realize. Right now there is no proven tight end on the roster that can step up and do the things that Finley does.
The NFL's $123 million salary cap is not expected to go up much in the near future, which hurts the Packers. They will also have Rodgers and Clay Matthews taking up a combined $29 million of the cap next year.
Obviously, all of these decisions are for this offseason, but the Packers are likely to give somebody an in season extension since they are $10.89 million below the salary cap. It is also significant that all of these players are playing well this year and it should help that team this year that so many important players are playing for contracts. I am sure we will be revisiting this subject in the near future.