In light of the beginning of a new league year, and with it, another period of free agency less than two months away, I figured now is as good of a time as any to look back upon the Packers’ free agency transactions from last offseason. 2017 will go down not only as Ted Thompson‘s last full offseason as general manager, but also as one of his most aggressive summers. With long-time contributors such as T.J. Lang, Eddie Lacy, and Micah Hyde leaving, Ted dipped his hand into the free agent market more often than usual, signing a whopping eight players from other squads. While Packers fans have been clamoring for more activity in free agency for years, 2017 was a great example of why it is in a team’s best interest to express extreme caution when signing unfamiliar guys to big money contracts. Let’s go back in time and recap the Packers’ key 2017 offseason moves.
The Packers lost a massive amount of 2016 playing time from all these players, which certainly played a role in Ted’s aggressive approach in free agency, as it was practically his only option in order to field a full roster for 2017. Many of these players leaving made sense, whether it be for injuries (Starks, Shields), or the shot at increased playing time elsewhere (Lacy, Tretter). In addition, it was a near foregone conclusion that Julius Peppers would not return as it sounded as though he was either going to retire or go back to the Carolina Panthers, where he played for eight seasons. The toughest blows from these departures are those felt by Lang, Hyde and Cook walking out the door. Lang’s situation was similar to that of Peppers‘; the then 29 year-old refused to comeback on a discount and made more money with the Detroit Lions, his hometown team. Hyde, the only Packers defensive back seemingly capable of making plays down the stretch in 2016 was allowed to walk for a reasonable 5-year, $30 million deal with Buffalo. He responded with his first Pro Bowl season, posting career highs in tackles (82) and interceptions (5). Jared Cook moved on to the Oakland Raiders, catching 54 passes for 688 yards and 2 touchdowns, which is the same amount of touchdowns and 61 more yards than what the Packers’ TE unit as a whole was able to produce. While the additions of Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks initially appeared to offset the loss of Cook, we all know how Bennett’s saga turned out, and keeping Cook at his current deal in Oakland (2 years, $10.6 million) could’ve been a huge offseason win. Overall, the two most difficult losses were Hyde and Cook, along with T.J. Lang and Julius Peppers at more of a lesser extent due to their age.
The highlight of this free agency class at the time was, without a doubt, the ex-Patriot Martellus Bennett. Bennett, paired with the ultra-athletic Lance Kendricks, would finally give the Packers playmakers at the tight end position they haven’t seen since Jermichael Finley. Unfortunately, things never worked out this way, as both Bennett and Kendricks suffered through a case of the drops, and Bennett was cut midway through the season after ‘failing to disclose a medical condition’. While neither Bennett nor the Packers will ever come out and say it, many believe that Bennett quit on the Packers after Aaron Rodgers‘ collarbone injury, and therefore the Packers decided to cut bait and try to salvage what they can from his signing bonus. Making matters worse was the fact that Green Bay signed Bennett to a 3-year, $21 million deal, a much larger financial commitment than what Oakland gave Jared Cook. Ted Thompson also made some moves to acquire more veteran leadership for the defense, bringing back House, who spent his first four seasons donning the green and gold, as well as signing two former 49er’s in Dial and Brooks. House spent most of the season playing through injury, and when he was healthy he was routinely burned by opposing wide receivers. However, it’s impossible to say whether or not he made a more positive impact in the locker room as the most experienced cornerback in a young position group. Dial played respectably all season as run-stopper for the Packers’ defensive line, while Brooks added value as well in the run game. Unfortunately, Brooks wasn’t able to replicate Peppers’ production in the pass-rushing department, as the 12-year veteran posted only 1.5 sacks compared to Peppers’ 11. Ricky Jean Francois was another attempt by Thompson to fortify the defensive line, but he did not last long, getting cut not once, but twice over the first half of the regular season before leaving for New England, where he will be playing in Super Bowl 52 this upcoming weekend. Finally, Thompson made a couple savvy moves to help reinforce his offensive line in lieu of both Lang and Tretter leaving, and these are the moves that helped save his final offseason as general manager from being a complete failure. Evans was signed one week before the start of the draft as a stop-gap replacement at right guard, Lang’s old position, and played in 14 games at the age of 35, only resting once the Packers were eliminated from playoff contention. The Evans addition was an absolute steal, as he absolutely outplayed his 1 year, $2.25 million deal and helped ease the loss of Pro Bowler T.J. Lang. McCray, was also a solid addition to the line. Projected by many to not make the final 53-man roster, he not only exceeded expectations by starting in 8 games but played well enough to be in contention for a starting spot on the offensive line heading into 2018.
Overall, 2017 was a great example of why Ted rarely ever ventured into big-name free agency, as Martellus Bennett was a complete fiasco. Factoring in the underwhelming production from Kendricks, Jean Francois, Brooks and House, the Packers did a rather poor job in replacing talent lost from Cook and Hyde. The only real winning moves from this past offseason were the offensive line additions in Evans and McCray, and allowing Lacy to walk at the price tag of his 1-year, $4.25 million deal.
All contract info courtesy of Spotrac.com, and all statistics courtesy of ESPN.com.