Now that Randall Cobb is safely in the fold, it is time to turn our attention to the top remaining Green Bay Packers free agents.
If not signed by Tuesday at 4 PM, they become fair game for any club looking to throw money their way. For the Green Bay Packers it means that they team must decide which of their own 14 FA will be offered contracts.
The top remaining unrestricted free agents for the team are generally agreed to be: Right Offensive Tackle Bryan Bulaga and cornerbacks, Tramon Williams and Devon House.
The Packers had about $32.5 M to spend prior to the Cobb signing– the 10th highest of any team entering free agency according to the web site Over The Cap.
Today we make the case for the one unrestricted free agent the team MUST re-sign.
The Skinny: Age – 26. Pro Football Focus has Bulaga rated the #4 right tackle in the league with +1.9 overall rating for the just completed 2014 season (very good). ESPN’s #11 overall top free agent regardless of position. Also Pro Football Focus’ number 11 overall free agent.
What will he cost the team: A four to five-year contract in the neighborhood of $7M – $8M per year with upwards of $12M – $15 guaranteed money.
The Rumors: The Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins and Indianapolis Colts are said to be very interested in pursuing Bulaga in the early stages of free agency.
Why he may not be back: Bulaga is arguably the best offensive tackle on the free agent market and there will be robust bidding for his services. Coming off a strong injury free season, Bulaga is technique-sound, athletic and could project to the left tackle position as he has done in the past. The Packers have a proven, albeit less talented, replacement in Don Barclay. He will surely garner a high compensatory draft pick in the 2016 draft should he sign for big money elsewhere.
Why he must be retained: The Good Lord only makes so many 6’5” 314 lbs. athletic and skilled human beings. Bulaga is one of them. The Packers’ offense ranked sixth in total yardage (386.1 per game) and first in scoring (30.4) while the front five started 17 of 18 games together. Together, David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Corey Linsley, T.J. Lang and Bulaga formed one of the best front five in the league and best Packers unit since the superb unit from 2004. He is tight with his fellow OL mates and has expressed a strong desire to stay in Green Bay.
The Skinny: Age – 32. He led all Packers cornerbacks in tackles per snap – one every 6.7 – while missing only 9. Still very athletic and in superb physical condition, Williams has said he feels that he has four more good years left in him. He is the number 19 free agent overall, and the number 9 corner according to Pro Football Focus.
What will he cost the team: a contract between 2-3 years, averaging $9M to $10m including $12M guaranteed money.
The Rumors: The Seattle Seahawks, looking at a certain loss of their own starting cornerback Byron Maxwell in FA, are said to be have Williams pegged as their top acquisition target.
Why he may not be back: He is the wrong side of 30 and some noted a dip in his play this past season. There are other younger versions of Williams to step into the starter’s role. As an accomplished starter he will be a prime target to plug a hole for a playoff-type team intent on taking the next step.
Why he must be retained: The steady Williams is a quiet locker room and field leader. He is the most reliable and durable corner the Packers have on the roster and most accomplished man defender on the team. Of the top 10 cornerbacks entering free agency, Williams played the second most snaps at 1032 and had a rating of +1.6 according to Pro Football Focus. He is fond of his team mates and the organization and is a model citizen.
The Skinny: Age – 25. House led all Packers CBs in passes defensed per snap (one every 36.8). He was not a starter but averaged 27 snaps per game before a fractured scapula knocked him out of games 13-16.
What will he cost the team: 3-4 years at $6M average per year and $8M – $10M in guaranteed money.
The Rumors: There is a quiet buzz about House among those teams looking for a starting physical press corner. He has not been tied to any one suitor but is rumored as the best second option if teams don’t land their primary CB.
Why he may not be back: House was quoted on Friday saying that he hasn’t heard anything from the Packers regarding his possible return. He has not been a starter, has had injury problems and there are capable replacements should he leave in FA with Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde and Demitri Goodson. Even if Williams does leave the team, there is no guarantee that House would replace him as the starter. He is rated the number seven cornerback by NFL.COM, ahead of number eight Tramon Williams.
Why he must be retained: He is young, can play press corner and he matches up well against larger more physical receivers. Corners who can play man coverage are the key to the 3-4 defense which Green Bay runs a majority of the time. He knows the system and the coaching staff seems to be comfortable with him. After grooming him in their system the past four seasons he is primed for a starting role. He is anxious to stay in Green Bay and is a good team-mate.
In deciding which one free agent that the Packers must sign, I assess current and future production as well as cost to retain their services and other intangibles.
The popular pick would be Bulaga. The cohesiveness of the Packers young and talented offensive line is key to continuing their dynamic offense and winning ways. Bulaga’ s backup, Don Barclay, is coming off a full year on injured reserve and a drop off in talent on the right side. The problem is that he is not their best offensive lineman and a contract topping $9M would send the wrong message to All Pro guard Josh Sitton and imperil the contract negotiations of TJ Lang after next season. The Packers cannot and should not grossly overpay for the oft-injured tackle.
Williams is still more than serviceable (in fact, he is their best cover corner) and the Packers are said not to have seen a drop-off despite his age. There is no proven backup to immediately step in and take his position. Where Williams indicates he has four more good years left, he certainly can be counted on for two. Signing him would solidify one of the better D-backfields in the league and keep him out of the hands of the rival Seattle Seahawks.
House is young, physical and gifted, but has not been able to win a starting job. In addition, there are capable back-ups waiting in the wings to compete for playing time. If the bidding gets out of hand, and I believe that it will, the Packers will not match nor should they.
It is for all the reasons above that Tramon Williams is the one unrestricted free agent that the Packers must sign and bring back into the fold for 2015 and beyond.——————
Jeff Albrecht grew up just north of Green Bay and was lucky enough to attend some of the Lombardi Era classic games, like the 1962 championship and the Ice Bowl. Jeff went on to play HS football in the Green Bay area and College ball at UW - Stevens Point. Jeff is retired but still does some writing for his local paper. Jeff is a writer with AllGreenBayPackers.com and you can follow him on twitter at @pointerjeff .