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Packers stand pat on first day of free agency

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By Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 12, 2014

 

On the first day of NFL free agency, when players flew off the shelves like TVs on Black Friday, the Green Bay Packers weren't shopping.

They were just trying to keep what they already had.

As free agency kicked off, the Packers were mostly monitoring the comings and goings of their own free agents and figuring how much of their $27.3 million in salary cap space they were willing to spend to retain them.

Their biggest concern might be the trip unrestricted free-agent center Evan Dietrich-Smith took to Tampa Bay to visit with the Buccaneers. The Packers have made it clear they want Dietrich-Smith back, but they apparently haven't met his price.

Dietrich-Smith's agent, Brian Parker, confirmed his client was on his way to Tampa, but he refused to characterize what it meant for the center's future. It very well could be an opportunity to feel out the Buccaneers to see if it's somewhere Dietrich-Smith would want to go or a move to put pressure on the Packers to meet his demands.

Parker would not say where things stand with the Packers.

While Dietrich-Smith was in the air to Tampa, tight end Jermichael Finley was flying to Seattle to meet with the Seahawks. The free-agent tight end who underwent cervical fusion surgery is set to meet with the Super Bowl champions and undergo a physical.

The No. 1 question with Finley this off-season is his medical situation.

Last month, Finley's camp was optimistic that the fusion would heal solidly and he'd be cleared to play again. Seattle apparently will have the first look at his condition.

Finley underwent single-level fusion surgery at the C-3, C-4 level after a scary collision Oct. 20 against the Cleveland Browns. Since then, he has rehabbed and trained to return to the field. Any team that considers signing him will have to be convinced he isn't in danger of another critical neck trauma.

There was no news on several other players the Packers are actively trying to re-sign. Nose tackle B.J. Raji and tight end Andrew Quarless were still without contracts and very little information was being leaked about their future.

Wide receiver James Jones, linebacker Mike Neal, fullback John Kuhn, end Ryan Pickett, running back James Starks and end C.J. Wilson are others who probably will be part of the second and third waves of free agency.

In the meantime, players many fans wanted the Packers to sign, including two defensive ends the team did consider briefly, Oakland's Lamarr Houston and Baltimore's Arthur Jones, signed big-money deals with Chicago and Indianapolis, respectively.

Houston signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the Bears and Jones signed a five-year, $33 million deal with the Colts.

As for safety, a position the Packers need to address, several of the top free agents were gone by late Tuesday evening.

Buffalo's Jarius Byrd, the top-rated safety, signed a six-year, $54 million deal with New Orleans. In addition, Cleveland's T.J. Ward signed a four-year, $23 million deal with Denver, Carolina's Mike Mitchell signed a five-year, $25 million with Pittsburgh and New Orleans' Malcolm Jenkins signed a three-year, $16.25 million deal with Philadelphia.

The Packers did secure one of their free agents: linebacker Jamari Lattimore, a restricted free agent who just a week ago was under the impression the Packers were not going to issue him a qualifying offer, thereby rendering him a street free agent.

The Packers were going to try to sign him to a cheaper deal than the $1.431 million minimum qualifying offer it takes to retain a restricted free agent's rights. But a league source said former Packers personnel executives John Dorsey of the Kansas City Chiefs and Reggie McKenzie of the Oakland Raiders—among others—were very interested in Lattimore.

Armed with that knowledge, general manager Ted Thompson changed his tune and went ahead and submitted the $1.431 million offer. Lattimore still can shop himself around, but the Packers can match any offer.

The Packers used the lowest qualifying offer, which sets the compensation at a draft pick equal to the round the player originally was selected. Because Lattimore was not drafted, no compensation would have to be given.

It's unlikely anyone will make an offer given the Packers can match it.

Lattimore ranked seventh on the team in special teams tackles with five but is considered a key player on those units. He played in 15 games and started four, filling in for inside linebacker Brad Jones when he missed time with a hamstring injury.

At 6 feet 2 inches and 230 pounds, Lattimore plays fast and with aggression, but he sometimes got lost in coverage and wasn't always in the right place on running downs. He totaled 38 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble while playing 23.6% of the defensive snaps.

Lattimore is quiet, but several players pointed to his charged halftime speech in Dallas as the reason the Packers were able to make their season-saving, second-half comeback.

The Packers did not make a qualifying offer to safety M.D. Jennings, despite the fact he was a 16-game starter. Jennings played 75% of the snaps and had 79 tackles with one sack, no interceptions and one forced fumble. Late in the year, Sean Richardson stole snaps from Jennings and next season slot corner Micah Hyde may see some time at safety.

It's not clear whether the Packers will try to re-sign Jennings. It's pretty much a given they will take a safety in the draft, but it might not be one expected to start right away.

The Packers' only expenditures in free agency have been the signing of cornerback Sam Shields and the offer to Lattimore. Shields' contract numbers became available Monday and, according to a source with access to NFL Players Association data, the deal was as reported—four years for $39 million, including a $12.5 million signing bonus.

The four-year deal features a $2.5 million roster bonus in 2015 and $500,000 roster bonuses each year, which are divided into 16 parts and awarded each game in which Shields is on the active roster.

The signing bonus is the only guaranteed portion of the contract.

Shields' salary cap numbers are as follows: $5.562,500 in '14, $9.125 million in '15 and $12.125 million in '16 and '17.

Shields' base salaries are $1.5 million in '14, $2.5 million in '15, $8 million in '16 and $8 million in' 17.

He also has $500,000 workout bonuses in each of the four years of the deal.

Shields' per year average is $9.75 million, which puts him third on the team behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers ($22 million) and linebacker Clay Matthews ($13.2 million).

After the Shields and Lattimore deals, the Packers are $27.3 million under the salary cap. They started the week $34.4 million under, which at the time ranked sixth in the NFL in available space. They may move up the rankings because of all the spending going on around them.

 



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