Will Richards, DLD Writer
What’s going on in Packerland is a question that everyone, even fans of the Packers would like to know. There hasn’t been a solid report out of Green Bay about the team’s off-season plans yet, and past history indicates that there won’t be one. Without any inside sources, it’s only possible to look at the entire situation broadly and come up with a logical prediction of what the team will do. Going over the team’s salary structure and previous handlings of the cap by the current administration, the Packers offseason strategy will revolve around getting their own players locked up for the foreseeable future.
The Packers are currently sitting with 7 million dollars in unallocated cap money heading into the offseason. Additionally, they will have the option to roll over 7 million dollars in unused cap space from last season. A little more than half of this excess cash will go into the signing of draft picks. The other half is what’s going to be news-worthy.
The Packers almost never let the Unrestricted Free Agents they wish to retain, hit the open market. They’re so paranoid about getting into a bidding war that the Packers like to get players resigned the off-season before the player becomes a Free Agent, a full year before it’s required. Only Jermichael Finley and his bizarre situation ever truly came close to leaving Green Bay and then ended up returning.
It’s this behavioral history that indicates Greg Jennings isn’t going to be a Packer in 2013. He’s an unrestricted Free Agent and there hasn’t been a whisper of a renegotiation occurring between his agent and the Packers. Scott Wells and Cullen Jenkins are two big names who reached this point in recent seasons for the Packers and they’re playing for the Rams and Eagles respectively. When asked if he was going to back in Green Bay in 2013, he responded with “I’m gonna lean to the ‘no’ side of it. That’s my educated guess, my personal educated guess.” Jennings has gone so far as to put his house in Green Bay on the open market. It seems almost a foregone conclusion that he will be joining it there shortly.
What the Packers will do in the face of Jennings’ departure remains to be seen. They’re not hurting at WR with Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Randall Cobb all being fully capable players; Jennings only started 5 games because of injury this year and the offense contentedly put up the 5th most points in the league. The issue at receiver comes with depth. With Donald Driver’s retirement and Greg Jennings’ imminent departure, the current #4 receiver is Jarret Boykin who entered 2012 as an undrafted rookie. It would seem likely that the Packers will select a receiver at some point in the draft.
There’s another big question with one of Aaron Rodgers’ weapons, and that’s what is going to happen with Jermichael Finley. Finley was resigned last off-season to a two-year “prove-it” contract. His first half of the year was awful, marred with horrible hands and pathetic effort as a blocker. Then, an article came out in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel saying “Sources familiar with the Packers’ thinking say the club not only wants to get rid of Finley but has decided to do exactly that in the off-season.” Apparently the public announcement served as a kick in the pants, because from that day forward, Finley looked like a different player. He was catching the ball, and trying as a blocker. Mike McCarthy himself said that Finley, “Seemed like a different man from the bye week on” and felt that he “Felt very good about the way (Finley) finished the year.”
If his late season surge was enough for the Packers to feel comfortable retaining him for the last year of his deal is a question that remains. Cutting or trading Finley would clear up 8.25 million dollars that could be spent elsewhere, but there also isn’t a replacement in the draft that wouldn’t be a large step down from what Finley offers in the short term. The Packers are a contending team and taking a significant step back at a position is something that they probably would like to avoid.
The final big name that will need to take a significant pay-cut to remain a Packer is Charles Woodson. Woodson has a 2013 cap number of 10 million dollars. There’s simply no way to reconcile that number with his actual on field performance. This year he was expected to split his time between Nickel Corner and Safety, but standout rookie Casey Hayward took his Nickel Corner spot very quickly. Woodson also suffered another collar bone break, similar to the one he suffered in the Super Bowl two years ago, and was only able to play in 7 games. He’ll be 37 next season, and his body seems to be breaking down. He certainly isn’t the same player, as father time seems to have robbed him of his speed and quickness. All of these factors will weigh in to what the Packers believe is a fair contract for Woodson. If Woodson doesn’t agree with that number, it will be decision time for Woodson because it would be shocking if he was playing in Green Bay with his current cap number.