It’s hard to realistically prioritize which free agents are worth pursuing. I agree with many of you who are more concerned right now with getting Jennings and Collins re-signed first. (I might throw Tauscher in there too). Those are things that should happen asap so that we have a better idea for how much cap room we will really have going into this off-season. Anyway here is the most comprehensive list of 2009 free agents I have come across. Below is my attempt to prioritize:
- Shane Lechler – it is a rare, rare opportunity to be able to sign one of the best punters in NFL history. I say take it. We all saw Mike Scifres almost win the San Diego/Indy game by himself. Lechler is even better and his ability to give opposing teams worse field position could significantly help the defense succeed.
- Julius Peppers – I share some of the concerns about Peppers’ attitude, and his vanishing act in 2007 can’t be forgotten. But his 5 forced fumbles and 14.5 sacks in 2008 can’t be ignored either – not to mention his overall ability to make offenses have to game-plan around him. I think Peppers may have a bit of Randy Moss syndrome – taking plays off etc. But both are just so talented – I think he’s at least worth pursuing. (There are new rumors out there that indicate because Carolina fired their D-Line coach and may can their d-coordinator, they are trying desperately to do whatever they can to keep Peppers.)
- James Farrior ILB, Pitt – Farrior is one of the unsung studs in the Pitt LB group. He is very solid, very smart and a sure tackler (had 133 tackles in 2008 regular season). As an older veteran, he likely would not demand the huge contract others will, he could bring some veteran leadership and he would know the 3-4 inside and out.
- Terrell Suggs OLB/DE, Balt – Suggs is a great pass rusher and an instinctive player. His addition would add instant credibility to our defense. Think for a moment if somehow the Pack could field a defense including Suggs, Peppers, Kampman and Jenkins – opposing QBs would be terrified.
- OJ Atogwe, FS, Rams – Atogwe is likely going to get the franchise tag because he’s that good. While Bigby may have potential, Atogwe is already an elite safety and having a secondary of Collins, Woodson, Atogwe and Harris would make passing against the Pack brutally difficult.
- Matt Birk – Birk has been a leader for the Vikings for years and is still one of the better centers in the NFL. He would be an upgrade over Wells, allow Spitz to focus on being a guard and help Rodgers develop as an offensive leader.
- Karlos Dansby, ILB Cards – Dansby is a good player, not great yet, but still good. But he is young, plays in a 3-4 and there are some who believe it’s just a matter of time before he becomes a Pro Bowler.
- Ray Lewis – rumors are that Balt is close to re-signing him and keeping him there to end his career. If they don’t sign him, Ray Lewis remains one of the best LBs in football and his leadership could really be useful for this team.
- Albert Haynesworth, DT, Tenn – I put Haynesworth and Lewis down at the bottom here because “my source” (what I read 10 minutes ago in a public source everyone has access to) indicates that both are likely to re-sign with their present teams. If either ends up being available, I do think we ought to consider signing one of them.
Generally speaking (or generally writing I suppose is more approrpiate), going into this off-season I think it’s very important that the Pack acquire at least one free agent LB who has experience in the 3-4. I also think bringing in a strong D-lineman ought to be a priority – though we may need to look to the draft more for this as the pool of free agent d-linemen is a bit thin outside of Peppers/Haynesworth. I also wouldn’t be opposed to looking specifically at USC LB Ray Maualuga as reader Pmenadue advocates. The guy is a stud. (A decent 2nd or 3rd round pick if he’s still available would be James Laurinaitis from Ohio State – I know many Packer fans may be reluctant to try another OSU LB, but I think this guy will be better than Hawk).
One early draft fear I do have is that TT will stubbornly stick to his “best player available” philosophy when we so clearly need help at certain positions (o-line, d-line, lb, possibly secondary). We need to draft for need this year.