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Is this the right time to spend wildly in free agency?

Posted Jan 8, 2014

Threat of franchise tag can help contract negotiations


Justin from Belvidere, IL

How well do you think this year’s rookie class did?

Eddie Lacy, David Bakhtiari and Micah Hyde were home runs, especially when you consider that each player performed above the expectations for the round in which he was drafted. Johnathan Franklin showed us a glimpse of what he can do and first-round pick Datone Jones, as Tony Pauline predicted, needs time to learn to play the Okie end. Now we wait to see what the contributions will be from JC Tretter, Josh Boyd, Nate Palmer and Sam Barrington. As it stands right now, this is one of the best draft classes in the NFL.

Brannon from Greenville, SC

Vic, enough of the negative and the failures of an injury-depleted defense. What positives should the fans take away from this season?

The Packers found a running game that had been missing since 2009 and was causing critics to make snide remarks about the Packers’ toughness. Eddie Lacy gave the Packers a new-found toughness in 2013. He was the running back nobody wanted to tackle. Tell me that doesn’t make you feel good.

Alex from Shorewood, WI

“By the way, Aldon Smith was a college defensive end, and I think he has lateral speed and swivel hips to turn on a dime in pursuit, and it’s working for the 49ers.” OK, Vic, let’s go to our 3-4 OLB tree and get one for ourselves.

The chance you might find one is a lot higher than it is for finding a 4-3, pass-rushing defensive end. James Harrison came off the OLB tree.

TE Andrew Quarless

Mark from Canton, GA

Vic, do you see the Packers using the franchise tag on any of their free agents this year? If so, who are your top three for that, and would you agree or disagree with them using the tag on someone from this crop?

I like the franchise tag when it’s applied to a player at a position with an affordable franchise tag, and who you desperately want to retain. For example, tight end is an affordable franchise-tag position, but center isn’t because centers are effectively paid at the level of the top five left tackles in the league. As I think you can detect, Andrew Quarless’ performance in the second half of the season makes him a player I would certainly like to retain.

Derek from Milwaukee, WI

Why are the Packers so cheap? They continue to try and build a team around undrafted, off-the-street players year after year. Pay them bare minimum and expect them to be and play lights out. Why are you satisfied with the same result every year? Vic, you are GM, what do you do now?

I continue doing exactly what I have been doing because the cap is your friend. If you take care of the cap, the cap will take care of you. Just draft, baby.

Nick from Toronto, Ontario

Look into your crystal ball. Of the soon-to-be-unrestricted-free-agents on the Packers right now, who are the most likely to stay and who are most likely to leave?

I’d have to know the Packers’ evaluations of those players to be able to answer your question. Start with this: They can’t keep them all. I suspect they’re going to lose the majority of their UFAs, and that would mean we’re headed for a significant turnover this year. Quarless is obviously a player I’d like to see the Packers retain, and I think the franchise tag gives the Packers the ammunition to do that. The mere threat of it could help drive a new deal, which would then allow the tag to be applied affordably somewhere else. James Starks is an absolute keeper, in my opinion. He and Lacy have a 1-2 thing going on and after so much inconsistency in the first three years of Starks’ career, he became “Mr. Dependable” in 2013; don’t quit on him now. Retaining Matt Flynn, which I think the Packers can do affordably, would allow the Packers to apply a draft pick that might be used on a quarterback to another position. I think Evan Dietrich-Smith wants to re-sign here and would be accommodating; the same goes for Johnny Jolly and John Kuhn. Then it starts to get pricey and difficult. B.J. Raji and Sam Shields seem determined to test the waters. James Jones would require tying up a lot of cap space at the receiver position. Every team is facing the same kinds of decisions.

Jason from Dillsburg, PA

Shaming Kuhn for his leap during the playoff game is just sad, Vic. Am I the only one who thinks the “Shame Report” is only fueling the culture of anger and needs to go?

Don’t overreact to that kind of stuff. Don’t be so sensitive. That would be my advice to all fans. What happened to John Kuhn was humorous. We need to be able to laugh at ourselves and at each other. To be able to fully enjoy this game, we need to be able to find the enjoyment in all of its happenings. I get tons of email hating on Jim Harbaugh. Don’t let his personality irritate you. Find the fun in it. He’s the entertainer, you’re the entertained. The same goes for a failed Lambeau Leap. It’s not shameful, it’s flavorful. If I was Kuhn, I’d try to market that failed leap. I have to believe it’s worth a commercial endorsement somewhere in Packerland.

Chris from Nashua, NH

Vic, things come and go in cycles. Do you see a return of a running game to the NFL?

We saw a return of the running game in Green Bay, but the running game didn’t fare as well leaguewide this season. Rushing yards are down. There were only 13 thousand-yard rushers this season. That means more than half the league didn’t have a thousand-yard rusher.

DE Datone Jones

Armin from Tiruchengode, Tamil Nadu

Vic, we are good at drafting, but look at the last three first-round picks: Sherrod, Perry, Jones; no one justifies the first-round pick. I know, Sherrod was injured and Jones needs time. Why are our late-round draft picks good, but first round not?

You answered your own question: Derek Sherrod played briefly this year for the first time since he broke his leg late in the 2011 season. Datone Jones needs time. Nick Perry has had his first two seasons compromised by injuries. Hey, didn’t everybody wanna quit on James Starks? How about Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller? Did he need time? Pittsburgh’s Cameron Heyward had a breakout year in 2013, after looking like a bust in his first two seasons. Drafting is not a science, especially when you’re picking down near the bottom of the order. The expectations for first-round picks are through the roof. If Perry was a seventh-round pick, you’d be delighted with his four sacks. What if all three of those guys stay healthy next season and their careers begin to blossom? Would they have been worth the wait? Do we really have a choice other than to be patient and wait?

Alan from Albuquerque, NM

Vic, Cobb was catching the ball with his hands as if it was 70 degrees. Why wasn’t he more involved with the offense? It just seemed like he was the hot player.

Aaron Rodgers will find the open man; you can count on that. Based on the fact Randall Cobb was only targeted twice, and based on the way the 49ers jumped Cobb on that run, I have a feeling he was a focus of their defense’s attention.

Michael from Fort Lewis, WA

Vic, it seems like everyone on the field has a one-on-one to win except the quarterback. Where’s the human confrontation at that position?

It’s him against the world. As Joe Namath said, “We’re the trophy.”

Richard from El Cerrito, CA

Vic, please ask Tony Pauline for his thoughts on safeties in the draft. It’s a glaring need.

That’s for two weeks from now, at the Senior Bowl. We’ll begin defining position strength then. I can tell you last year was a great year for safeties. Maybe the Packers drafted one. Building a roster is like building a house. You do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and it all comes together in the end.

Jim from Fairview Heights, IL

What would you do as GM, spend money in free agency or spend your money selectively re-signing our own free agents?

I would spend as recklessly as I could in free agency, acquiring talent for a this-is-it run at the Super Bowl in 2014. Hey, Aaron Rodgers isn’t getting any younger. We need to maximize our return on having a quarterback of his greatness. I’d restructure contracts and push money out to make room for free-agent signings in 2014. I’d re-sign my own guys and sign everybody else’s guys, too. Why would I do that? Because it’s a proven formula for success. I’m sorry, Jim, I couldn’t resist. At this point in time, your free agents really aren’t your free agents any longer. Re-signing them will be costly. You have to be smart about it and accepting of the fact that you’re going to lose some guys you want to keep, but they’ll also bring you some compensatory picks you can spend on new, young players.

Scott from Lincoln City, OR

Vic, I’ve tried asking this question many times and in many different ways but you keep avoiding it. Wouldn’t it have been better to be down seven points with a minute remaining and the ball in Rodgers’ hands? If you still don’t want to give an answer, would you at least give a reason why?

The reason I avoided answering it was to save you the embarrassment of having asked it. With a minute remaining, the ball was at the Packers' 22-yard line. Had they allowed the 49ers to score a touchdown from there, the embarrassment this franchise would’ve sustained for such a submissive strategy would’ve had, in my opinion, a long-term damaging effect.

Stephen from Cameron Park, CA

Vic, do you have an eye on anyone in the draft that would fit well with the Packers?

Not yet. I’ll start liking guys at the Senior Bowl. Datone Jones and Johnathan Franklin were guys I liked at the Senior Bowl last year, but I remember wondering out loud if Jones could play the Okie end, and I remember Tony Pauline telling me Jones had the power to do it, but it would take him time to adjust his skills accordingly.

Dave from Newcastle, Australia

What do you think about picking up Jairus Byrd?

Byrd played under the franchise tag this past year. If the Bills tag him again, Byrd will be paid at 120 percent of his previous year’s salary, which would cost the Bills about $8.3 million in 2014. That’s pricey but it might still be under what Byrd could get in free agency. He wants the big sting in guaranteed money on a long-term contract, which causes me to believe the Bills will still threaten to tag Byrd again, with the hope it’ll allow them to re-sign him to a cap-friendly contract. My point is that everybody should temper their enthusiasm for possible free agents until the tag deadline passes.

Paul from Portland, OR

Vic, when we look back on this season, do you think we’ll look at it as a season of insurmountable injuries?

I will remember it for Eddie Lacy’s emergence, Aaron Rodgers’ injury and dramatic return, the comeback in Dallas, the big play in Chicago and a great playoff game against a powerful 49ers team.


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