Barring an 11th-hour deal – and those are certainly possible, as they’ve happened before in Green Bay – the Packers have seven players who will become unrestricted free agents at 3 p.m. CT on Tuesday.
Once that time arrives, it doesn’t mean one or more of those players still won’t eventually re-sign with the Packers, but it does mean each of those players is free to negotiate with other teams.
Here’s the rundown on the group, with the first on the list being the most likely to leave Green Bay.
QB Matt Flynn
The seventh-round draft pick in 2008 will be attractive to quarterback-needy teams, and a reunion with former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin in Miami is considered to be a strong possibility.
It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, the Peyton Manning sweepstakes have on Flynn. Will Flynn wait until Manning signs somewhere to allow for the most possible suitors for his skills, or will a team that knows it’s not getting Manning step up with an offer Flynn can’t refuse before the Manning situation concludes?
C Scott Wells
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said after the season and at the scouting combine that he hopes things work out with Wells, who has been the Packers’ most consistent offensive lineman over the last two seasons, and the only one to start every game.
Wells, a seventh-round pick back in 2004, has been routinely praised for his “quarterbacking” of the offensive line with regard to protection calls and adjustments, and his value on the open market is as high as it could be with him coming off his first Pro Bowl selection.
Should he depart, the Packers will have three options to fill his spot: sign another veteran center in free agency (there are several candidates), groom backup Evan Dietrich-Smith to take over, or draft a replacement.
CB Jarrett Bush
Bush tested the market once before, three years ago, as a restricted free agent. He received an offer from Tennessee the Packers matched. Now, the six-year veteran and special teams ace will be unrestricted for the first time.
In each of his six seasons, Bush has recorded double digits in tackles on special teams, and he has ranked first, second or third on the team in that category four times. On defense, he has played mostly dime cornerback over the past two years when the Packers have gone to six defensive backs, and he’s been used at times as a slot blitzer. His role on defense also began to increase late last season, as he was worked into the nickel package on early downs.
RB Ryan Grant
The Packers’ situation at running back is in as much flux as any position. James Starks has been the feature back at times, but he hasn’t been fully healthy in either of his two seasons with the team. Alex Green, a third-round draft pick last year, will be coming off reconstructive knee surgery this season, and former undrafted free agent Brandon Saine carried the ball just 18 times as a rookie in 2011.
All that uncertainty could mean Grant comes back, but his scenario is similar to that of Wells and Bush – it will also depend on what he finds on the market as a free agent. With limited opportunities in 2011, Grant’s production was down throughout the middle portion of the season, but then it picked up down the stretch. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry (42 rushes, 243 yards) over the final four games of the regular season, a sign that, perhaps, he was finally fully recovered from his season-ending ankle injury in 2010.
DE Howard Green
Green played a significant role as a midseason pickup in 2010, helping the Packers win the Super Bowl, but his impact wasn’t as notable in 2011. With the Packers employing so much nickel defense, Green – a run-stuffer – played sparingly and recorded just 21 tackles, barely more than the 17 he had the previous year in half a regular season of action.
CB Pat Lee
A second-round pick in 2008, Lee hasn’t developed into the nickel or starting corner role envisioned for him, at least not yet. Injuries robbed him of most of his first two seasons, and the last two years he’s been behind Sam Shields and Bush on the cornerback depth chart while playing mostly on special teams. With 12 coverage tackles in 2011, Lee tied with Bush for first on the team.
LB Erik Walden
The starter at outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews most of last season, Walden had three sacks in the first 10 games but saw his production drop off down the stretch, and much of his playing time was then taken by Frank Zombo and Brad Jones. If Walden is brought back, he will have to win back his starting position, because there’s certainly nothing guaranteed at that spot right now.