Looking Back at 6 Possible Packers Free Agent Signings

Packers beat writer Bob McGinn put Ted Thompson on blast this weekend, sounding off on Thompson’s player acquisition strategy.

There’s a lot to like about what McGinn has to say, but as he always does, he picks some unusual things to complain about. In this article, he lists six players the Packers could have acquired over the past year or so, stating “Those are just a few of the many possibilities, and don’t tell me it’s second guessing.”

Okay, first of all, it absolutely IS second guessing. Listing alternative possibilities after the fact is the literal definition of second guessing. But that’s fine. General managers deserve to get second guessed now and then, and Thompson’s reticence in free agency has left the Packers with holes on offense and defense, and McGinn does bring up some good points.

Let’s take a quick look at his six alternative moves the Packers could have made, and how they may have panned out.

Running back Matt Forte went from the Bears to the Jets on March 9 for $9 million guaranteed. He gained 1,076 yards from scrimmage before his season ended in December with knee cartilage damage.

I was a big advocate for Forte at the time, but I’m not sure McGinn has a strong case here in hindsight. Forte was relatively effective, but he averaged 3.7 yards per carry this season, his lowest average since 2009. The dumpster fire that was this year’s New York Jets may have had something to do with that, but I don’t know if Forte justified his contract regardless. I think the Packers were just fine without Forte in 2016.

Tight end Vernon Davis went from the Broncos to the Redskins on April 1 for $1.1 million guaranteed. He caught 44 passes for 583 yards (13.3) and two touchdowns.

McGinn has an unusual fascination with Vernon Davis. I don’t fully understand it. He brought Davis up before the Packers played Washington, and I think he was wrong then and is still wrong now. Counting the playoffs, Jared Cook had 42 catches for 551 yards and two touchdowns. He was at least as good as Davis, and unless McGinn thinks the Packers should have signed both, I’m not sure what his point is.

Running back LeGarrette Blount re-signed with the Patriots on April 12 for $100,000 guaranteed. He carried 299 times for 1,161 yards (3.9) and 18 TDs.

This might be McGinn’s strongest argument. Though he’s a similar player to Eddie Lacy, Blount would have ultimately been a vastly superior backup to James Starks, who signed a two year, $6 million dollar deal last spring. Though Blount wasn’t great by any means and probably benefitted from a more power-oriented offense in New England, it’s hard to think he wouldn’t have been an upgrade over Starks, who seemed lost all year.

Pass rusher Dwight Freeney signed with Atlanta on Aug. 4 for $500,000 guaranteed. He might be the Falcons’ second-best rusher with 20-plus pressures.

McGinn’s case for Freeney is weak, but his conclusion is sound. The Packers dramatically overestimated their pass rushers outside of Nick Perry and Julius Peppers. Clay Matthews was no help this year (for a variety of reasons), and if Freeney could have given the Packers anything at all, it would have been an upgrade over Kyler Fackrell and perhaps even Datone Jones.

Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel was awarded to the Falcons off waivers from the Browns on Sept. 4. He has 41 catches for 674 yards (16.4) and six TDs.

If the Packers couldn’t get anything out of Trevor Davis, I don’t think that Gabriel would have fared much better. That’s not really a knock on Gabriel or Ted Thompson, but an acknowledgement that Mike McCarthy is really inflexible in how he uses players. Sure, Gabriel may have been productive, but I’m not sure the Packers were a good landing spot for him. I feel comfortable giving the Packers a pass on this one, but McGinn’s overriding point that the team could have done more to upgrade its receivers is valid.

Versatile linebacker Jamie Collins was acquired by the Browns in a trade with the Patriots on Oct. 31 for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018. In eight games, he had 69 tackles and two sacks. Last week, he signed a four-year extension with $26.4 million guaranteed.

Much like Freeney, I’m not sold on Collins as a player but I support him as a concept, if that makes sense. The Packers needed more pass rushers and versatility in their linebacking corps. Collins could have provided that.

All in all, I’m not sure these are the best examples McGinn could have used, but I think his larger point rings true: the Packers have left options on the table when it comes to putting their best team on the field, and they may find themselves struggling at key positions if they choose only to acquire players one weekend a year.

Jon Meerdink