For any team to lose seven free agents in one offseason, it has to be a shock to the system. For it to happen to a draft-and-develop team like the Green Bay Packers, it can be downright damaging.
So what happened in the first few weeks of free agency, when general manager Ted Thompson and contract negotiator Russ Ball watched T.J. Lang, Eddie Lacy, Jared Cook, JC Tretter, Datone Jones, Julius Peppers and Micah Hyde all leave for other teams?
“I think the reality is you can’t pay everybody,” Packers president Mark Murphy told reporters in Phoenix, where the NFL annual meetings were in full swing on Monday. “That [salary] cap is a hard cap, so you have to work within it. Each case is kind of unique.
“Obviously disappointed to lose some of the players we did this year, but I think Ted and Russ, you have to look at each player and what are you comfortable paying. There’s just certain players that other teams were willing to pay more than we thought was reasonable.”
That’s long how Thompson and Ball have done business. Typically they make up their minds about what they’re willing to pay a player, and if the market is higher, so be it. In the case of Lang, for example, their offer came in well below what the Detroit Lions gave the veteran right guard coming off his first Pro Bowl season. The Packers increased their offer slightly in the final hours but didn’t come up enough. In the case of other players, like Hyde, no offer was made.
The Packers haven’t lost this many free agents since 1999, when eight of their players signed with other teams. They had the same number of departures in 1998.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Thompson was unusually active, signing four veteran players off other teams, although only tight end Martellus Bennett was a true free agent. The other three -- tight end Lance Kendricks, cornerback Davon House and defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois -- were cut by their former teams and thus don’t count against the Packers in the compensatory-pick formula, which gives teams additional draft picks based on net losses in free agency.
It was Thompson’s most active free-agent signing year since 2006, his second offseason at the helm of the roster. That’s when he signed Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, Marquand Manuel and a few other, low-level free agents.
“It’s not that we’re opposed to bringing in players, but it has to be the right fit,” Murphy said. “I think Ted and Russ do a good job vetting the players we bring in. We’re excited about it -- I think bringing in four players, only one of them is a true free agent. The compensatory draft system is something where you can really help yourself, especially now being able to trade those. But again, the compensatory draft system doesn’t drive your decisions. [It's] looking at each player and whether the money they’re asking for makes sense. Obviously we identified Nick Perry as a core player that we wanted to keep, and I was really pleased we were able to keep him.”
Still, some significant holes remain on the Packers’ roster, most notably at running back. Thompson re-signed Christine Michael to a one-year, low-cost contract that doesn’t ensure he will be on the roster.
“I think we’ve helped ourselves in a number of positions," Murphy said. "Obviously the draft coming up is another opportunity for us to help ourselves."
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert contributed to this report.