Monday, January 23, 2012

A look at the Packers' impending free agents

With the hiring of head coach Joe Philbin, rumors immediately began swirling that the Miami Dolphins would be pursuing flavor of the month and looming free agent quarterback Matt Flynn, who worked with Philbin over the past four season in Green Bay.

It's certainly a logical connection to make, as the Dolphins' are still looking for a long-term answer at quarterback and Philbin would know better than anyone the kind of potential Flynn has.

But could Philbin's presence bring anyone else from the Frozen Tundtra to South Beach? In this article, I'll take a look at all the Packers' impending free agents and their chances of reuniting with Philbin in Miami.

CB/FS Jarrett Bush
Undrafted out of Utah State in 2006, Bush has spent the past six seasons as a reserve defensive back and special-teamer for the Packers. Starting two of 16 games in 2011, Bush set career highs with 30 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions. However, he has graded out below average in coverage over the past few years and offers little upside.

Philbin is obviously familiar with Bush but his specialty is on offense. The Dolphins certainly need cornerback depth behind Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, but Bush isn't that great of an option and is going to cost more than he's worth as a six-year veteran. I don't see a match here.

TE Jermichael Finley

Originally a third-round pick out of Texas in 2008, Finley has been on the cusp of being one of the NFL's elite receiving tight ends for a few years now. He caught 55 passes for 676 yards and six scores in 2009 before a season-ending knee injury five games into the 2010 season. 2011 was a mixed bag for Finley, who totaled 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns but also led all NFL tight ends with 12 drops.

The Dolphins obviously have a starting tight end in Anthony Fasano, who isn't a playmaker but is one of the most well-rounded tight ends in the league as a reliable receiver and strong blocker.Any offense could use a weapon like Finley and it'd be nice to have a really dynamic tight end in the offense, but I'd hardly consider a starting tight end near the top of the Dolphins' needs.

Despite his inconsistency, Finley would obviously be a bit of an upgrade in the passing game, though Fasano's cap hit will be over $4 million and it seems unlikely they both could coexist. Fasano is in the last year of his deal, however, and Finley might have done some damage to his market value with his drop problems in 2011.

Assuming he isn't franchised by the Packers, I think Finley is someone that will interest the Dolphins to some extent. Finley seems to have a good relationship with Philbin (he tweeted a congratulations shortly after the announcement) and would give the Dolphins a nice weapon on offense. What it will come down to is how much it will take to bring him in and what they'll do with Fasano and his contract.

QB Matt Flynn

As Dolphins fans have been starved for a franchise quarterback since Dan Marino called it quits, Flynn is obviously the name that is going to be connected to the Dolphins the most over the next month or so. He hasn't played much, but he did hold up well in a 2010 start against the Patriots and set franchise records with 480 yards and six touchdowns in the 2011 regular season finale against the Lions.

I'm not anti-Flynn, but I am wary of his upside and I think he's being a bit overrated by fans of teams that desperately need a franchise quarterback. He was only a solid college player and a seventh-round pick for a reason, and I think a few good games (and sitting behind an elite quarterback in Aaron Rodgers) has created this reputation for him that isn't totally justified.

I'm not opposed to the Dolphins bringing Flynn in, and I do think that if anyone knows whether or not he's worth hanging his Miami tenure on, it's a guy like Philbin that's worked with him closely for four years. My only concern is that the team doesn't get into a bidding war for him an end up handing Flynn a guaranteed starting job and a big contract, because I just don't think the sample is there to deserve it right now.

RB Ryan Grant

Grant emerged as the Packers' starting tailback with a 956-yard performance in 2007, and he followed that up with two 1,000-yards seasons and a career-high 11 touchdowns in 2009. After being limited to just one game due to injury last season, Grant (and the Packers' running game in general) took a backseat to the aerial attack in 2011 as he totaled just 559 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games.

The Dolphins have their starting tailback in Reggie Bush and also have a second-year man in Daniel Thomas that I still feel has a ton of upside. Meanwhile, Grant is a pretty average back and at 29 is probably past his days as a true starter. I wouldn't rule him out for the Dolphins, but unless someone gets hurt of Philbin really doesn't like Thomas, there doesn't seem to  be much of a role for Grant in Miami.

NT Howard Green

I think we all remember Howard Green's training camp stint with the Dolphins in 2006 (sarcasm), but in case you haven't been following his career as thoroughly as you should have been, here's a little recap. Sixth-rounder by the Ravens in 2002. Spent time with Houston and Baltimore and Houston again that season. Spent 2003 and 2004 with Saints. Out of the league in 2005. Camp with Dolphins in 2006, Vikings in 2007. With Seahawks 2007 to 2008. Jets in 2009, Redskins camp and Jets in 2010. Packers 2010 to 2011. Whew.

At best, Green is a backup lineman and at 33 his upside is long gone. He has the versatility and experience to play anywhere in the 3-4 scheme, but I just don't see him being worth backup money and I don't see someone his age being used for Dolphins' line depth when they usually use youngsters there. It's not a fit.

CB Pat Lee

A second-round pick out of Auburn (War Eagle!) in 2008, Lee has had a pretty uninspiring career. Limited by injuries and buried on the depth chart, Lee missed the 2009 season entirely and has started just one game in 32 played in three seasons. For his career, he has just 21 tackles and a pass deflection.

Lee still has upside at 27, but he's obviously disappointed as a second-round pick when undrafted Packers' corners like Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have excelled. I would have no issue with him coming in to compete with Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson for a reserve role in the secondary, but that's far from a lock.

OLB Erik Walden

The second ex-Dolphins player on this list, Walden was a special-teamer in Miami for two-plus three years from 2008 to 2010, totaling 13 tackles in 19 games. After being waived by the Dolphins during the 2010 season, Walden was picked up by the Packers and eventually played a significant role in their Super Bowl run, including a three-sack performance in the regular season finale. Walden came back down to earth quite a bit in 2011, 15 of 16 contests but totaling just 60 tackles and three sacks.

Walden looked like the one that got away in 2010, but he graded out as a terrible run defender and ineffective pass rusher as a full-time starter in 2011. He might overprice himself a bit in the free agent market but I think he'll have a hard time landing a starting job and should probably be more of a special-teamer and backup. He's a candidate to interest Miami, but he's not going to solve their pass-rushing woes opposite Cameron Wake.

C Scott Wells

Originally a seventh-round pick of the Packers back in 2004, Wells began his career as a guard but has been entrenched as the team's starting center since the 2006 season began. In all he has opened 100 of 111 games played and has recently graded out as one of the better centers in the league, coming in at No. 4 according to Pro Football Focus in 2009 and 2011 and No. 8 in 2010.

My initial guess would be that the Packers will make a strong push to re-sign Wells and that will be his first option as well. He has a long, established tenure in Green Bay and they look to be contenders for years to come, so if the money is right he should be trying to stay.

That being said, the Dolphins could make a run at Wells, too. If Philbin thinks either Wells or second-year center Mike Pouncey can shift to guard, the addition of Wells would help solidify a line that is at least 40 percent incomplete with free agents Vernon Carey and Marc Colombo needing to be replaced. Philbin was the assistant offensive line coach during Wells' first two seasons and was his position coach during his first year starting at center, so he has plenty experience with the guy and may be very interested in a reunion.

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