Through the life of true free agency, the Packers have been truly hesitant to fully utilize this tool for improving the roster. Despite making a huge splash with the successful recruitment of Reggie White in 1993, the Packers have been overly cautious since then, with the biggest arrivals coming in 2006 (Charles Woodson), Julius Peppers (2013), and Martellus Bennett (2017).
The last one was a disaster, and that could cause the Packers to retreat from signing veterans from other teams. Veteran safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looks at it a different way. Asked whether the draft-and-develop strategy leaves the Packers vulnerable when starters suffer injuries, Clinton-Dix agreed wholeheartedly.
“I think that’s exactly what it is,” Clinton-Dix said, via Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We go from our starters to basically [street] free agent players. Sometime that can hurt as we’ve seen through the years that I’ve been here, that we don’t have the guys behind us that we had. Jarrett Bush [was] here when I was a rookie. We don’t have the Micah Hydes that can step in, we don’t have the Chris Banjos or the Sean Richardons that can step in and be held accountable. I think that’s the biggest thing we’re missing.”
The players mentioned (all defensive backs) by Clinton-Dix each got their starts with the Packers. Two of them left via free agency, replaced by younger (and cheaper) players. Those younger players start off as unproven, which creates risk if/when injuries happen.
So it’s not just about spending money on strangers to the team. It’s about spending money to keep players who will provide the depth necessary when injuries happen.
Of course, this approach requires a willingness to spend money and to burn up cap space on players other than starters. But with rookies so much cheaper than before, most teams should have the ability to augment the starting lineup with reliable backups.
Even if they don’t, the challenge arising from the draft-and-develop approach is to draft the right players, and to properly develop them. The Packers arguably haven’t been doing enough of one or the other, or both, in recent years.