49ers linebacker Larry Grant would bring a physical presence to Green Bay’s defense
The start of free agency on Tuesday is like an unofficial holiday for many fans, but for Cheeseheads, Tuesday is just the second day of another work week. That’s because the Packers have signed only four unrestricted free agents since 2008. General manager Ted Thompson doesn’t figure to change his ways this offseason, but you never know. After all, did you ever think you’d live to see the day when three untalented sisters and their overbearing mother could gross $80 million? So anything is possible. And if Thompson does choose to be active in free agency, here are a half-dozen players he might want to consider.
DL DESMOND BRYANT - He did a stupid thing recently, but the former Harvard star obviously isn’t a stupid person. He’s also an underrated football player who had 36 tackles and 4 sacks for the Raiders last season. He’s built similar to Chris Canty, but unlike the former Giant, he’s young (27), healthy and getting better. He would immediately start at end for Green Bay, and while he’s hardly a dynamic pass rusher, his long arms allow him to disrupt passing lanes and his power often frees up teammates. He won’t come cheap, but we all witnessed what cheap gets you a year ago when it comes to free agent defensive linemen.
FB/TE JAMES CASEY - He isn’t flashy, but he would be a nice fit in Green Bay. Not only wouldn’t the 28-year-old break the bank, but he would upgrade the offense at two positions. The former Rice star is a better fullback than John Kuhn and he’s a better tight end than current backups Tom Crabtree, Ryan Taylor and D.J. Williams. The versatile five-year veteran would provide plenty of bang for the buck, and as all Packers fans know by now, there’s nothing in the world Thompson likes more than getting a good bargain.
S CHRIS CLEMONS – He may not make it to free agency, but if he does, he’s definitely worth a look. The former Clemson star was very solid in his first season as a starter in Miami. The 27-year-old didn’t stand out in any one area, but he was above-average against both the run and pass. He’s blessed with terrific size (6’1, 214) and speed (4.39). And while he may never be any better than he is right now, he could just as easily be a late-bloomer whose best football is still ahead of him. That’s why he’s so darn intriguing.
ILB LARRY GRANT – He didn’t play much in San Francisco, but that’s because Pro Bowlers Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman were in front of him. When given the chance to play late in 2011, the 28-year-old acquitted himself quite well. In three starts, he had 28 tackles, 1 sack and 1 forced fumble. More important than the numbers, he showed toughness against the run and looked pretty comfortable in space. He’s not real tall and he’s not real fast, but he’s a good player. Would he be a Pro Bowler in Green Bay? Probably not, but he’d be productive and he’d add toughness to a D that was too soft in 2012.
TE DUSTIN KELLER – He is Jermichael Finley without all the drama and without the huge price tag. The former Purdue star isn’t a great blocker, but he tries a lot harder that Green Bay’s $8 million man. And prior to an injury-plagued 2012 campaign, he was a very productive player for the Jets. The 28-year-old managed to catch 120 passes and score 10 touchdowns in the previous two seasons despite playing with scatter-armed quarterback Mark Sanchez. It’s very difficult to predict how much money he’ll command on the open market, but it’s safe to assume the number will be considerably less than $8 million.
S KENNY PHILLIPS – He would be a gamble, but the risk might be worth the reward. The former Miami standout is a do-it-all safety who makes others around him better. The problem is his health. He underwent microfracture surgery in October of 2009 and he has battled knee problems on and off ever since. Any team that signs the 26-year-old will have to protect itself, but if he can stay healthy, he’s a better player than the 49ers somewhat overrated Dashon Goldson, who figures to hit the jackpot in free agency.