Ted Thompson

Grandmaster Ted

Although there are players available – like Antrel Rolle, Dunta Robinson and Darren Sproles – who would make great additions to the Green Bay Packers in free agency, we all know who we’re dealing with here.

We’re dealing with Ted Thompson and during his tenure with the Packers, Thompson has signed exactly one outside free agent to a big-money contract (Charles Woodson in 2006). Guys like Rolle, Robinson and Sproles are likely to command big deals this offseason and some team is likely to pay more for their services than the Packers. The law of averages simply tells us the Packers won’t make a splash in free agency.

But once you get past the top tier of free agents, there are still some interesting names available. These are guys who aren’t game changers or perennial Pro Bowlers, but they are solid contributors who could make a difference on the Packers and will be less expensive than Julius Peppers.

Ryan Clark, free safety, Pittsburgh Steelers

Clark doesn’t get the publicity because he plays next to Troy Polamalu, but the guy can hit. As an example…

Clark isn’t a big interception or turnover guy – he has only eight picks and three forced fumbles in eight NFL seasons – but he is a guy opposing offenses have to be aware of, as you can see above.

Although they remain in conversations, the Steelers have not offered Clark a contract and will let him test the market as an unrestricted free agent.

The downside on Clark is that – like the Packers current free safety, Atari Bigby – he doesn’t always stay healthy. He’s missed 16 games over the past four seasons (10 in 2007). Of course, Bigby has missed 12 games over the past two seasons.

The Packers could sign Clark to compete with Bigby. Not only is competition good, but having both guys on the roster almost assures Packers they’ll have a decent free safety who’s healthy for the duration of the year.

Mike Bell, running back, New Orleans Saints

The Saints probably have too many quality running backs with Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Mike Bell. The Packers don’t have enough, so Bell could be an intriguing option.

The Saints choose to give Bell, who is a restricted free agent, the lowest possible tender ($1.176 million) this offseason. While they’ll have the right of first refusal, this is a clear sign the Saints are happy to let Bell go. Bell was signed as an undrafted free agent, so if he signs with a another team the Saints receive no compensation for him.

Bell isn’t a game breaker in the mold of Sproles, but he’s a good cutback runner and isn’t afraid to take on tacklers. Here, he takes out the Dolphins Channing Crowder on consecutive plays.

With Thomas out with an injury, Bell rushed for 143 yards against Detroit in the 2009 season opener. He had four games of 75 yards or more and finished with 654 yards and five touchdowns on the season.

Bell could easily fill the short-yardage role Ahman Green filled with the Packers in 2009 and at 26, he’s seven years younger than Green. With Ryan Grant’s potential to break the long run, he and Bell could form something of thunder and lightning attack and if Grant gets injured, Bell is a capable backup.

Alex Barron, left tackle, St. Louis Rams

Like Bell, Barron is a restricted free agent in a similar situation. The Rams gave Barron the second-round tender instead of giving him the higher first-round tender. By doing so, the Rams – who plan to move last year’s No. 2 overall draft pick, Jason Smith, to left tackle – are essentially asking someone to take Barron off their hands.

From the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Jim Thomas:

Under league rules, the Rams must pay Barron 110 percent of his 2009 salary, or $2.73 million in 2010. That’s a dollar amount that entitles the Rams to a first-round draft pick as compensation if they decided not to match any outside offer.

But here comes the curveball: Although they have to pay Barron at a first-round level, they don’t have to ask for first-round draft pick compensation.

And they’re not.

According to multiple league sources, the Rams informed Barron’s agents Sunday night that they will be asking for only second-round draft pick compensation when they turn their tender offers into the league office later this week.

In essence, the Rams are throwing out a fishing line to the rest of the league, with Barron as the trade bait.

Honestly, I can’t tell you that Barron is a great tackle. I almost never see the Rams play. What I can tell you is that the 27-year-old has started all but one game the past five years, so he’s clearly more durable than, say, Chad Clifton. I can also tell you Steven Jackson ran for 1,416 yards in 2009, which was second in the NFL.

On the negative side, the Rams gave up 44 sacks (26th in the NFL), which wasn’t much better than the Green Bay Packers 51 (32nd).

Also, Barron seems to have a problem with penalties.

Any move on Barron will likely hinge heavily on the draft. This is a good draft for offensive linemen and there’s a good possibility the Packers will be able pick at tackle at No. 23. But then, knowing Ted Thompson, the Packers may have their choice of several tackles and still decide to choose a wide receiver, so Barron is worth keeping an eye on.

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