So, according to Greg Bedard, Johnny Jolly signed off on his RFA tender last night. My reaction? Meh. Apparently, after a couple of seasons of boneheaded moves, common sense (or self-preservation) kicked in at the eleventh hour. After trafficking codeine, drawing key penalties by hitting other players with his helmet (and vowing to do it again), and coming dangerously close to violating the terms of his bond by appearing in a party flyer (with a Packer logo in it), he finally decided that guaranteed money is better than none.
The risk for the Packers is low, as RFA's can be cut at any time with little penalty other than signing bonuses, if any. Jolly is a decent rotational player, but as we've seen with Corey Williams, rotational players can be jettisoned and replaced with other rotational players. If Jolly thought he was going to get a long term deal with his legal issues still over his head, he was pipe dreaming.
This brings us to our last two RFA "holdouts" (they are technically not holding out since they are not under contract), Atari Bigby and Tramon Williams. Bedard tweeted earlier today that the rationale for Bigby not signing was that the difference between his tender and the 110% it could be reduced to was negligible. I'm not sure I understand his reasons, but finding out Drew Rosenhaus was his agent was no surprise. If I'm correct, wasn't he representing Javon Walker during his pouty-smurf routine?
Bigby has been the defacto starter for several seasons now, but since his strong 2007 rookie season, he's been marred by injuries. He's shown streaks of being that same physical, ball-hawking player, but last season was a wake-up call when Jarrett Bush and Matt Giordano were called into starting roles. Without Bigby (and the questionable release of Anthony Smith), the safety position was dangerously thin much of the season.
So, the Packers have taken steps to shore it up, moving Wil Blackmon from corner to safety and drafting a Collins clone in Morgan Burnett, who has been somewhat of a darling during OTA's (not that we should put much stock in that...remember Jeremy Thompson was last year's darling). However, the Packers have Nick Collins, Burnett, Blackmon, Charlie Peprah, and Derrick Martin on the depth chart without Bigby. Rosenhaus, long famed for placing the needs of his clients over his own monetary gain *cough*, is taking a gambit that the Packers regard him as highly as he does. Given that the Packers have reported sent Bigby a letter letting him know they intend to reduce his tender offer to 110% of his salary last year, it doesn't look like they have as much faith as Drew.
Finally, we have the guy with the chips on his side of the table, Tramon Williams. Tramon has been an excellent nickel back and spot starter for the past few seasons. Has he been spectacular? No. Has he been consistent? No. The difference lies, however, in that the depth chart at cornerback is dangerously thin. With Blackmon moving back to safety, the starters are Charles Woodson, the AP Defensive Player of the Year, and Al Harris. However, Woodson is 33 and Harris is 35, and there is much concern about Harris's progress recovering from injury last season, leaving the spot opposite Woodson in some doubt.
After those two, the drop-off after Williams is steep: Brandon Underwood, who is embroiled in legal issues; Pat Lee, the oft-injured former second rounder; and Josh Bell, the talented kid who gave up the winning touchdown to the Steelers last year. The Packers like to send the message that they are confident about Lee, but I'm guessing like most of us on the outside, we'd like some proof before we rubber-stamp playing hardball with Tramon.
It is not out of the realms of possibility to say the Packers could be entering September with Harris on the PUP list, Underwood on the suspension list, Lee injured again, and praying Woodson doesn't start showing his age.
Williams has the better hand, and in an uncapped year knows the Packers can't use the excuse of not having the space to give him a decent deal (especially after the one given to Chad Clifton). The Packers are wise to wait with Williams, and not give him that deal until Bigby and Jolly have both signed...no point in starting a feeding frenzy.
My last point is that it is intriguing that the Packers had this vaunted defense all of last year, ranked #1 overall for quite some time...until we met playoff caliber teams like the Steelers and the Cardinals, who made our defense look like the #32-ranked squad. All three of our remaining RFA's were from that defense, and it is no wonder that Dom and Mike are scrutinizing that squad very, very carefully.
The only other team that had more RFA's as of yesterday were the Saints, not unusual for a Super Bowl champion team, when many players look to cash in (or hold out). Is the Packer defense on that level, that players were holding out to the last minute and beyond?