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Pack stays on FA sidelines

by Mark Daniels

The NFL opened up the free agent vaults on Tuesday and several players dove right in to some lucrative contracts but the Packers and General Manager Ted Thompson, as is his habit, stayed on the sidelines with the checkbook firmly planted in his back pocket.  The only move the Packers made was issuing a qualifying contract offer to restricted free agent linebacker Jamari Lattimore for 1.43 million dollars.   Lattimore started a couple of games on defense but was primarily a core special teams player last season.   When word circulated former Packer personnel men Reggie McKenzie and John Dorsey might be interested, Thompson moved to all but luck up Lattimore.  He's still free to negotiate with other teams but Green Bay retains the right to match any offer.   Without a deal, Lattimore will return to the Packers at that qualifying offer price.   A second, restricted free agent, safety M.D. Jennings, who started all 16 games on defense last year, was not given a similar qualifying offer and may not be in the team's plans.

Starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith was reportedly close to signing with the New York Giants on the opening day but did not.  He has a visit planned with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday.   Tight end Jermichael Finley, who has yet to get medical clearance to return to football following his neck fusion surgery last year, still plans to pay a call on the world champion Seattle Seahawks.

Several prominent defensive players who may have been on Thompson's wish list, came off the market quickly and expensively Tuesday.   Buffalo safety Jarius Byrd, who grew up in Pulaski, signed a deal with New Orleans that is reportedly worth 54 million dollars over 6 years.   49er safety Donte Whitner signed with the Cleveland Browns.  Carolina safety Mike Mitchell will make 25 million over five years with the Pittsburgh Steelers.   Saints cornerback Malcolm Jenkins is off to Philadelphia and Aquib Talib is now property of the Denver Broncos.

Two defensive linemen got big money as well. Baltimore's Arthur Jones singed with Indianapolis for 33 million over five years and Oakland's Lamarr Houston will receive 35 million over five years to play for the Chicago Bears.    The Bears cleared cap space by releasing veteran Julius Peppers and the Dallas Cowboys cut loose DeMarcus Ware.

Look for Thompson to let the dust settle on the splashy, early free agent deals and consider second level tier players who might fit on his roster.   He'll also continue to focus on his own unrestricted free agents and see if the market price becomes more attractive to retain the likes of James Jones, John Kuhn, Andrew Quarless, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, James Starks, Marshall Newhouse and Ryan Pickett.

B.J. Raji has a standing offer of four million dollars plus incentives for the 2014 season but he's expected to keep shopping his services to other teams.