Packers pass on chance to play tag with Cobb

Thompson, McCarthy need to replenish offensive weaponry
The Packers held to form Monday by declining to use their franchise tag to protect Randall Cobb or Bryan Bulaga.
It was the eighth time in 10 off-seasons Packers GM Ted Thompson chose to negotiate on his terms despite the risk of losing a key player. The Packers have until March 10 to continue talks with Cobb, and in a perfect world they would reach agreement on a long-term deal. The dynamic, play-making receiver has earned his millions. The question is how many million will another team pay to have Cobb play for them?
A couple seasons ago, ex-Packers receiver Greg Jennings hauled in $17.8 million in guaranteed money from Minnesota. Certainly, Cobb’s production coupled with an ever-increasing salary cap ($143 million in 2015) means the versatile receiver will be offered more than $20 million in guaranteed money.
Clearly, the Packers aren’t willing to pay Cobb the franchise tag price of $12.8 million for a receiver on a one-year deal. It’s also likely Cobb felt the desire to test the free-agent market, especially with Dallas’ Dez Bryant and Denver’s Demaryius Thomas being franchise tagged. A team such as Oakland or Jacksonville could make Cobb an offer that the Packers simply aren’t willing to match if given the chance.
So if it comes to it, how do the Packers proceed without Cobb? The safest, smoothest transition would be:

Sign a proven, above-average veteran tight end in free agency.

The cost would be much more cap friendly (the franchise tag for tight ends is $8.3 million, or $4.5 million less than receivers), and the results could be more explosive. Julius Thomas, the Denver Broncos’ free agent tight end, would be one possibility. The Broncos couldn’t afford to pay both Thomases (Julius and Demaryius) so they went with the receiver. Thomas’ value to the Packers should be obvious. They could control the middle of the field with the 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end as a receiver. Or, they could use play-action with running back Eddie Lacy and Thomas to give Aaron Rodgers a dangerous pass-run threat.
The Bengals’ Jermaine Gresham is another tight end who would fit. Gresham lacks Thomas’ downfield play-making ability, but he is more reliable as a receiver and a more-than-willing run blocker.
Another option is drafting a tight end. The problem is that Minnesota’s Maxx Williams appears to be the only rookie with the potential to make an immediate impact. It is a very shallow pool of top-flight tight ends. Furthermore, the Packers have Richard Rodgers to develop. He was a third-round pick last season, and I can’t see Thompson using a second high draft pick at tight end in back-to-back years.

Draft a receiver in the first or second round.

It is impossible to hear any discussion of the 2015 NFL Draft without someone gushing over the receiver class. It’s true this group is the deepest since, well, last year’s receiver class which was among the all-time best. If the Packers add a top-tier receiver in the draft, they should be fine at the position with Jordy Nelson, DaVante Adams, the draft pick, Jered Abrederis, Jeff Jannis and whoever else is on the training camp roster.

The money not spent on overpaying Cobb could be used to retain Bulaga and keep the offensive line intact.

Bulaga, like Cobb, may receive a hefty offer from another team. However, it’s more likely the Packers would pay competitive money to keep the right tackle as opposed to incredibly overspending for a receiver.
According to an article on JS Online, a source said Cobb’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, was seeking as much as $12 million per year. That figure would throw the Packers’ salary cap out of whack, especially among the receivers’ ranks where Nelson – you’re top receiver – would be making less than the No. 2 wide out, Cobb.
If the Packers’ offensive line protects Rodgers, he will complete a whole lot of passes to his receivers, whether their ranks include Cobb or not. The Packers have a week to try to strike a deal with Cobb before he actually hits free agency. I suspect he will command a significant offer, and ultimately he will leave via free agency. That would be disappointing to Packers fans.
However, look at the big picture: The Packers will find weapons to replace Cobb if he leaves. The Packers had Cobb and Nelson playing at a high level last season and it wasn’t enough to get past Seattle. If Cobb leaves it opens the door to adding a big-time tight end – something the Packers have been missing since Jermichael Finley’s retirement – and drafting a receiver in a year that’s loaded.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio ( Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.