GREEN BAY, Wis. – Last year, the Green Bay Packers had two rookies from Liberty High School in Bakersfield, Calif. One was first-round quarterback Jordan Love. He was inactive for every game as a rookie and might not play a meaningful snap this season. The other was linebacker Krys Barnes. He started 10 games and led the NFL in tackles per snap in 2020, and could be an every-down defender in 2021.
That statement isn’t an editorial opinion on the selection of Love. Rather, it’s to underscore the importance of undrafted free agency.
Every year, and for obvious reason, the focal point of the NFL Draft is the first round, in particular, and the early rounds, in general. And yet, undrafted free agents are a centerpiece for veteran teams like the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints, two NFC heavyweights who will square off in Sunday’s NFL opener in Jacksonville.
According to NOLA.com Saints beat writer Jeff Duncan, the Saints have an NFL-high 14 undrafted free agents on the roster. The Packers have 13. Based on Duncan’s research, that would be the second-most in the NFL.
These aren’t just depth-chart fillers. Rather, many will play key roles on Sunday and throughout the season.
For the Packers, Robert Tonyan has become one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Allen Lazard is a threat as a receiver and blocker. Lucas Patrick figures to start at left guard after an excellent season at right guard. Barnes will start at linebacker. Chandon Sullivan spent all of last season as the starter in the slot and could be in that role again. Henry Black could be in line for key snaps as the sixth defensive back.
For the Saints, “Marquez Callaway has been the team’s best offensive weapon this preseason and projects to be the No. 1 receiver until Michael Thomas returns,” Duncan wrote. “On defense, Ken Crawley and Malcolm Roach are slated to start at cornerback and nose tackle, respectively.”
The reliance on undrafted players doesn’t necessarily signal a shortcoming in acquiring talent via the draft. For Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst and his counterpart, Jeff Ireland, it’s all part of the business when rounding out rosters to deal with a shrunken salary cap.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Packers rank fifth in the league in amount of cap space tied to “elite” players (players in the top 32 in the NFL in cap charge) and fourth in amount of cap space dedicated to “elite”- and “high”-priced veterans (the top 160 in cap charge). Ireland had to do surgery on his roster to get under the cap. The Saints are fifth in cap money devoted to players no longer on the roster; $36.5 million of the $182.5 million cap is dead cap.
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Here are Green Bay’s 13 undrafted free agents.
WR Allen Lazard, Malik Taylor
TE Robert Tonyan, Dominique Dafney
OL: Lucas Patrick, Yosh Nijman
DT: Tyler Lancaster, Jack Heflin
ILB: Krys Barnes
OLB: Chauncey Rivers
CB: Chandon Sullivan
S Henry Black
P Corey Bojorquez