Packers enter free agency with cap space

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers are in a familiar place with their salary cap as they head toward free agency.

And it's a good place to be.

From the days of Lance Lopes managing their salary cap in the 1990s to Andrew Brandt doing so in the 2000s to Russ Ball, the team's current vice president of football administration/player finance, the Packers have rarely -- if ever -- found themselves in trouble during the salary-cap era.

This offseason is no different, as this chart put together by ESPN's Kevin Seifert indicates.

As the data shows, the Packers will be able to roll over nearly $10 million -- $9,820,459 to be exact -- in unused salary-cap space from last season.

Combine that with the fact that the Packers were already projected to be between $17 million and $18 million under the 2014 salary cap and it means that -- depending on the exact salary-cap limit for this season, which has yet to be finalized -- they will have between $27 million and $28 million in available cap space this offseason.

The question is how will they use it?

They will need roughly $5 million to sign their rookies, but that still leaves plenty of room for other moves. Certainly, they will re-sign some of their own players scheduled to be free agents with cornerback Sam Shields as the priority (and the most expensive) and perhaps work on extensions for players like receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, who have contracts that expire after this season.

But will this finally be the year general manager Ted Thompson returns to the free-agent market in earnest?

We're not talking about low-level signings like tight end Matthew Mulligan (who didn't even make the team last season) or offensive lineman Duke Preston (who also didn't make the team when he was signed in 2009), but rather bona fide impact players like Thompson signed in 2006 with cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

With a defense that ranked 25th in the NFL last season and was short on playmakers save for Shields, Clay Matthews and perhaps cornerback Tramon Williams (whose own contract situation may have to be addressed given that he's scheduled to make $7.5 million this season), Thompson may see fit to work the open market more like he did in 2006 (when he also signed safety Marquand Manuel, who lasted only one season).

That's the way at least one national reporter sees it. According to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Packers plan to address some of their defensive needs -- including getting more athletic and versatile up front -- via free agency.

Thompson gave no indication recently that he planned to alter his approach to free agency, telling ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan at last month's Senior Bowl that he believes the draft-and-develop policy is the best approach to roster building.

"We just think it's a good model to use under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement and that sort of thing," Thompson said at the time. "We just feel like your best policy is to try as best you can -- and it doesn't always work out because sometimes you have to do different things -- but if you draft good people, you develop them, you get a good coaching staff that coaches them up, they like it there, so you try to retain your own players as much as you can and you don't [always].

"We lose players just like everybody else. But if we can, we like to keep our own and continue adding guys through the draft and through free agency."