Green Bay sure knows how to put on a show. On the opening day of its annual FanFest celebration, the Packers:
Unveiled throwback jerseys last worn 80 years ago (pictures here)
Announced a three-year contract extension with Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins
Announced a four-year contract extension for nose tackle Ryan Pickett.
I think I can hear the cheering over state lines.
Let's be clear on both Collins and Pickett: Neither player was going anywhere this offseason. Collins received the highest tender as a restricted free agent (first and third rounds), and he ultimately signed it rather than shop for offers. Pickett, meanwhile, was the Packers' franchise player and wasn't likely to elicit an offer at that level, either.
But the deals mark an important breakthrough for a front office that has systematically worked its way down a long list of players whose contracts have come due in the Packers' draft-based personnel procurement system. In the past 18 months or so, the Packers have given market-level extensions to seven key players. In chronological order:
1. Running back Ryan Grant (four years, $20 million)
2. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (six years, $65 million)
3. Receiver Greg Jennings (three years, $27 million)
4. Linebacker Brandon Chillar (four years, $21 million)
5. Left tackle Chad Clifton (three years, $20 million)
6.Collins (three years, $23.4 million)
7. Pickett (four years, $28 million)
Friday's deals put the Packers over the hump on their list, going a long way toward ensuring locker room harmony and -- more important -- keeping together a team that won seven of its final eight games in 2009. There are now more players on the list above than there are on the list below, which is the Packers remaining key players who are either restricted free agents and/or playing on one-year contracts:
1. Safety Atari Bigby
2. Guard Daryn Colledge
3. Defensive lineman Johnny Jolly
4. Center/guard Jason Spitz
5. Cornerback Tramon Williams
The Collins signing is especially significant and indicates the sides were able to work though any ill will that arose from the Packers' decision not to extend him last year. (Collins didn't participate in most of the offseason program as a result.) Earlier this week, however, Collins signed his RFA tender as a sign of good faith, and the team reciprocated by wrapping up the deal in time to announce it at FanFest.
According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Collins will receive $14 million of the total this season, amounting to a market-level signing bonus after consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl.
Although I've never believed that contract negotiations can impact the performance of a team, they can certainly distract an individual player. Friday, there are two fewer nervous players in the Packers locker room. And the list is growing shorter by the day.