GREEN BAY, Wis. -- General manager Ted Thompson and contract negotiator Russ Ball went to work early on the Green Bay Packers' upcoming free agent class, and so far they have re-signed two key defensive players -- Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion.
That’s a departure from last offseason, when they didn’t get any deals done until the days before free agency opened in March.
Last year, they signed receiver Randall Cobb and tackle Bryan Bulaga during the three-day negotiation period right before the free-agent market opened. The rest of their signings followed in the weeks to come.
With an early start to the process this year -- they extended Daniels in December and signed Guion on Friday -- it’s reasonable to expect another deal or two to get done before the 2016 league year begins on March 9.
The next priority is likely kicker Mason Crosby.
Beginning March 7, upcoming free agents can begin negotiations with other clubs. Before the negotiating period opens, teams can begin using the franchise tag on Tuesday.
It’s unlikely the Packers will use the tag. Thompson has as used it only twice -- in 2008 on Corey Williams, who he then traded to the Cleveland Browns; and in 2010 on Ryan Pickett, who eventually agreed on a long-term deal.
The Packers should be able to get a deal done with Crosby without using the tag, although there’s no indication a deal is imminent. Ball and Thompson likely will meet with Crosby’s agent, Mike McCartney, at the NFL scouting combine next week in Indianapolis.
Crosby is coming off one of his best seasons -- he made 24 of 28 field goals in the regular season and extended his postseason run of consecutive makes to an NFL record 20. He’s had only one poor season, in 2012, and since then has bounced back to make more than 85 percent of his kicks.
At this point, the Packers would rather not start over with a young kicker.
“Well, I think Number 1, you can find a guy that can kick the football through them steel poles,” Packers special teams coach Ron Zook said. “But how they're going to handle this environment? How they're going to handle pressure situations? That's something, particularly a young guy, you don't know until he's put in that situation. I mean you get feelings, and you try to go back through his past, and that kind of thing. How does he handles those kind of situations? How does he handle when he misses one? All those kind of things.
“But I think what Mason has done, in talking to him [shortly after the season], I said 'Whatever you did in preparation last year, you need to do exactly the same thing.' Because when he does have an issue -- a little issue, and he really didn't have issues -- but we'll talk about and he'll tell me 'This is what happened, this is what happened.' He knows exactly what happened. He knows exactly what he needs to do to fix it and he does it, and I think that's the thing. He's got a lot of confidence, and he knows he can do what he has to do.”
And there’s no indication Crosby would rather finish his career with a warm-weather or dome team like some kickers prefer.
“Obviously [after] nine years, this has become home for me and my family and this is the team I want to play for,” Crosby said shortly after the season. “And I hope we can get something done so I can continue on and continue to be part of this organization. I don’t know if I can go anywhere else that there’s the opportunities that are presented here. The teammates, the friendships, the relationships I have in this locker room. It’s kind of weird to think about being anywhere else, but we’ll go through that process now that the season’s over and kind of start down that path.”