As far as bang for the buck is concerned, Ricky Jean Francois could wind up being the best investment GM Ted Thompson has ever made in free agency. For a mere $2 million, the defense will be getting a hard-working and pretty darn good player.
I’m in no way suggesting Jean Francois will produce like future Hall of Famers Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers or even steady Ryan Pickett, but those players cost a combined $93M over 14 years. Meanwhile, Thompson will be paying Jean Francois $500K less this season than he paid fellow defensive lineman Letroy Guion in 2016, and if the All-22 tape can be trusted, the new guy appears to be the better player.
While the 30-year-old Jean Francois, who spent the past two seasons in Washington, isn’t quite as stout at the point of attack as Guion, he provides much more versatility. The former LSU star moves well enough to make plays down the line of scrimmage or even down the field. Those are things Guion rarely did last season.
In the first video, Francois gets the best of Green Bay guard Lane Taylor – a common occurrence throughout the game – and takes down running back James Starks for a 2-yard gain. In the second video, Francois reacts quickly to the throw and hustles to stop Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in his tracks.
As a pass rusher, Jean Francois won’t get many sacks (12 in 109 games), but unlike Guion, he will occasionally get within striking distance of the QB. In the video below, Jean Francois gets just enough penetration against Taylor to make Aaron Rodgers hurry his throw to Davante Adams. The result was an incompletion.
OK, so why was Francois cut by the defensively-challenged Redskins in the middle of a $22M contract and forced to sign such an inexpensive deal with the Packers Well, he’s far from perfect. Remember when I mentioned how he wasn’t quite as stout at the point of attack as Guion? That might’ve been a bit of an understatement.
In the video below, watch how undersized Eagles’ center Jason Kelce (6’2, 285) gets movement against the 315-pound Jean Francois and opens up a gaping hole that running back Ryan Matthews exploits for 10 yards.
Jean Francois could also stand to play with more discipline. His eyes, anticipation and instincts are not as fine-tuned as one would expect from a veteran. In the video below, he’s barely in the screen by the time Matthews hits a huge hole – a huge hole that is located exactly where Jean Francois was lined up prior to the snap.
I advocated getting rid of Guion on the very day Jean Francois was signed, but after studying the tape, I now think there’s room for both veterans on the roster. While there’s no question they are similar players, Guion is more of a nose tackle while Jean Francois is more of a 3-4 end. And along with Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry, this has the potential to be one of the better D-lines the Packers have had in years.