And then there was one. Over a month after unrestricted free agency began, former Giants defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins is the last top-tier player still on the open market. It’s time for general manager Ted Thompson to make his move.
While the defensive line isn’t a glaring weakness for the 2017 Packers, it’s hardly a strength. Other than Mike Daniels, the unit is made up of decent veterans (Ricky Jean Francois and Letroy Guion), a promising former No. 1 draft pick (Kenny Clark) and assorted youngsters with varying degrees of potential (Dean Lowry, Christian Ringo and Brian Price). That’s certainly not a bad group, but it sure as heck ain’t the Steel Curtain.
Signing the 25-year-old Hankins would be like adding another first-round pick to the roster – in terms of both talent and even age. The former Ohio State star’s skill set is superior to Clark’s and he’s actually four months younger than outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, who was selected in the third round of last year’s draft.
So why is a young and healthy player as talented as Hankins swimming in the same ocean as flawed thirtysomethings like Jay Cutler, Adrian Peterson and Dwight Freeney? Because his agent demanded too much money four weeks ago and now most teams have put away their checkbooks – at least until after the draft.
Thompson took advantage of a somewhat similar situation over a decade ago and signed unrestricted free agent Charles Woodson in late April. That wound up being the second-best decision of his long and successful career. And while Hankins isn’t going to win any defensive player of the year awards or end up in Canton five years after he calls it a career, he could have a Woodson (light)-like impact on the defense in 2017.
Hankins is a 320-pound immovable object at the point of attack. Lining him up alongside Daniels would make running inside against the nickel defense much more difficult. As of now, Clark would fill that role, and while he’s a talented player in his own right, taking on double teams will never be what he does best.
In the video below, watch how Hankins (95) takes on 650 pounds of Pro Bowl caliber players and gets in on the tackle.
And while Hankins is no Aaron Donald as a pass rusher, he can get some decent pressure on the quarterback. His 3 sacks last season might not seem all that impressive, but it’s only 4 less than the combined total of Daniels, Clark, Lowry, Guion, Ringo and now former Packer Datone Jones – the team’s primary inside rushers from a year ago. In the video below, watch Hankins use his strength and surprising quickness to hit Josh McCown and force an interception that was returned by Jason Pierre-Paul for a touchdown.
Hankins was seeking a long-term deal worth around $10 million a year at the start of free agency, but based on the contracts recently signed by fellow defensive tackles Dontari Poe (Falcons) and Bennie Logan (Chiefs), he’s probably going to have to settle for a 1-year deal worth between $6 million and $8 million. That wouldn’t be a problem for the Packers, who are currently about $23 million under the salary cap. Plus, Thompson could offset some of Hankins’ cap hit by releasing Guion, who would no longer be needed.
The only “downside” to signing Hankins would be how it would affect Thompson’s precious comp picks for 2018, but should that really be a consideration for a team that’s built to win a championship this season? Besides, that pick could always be recouped in 2019 should Hankins sign elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent a year from now. In the meantime, he would make the defense a lot better – a defense that needs to be a lot better if Green Bay is going to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010.