We've reached the end of the third week in NFL free agency, a time when teams typically shift their gaze toward role players who project as limited contributors for the upcoming season. I think the Green Bay Packers' acquisition of defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove has the potential to exceed those parameters.
Hargrove's skill set meshes well with the two most common alignments used by Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers: the base 3-4 and the nickel with two down linemen. He is big enough to play end in the base and quick enough to be a inside pass-rusher in the nickel; although he's listed at 272 pounds, Hargrove said he played last season between 285-290 pounds while with the Seattle Seahawks. His intensity, meanwhile, will add an element of attitude that might have been missing from recent Packers defenses. Don't forget that he covered kickoffs for the New Orleans Saints as recently as 2010.
"Hopefully I can be a guy that could add a bit of speed to the defensive line," Hargrove said, "and an extra dimension there. I want to be an explosive playmaker and get after the passer, at the right time. When it's time to play the run, you play run with proper technique. But I want to get after it when we convert from run to pass."
Without knowing the results of the Packers' draft, you would have to consider Hargrove a leading candidate to start at defensive end in the base defense. Mike Neal will serve a four-game suspension to open the season, and the Packers never found a successful replacement last season for the departed Cullen Jenkins.
The Packers pursued Hargrove with uncommon zeal, at least for them, bringing him in for a visit a few days after hosting free-agent center Jeff Saturday. They have been reported to have interest in a number of free-agent defensive ends and linebackers, but I think it's pretty clear the Packers viewed Hargrove as the best fit for their scheme and needs.
There is no doubt that Hargrove has a complicated past, one that we've coincidentally covered a number of times here on the NFC North blog. He served a one-year suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy in 2008, and in January 2010 we chronicled his drug use and rehabilitation. It's a fact that he's one positive drug test away from an indefinite suspension, but that also tells you he's passed every NFL drug test since returning to the league in 2009.
We also crossed paths with Hargrove earlier this month, when he released an extensive statement about his presence on the 2009 Saints team that has been implicated in an NFL investigation into cash bounties. Hargrove received a personal foul for a hit on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, but in his statement Hargrove denied he was either motivated by a bounty or received a payment for the hit.
I won't try to predict what's in store for the Packers and Hargrove, but most March 29 signings don't have the kind of potential that this one brings. Let's see where this goes.