Will He Stay Or Will He Go?

Posted March 5th, 2015 @ 10:03pm

As the clock ticks down to free agency, we Packer fans get set for the annual game of March fantasy football, where big names move to new teams and there is much excitement in cities like Oakland, Jacksonville and Washington. We Packer fans will sit and watch and know that the biggest Packer news will be the signing of guys like Josh Francus, the Pack's newest linebacker--late of the Indoor and Canadian Football Leagues.

What we all care most about is the fate of one Randall Cobb, who reportedly has numerous  cash-loaded teams lined up and ready to throw top five WR money to a slot receiver: a versatile, exciting, dependable (mostly), unique talent who is not yet 25. It's rare for Ted Thompson not to keep guys he wants to keep, but if you read the tea leaves it's sounding more and more likely Cobb will receive an offer he can't refuse.

When Jordy Nelson took a nine million dollars a year deal, Thompson likely assumed that if Cobb had a big 2014 season, he'd slot him in at a similar, if not maybe a slightly lower salary. But the market for Cobb appears to be robust, with teams like the Raiders and Jaguars anxious to pair their young franchise QBs with a proven, young WR. Of course there is no guarantee that Cobb will be as valuable without Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball, but those teams know they'd be overpaying a bit for a receiver who has displayed zero diva tendencies. Stud WRs like that are getting harder and harder to find. Cobb has the skills to make a young, unproven QB look good.

The clock is ticking. Cobb's agent can begin (officially and legally) talking with GMs on Saturday, with free agency opening on Tuesday. Is there a chance Thompson and Cobb swing an eleventh hour deal that keeps him in Green Bay, a la Sam Shields last season? Sure, but with the cap number expanding, providing teams with millions of more ways to overspend, the smart money says Cobb gets a deal in the 11 million dollars a year range, if not more. I don't see Thompson approaching that number.

I think Thompson could have dealt with Cobb making more than Nelson, and I don't think Nelson's the kind of guy who would have a big problem with it. After all, he could have waited to sign and earned much more, but he took the sure thing and didn't want to gamble on an injury. But Thompson doesn't want to throw his payroll out of whack by overpaying at a position where he has assigned a certain value.

The Pack has the eighth most cap room to spend this season, and if they lose Cobb they can spend that money not only to resign all their guys they want back, as well as dip into free agency a bit more fervently than usual.

March is always frustrating for Packer fans, and if Cobb gets away it will feel disastrous. But know this: when the dust settles on the free agency period and we go through the draft, the Pack will be Super Bowl contenders in 2015--with or without Cobb. Thompson and McCarthy will be sure to arm Rodgers with plenty of talented targets.

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Packer Musings One Month into the Offseason

Posted February 22nd, 2015 @ 03:02pm

Greetings fellow Packer backers, thanks for hanging in there and checking back in to the blog. As some of you may know, I generally take a month off after the season, in part to go through the seven stages of acceptance when a season ends; in part because my day job has me on the road for much of January and February.

So let's catch up on what has happened since the epic meltdown in Seattle. The headlines: McCarthy gives up play calling duties, Slocum fired; Zook replaces him, Bostick banished to Vikings, Brad Jones mercifully released (and presumably headed to the Vikings) and most importantly, Pack looks to hang on to free agents.

Let's take them in that order. McCarthy's (or Thompson's or Murphy's) surprising decision   can be seen as a great next step in the development of a championship-caliber team, or a tremendous gamble. With McCarthy calling the plays, the Packers have always been near the top of the league offensively, finishing #1 last season. He and Aaron Rodgers are mostly always in sync and McCarthy generally has known the right buttons to push: when to be aggressive and when to back off. His uncharacteristically conservative approach in Seattle was stunning and likely signaled this change.

I think it's a positive move for the Pack. McCarthy has generally been lousy with the challenge flag and with other seat-of-his-pants in-game decisions. Handing the play calling to Tom Clements will allow him to be on top of all aspects of the game and should make for better-informed decisions. Clements has done it before and has been around long enough that I think the offense will continue to hum next season.

The change at special teams was a no brainer. Once again, the unit finished at the bottom of the league standings and its two key meltdowns against the Seahawks (fake field goal and on side kick) cost the team a ticket to Super Bowl XLIX. Slocum is the fall guy and replacement-in-waiting Ron Zook takes over. I don't understand why your assistant special teams coach, who had as much to do with the unit's meltdown as his boss did, gets promoted while Slocum is out of work. But clearly McCarthy and Zook go way back and he wants to give him a shot to run things his way. First rumblings we're hearing is to expect more starters on the unit, a big-time gamble if I've ever heard one.

The release of Brandon Bostick was also not a surprise. The athletic, talented, yet oft-injured tight end wore the goat horns after the Seattle game, but that in and of itself didn't get him cut. He was injured early and was unable to crack the game day lineup most weeks. With young Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless ahead of him and the team likely looking to add another in the draft, it was time to move on. Not to mention, it would have been tough to regain the trust of his teammates and coaches.

Which brings us to the free agents. I will write a more detailed look at free agency later in the week, but here are the highlights: Thompson must and will resign the #1 priority: Randall Cobb. Thompson rarely loses out on signing his draftees to their second contract. It's been reported Cobb is seeking a deal that averages $9 million a year, or the same deal Greg Jennings got form the Vikings a few years back. Cobb's unique talents make him virtually irreplaceable in the offense and his healthy 2014 campaign has earned hum the big bucks. I'll be shocked if the two sides don't agree on a new deal.

I think it's likely Bryan Bulaga is re-signed as well. The Pack's offensive line was a revelation last season and keeping them together is hugely important. Bulge's injury history is obviously a concern, but unless you believe Don Barclay is ready to step in, there isn't an obvious replacement on the roster or in free agency.

The interesting decisions will be which corner to try to hang onto and which QB to bring back (likely Tolzien over Flynn). What about BJ Raji or Leroy Guion (who may have cost himself millions). And what about all pro and fan favorite John Kuhn?

After hitting a home run with the Julius Peppers signing, will Thompson again look outside the organization for some help. I've seen a report that has Cowboy linebacker Bruce Carter in the Packers' sights to replace the soon-to-be-cut AJ Hawk--that seems like a stretch, based on Thompson's history. But we all know this team as built right now is equipped to compete for a Super Bowl title. A key tweak here and there could make a huge difference.

And the decisions Thompson makes in the next 75 days will shape their chances in earning a ticket to Levi's Stadium next February.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Do You Write When You Have No Words?

Posted January 19th, 2015 @ 03:01am

4th and 26th sounds pretty good right about now.

It takes quite a bit to render me speechless. It took me three hours to even look at my laptop and then another 3o minutes before I could bring myself to start tapping the keys. What we witnessed over the last 5:04 of the NFC title game will stay with us always. We finally have our own Gary Anderson game, our own Favre pick against the Saints.

And ours is miles worse. This collapse, the biggest in NFL playoff history, had several 'shake your head in disbelief' moments. Brandon Bostick wears the goat horns for swinging and missing on the onside kickoff, but there was plenty of blame to go around.

We can blame Morgan Burnett for not returning Russell Wilson's pick--heading to the ground and passing up plenty of free yards in front of him (though I had no problem with that decision--the last thing we needed was the ball getting punched out and Seattle getting it back).

We can blame Mike McCarthy for ultra conservative play calling down the stretch. The running game had no chance against a suddenly feisty Seahawks run defense that knew what was coming.

We can blame Ha Ha Clinton Dix, who played an otherwise fantastic game, for his incomprehensible miss on Wilson on the two point conversion play. This is the play I keep playing over in my head. If he finishes the play, the lead is one and Rodgers is ready to lead the team down the field for a game winning field goal. That's how this one was supposed to end. With a boot by the perfect Mason Crosby to send the Pack to its sixth Super Bowl.

Instead, we will think about what cost the team on this day; the same problems we've been dealing with all season. It starts with special teams. As dependable as Crosby was on this day, the special teams gave up seven blocked kicks or punts in the regular season and gave up two of the biggest plays in this game: the fake field goal that put the 'Hawks first points on the board and the botched recovery of the onside kick.

The team was troubled in the red zone all season. When you settle for field goals at Lambeau (like they did against the Patriots), you can escape. When you settle for field goals against a team like Seattle at their place, you're playing with fire. When two first half drives stalled at the one, and McCarthy didn't trust the offense to convert, you had to be worried. I certainly was.

I could go on. But I don't want to. In time we'll remember we have the game's best QB, a young, improving defense and a team that will be in the mix again next season. But until the Pack returns to the Super Bowl, this game will sit in our gut, churning around, and we'll think about what might have been. The Packers choked away their ticket to Super Bowl 49 in epic fashion.

Vikings fans, finally, finally I think we all understand what it's been like for you.  For the first time we feel your pain. And it hurts.

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