Where Do You Stand on Pack's Free Agency Decisions?

Posted March 22nd, 2017 @ 04:03pm

There are two ways to interpret the first couple weeks of free agency. You are likely standing in one of two lines.

Line #1: All in? This is what you call all in? Aaron Rodgers' thinly veiled play after the loss in the NFC title game made it clear that he expected the team to stock up on talent, not let a handful of key veterans walk out the door.

Line #2: If you've followed the Packers over the last 10-15 years, nothing that's happened in the last two weeks should surprise you. Except maybe the Martellus Bennett signing. The team is being careful with its cap dollars and will continue to tweak the roster with an eye on keeping all of its core players. Emphasis on 'core.'

I fall in the second line. The Packers clearly set Nick Perry as their top priority. In a thin pass rush market, he was going to be in high demand. They knew the Jets and Colts were ready to pounce. So they swallowed hard, paid him a bit more than they wanted (but structured it in a very team-friendly way) and made sure they kept a player who turned a significant corner in 2016.

They also prioritized Jared Cook, a favorite of Rodgers. There's no denying what a difference he made to the offense when he was on the field. It sounds like his agent got a little cute and played the 'talks broke down' angle to try to get a better deal. The Pack knew there was a more dynamic, well-rounded (read: blocker) tight end on the market and turned their attention to Bennett. There's no way Rodgers will shed any tears in this trade-off. When the team doubled down with Lance Kendricks a few days later, it opened up the idea of a Patriots-like double tight end formation that could make the offense even more dynamic.

Some of you would have liked to see the Pack go all in on one of the top tier cornerbacks. But that's just not how this team does business. I admit, I was intrigued at the prospect of trading the first round pick for Malcolm Butler (sounds like the Saints will ultimately make a deal with New England), mainly because the unforeseen injury to Sam Shields put the team in a real bind at the position. Bring back Davon House was a solid, if unspectacular move. He is much better suited to playing the Pack's defensive scheme than what the Jags were running, so he should be able to step right into one of the outside spots and be an immediate upgrade.

Let's talk about the players who left for greener pastures: Lang, Hyde, Lacy, Jones, Tretter and Peppers. I'm guessing most of you are most upset about TJ's departure. The truth is, this staff just doesn't value guards as highly as most other positions and to pay  $19 million guaranteed to a 30ish, banged up veteran was way too steep for them. Make no mistake, he's a warrior, a guy who has played hurt and is one of the best at what he does. But he's been dealing with multiple injuries and is likely to break down sooner rather than later. His hometown Lions offered him a deal he couldn't refuse. I have no issue with letting him walk. But there is no surefire replacement currently on the roster.

Of the other guys, the Packers will likely miss Hyde the most, because of his versatility. But the truth is, he is mostly a safety and the team feels good about their trio of Burnett, Clinton-Dix and Brice. Datone was never a great fit in Capers' defense but flashed a bit when moved to outside linebacker. With the uncertainty beyond Perry and Matthews, I would have been inclined to try to keep him around. Maybe they did and the thought of playing the 3-technique in Mike Zimmer's defense was more appealing. I have no idea.

As for Lacy, I was lukewarm on bringing him back. The team had to have serious doubts whether he was committed to keeping himself in shape, in light of how last season went down. We've seen what he can do when healthy and in condition, but he seems like a young man who doesn't understand what it takes to compete at this level. The report that he weighed in at 267 when visiting the Seahawks makes me wonder how any team could sign him. I believe the Packers will address this position before the weekend and maybe in the first round. The latest mock drafts have either Chrisian McCaffery or Dalvin Cook landing here. Either would be a serious upgrade to Lacy, and would give the Pack an intriguing complement to Montgomery. And if Thompson chooses to address CB or OLB in the first round, the draft is considered very deep with RBs and there will plenty to choose from in round two and beyond.

Tretter's ability to play center made him a valuable commodity, despite his inability to stay healthy and we knew he was a goner. Peppers outperformed our wildest hopes for three years, but the team was ready to move in a younger direction. He'll be a nice rotational player in Carolina, and finish his Hall of Fame career where he started.

So where do we go from here? DL Ricky Jean Francois is visiting as I write this, a player the team has coveted for a while. He could slide in to Mike Pennel's spot and may allow the team to move on from the suspended Letroy Guion.

With $24 million in cap space, the Pack can continue to sniff around and add a player here or there and address whatever needs may still be out there after the draft. Perhaps a player or two will be cut this summer and Green Bay can pounce if they think it makes sense.

The Packer way is to reward its core players and dip into free agency where it makes sense.  Signing the tight ends and bringing back House were strong moves. Much of the remaining cap money will go toward keeping their hands on the next wave of free agents: Burnett, Adams, Linsley, Taylor and Clinton-Dix (fifth year option).

It's not sexy, it makes for a boring March, but let's see how this roster shakes out four or five months from now. My guess is it will still be a top three Vegas pick to be playing in US Bank Stadium next February. Whether Adrian Peterson is on the sidelines in green and gold remains to be seen. Free agency isn't over after two weeks. So just r-e-l-a-x.

 

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Which Free Agents Will Stick Around?

Posted March 2nd, 2017 @ 04:03pm

For this post, it would be most effective if you cued up The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go" while you read. Let's look at the Pack's ten unrestricted free agents (I threw out Bret Goode, because long snapper).

As you know, this represents about 85% of the Pack's activity during free agency season. Thompson will always focus on resigning the guys he wants to keep. Mike McCarthy was in lockstep as he talked about how badly he wants to see Lang, Perry and Lacy return. Thompson's level of success in bringing back the guys he wants will determine how active he is, once the funny money starts flying around.

Here's the order I would prioritize the ten free agents from least important to most, and what I think Ted will do.

10. Christine Michael: There's a reason he's bounced around the league in his brief career. He shows you a nice burst every now and then but lacks the patience and vision to be consistent. He was a nice stop-gap pickup midseason, but the Pack will find his replacement in the draft. I doubt Ted brings him back, even if Lacy moves on.

9. Julius Peppers: The only way he returns, in my mind, is on a one-year incentive laden contract. The dude's a Hall of Fame and he gave the Pack much more than we could have expected since Thompson shocked the world and signed an aging legend. He's 37, just a baby compared to the Steelers' James Harrison, who just inked a new two-year deal. Outside linebacker is a position in flux for this team, and having him as a situational guy on passing downs would be a nice luxury. My guy tells me that Thompson addresses this position in the first two days of the draft and looks for a younger, cheaper alternative.

8. JC Tretter: He's a goner. His market value projects to an insane six-year $52 million contract (via spotrac.com). Someone is going to pay him like a top ten starting center and it won't be the Packers. When healthy, he is deserving of being looked at as an upper echelon center. But he hasn't stayed healthy and the Packers have Linsley as the starter. It would be great to have Tretter as a possible Lang replacement and backup center, but some team is going to roll the dice and pay him big bucks--it won't be the Pack.

7. Don Barclay: I can't imagine there's going to be much of a market for Barclay, who has shown that he's not a tackle, but could be a serviceable guard. If the market is dry for him, I wouldn't be shocked to see Green Bay resign him on a modest deal.

6. Eddie Lacy: This is another situation that will be dictated by the market. If one team falls in love--he has more upside than any other running back out there--he could be on his way out the door (wouldn't be surprised to see the Giants offer him a 3-4 year deal at about $5 million per). Thompson and his staff are likely hoping that they can bring him back on a one year 'show me' deal. I'm guessing one team steps up and Lacy and his appetite move on.

5. Datone Jones: He's shown some life with his position change to outside linebacker and I don't expect there to be a big market for him if he were to hit the open market. With Peppers likely moving on and Clay Matthews likely spending at least some of the time inside, the Pack needs bodies at outside linebacker. My guess is he signs a one to two year deal to return to the Pack, sometime in late March.

4. Micah Hyde: It's hard to know how coveted the Pack's Swiss army knife defensive back will be. With the question marks on the Pack's roster at that spot, it's hard to believe they'd let him get away. His pick against the Cowboys may have been the most impressive defensive play of the season. He's proven to be a guy that can play all over the secondary, but he's really a safety. The Packers have Clinton-Dix, Burnett and Brice at that spot and may feel like Hyde is a luxury they can't afford. On the other hand, he proved he can be an effective slot corner and Green Bay is woefully thin at that spot. I think Thompson swallows hard and pays Hyde a little more than he wants to to keep him around.

3. TJ Lang: This is the guy most of Packers nation is gnashing their teeth about. You want Lang back. I want Lang back. The question is: will Thompson be willing to bring him back at $8 million a year? Because you can take it to the bank that Lang will get a deal at least that rich from either the Vikings or the Broncos. He's 29 and coming off a serious foot injury and hip surgery. One year ago at this time it was unthinkable that the Pack would cut Josh Sitton and now most Packer fans feel the same way about the veteran leader of the offensive line. Thompson is very careful when it comes to offering a third contract to a player. His market value suggests a 4-year $33 million deal. I would pay him; I don't think Thompson will. If Lang moves on, look for Spriggs to move in either at guard or at right tackle, with Bulaga moving inside.

2. Jared Cook: I'm guessing this is a deal that will get done before free agency opens. Cook was effusive in his thoughts on his 2016 season. Playing with Rodgers was a revelation for him and the Pack's offense was at another level when he was healthy. Rodgers' on the record stance when it comes to Cook's future make this an easy call. Look for Cook and the Pack to agree to a deal somewhere in the four-year $15 million range and we will all hope he's on the field for all 16 games next season.

1. Nick Perry: It took him a while to play like the first round pick he was, but he took his game to a different level in 2016, before a hand injury slowed him down. And that's the thing with Perry--he can't seem to stay on the field. Again, there's a lot of uncertainty at this position and it might be where Thompson looks in the first round. McCarthy was vocal about wanting Perry back, but if the two sides don't come to terms before free agency, he'll likely be gone. I'd roll the dice and pay him more than I may want to. His market value is in the $8 million a year range. I think the Pack will offer him somewhere in that range. If he hits the open market that number could climb.

So my guess on who returns: Cook, Hyde, Jones and Barclay. Lacy and Lang are 50-50 propositions.

When the dust clears and the new NFL season opens for business,  if the Packers lose out on guys like Lang, Perry and Lacy, they need to look long and hard at the top tier corners out there and consider getting in on the action. Even if Randall and Rollins bounce back in year three, the team needs a steadying veteran presence back there--something they've lost without Shields and Hayward. A guy like Stephon Gilmore is likely to get a 5-year $73 million deal. I can't see Thompson stepping into those waters. But Rodgers is 33 and vocal about wanting to go all-in. A splash signing like Gilmore or A.J. Bouye would be a startling step in that direction.

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Yuck.

Posted January 23rd, 2017 @ 04:01pm

Well, that didn't go as planned.

My first bit of indigestion bubbled up when Mike McCarthy deferred, as always. Generally, I like this tactic, but not against a historically great offense in their house. You knew the Pack would be in an instant 7-0 hole.

It snowballed from there. The missed field goal. The Rip fumble. The completely overmatched defense. It was a day when you knew the offense had to be perfect--and it was far from it. When news broke that Jordy Nelson would play, along with Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison, it provided some hope that the Pack's offense might be potent enough to keep up in a track meet. It wasn't.

There's no question this performance was a disaster of epic proportions, but let's put our frustration aside for a moment and look at the big picture. Eight of the ten playoff games this year have been blowouts. The Pack administered one and were victimized by one. As painful as it was to watch, for me it was much easier than dealing with the way the team exited the post-season the last two years. Yes the team played infinitely better in both of those losses, but they were gut-wrenching, especially the title game two years ago.

The Falcons demonstrated that a world class offense, when firing on all cylinders, is no match for the Packers defense as it's presently constructed. The crater-sized hole at cornerback was clearly the biggest issue this season. Losing Sam Shields in week one was the one thing the roster couldn't withstand and that's on Ted Thompson. His two second year corners regressed and his decision to let Casey Hayward walk in free agency turned out to be a monumental blunder. Asking LaDarius Gunter to handle, in consecutive weeks, OBJ, Dez and Julio is unfair.

When Aaron Rodgers cryptically said following the game that the team needs to go all-in next season, he was speaking to the front office. The time is gone to depend on undrafted free agents. It's time to bring in a few veteran re-enforcements on defense through free agency. The Jared Cook moved worked out well. This team needs upgrades at corner and outside linebacker, maybe even at inside linebacker.

Clearly the last five #1 picks, all defensive players, have not provided enough difference makers. For that reason, the Pack may decide to kick Thompson to some kind of emeritus scouting role and hand the job to either Eliot Wolf or Brian Gutekunst (I'm not buying the John Dorsey steam).

I saw a stat that the Packers have given up 44+ points in three playoff games with Rodgers as a starter. Tom Brady has never had a defense surrender 44, regular season or playoffs. It's time to fix that unit and give Rodgers and the offense a chance. Obviously, that side of the ball will need some tweaks. They have to figure out the running back position, maybe add a receiver, sign Cook and decided what to do with TJ Lang (let's hope his injury isn't as bad as it looked).

The title game was a disaster. But the last eight or nine weeks were both unexpected and enthralling. Watching Rodgers do his thing week in and week out has spoiled us. He still has six or seven good years in him and this team will be favored along with Atlanta and Dallas in the NFC next year. Let's see what the organization does to bolster their weak spots. And let's see if we can take it a step further and spoil the purple party at US Bank Stadium next February.

 

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