Packers XLV

Packers Pick Pass Rusher Peppers to Provide Pick-Me-Up

Posted March 15th, 2014 @ 06:03pm

So I'm in the middle of co-hosting "In the Zone" on Saturday morning. Just threw it to our second break, at about 8:30. Looking at my phone, reading a text when Trent Tucker, watching the ESPN crawl, says, 'Davey, the Pack signed Julius Peppers.'

Now, Trent's not one to pull my leg. I looked up, missed the crawl, but jumped on Twitter and there it was. Made for a nice return to the show, where I could fire up the "breaking news" sounder and talk about what it might mean.

It's big news now, but we won't really know until next January whether it was a good move. What was reported as a 3 year, $30 million deal, is in reality a one-year $8.5 million deal. The contract was structured to count just $3.5 million against the cap in  2014. That's a very reasonable cap number for an aging, once great pass rusher, who will probably play hard in half the games. If he's healthy for the last quarter of the season and the playoffs, chances are he will be a factor for the Pack's one-note pass rush.

Now, those who know me know that I'm not one to covet former Bears (though a bargain basement one-year deal with Devin Hester would be just fine with me). I still think of Peppers as a Panther--that helps justify it in my mind. I also remember how close he came to ending the Pack's season on the final play of the week 17 game at Soldier Field, when John Kuhn got just enough of a chip on him to allow Aaron Rodgers to escape and find Randall Cobb for the division winning touchdown.

We all know the Packers need to find more playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. We hope that youngsters like Datone Jones, Mike Daniels, Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward make a jump. That Clay Matthews can stay healthy. And most importantly, that Ted Thompson identifies an impact safety in the first two rounds and an athletic inside linebacker not much later. If the Pack doesn't add a veteran tight end in the next month or so, that will be a draft priority as well.

But as we look back at the first week of free agency, you have to be satisfied with what Thompson has done. They were never in play for one of the high-priced safeties and they were able to re-sign five key guys: Shield, Raji, Neal, Quarless and Lattimore. The only loss as I write this is center Evan Dietrich-Smith (to the Bucs). It appears Jermichael Finley is close to a deal with the Seahawks.

The impending departure of Finley is disappointing, but not surprising. His health is in question and the Packers are notoriously cautious about moving forward with players who have suffered neck injuries. If he signs with Seattle, I'll wish him well (for 15 out of the 16 games) and hope he can continue to play the game he loves for as long as he wants to. The Pack likes what it sees in Brandon Bostick and if the safeties are gone in round one, but Eric Ebron from North Carolina is the pick. Packer fans will likely be saying 'Jermichael who?' by mid-season.

As for the center position, there are a few available veterans who have been starters. If Thompson passes on one of them, they'll likely look to let JC Tretter and Don Barclay compete to earn the job.

A week ago, it looked like Shields, Raji and Neal were headed elsewhere. Now they're all back and they welcome former foe Peppers, who reunites with Mike Trgovac and the Packers wait to find out if their low risk investment pays off in January when the lights are brightest.


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Shields Re-Signs; Everything Else Is Gravy

Posted March 9th, 2014 @ 07:03pm

I was probably as surprised as most of you when I heard that the Packers had come to terms with Sam Shields on a new four-year deal. After all, the sides were reportedly far apart as the clocked ticked toward free agency and, well, his agent is Drew Rosenhaus.

But the first day of free agency gave players, agents and GMs an idea where the corners were in the pecking order and Ted Thompson ponied up big time. Shields' new deal makes him a top five paid corner. Not bad for a college wide receiver and undrafted free agent.

And he's worth every penny. The Packers' defense has enough holes everywhere else. Losing Shields would have meant drafting a corner early, or finding a couple cheap veterans in the second wave of free agency. At 26, he's on the uptick and possesses speed that is hard to find. With Tramon Williams on the back end and the Pack's other top corners, Hayward and Hyde, more adept on the inside--Shields can match up with #1 receivers. He'll be expected to at his salary level.

Since I assumed Shields was history, I look at whatever happens over the next few weeks to be gravy. BJ Raji may or may not accept the Pack's offer. Expect that decision to happen this week, once he finds out whether a team is willing to pay him more on a long-term deal than the reported $4 million the Packers offered for one year.

Now we'll wait and see what interest there is in guys like Raji, Mike Neal, James Jones, John Kuhn, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless. It sounds like the New York teams may scoop up the tight ends--look for that to be a focus of tier two free agents and the draft.

Thompson still has plenty of money to spend. If the Shields deal is structured  like many think, he'll only count five or six million against the cap this year. Thompson has plenty of money to re-sign the guys he wants back. I would guess Raji, Neal and Dietrich-Smith would be the internal priorities.

I expect these guys to move on: the tight ends, James Starks, Jones, Raji, Jolly and Kuhn. Look for the Pack to bring back Ryan Pickett, Neal, Flynn and Dietrich-Smith.

As far as looking to the outside for help: don't expect much. The free-for-all will hit on Tuesday and when the smoke clears over the weekend, Thompson will look at what's left and begin shopping for bargains.

After all, he just bought his big ticket item of the offseason, the Pack's most vital free agent. Now it's time to do some coupon clipping.


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Beware the Arrghs of March

Posted February 17th, 2014 @ 03:02am

I know, it's infuriating. No, not the fact that I've been silent for a few weeks. Okay, that might be a bit infuriating too. I'm talking about the month of March. March means free agency. The month when Ted hibernates.

You know the drill. Teams like the Redskins and Jets will make headlines by adding veterans and you'll say to yourself, or to anyone who's listening, 'Come on Ted. Do something. Show us you have a pulse. Draft and develop can only take you so far. And when some of those draft picks stink like limburger cheese, and then you get more than your share of injuries, well, it makes for a quick January.'

You think, maybe this year will be different. After all, the team entered the 2013 season figuring it would have to pay big money to pending free agents BJ Raji and Jermichael Finley. But now it looks like they'll let both guys test the waters and it's likely both will be wearing different uniforms in 2014. That frees up a lot of money--much of which will hopefully be earmarked for Sam Shields, the team's most important free agent.

Most of the other free agents are complementary guys, most of whom could be replaced without much fanfare. The guys I'd like to see the team hold on to: Shields, Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal and John Kuhn. Of the others, James Jones and Andrew Quarless would be nice to keep around--it depends whether either catches another team's eye. Jones missed out on a payday three years ago. His 2012 campaign may be fresh enough in one team's mind to deliver a richer contract than the Packers want to offer.

So here's what's going to happen next month. On the eve of free agency you'll go to bed with visions of safeties Jairus Byrd or Donte Whitner in green and gold dancing in your head. Then within a few days, those guys will be playing in greener pastures and there will be an unconfirmed Ted Thompson sighting at a Chipotle. Other than that, we'll get crickets coming from 1265 Lombardi Avenue.

Save the frustration. Save the belly aching. March is for teams like the Dolphins to overpay guys like Mike Wallace. Or for the Vikings to grab a couple of ex-Packers. It's not when championship teams are built.

Would I like the Pack to dabble a bit? Sure. This is a team on the short list of Super Bowl contenders. A couple of veteran pieces could make a world of difference. But it's not how Thompson is wired. The team will need to pay guys like Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, as well as a few of their current free agents; that will be the team's priority heading into the draft.

So remember. March will be maddening. Guys will leave the team and Ted won't immediately replace them. Then will come April and all of the draft hype. The actual draft has been pushed back to May, so for a couple of months and change you'll have no idea what the '14 roster will look like, but you will see a ton of old faces in other new places.

Relax. Take a breath. No matter what happens this spring, if #12 is vertical for 16 games next season, the Packers will be in the hunt. March madness is for most of the other 31 teams. For Packer fans, under Ted's watch, it will likely always be March silence.



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