With Shields back, what\'s the defense\'s most pressing need?
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.
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.
Posted January 17th, 2014 @ 03:01am
For those of you who are somewhat new to this blog (stumbling upon it in the last year), you might have been asking yourself, 'what's up with the head cheese?' Here's the thing, every year after the Pack's last game, I take a little mental break. Let a week or so pass before I pick things up. It's also the time of the year that I travel a lot for work, so, no more excuses.
By Monday I'll post my thoughts on the Packers' free agents, but for now I want to weigh in on what I think we're in for this weekend, with two games providing endless storylines and a whole lot of anticipation.
Let's start with Brady vs. Manning XIV in Denver. To me, the Patriots have been the Packers of the AFC, dealing with more than their share of devastating injuries. No they didn't lose Brady, but all three levels of their defense lost their best player, the offense lost it's top playmaker and they've had to dig deeper into the depth chart at some positions than the hole being dug in downtown Minneapolis right now.
That they've reached this spot is not monumental. The AFC was down this year, thanks to the dips by teams like the Steelers and the Super Bowl champion Ravens. It was hard for most of us to believe that teams like the Chiefs, Bengals and Colts were going to be January warriors. That left the Broncos and Patriots. And here they are.
This edition of Belichick's group has morphed in recent weeks into a power running team. When Stevan Ridley fumbled away his chance and Shane Vereen couldn't stay healthy, they turned to LaGarrette Blount the last games of the season. All he did was gain more than 280 yards rushing in those two games and score four times. We saw what he did against the Colts. The Broncos enter this game knowing they have to stop the run. If they don't, Peyton stands on the sidelines and he can't yell 'Omaha!' from the sidelines.
That said, look for the Patriots to exploit the Broncos' defense through the air. The loss of cornerback Chris Harris cannot be overstated. Champ Bailey is running on fumes and Quentin Jammer is no longer Quentin Jammer. Brady will find mismatches and he will exploit them. Without a playmaking tight end, the Pats' passing game is no longer electric. But Brady and his coordinator Josh McDaniels are savvy enough to find a way to move the ball through the air.
Needless to say, the Broncos' hopes of delivering Peyton to his third Super Bowl rest on the arm and the nerves of Manning himself. I think his playoff record has been a bit overstated, I mean, he put his team in position last year and his secondary went brain dead. But make no mistake, Manning will feel the pressure of expectations.
He knows his time is running out. He'll meet with doctors in a couple of months to see how his neck looks. Then the team will decide if it will pay him another $20 million to return in 2014. There's no question, they'd be thrilled to write those checks, but if the prognosis is not good, this could be the end of the line for maybe the greatest QB ever.
And unless he can win two more games, he'd stare at a trophy case full of awards, but his brother would always wear more rings. I think Manning will play well on Sunday, well enough to win, but I think the Patriots are the grittier team, the tougher team up front on both sides of the ball. Brady's won 10 of these 13 meetings. I think he gets it done again.
Patriots 30 Broncos 27
If the Packers couldn't get here, this was the NFC's dream matchup (OK, non-Packers will naturally disagree; I get that). The title game in the NFC is the polar opposite of the AFC's. Instead of 'Hall of Fame quarterbacks meet once again,' we get: 'elite, hard-nosed defenses square off for the third time.' The Seahawks have gotten the better of this rivalry this season, dominating the Niners both times they played at Century Link.
Something tells me this one will be a little different. The Hawks' air of invincibility at home evaporated with a week 16 loss to Arizona. Their offense has been sputtering along for the last month or so, with Russell Wilson looking less comfortable out their than we're accustomed to seeing. Much of that can be pinned on an offensive line that has him running for his life. And when it comes to playmakers in the passing game, Seattle comes up short, considering Percy Harvin can't be counted on to be that wildcard.
Both teams will try to pound it on the ground and let their defenses strut their stuff. This is a big spot for Colin Kaepernick, who understands what it's like to play there and needs to play a whole lot better than his last two outings there. This time he has a healthy Michael Crabtree to go along with other physical receivers in Boldin and Davis. Seattle can take one or two of those guys away, but not all three. Can Kaepernick find the mismatches? That's what this game will come down to.
My brain is leaning towards San Francisco this game, despite the mega home field advantage. The Niners are healthier than they've been all season and it feels like they're going to be that rare team that loses the Super Bowl and returns the next year.
49ers 20 Seahawks 19
My preseason prediction was Seattle over Denver, so it hurts to go against that, but it feels like the road teams step up and deliver on what should be a historically great championship weekend. Anyone agree?
I'll have much more on the title games, along with my partner Trent Tucker on "In the Zone," Saturday morning at 8 on KFAN and kfan.com.