Tag: NFL

Green Bay Packers Free Agency 2018 Could See Change in Packers’ Modus Operandi

Green Bay packers Free Agency 2018 Outlook

Green Bay Packers free agency could take a sharp turn in 2018 with the hiring of Brian Gutekunst at General Manager. The Packers announced today that they have made a decision on who will be Ted Thompson’s successor at GM and they have chosen in-house candidate Brian Gutekunst.

Gutekunst has been with the organization for 20 years, as of this upcoming season and was part of Ron Wolf’s hiring tree. There might not be a more deserving candidate as Gutekunst, who no doubt has been Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers approved after there was much turmoil with the rumor that Packers executive Russ Ball was the front-runner for GM.

With that being said, will Gutekunst turn around a franchise that has been timid at best in signing free agents? The ultimate question surrounding Gutekunst will be if he has the killer instinct that Thompson (at let’s be honest Mark Murphy) lacked in looking outside the organization for talent.

One would imagine that a new GM would want to make an immediate impact and look to free agency. The Packers, once again, cannot afford to sift through unproven talent in the draft to fill the holes and needs of the team. So what options does Gutekunst have? Here are some of the impact decisions that he can make that will immediately make it clear that the Packers are ready to make a quick re-build and compete:

Correct Current Roster Issues

The Packers are in desperate need of a current roster makeover. Players such as Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are big cap question marks heading into the off-season. It is almost a no-brainer at this point to cut ties with Matthews, who makes too much money for his current level of production. If the Packers are still concerned that they cannot find replaceable talent via free agency at linebacker, they can ask Matthews to restructure and stay with the team. Which I personally think would be a mistake, but it might be a viable option at this point.

Aaron Rodgers will most certainly get an extension to be the highest paid quarterback in the league. This will be another “difficult” decision for Gutekunst to make, but one that is clearly necessary and will get done no matter what. The interesting part of all of this will be how many years and how they plan on structuring the cap hit.

Nelson and Cobb are two players who are also not living up to their current cap hits. Nelson is an issue of an aging player taking a step back. But Cobb’s $10 million cap hit is not worth his level of production. I would imagine both players are restructure candidates and I could see the organization seeking to keep both. But Cobb would be the most likely outright cut to save cap money and give him an option to truly test free agency to see if he can catch on with another team.

Giving a deal to Morgan Burnett should currently be the Packers top priority. I cannot imagine this secondary succeeding without their most reliable player. Burnett has consistently proven throughout the years that he is a leader on defense. Burnett will be due a 2-3 year deal and I think the Packers can get him for a reasonable price.

Bryan Bulaga could be a potential cut, as he is just too oft-injured to make an impact. I think he is is a fine player and does his job when he is healthy. But his cap hit is too much for the potential that he will suffer yet another season ending injury.

Another aspect that most people will not look at initially is special teams. Mason Crosby will most definitely will be asked to restructure as his cap hit is $5.25 million this upcoming season. His compliance in this cap saving measure will come due to age and wanting to stay with a team that stuck with him through his struggles a few years back.

Finally Look to Free Agency to Fill Holes ahead of draft

The Packers must, and this time I truly mean must, look to free agency to add some talent. This roster is realistically only a few players away from being being good enough to make another playoff push. Gutekunst could make a big splash and prove he is capable of making tough decisions by dipping into free agency. Here are some players the Packers could target to bolster their roster.

Ezekiel Ansah

Ansah could be the answer for Green Bay’s pass rush. The current Detroit Lion is headed to free agency and will certainly be an expensive player. The Packers are waiting on Chicago’s decision to cut ties with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. If they get their guy in Fangio as D-Coordinator, I would imagine he would institute a 3-4 defense, even though it seems we have the personnel to fit a 4-3. The acquisition of Ansah would push both Kenny Clark and Daniels to the interior, where they could thrive. Green Bay would have a true edge rusher, which they have lacked for a while and it would be nice to pry an elite talent away from a division rival.

DeMarcus Lawrence

DeMarcus Lawrence is perhaps Dallas’ best defensive piece, will certainly be getting paid this off-season. Lawrence posted career numbers this year on a depleted Dallas defense, with no real notable pass rushers outside of him. Sean Lee was hurt on and off and Lawrence still proved he could get consistent pressure on opposing QBs. At 25 years old, Lawrence is entering his prime years and as long as this year was no fluke, should make good on his market value. According to spotrac.com, Lawrence’s market value is 9 million over 4 years. Lawrence will most likely command more as he is posting Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan like numbers. If Dallas chooses not to sign him, he might be an intriguing option for Green Bay’s revamped pass attack.

A look at the similarities between Lawrence and other dynamic pass rushers this season.

Jarvis Landry

Signing Landry also would come at a considerable price, but might be worth it to give Rodgers another dynamic, sure-handed weapon in the passing game. The Packers are looking at interesting times with their receiving core. They certainly expect Davante Adams to soar to new heights with his 4 year, 58 million dollar contract. As I mentioned earlier, they faced uncertainty with Cobb and Nelson. The receivers at the back end of the depth chart are unproven, or have only shown flashes. The Packers have two dynamic running backs and will not have to look to the draft or free agency to fill that void, so perhaps they could look at a free agent like Landry, or even Sammy Watkins (who should be cheaper) to add another weapon to the aerial attack.

Nigel Bradham

Bradham is another player similar to Lawrence who had a career year this season. The difference with Bradham is that he will not break the bank for Green Bay like Lawrence or Ansah would and would provide a consistent tackler at linebacker. The Eagles very well may keep Bradham and he certainly comes with character concerns. But the Packers would be foolish to not at least take a look at Bradham if he indeed becomes a free agent, after two relatively successful seasons in Philadelphia.

Malcolm Butler

It is no secret that Butler has not been happy with the New England Patriots. Perhaps the signing of Stephone Gilmore really got to Butler, as the Patriots have been pretty mum on what they will do with the former Super Bowl hero. A fresh start with a franchise who desperately needs a playmaker at cornerback, Butler would alleviate the pressure on Kevin King to immediately be Green Bay’s best cornerback. Butler and King would be the dominant forces on the outside and Randall/Rollins could split duties at the slot position or even play their natural position of safety.

A Backup Quarterback

Green Bay’s situation at backup Quarterback leaves much to be desired. While Hundley still has a year on his rookie contract, the Packers have no choice but to look at free agency options to backup Rodgers. Some options include Matt Moore, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown. This team will no doubt invest some money in the backup position, in the event that Rodgers is out more games than they would expect and be better prepared than to roll with Hundley, who clearly is not the quarterback the team thought he would be after 3 years. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they drafted a quarterback and cut Hundley outright, or signed him to the practice squad. His time in Green Bay is most likely coming to an end.

Prince Amukamara

Amukamara could be an interesting prospect if the Packers are looking for secondary depth. Amukamara could be a nice piece to be had if the Packers do indeed bring in Fangio at D-Coordinator. He will not command a big cap when he signed with Chicago. Far from an elite player, Amukamara could be had for a relatively cheap cap hit and would, at the very least, be a similar signing to Davon House this past season.

Green Bay’s off-season Path is Fairly Clear

The Packers will now opearate with a new GM and defensive coordinator. Head Coach Mike McCarthy is here through at least the 2019 season and the offense should not skip a beat. The Packers have enough needs to fill through both free agency and the draft. They will most definitely look for EDGE help and maybe a cornerback with their 1st pick (14th overall) in this year’s draft.

Make no mistake about it, Gutekunst will definitely make a big move to establish his legacy early on. The Packers can no longer sit around and hope that their draft picks develop to be top notch players like in the Thompson era. That does not mean we will foolishly spend in free agency, but acquiring decent talent in the off-season, supplemented by solid drafts will hopefully net the team one more Super Bowl appearance in the Rodgers era.

If the Packers cannot provide a solid off-season contingency plan, one would have to ask why Rodgers would want to stick around? The past few seasons he has been battered and suffered essentially season ending injuries in the two of the last five seasons. Rodgers has a number one receiver in Adams, a player he has been vocal about the team keeping and has two running backs who are capable of supplementing the pass attack. It is now up to management to fix the rest of the team and bring back a winning formula to this team.

The X-Factor: Aaron Jones Could Take The Packers To Another Level

The Green bay packers offense is already good. Aaron Jones could make it elite.

The NFL season is well underway as we enter week six and the Packers are off to a good start. Among the top teams in the NFC, some things have gone as expected. Aaron Rodgers continues to be an elite QB and the WR group is producing. One of the main storylines coming into the season was Ty Montgomery and the running game. Montgomery has proven to be a dynamic player, but the traditional running game had struggled through the first three weeks. The Packers did play several good defensive fronts to go with their own injuries upon the line, but Montgomery barely eclipsed three yards per carry. This is where Aaron Jones enters the equation.

Montgomery was off to a solid start week four but unfortunately sustained an injury. Later that game Aaron Jones entered after yet another injury, this time to Jamaal Williams. What has happened in the game and a half since has been extremely encouraging. Jones has rushed for 174 yards on 32 carries and added 2 touchdowns. Against Dallas the rookie put up 125 on 19 carries, showing great patience and vision as he was able to set up his blocks and generally keep the offense in favorable down and distances. While it is a small sample size there is reason to believe the Packers may have found a keeper in the 5th round pick out of UTEP. If Jones is the real deal, pairing him with the pass catching threat Montgomery could take the offense to a new level.

offensive balance

The Packers draft strategy did not involve spending a high pick on a running back. Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon were both on the board when Green Bay opened up the 2nd round and neither got the call. Ted Thompson did not want to put all his eggs in one basket with a high pick instead taking three players in the later rounds. Not a bad idea by any means, late round running backs can be successful. Jordan Howard, for example, was 2nd in the NFL in rushing in 2016 as a 5th round pick. Aaron Jones’ college tape showed a dynamic player who dominated his competition. In an offense led by Aaron Rodgers the pass will always be the first option. Nonetheless the Packers need a good running game if they want to be serious contenders.

While the Packers have been consistent playoff contenders in the Rodgers era, they have been at their best when balanced. During the Super Bowl run in 2010 James Starks was used heavily in the playoffs. His 123 yard performance in the Wild Card game was crucial that season. In 2011 the Packers running game struggled. When Rodgers and the receivers had an off day against the Giants the season was over. 2014 brought us the strongest Packers team since the Super Bowl victory. Aaron Rodgers was league MVP but they also had Eddie Lacy running for over 1200 yards. Jones, Montgomery, or any other player may not get enough carries to put up those kind of individual stats but the Packers could put up huge numbers as a team.

Conclusion

Aaron Jones will be an exciting player to watch for the rest of the season. Coach McCarthy has always preferred to use multiple backs, so he should receive plenty of carries even with Montgomery healthy. Both runners offer the ability to be receiving threats as well. This will make Green Bays offense less predictable and should allow Aaron Rodgers to exploit defenses even more than he already does. Time will tell if the Packers got a day three steal with Jones, if they did the rest of the NFL should watch out.

 

 

Green Bay Packers Preseason: Why You Should Watch

Preseason marks the return to the hallowed grounds.

The games don’t count but they are still important.

Preseason football can be a drag. We are happy to see the games return after a long offseason, yet almost immediately we long for the regular season. Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson will not be on the field much if at all. Players are not familiar with their teammates and ball security issues tend to dominate. Play can be sloppy and the outcomes don’t matter. So why even bother watching these exhibition games? Here are a few reasons.

the rookies

The NFL draft is almost an American holiday by now. As our favorite teams announce their picks we begin to have visions of these players making plays on the gridiron. Preseason is our first chance to see those visions become reality. Vince Biegel and Montravius Adams are out with injuries but Kevin King and Josh Jones are healthy. Expectations should always be tempered with rookies, and King had a couple rough moments in the first preseason game. We hopefully will see some splash plays from the pair before the month is over.

Running back is a position to watch this August. Three rookie runners are vying for spots on the roster. Jamaal Williams seems to be the leader, but Devante Mays and Aaron Jones will receive plenty of opportunities. Which of these runners will separate themselves and become a big part of the offense in 2017? Ty Montgomery is the starter but the others will be needed for the Pack to be successful.

Preseason position battles

Ted Thompson will have no choice but to cut one or two good receivers. Beyond the locks like Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams there appear to be seven players fighting for four spots. Trevor Davis and Deangelo Yancey made nice plays against Philadelphia that stood out. Jeff Janis scored a touchdown and Max McCaffrey was targeted numerous times. Have you heard of Michael Clark? An intriguing prospect who also scored against the Eagles. The Packers simply won’t have room on the roster for all these players and competition will be fierce.

The cornerback and safety positions feature a lot of depth behind the starters. The corners are especially interesting, as any number of players could move into a starting role with a solid camp. Also worth watching is QB Brett Hundley, he isn’t going to take Rodgers job, but a solid showing could land him a starters role elsewhere. Packers fans should be used to this by now, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck, and Aaron Brooks are players who proved their value in Green Bay before starting with other teams.

it’s football

Be honest here, you want to watch football even if it is preseason. Heck, use it as a tune up for yourself. If you haven’t grilled in awhile fine tune your skills so you are ready for Week 1. Practice some clever insults for the officials that will make your friends laugh. Enjoy the return of football, the team is on the field again and will be until February if all goes well!

 

The Other Guys: Packers 2017 Free Agency Review

Embed from Getty Images

The Packers did not make the big splash, but they still helped themselves in Free Agency.

The longstanding criticism of Packers GM Ted Thompson has been his unwillingness to dip into free agency. While some of this criticism is unwarranted there are instances where it would have been helpful to look at available veterans. In the NFC championship loss in Atlanta the Packers had 14 rookies on their active roster. This inexperience can be dangerous in big games and it has burned the Packers the last several seasons.

The Packers faced a lot of uncertainty heading into the 2017 off-season. Several familiar faces departed for other teams. It appears Thompson finally reached a point where he realized the roster could not be filled solely through the draft. The Packers added some quality depth to the roster and were prudent in doing so. Here is a look at some guys who will help when injuries inevitably hit.

DEFENSIVE DEPTH

A vast majority of the defensive additions were made through the draft. The Packers added speed and versatility to the defensive backfield in Kevin King and Josh Jones. However they made two depth signings that could come in handy. Davon House returned after a two year stay in Jacksonville to compete for a spot at corner. It was obvious that Cornerback needed to be addressed given the struggles of Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins last season. House is far from a sure thing, but he is an option with some upside. Considering his meager contract that signing could pay dividends.

I really like the signing of Ricky Jean Francois. He has been a useful NFL player for a while now and should provide key depth in the defensive line rotation. Adding Francois should allow the defensive linemen should remain fresh deep into the 4th quarter.

NEW ELEMENTS ON OFFENSE

Tight End is a position the team clearly wants to emphasize in 2017. The Packers were a different offense when they had Jared Cook on the field. Cook will not be back but the Packers look as strong at that position as they have in years. While he may not accumulate the statistics he did during his time in Chicago, I expect Martellus Bennett to be very effective working with Aaron Rodgers. Lance Kendricks has had an inconsistent career but should be a more than capable second Tight End. He also offers insurance in case of an injury to Bennett. A big plus with both of these players is they are willing blockers. With both on the field the defense will have a tough time predicting whether a run or pass is coming.

REPLACING A MAINSTAY

The biggest lost the Packers suffered was T.J. Lang departing in free agency. There was no one available in free agency or the draft who could come in and be the same player Lang has been the last half decade. It was a smart move nonetheless to acquire Jahri Evans when he became available. While no longer the Pro Bowl player he was in his prime, Evans still provided a solid season for the Saints in 2016. At 33 he should have enough left in the tank to fill the void for this season. Players at that age always carry some risk, but it was a weak draft class for Guards. Evans also provides more experience and consistency than the guys currently on the roster.

CONCLUSION

Ted Thompson is fairly predictable at this stage of his career, but on paper this looks like one of his better off-seasons. The Packers lost more players than they usually do which could be problematic, but Thompson added solid depth players. Thompson will still receive the maximum amount of compensatory picks in 2018. I am also a fan of Thompson’s strategy in the 2017 draft. Between the rookies and new veteran faces there should be quite a few battles for roster spots in training camp. Hopefully this results in a stronger 2017 Green Bay Packers.

 

 

NFL Mock Draft 2017: Derek Barnett and Mike Williams Moving Up

By: Bill Tewes

The NFL Mock Draft season is heating up. At Brew City Sports Report, we took a different angle and did a collaborative mock draft. Each of us chose three teams and alternated picks to get a unique twist on the traditional mock drafting process. Take a look at our NFL mock draft below as we discuss in depth the top 10 picks and reveal the rest.

Here are how the teams were split up:

Bill: Chicago, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Detroit, Miami, Kansas City, Dallas.

Mark: San Francisco, Tennessee, Carolina, New Orleans (1), Philadelphia, Washington, Denver, New York Giants, Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans (2).

Jim: Cleveland (1), New York Jets, LA Chargers, Cleveland (2), Arizona, Tennessee (2), Tampa Bay, Oakland, Houston, Pittsburgh, Atlanta.

The top two picks ended up being Garrett and Thomas, which is par for the course with many experts. It seems almost too good to be true for Cleveland to pass up on a cornerstone defensive piece such as Garrett. The 49ers have expressed interest in trading out of the two spot, but they can also use a defensive player and their defensive line is essentially non-existent aside from DeForest Buckner, their 7th overall pick last year.

The Chicago Bears are allegedly interested in trading out of the third overall spot. Teams are fielding offers after seeing what  Tennessee received for trading out of the top spot in the 2016 draft. We have Chicago taking Malik Hooker, to bolster their secondary and get a player who has a nose for the ball, but will need some time to mature. Chicago is a good fit as they are beginning to rebuild and will have plenty of time to get Hooker experience.

Jacksonville needs a defensive end and will happily take Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen. Although I personally think that Allen will be the first player to take a serious tumble down draft boards on opening night.

The Titans definitely have a huge conundrum with having two picks in the top 20. Taking into consideration that they have secondary needs and can also use a dynamic receiving option, our mock has them taking Mike Williams with their first pick and then selecting a cornerback at 18 in Marlon Humphrey.

The first big shakeup in the draft comes with the Jets at 6, taking tight end OJ Howard. In fact, Howard’s stock has been increasing and he would be the first tight end since Vernon Davis to be selected with the 6th overall pick (Davis was 6th in 2006). This pick makes a lot of sense because the Jets will be rebuilding for a few years and should not be hell-bent on over-drafting a QB so early in the draft. I could see them picking up a DeShone Kizer or perhaps a Davis Webb, who is moving up draft boards, in the second round.

The Chargers nab one of the better talents, as Jamal Adams falls to them at pick 7. Most noteworthy is Adam’s leadership skills, which could end up moving him up, ahead of the likes of Hooker and other defensive backs.

Leonard Fournette, this draft’s version of Ezekiel Elliott, is taken by the Carolina Panthers. Carolina can use a running back to compliment an aging Jonathan Stewart. I could also see Christian McCaffrey landing in Carolina and giving Cam Newton a dynamic receiving option out of the backfield.

Another intriguing top 10 pick comes in at 9th overall with Derek Barnett. Barnett has all of the tools to crack into the top five in a really deep draft for defensive lineman. During Barnett’s freshman year, he tallied 10 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss. at 6’3″ 260, he ran a 4.88 40 and some mocks have Barnett as high as top 3.

The Green Bay Packers get homegrown hero T.J. Watt after an explosive season at linebacker for Wisconsin. Watt fills an immediate need for Green Bay at linebacker and gives them flexibility in moving Matthews inside or keeping him at his traditional spot of outside linebacker. The obvious concern with Watt is sample size. But he is definitely an intriguing option and will be worth a shot if he is there at 29. Will be interesting to see what Thompson does come draft night.

Here is how the rest of the mock draft shaped up:

11. Marshon Lattimore CB- Buffalo

12. DeShaun Watson QB- Cleveland

13. Reuben Foster LB- Arizona

14. Gareon Conley CB- Philadelphia

15. Dalvin Cook RB- Indianapolis

16. John Ross WR- Baltimore

17. Haason Reddick LB- Washington

18. Marlon Humphrey CB- Tennessee

19. Taco Charlton DE- Tampa Bay

20. Christian McCaffrey RB- Denver

21. Caleb Brantley DT- Detroit

22. Ryan Ramczyk OT- Miami

23. David Njoku TE- New York Giants

24. Malik McDowell DE- Oakland

25. Patrick Mahomes QB- Houston

26. Kevin King CB- Seattle

27. Takkarist McKinley LB/DE- Kansas City

28. Jabrill Peppers S- Dallas

29. T.J. Watt LB- Green Bay

30. Corey Davis WR- Pittsburgh

31. Cam Robinson OT- Atlanta

32. Jarrad Davis LB- New Orleans

 

 

Week Eight Predictions: Green Bay at Atlanta

By: Bill Tewes, Mark Prott, & Jim Boyce

After disposing of the Bears, the Packers got a mini-bye to prepare for this Sunday’s game in Atlanta. Unfortunately the extra time did little to help Green Bay on the injury front as they face the dirty birds.

JIM

FALCONS 30 PACKERS 27

This was shaping up to be a difficult road challenge even before Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb were limited in practice, leaving their status for Sunday up in the air. Rodgers will likely rely heavily on the short passing game again. This could work quite well as Atlanta’s defense is weak in the middle of the field, though they do have a solid cornerback duo. Running Back remains a question, perhaps Don Jackson or Knile Davis will receive something resembling a normal RB workload, but I expect Ty Montgomery will be lined up back there quite a bit.

The Falcons offensive strengths seem to expose Green Bay’s biggest weakness right now. That strength being Julio Jones lining up against the Packers depleted secondary. With over 800 yards in seven games, Jones is doing things rarely seen in the NFL. The Packers will no doubt give him extra attention, but that could open things up for everyone else. While I’m not sure Atlanta is really an NFC contender, the Packers inconsistencies so far this season have me feeling like they’ll come up just short in this one.

Bill

Green Bay 28 Atlanta 21

At this point in the season, Green Bay will get their toughest offensive challenge in the Atlanta Falcons. The Packers are down their top three cornerbacks, which is going to be an obviously difficult challenge to overcome. Ladarius Gunter will most likely have the task of covering Julio Jones with safety help over the top. A successful game for Green Bay’s secondary will be if they can limit Julio to under 250 yards receiving. Stop laughing, it’s the damn truth.

In order for Green Bay to win this game, and I am picking them to win it in Atlanta, is for their defense to get frenetic pressure on quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons are a very beatable team and even with their high powered offense, as San Diego proved last week. Atlanta’s offensive line has been pretty bad this year, and should allow for Green Bay’s front to get plenty of pressure.

Atlanta’s linebacking group has proven lackluster and outside of cornerback Desmond Trufant, their secondary has no noteworthy players. Aaron Rodgers will have plenty of opportunities to pick apart this Falcons defense and must seize the moment in order for Green Bay to not only win, but regain confidence heading into a difficult stretch of their schedule. I expect receiver Davante Adams to play a huge role with Trufant shadowing Jordy Nelson, as well as RB/WR Ty Montgomery getting plenty of touches.

MARK

FALCONS 31 PACKERS 27

This game has all the makings of a shootout. I honestly could see it going either way but because it’s in Atlanta I’m giving the edge to the Falcons. Green Bay has been a solid defense overall this year but the Falcons have one of the top offenses in the league and maybe the top overall NFL offensive skill position player in Julio Jones. Jones must be salivating at the thought of running routes against the Packers’ opening day 4th cornerback, Ladarius Gunter. The best bet for the Packers’ success will likely be Gunter using his physicality at the line against Jones with help over the top from Clinton-Dix. The Packers will need to generate a pass rush against Matt Ryan, who is already being sacked almost 3 times per game.

On the offensive side of the ball I see the Packers picking up from last week against the Bears and also being able to move the ball against the Falcons and their below average defense. The secondary of the Falcons is nothing special so there should be opportunities in the passing game. The Packers would be wise to continue utilizing the short West Coast passing attack they used last week. It seemed to bring rhythm back to the overall game of Aaron Rodgers. With over a week now in the offense it will be interesting to see how much Knile Davis will be incorporated into the game plan.

 

 

Josh Hawkins and Kentrell Brice: Packers' Latest Diamonds In The Rough

Green Bay Packers new dynamic duo of rookie free agents in the secondary look to be the real deal 

By: Mark Prott

The NFL rookie free agent talent pipeline to 1265 Lombardi Avenue has a chance in 2016 to be as rich as it has ever been in recent history. Packers GM Ted Thompson, along with his personnel staff, have made it a yearly ritual to search every nook and cranny for the overlooked college prospect with NFL talent who happened to slip through the scouting cracks for one reason or another. Look no further than safety Kentrell Brice out of Louisiana Tech and cornerback Josh Hawkins out of East Carolina for likely the two newest members, in a long line of rookie free agents, to become meaningful contributors for the Green Bay Packers.

A quick analysis of the Packers 2016 opening 53 man roster tells you Thompson values rookie free agents and counts on them while building his roster. The Packers currently have 14 players, who entered the league without being drafted. It seems to be a growing trend in the NFL today.

Now in a majority of cases rookie free agent are not talented enough to become full time starters and instead are used to fill out rosters and carve out roles as reserves or special teams players. But there are always exceptions to every rule, as was the case with Packers top cornerback Sam Shields who entered the league as a rookie free agent in 2010. However, the difference in a case like Shields was he was bursting with talent highlighted by his 40-yard dash time of 4.30, making him as physically gifted as the top corners in the 2010 NFL draft. Fast forward to 2016 and the same line of thinking can be used when we analyze the physical tools of Brice and Hawkins in comparison to the other top prospects at their respective positions.

The numbers don’t lie. It’s even likely Sam Shields name came up when the Packers were scouting and evaluating Josh Hawkins in the first place. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote an interesting piece comparing the measurables of Hawkins with Shields and the similarities were shocking. At his pro day the 5-10 189 pound Hawkins ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and completed a 40.5 inch vertical jump, both impressive results which would have given him a top 5 finish in those categories among all cornerbacks participating at the annual NFL scouting combine. Not to be outdone, Hawkins’ new teammate Kentrell Brice put up equally if not even more impressive physical testing numbers at his pro day given that he plays the safety position.

In fact, it’s probably not a stretch to assume Kentrell Brice would have blown up the NFL scouting combine with his results had he been invited. It happens almost every year when a lesser known prospect tests out of this world and begins to shoot up draft boards due to more exposure. The Green Bay Packers are probably secretly relieved that Brice and Hawkins for that matter weren’t invited. To put Brice’s remarkable physical testing numbers in perspective, the 5-11 200 pound safety would have ranked first among all safeties participating at the combine in both his vertical jump of 42 inches and broad jump of 11-1. While both his 40-yard dash time of 4.44 seconds and 21 bench press reps would have placed him second in those categories.

According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, the fifth pick in the draft, might have been the only defensive back at the combine to test better than Brice.”

Now I don’t want to suggest here that testing numbers and measurables should be the main focus of building a championship roster. If that were the case, the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis would have been fielding powerhouse football teams every year during his tenure, given his love for acquiring great athletes with big time speed. A great athlete is of little value if he is unable to apply instincts and skills on the football field. Production on the field still is the ultimate deciding factor of player evaluation, which is another reason for Packers fans to be excited about Hawkins and Brice.

With 2 picks in the preseason and a confident presence on the field, Josh Hawkins looked like a potential playmaker on the outside. And the range, closing speed, and physicality displayed by Kentrell Brice while he roamed the middle of the field was reminiscent at times of another great athlete and former Packers safety Nick Collins.

Yes, it was just preseason football and the competition in the regular season is a whole new ball game but the results so far for both Brice and Hawkins are encouraging nonetheless. Lots of development and coaching will still be needed to find out a final verdict on the potential impact either player can make down the road. But as of today, the evidence is there that the electric physical tools of both players are translating into production on the field, making me believe both players could have very bright futures in Titletown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Curious Case of Josh Sitton

Long time starter’s release leaves questions.

By: Jim Boyce

Most fans of the Green Bay Packers, heck most fans of the NFL, were pretty stunned Saturday afternoon when it was reported that the Packers would be releasing veteran guard Josh Sitton if they were unable to trade him. This is obviously a pretty unexpected move by Ted Thompson and one that might take a few days to fully digest. Nonetheless it leaves some immediate questions about the Packers offensive line.

WHO PLAYS GUARD?

In a perfect world versatile backup J.C Tretter could have slid in to the giant hole left by Sitton’s departure. However Tretter is currently the starting center, as Corey Linsley will begin the season on the PUP list. With a healthy Linsley you could have sold me on releasing Sitton more easily, but instead the Packers will have to look at other options. Lane Taylor is the first backup guard on the roster and the Packers gave him a two year deal earlier this offseason. However Taylor played pretty poorly in the final preseason game against Kansas City’s backup defense. Perhaps he has shown enough in practice over the summer to suggest that the Chiefs game was just an off night, but he is not nearly the same caliber of player as Sitton is.

Coach McCarthy could choose to shuffle a few players around on the line. Perhaps moving T.J Lang to left guard and having Bryan Bulaga shift from right tackle to right guard. Rookie Jason Spriggs would then start at right tackle. The Packers are obviously quite high on Spriggs as they traded up to get him in the 2nd round. No doubt Spriggs was drafted with a starting role in mind as the Packers have Lang, Tretter, and David Bakhtiari heading for free agency after this season, as was Sitton. This move simply accelerates the plan with Spriggs.

A line consisting of Bakhtiari, Lang, Tretter, Bulaga, and Spriggs is still a pretty good line, however it leaves some real concerns about depth. As mentioned earlier Corey Linsely is out for awhile, which means Taylor, Don Barclay, and rookie Kyle Murphy figure as the main backups. No Packers fan wants to see any of those guys taking snaps this season, and things could get ugly quick if one or more of the starters goes down with an injury. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, a thin offensive line is playing with fire.

WHY NOW?

If the Packers were looking to move on from Sitton or shed his remaining salary, why did they not trade him earlier in the offseason? With several teams already showing interest in meeting with him, could Thompson not have at least got a draft pick for him had he acted earlier? The Browns were able to get a 6th round pick for a first round bust in Josh Gilbert, what would a team have given up for an All-Pro guard, even if only for this season?

Sitton only had one year remaining on his deal, for a guy who covets draft picks, it’s surprising Thompson didn’t let him leave via free agency after the season in order to accumulate a compensatory pick. Thompson himself did not use any financial lingo when discussing his decision.

“We want to thank Josh for his contributions during his time in Green Bay,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said in a statement. “He has been an important part of the success we have enjoyed on the field.

“While these decisions are never easy, this was done with a focus on what is best for the team and the growth of the offensive line. We wish Josh and his wife, Kristen, all the best in the future.”

I don’t know how cutting a still very good offensive lineman is best for the team this season. Sometimes I wonder if Thompson wouldn’t enjoy overseeing a rebuilding team more where young players getting game action would be more of a priority. In 2016 the Packers are in contention for a Super Bowl, is letting Sitton play one more season really going to stunt the growth and future of the offensive line? Sitton himself sure did not see this move coming, but took the high road when discussing his release.

This move is confusing to me right now, and perhaps there is more information behind the scenes that has yet to come out. If healthy, Sitton is clearly better than anyone the Packers plan on replacing him with. Nonetheless he is no longer a Packer, and the end seems far too abrupt for one of the better linemen Green Bay has had in recent history. It is now up to the coaches to put the best line out there that they can, and Thompson to sign the remaining starters on that line to long term deals. Green Bay fans will miss number 71, a durable and consistent performer during his time on the team. We wish Josh Sitton good health and fortune as he continues his NFL career.

Packers deal LB Lerentee McCray to Bills

Green Bay Packers will receive an undisclosed 2018 NFL draft pack in exchange

By Mark Prott

In a move to get closer to the 75 man roster reduction due at 3 P.M. Central Aug. 30, Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson has dealt Lerentee McCray, the 6-2 246 lb outside linebacker to the Buffalo Bills for a 2018 undisclosed draft pick.

It’s an interesting move as Lerentee McCray was thought to be in contention for one of the final outside linebacker positions on the 2016 Packers squad. McCray was also a known contributor on special teams with his former team, the Denver Broncos, and figured to play a similar role with the Packers if he made the 53.

In addition, at least in the 2016 exhibition games McCray seemed to be outplaying outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott, thought to be his main competition for earning a roster spot. However, Elliott has shown flashes of play making ability in the past and also is a valued special teams player.

Perhaps Ted Thompson does not view the competition the same way and was going to cut McCray anyhow. If so, it would be another shrewd move for the Packers General Manager, who has long been known to covet NFL draft picks.

 

Eddie Lacy Primed For Career Year

Packers running back has multiple factors working in his favor to bounce back in a big way in 2016

By Mark Prott

Enough has already been made about the weight loss during the offseason for Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy. The pictures were evident that the offseason work with fitness guru and P90x founder Tony Horton had paid dividends.  But more importantly Lacy seems to finally be enjoying the fruits of his labor on the gridiron where it all matters. After the Green Bay Packers third preseason game and likely his last action before the regular season, Lacy’s stats stand at 20 carries for 114 yards, good for a 5.7 average per carry.

Any concerns about the power still being there have been put to rest. In fact, I’ll admit Lacy still at times looks more like a linebacker carrying the ball but it’s time to realize that is who he is, a big back with explosive power. Let’s embrace it. The eye test also says he now possesses an extra gear of speed compared to last year in his arsenal. This was evident on his 21 yard scamper against the 49ers, which ended for the first time in his NFL career with a tackle secured by his dreadlocks.

However, maybe the most important weapon gained by Lacy through his offseason workouts and new found healthy eating habits may be his conditioning. Lacy’s run in the 2016 playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals was as embarrassing as a 61 yard run can be. I’m not gonna suggest that he’s now a speed back because that’s never been his calling card. The bigger issue on that play was he seemed to simply run out of gas, which isn’t acceptable for a NFL running back. In a wise move, head coach Mike McCarthy put Lacy on notice at the beginning of the offseason for this reason and from all early returns he has responded. Even his new running backs coach Ben Sirmans has noticed the new found conditioning, as recently as the week 2 preseason game against the Oakland Raiders.

“He said he was pretty surprised that he didn’t feel like he had to come out. I think that bodes well for his fitness level and what we’re asking him to do,” said Sirmans in an interview with ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. So why does this bode well for the Packers in 2016? Well when the Packers offense is at their best the result is a no-huddle attack mode going full throttle. This means plenty of opportunities for Lacy to touch the ball in the run game and the pass game, where he might be even more dangerous when smaller players in the back end of defenses, such as cornerbacks are asked to bring the bruising back down. Without having to tap out to backup running back James Starks for a breather, Lacy will likely easily increase his touch total from 2015. I also think the move of J.C. Tretter to the starting center position could make the screen game even more effective, as his athleticism is second to none on the line. His ability to get down the field and block is a weapon that should allow for big plays in both the screen game and run game alike.

Another factor that might not be quite as popular to fans but no doubt has a real factor in performance is the contract status of Lacy. At 26, Lacy is entering the final year of his original deal and no doubt will be looking to cash in on what may be his only chance for a lucrative deal. It’s only natural for it to be on his mind. Running backs have notoriously shorter shelf lives than pretty much any other position and Lacy doesn’t exactly avoid contact.

One final and possibly more important factor than any is the way defenses will be playing the potentially potent Packers offense. With Jordy Nelson on the shelf in 2015, defenses simply didn’t respect the Packers pass game and aimed to stop the run by bringing extra defenders down and playing a lot of 8 men in the box. In the 2016 season, things are likely to change. With Jordy back in the fold and the addition of Jared Cook, who has been electrifying in the preseason and practice, defenses might be forced to pick their poison on what to attempt to stop. The guess here is the majority of defenses will concede to the best player on the Packers’ offense, Aaron Rodgers and try to contain him by playing coverage. Behind a motivated offensive line, containing four starters in the last year of their contracts respectively, you can bet there will be more running lanes created and a motivated running back aiming for new heights in 2016.