The Green Bay Packers defense in 2014 took a significant step forward. The unit didn’t suddenly morph into the second coming of the 1985 Chicago Bears or today’s Seattle Seahawks, but it was no longer an obvious weak spot on an otherwise sensational team.
Signing free agent Julius Peppers worked out great. So did bringing in Letroy Guion. Older players like Tramon Williams and Clay Matthews stayed healthy and productive while youngsters like Mike Daniels and Morgan Burnett improved.
So far this offseason, the Packers have done everything they could to keep their offense in top form by re-signing Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga. It’s been a different story on defense.
Willams and Davon House departed in free agency. AJ Hawk and Brad Jones were cut (although most people will agree that shedding these two players automatically upgrades the defense). It doesn’t look like general manager Ted Thompson is going to make a Peppers or Guion-type of outside free agent signing any time soon to bolster the defense.
Monday’s news that the Packers re-signed nose tackles B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion finally brought some good news this offseason to the defense. No, Guion is not an all-pro and Raji has several question marks after missing all of last season with a torn biceps. But bringing those two players back at least means the Packers don’t have another major hole to fill on defense with an untested player(s).
While Raji and Guion should provide an adequate mix of size, athleticism and experience at nose tackle, the Packers can still improve the position long term. Don’t be surprised if Thompson picks up a nose tackle early in the upcoming NFL draft.
Jordan Phillips (6-6, 334 pounds, Oklahoma) should be there at the end of round 1. Ellis McCarthy (6-5, 325, UCLA) and Leterrius Walton (6-5, 319, Central Michigan) have steadily climbed draft boards in recent weeks and should be there later in rounds 2 and 3. Let’s also not forget about Mike Pennel. The undrafted free agent didn’t do much in the regular season, but let’s see where he is in August now that he has a full season under his belt.
There’s no doubt the middle of the Packers’ defense could use some re-enforcements. Will Guion/Raji up front, combined with Sam Barrington and who knows what at the other inside linebacker, be enough to win a Super Bowl? Or will Matthews have to ride to the rescue once again at inside linebacker (a plan I’m actually ok with)?
No doubt there will be at least one player on the interior of the Packers’ defense that fans worry about. At least with Raji and Guion back, some of that worrying will be tampered a bit.
Before reading this NFL draft profile of University of Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams, check out this video of Williams leaping over defenders in the Citrus Bowl.
Doesn’t watching that make you want to add an extra “X” to your name? Or at least see what Williams would be able to do with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback? This kid will only be 21 years old come draft time. If the Packers take him, he could turn out to be a Randall Cobb type of player at tight end.
What they’re saying about him:
NFL.com: “Pass-catching, move tight end with straight-line play speed and an ability to stretch defenses deep. Williams comes from NFL bloodlines and has the self confidence often found in a former player’s son, but he needs to improve his route running in order to become a more complete receiving threat. “
CBSSports.com: A prospect just scratching the surface of his potential, Williams owns the all-around skill-set that fits all 32 NFL teams with the ability to line up inline, in the backfield or as a flex option out wide. Although not yet a detailed route runner, he has above average top-end speed for the position with a great feel for throws away from his body, making a number of “wow” catches (and runs) on his college film. Williams is young and needs seasoning, but he has NFL pedigree and projects as a mismatch nightmare with the versatile traits to be equally effective as a pass-catcher and blocker.
I see a ton of straight-line speed, raw athleticism and great hands. Might be one of the better athletes in the draft.
Speed and athleticism alone won’t cut it in the NFL. Williams will have to develop as a route-runner and and find ways to get open when he simply can’t outrun or outjump somebody.
All out, all the time. You don’t get a slower gear with Williams. When he goes, he goes hard and he doesn’t care who gets in his way.
Go back to the first video I posted and watch Williams leap over that first defender. I could watch that all day.
You could even line Williams up as a flex-fullback and see if you can get him in space on a screen. I wouldn’t want to get in his way if I were a defensive back.
If drafted by the Packers
It might take a few years, but Williams’ ceiling is high. He’s got hands like Richard Rodgers, the athleticism of Jermichael Finley and the cocky attitude of Jermey Shockey. In a weak year for tight ends, Williams really stands out, but I still think he’d stand out even if he had more competition among his fellow tight ends entering the draft. I still can’t stop thinking about what Williams could develop into with Rodgers as his quarterback. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Williams would be tough to handle.
The Green Bay Packers aren’t doing anything in free agency, I’m frantically preparing to move later this week, so let’s go with an abbreviated Surviving Sunday:
Packers News, Notes and Links
What was your favorite Tramon Williams moment in Green Bay? Williams signed with the Cleveland Browns this week. In last week’s Surviving Sunday post, I predicted Williams would re-sign with the Packers by Tuesday. The fact that Williams immediately signed with Cleveland is further proof that you should never, ever listen to anything I say.
Charles Woodson was back in town this week and revealed that he wanted to return to Green Bay after the Packers signed Julius Peppers. Woodson is one of my favorite all-time Packers, but I can’t see how he would have helped much last season.
The Vikings signed former Packers RB DuJuan Harris. It’s like the fine print in every contract a player signs with the Packers contains fine print that says the Vikings will pick you up once we cut you. I’m going to miss the “Rolling Ball of Butcher Knives.” Seemed like a good guy and he had a great story.
Non Packers links and other Nonsense
The hyperbole and ridiculous hot sports takes surrounding Chris Borland’s retirement would be laughable if they weren’t so absurd. In this piece, Dave Zirin compares football to Russian Roulette and claims players from middle class background will become “scarce” one day. The injuries caused by football should be taken seriously, but comparing the sport to a pointing a loaded gun at your head and pulling the trigger will not make people think more seriously about the football’s risks. Claiming the game will be played only by people who come from poor backgrounds also doesn’t move the discussion about the role of football in our society forward. The issues raised by Borland’s retirement are legit and real. They should set the stage for meaningful discourse. Unfortunately, there are too many people out there like Zirin who take the sports-talk radio route of seeing who can yell the loudest and most ridiculous thing about the issue, stifling meaningful conversation and drowning out the insights of reasonable and smart people.
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Lately there have been a lot of good pieces written (like this one) by media members about the struggle of media members to develop meaningful relationships with today’s professional and collegiate athletes. As a member of the media myself, I see this firsthand, but I can’t imagine anybody besides other media members care enough to warrant the number of stories written about the subject.
As Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson sat patiently, presumably waiting for Tramon Williams to return home at a lower price after exploring potentially greener pastures, Williams signed with Cleveland for 3 years and $21 million.
Now the Packers are a man short at outside cornerback. Even though Williams turned 32 on Monday, he was coming off one of his better seasons and was thought to have plenty left in the tank to contribute to another Packers run at the Super Bowl.
That leaves Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde and Demetri Goodson as the front-runners to replace Williams on the outside. Hayward seems better suited for the slot. Hyde lacks the speed to be a true outside corner. And Goodson is a converted basketball player who barely made the 53-man roster out of training camp.
The Trust in Ted mantra is about to be tested.
It hasn’t been reported yet how much of Williams’ deal is guaranteed, but 3 years/$21 million is a lot of cash for a 32-year-old corner. But the Packers have plenty of salary cap space. It seems like if Thompson would have made a more aggressive push to bring Williams back, the Packers could’ve got him.
What exactly is Ted saving all that cap space for? Odds are he doesn’t have a different major free-agent signing up his sleeve. The Packers are also in decent salary cap shape for next offseason as the contracts for players like Mike Daniels come due.
Save for a four-minute meltdown in Seattle, the Packers were the best team in the NFL last season. Why not bring back one of the key veteran leaders on an improved defense for another run? Even if Thompson brought Williams back, he still could have drafted a corner and groomed him for 2016 or 2017.
Instead, Thompson sat back, likely waiting for Williams to come crawling back to Green Bay once he realized the market for his talent wasn’t what he thought it was. In this case Thompson was wrong, and now Williams is gone.
But Thompson sitting back and waiting for Williams instead of going out and getting him isn’t the only example of dilly-dallying at the cornerback position. Remember Jumal Rolle? He signed with Houston from the Packers’ practice squad back in October. Rolle was sitting on the practice squad even though the Packers had an open spot on the 53-man roster for two weeks.
According to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Rolle bolted for Houston instead of accepting the Packers matching offer because he was sick of Green Bay jerking him around. With the Texans, Rolle had three interceptions in 10 games.
After a strong start to free agency that saw Thompson bring back Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga at below-market deals, watching Williams sign elsewhere after Davon House left for Jacksonville left fans a bit grumpy.
Ten months from now, will Thompson’s handling of the cornerback position be viewed as a complete botch in the realm of what he did at backup quarterback in 2013? Or will the Trust in Ted Mantra be re-affirmed once again, like it was in 2010 when an undrafted rookie former wide receiver turned cornerback named Sam Shields started as the Packers’ nickel corner and played an important role in helping the Packers win the Super Bowl?
If you need yet another reason to Trust in Ted, look no further than Tramon Williams himself. Williams was an undrafted player signed off another team’s practice squad. He went on to a caree in Green Bay that will land him in the Packers’ hall of fame.
To replace Tramon Williams, all Thompson has to do is, well, find another Tramon Williams.
It might seem like Thompson is dilly-dallying at the moment, but he’s probably hard at work finding the next cornerback who will overperform expectations. At least, I hope that’s what he’s doing…
After a rough start, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has drafted some really good offensive linemen in recent years.
Here are Thompson’s o-linemen selections his first five years as Packers GM:
(Player, round, years)
Junius Coston, 5, 2005
Will Whitaker, 7, 2005
Daryn Colledge, 2, 2006
Jason Spitz, 3, 2006
Tony Moll, 5, 2006
Allen Barbre, 4, 2007
Josh Sitton, 4, 2008
Breno Giocamini, 5, 2008
Of the eight linemen selected, only Sitton remains with the Packers (and he turned into a Pro Bowl player). Colledge had a decent season in 2010, but other than that, nobody did much of anything. Barbre was a complete disaster, but somehow he’s still hanging around the NFL along with Giocamini.
Now check out the linemen Thompson has selected since 2009.
T.J. Lang, 4, 2009
Jamon Meridenth, 5, 2009
Bryan Bulaga, 1, 2010
Marshall Newhouse, 5, 2010
Derek Sherrod, 1, 2011
Caleb Schlauderhaff, 6, 2011
Andrew Datko, 7, 2012
David Bakhtiari, 4, 2013
J.C. Tretter, 4, 2013
Corey Linsley, 5, 2014
Now that’s more like it. Of the 10 selections, four are current starters. Newhouse wasn’t terrible when the Packers threw him in at left tackle for a couple of seasons. J.C. Tretter was supposed to be the starter in 2014 before he got injured. Only Sherrod was as all-out bust, and who knows how much of Sherrod’s failures should be attributed to a nasty leg injury that Thompson could not control
Has Thompson suddenly become an offensive line savant? Was he just unlucky early in his tenure and now his fortunes have shifted when selecting offensive linemen? Both are possible.
Here’s another theory: Thompson deserves credit for drafting some good offensive linemen. Aaron Rodgers also deserves credit for making his offensive line look extra special.
The Packers fortunes on the offensive line began to turn when Rodgers became an MVP player. A smart, mobile and supremely talented quarterback who knows how to maneuver around the pocket can make a good offensive line look great or a poor offensive line appear to be average.
How long would a quarterback like Christian Ponder remain upright if he had Marshall Newhouse as his starting left tackle? Not very long.
Give Thompson credit for upping his game when it comes to drafting offensive linemen. But don’t forget that Rodgers has played a key role in helping the Packers turn things around up front.
Packers News, Notes and Links
I really think the Packers should give free-agent nose tackle Kenrick Ellis a serious look. He didn’t play much with the Jets because he was stuck behind some quality players. But when he did play, he was a true run-stopper. According to Pro Football Focus, Ellis was a plus run defender last season and led the league in run stop percentage in 2013.
The longer Tramon Williams sits on the open market, the more his price should drop (theoretically, at least). Prediction: Tramon is back in Green Bay by Tuesday for two years, $6.5 million.
What was your favorite Davon House moment in Green Bay? The oft-injured cornerback signed with Jacksonville for $10 million guaranteed earlier this week. I mostly liked what I saw from House when he was on the field for the Packers, but $10 million is too rich.
The Vikings traded a fifth-round pick to the Dolphins for Mike Wallace on Friday night. Per Zach Kruse on Twitter, pending any cuts or re-structures, the Vikes will be paying Wallace and Greg Jennings $23.1 million in 2015. In comparison, the Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will count roughly $10 against the Packers’ 2015 salary cap. Oh, and Wallace might not be too happy about landing in Minnesota.
There is no way to predict what, if anything, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson will do in NFL free agency. But it sure is fun to talk about it.
Here are five free agents that Thompson probably won’t sign, but it wouldn’t be shocking if he did. All of these players would probably fall into the Packers’ price range and would address some type of need.
WR Andre Johnson Last offseason the Packers signed a 34 year old defensive end who was cut by his former team and didn’t cost the Packers a compensatory draft pick. Might Thompson do the same this offseason with Johnson, a 34 year old wide receiver who was just cut by his former team? The Packers could make up for not having a down-the-seam tight end by bringing the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Johnson on board.
TE Jermaine Gresham Or maybe Thompson will just go out and sign an actual down-the-seam tight end like Gresham. Gresham is like Jermichael Finley, minus the production. Put him with Aaron Rodgers, and perhaps he can post Finley-like numbers and live up to his first-round draft status.
LB Brandon Spikes Spikes isn’t a three-down player, which will probably scare Thompson away. But he’d help fill a giant hole at inside linebacker and would immediately upgrade the run defense.
(**This is the section of the post where I have to stop and remind myself to calm down. Look at what I just wrote: “He’d immediately upgrade the run defense.” How do I know if Spikes would “immediately upgrade the run defense?” Thompson doesn’t either, that’s why he usually stays away from free agents even when people like me get a little excited talking about players outside the Packers.**)
DT Kenrick Ellis Stuck behind three good players with the Jets, Ellis didn’t get to play much. When he did play, the 330-pound was a plus interior run defender.
LB Malcolm Smith An athletic player who can play any linebacker spot. Reminds me a bit of Brandon Chillar. If the price tag is low enough, Smith’s age (26) and athleticism could be attractive to the Packers, but I see him more as a sub-package player, not an every-down solution at inside linebacker.
**Author’s note: This post was written before the Green Bay Packers re-signed Randall Cobb on Saturday night.**
The Green Bay Packers left roughly $7.5 million in salary cap space unused last offseason. That’s cap space that carries over and can now be used to re-sign Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga, or another one of the Packers handful of free agents. It can also be used to sign a free agent from another team.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson always fields a Super Bowl contending team without putting his team in salary cap hell. Every offseason, the Packers have enough cap space to offer their own free agents fair deals to return and enough wriggle room to bring in a few outside free agents if they so choose.
But back to that $7.5 million of cap space that went unused last offseason. Should Thompson have used it? If Thompson would have brought in another free agent, could he have plugged the hole at inside linebacker and shored up the special teams? Would spending all or a portion of that $7 million have prevented the collapse in Seattle? Might it have resulted in one more regular season victor and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs?
Using the power of hindsight, let’s look back at last offseason’s free agent group and see if there’s a player or two Thompson could have realistically signed that may have propelled the Packers to the Super Bowl.
ILB Daryl Smith Smith ended up re-signing with the Baltimore Ravens for 4 years/$16.1 million and finished as the seventh highest rated inside linebacker in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Before joining Baltimore on a one-year deal in 2013, Smith was an underrated and oft-injured mainstay in Jacksonville. Smith’s injury history, age and the fact that he was coming off an excellent season that inflated his market value probably scared Thompson away. But Smith would’ve bee a whole lot better than A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones or Sam Barrington inside.
ILB Karlos Dansby Dansby signed with the Browns for 4 years/$24 million ($14 million guaranteed) and finished one slot behind Smith in PFF’s rankings. The 33 year old also missed four games with a knee injury. Sure, Dansby would’ve been an upgrade inside — especially in pass coverage — but at $14 million guaranteed, I don’t blame Thompson for saying no.
ILB D’Qwell Jackson Jackson — another linebacker in his 30s — signed with Indianapolis for 4 years/$22 million. He ended up not being very good for the Colts, then he beat up a pizza delivery guy in early February. At least Hawk and Jones would never assault an innocent pizza delivery dude. Jones because he wouldn’t be able to tackle the driver as he raced back to his car and Hawk because his helmet would fall off while in pursuit. Good thing Thompson stayed away from Jackson.
ILB Brandon Spikes According to MMQB.com, Spikes was one of the top 1st and 2nd down run defenders in the league last season. And he totally would have fit the Ted Thompson mold of signing a free agents: Spikes was only 27 last offseason and signed with the Bills for 1 year/$3.25 million. Would he have fit in Green Bay’s 3-4 scheme? We had the same question about Julius Peppers and he worked out just fine. Spikes seems like the type of player who will be effective against the run in any scheme.
CB/Special teams Corey Graham The Buffalo Bills’ special teams unit went from 31st in 2013 to second best in the NFL in 2014 according to famed special teams evaluator Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. A big reason for the jump was signing Graham for 4 years/$16 million. That’s a steep price to pay for special teams help, but Graham also started nine games at cornerback and had two interceptions. If Graham is helping out the special teams unit, does it allow a fake field goal touchdown in Seattle? Perhaps there is no punt return TD for Buffalo late in the season. We’ll never know…..
I could keep going, but I think you get the point. Could Thompson have used some of that extra cap space last season to improve the team? Probably? If he did, would the ripple effects have made it much more difficult retain Cobb, Bulaga and other players like Mike Daniels down the road? Probably.
Would the Packers have won the Super Bowl if Thompson inked one of the players I listed above? Who knows.
Packers News, Notes and Links
I’m not sure what else I can add to the Randall Cobb discussion that hasn’t already been said, but I want to get my 2 cents in anyway. So, here are my thoughts: Anyone who labels Cobb strictly a slot receiver doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Cobb is the game’s best slot receiver. He’s also really good out of the backfield. Even though McCarthy doesn’t use Cobb that much out of the backfield, the threat is always there and teams have to plan for it. The Packers don’t beat New England last season without Cobb creating all sorts of mismatches out of the backfield. Speaking of New England, see what Shane Vereen did out of the backfied in the Super Bowl? Cobb can do all of that, and be a stud out of the slot.If Julian Edleman and Vereen had a baby, it’d be Cobb. He’s a hybrid of both players. If the Packers lose Cobb, it will be a dirty blow. Not throw-in-the-towel-the-2015-season-is-over dirty, but pretty damn dirty. On one hand, I don’t get the point of accumulating all this cap space and eschewing free agency only to let Cobb — a shining star of the Packers’ draft-and-develop philosophy — walk away. On the other hand, I totally get why the Packers won’t want to give a player who’s under 6 feet tall, weighs less than 200 pounds and has only been healthy for a full season one time more than $9 or $10 million per year.
Sounds like the Seattle Seahawks have their eyes on Tramon Williams. I thought Williams might end up where most Packers end up during the twilight of their careers: Minnesota. But the fact that the Seahawks have interest in Williams makes me think he still has a couple good years left in him.
Bringing back A.J. Hawk could be an option if the Packers aren’t satisfied with their inside linebackers after the draft and free agency. Can you imagine how depressing it will be if Cobb and Tramon are playing elsewhere and Hawk is still on the team?
Non Packers links and other Nonsense
This piece from Jeff Pearlman about Jerry Sandusky’s adopted son is fascinating.
WWE trainer Bill DeMott resigned after accusations started flying about his racist, homophobic and abusive (allegedly, he slapped a guy who had a concussion in the head) ways. Wrestling is a sleazy business, and Demott seems about as sleazy as they come.
The chairman of a House science subcommittee doesn’t vaccinate his kids. This guy shouldn’t be allowed near anything to do with science.
How the deal is structured and how much of that $40 million is guaranteed is unknown at this time. Ian Rappaport from NFL.com tweeted that Cobb turned down more money to re-sign with the Packers.
Who’s ready to watch Aaron Rodgers throw the ball to Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams through at least 2017? I know I am.
Keep it locked to ALLGBP.com throughout NFL free agency. We’ll have further analysis of the Cobb signing when more details are revealed. We’ll also keep crossing our fingers that the Packers and Bryan Bulaga can reach a deal.
Even if the Green Bay Packers re-sign B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion, they still could use help on the defensive line. That help could come via the draft, a Ted Thompson free-agent signing or Datone Jones finally living up to his first-round draft position.
Or maybe it could come from a JAG currently on the Packers’ defensive line. “JAG” is a (somewhat snarky) term for “Just a Guy,” or a replacement level player who isn’t very good. Current JAGs on the Packers d-line are Mike Pennel, Luther Robinson, Josh Boyd, Bruce Gaston and Khyri Thornton.
Could any of these players become more than JGAs in 2015 and give the Packers defensive line the boost it needs?
Mike Pennel Of all the JAGs, Pennel probably has the most promise. There’s a reason the Packers kept him as an undrafted rookie following an exhibition season where he showed an incredible mixture of strength and athleticism. We didn’t see that carry over into real games, but it usually takes defensive linemen — regardless of where (or if) they’re drafted — at least one season to get going. Pennel’s ceiling remains high. Even if he doesn’t become an impact player, I think he’s good enough to provide the depth up front every good team needs.
Josh Boyd Boyd has had a few non-JAG moments. Are these moments of stellar play a sign that the still-young Boyd is more than just a JAG? Or do we already know what we have in Boyd after two seasons: a JAG who occasionally will tease us with non-JAG moments? You don’t see 300-plus pound guys with Boyd’s athleticism often. I’d like to see what he could do if he got a little stronger.
Luther Robinson We don’t know much about Luther Robinson, but he sounds like a tough dude. You have to be tough to sign as an undrafted free agent following an unproductive college career under two different coaches at Miami, then stick on the roster when competing with a third-round pick (Thronton) for reps and attention at training camp. Robinson also played basketball in high school, and has decent athleticism for a 305-pounder to rush the passeer. That athleticism was on display in Green Bay’s home win over the Vikings in October, where Robinson tipped a pass and notched two quarterback hurries. Actually, Robinson looked good in games 5-8 when Jones was out, but then Robinson landed on IR on Dec. 4 with a calf injury. We’ll see if Robinson can once again outshine Thornton and any other drafted defensive linemen in training camp and rise about JAG status.
Bruce Gaston Of all the Packers JAG d-linemen, we know the least about Gaston. We know he was signed off Arizona’s practice squad Dec. 8. We know Green Bay was his fourth team. We know he ran a 4.96 40 and bench pressed 34 times at the combine. We know he’s big — 6’2″ and 315 pounds. We know he never played a snap in Green Bay. We don’t know if he has what it takes to be more than a JAG. It’ll probably be tough for Gaston to prove himself come August, but we’ll see.
Khyri Thornton Nobody had really heard of Thornton when Ted Thompson drafted him in the third round and nobody has really heard of him since. By all accounts, Thornton was a disaster in training camp. Passive, short, no pass rush and easily gobbled up by blockers was the scouting report before Thornton hurt his hamstring in the exhibition finale and landed on IR. You hate to write a guy off before he ever played a single down in a real game, but Thornton’s rookie season didn’t make you very confident that he’s more than a JAG.
Final thoughts If just one of these current JAGs could grow into more than a JAG this season, I’d be happy. Perhaps Pennel as a run-stuffer in base. Boyd taking another step and providing athletic depth. Robinson becoming a decent pass rusher. Thornton or Gaston doing anything. As a draft-and-develop team, the Packers rely on young players shedding their JAG status in years two and three. We’ll see who, if anyone, steps up along the defensive line.