18

April

Should Packers Add Competition for Crosby?

Mason Crosby

Crosby bounced back in 2013. Will his success continue into 2014?

Green Bay Packers placekicker Mason Crosby is coming off of his best season in 2013, in terms of field goal percentage.  After facing the worst year of his career and posting the worst mark for a starting kicker in the NFL in 2012 (63.6%), Crosby finished 2013 at 89.2%.

He converted on 33 of 37 tries, seven of which were 50 yards or longer.  Crosby also made all 42 of his extra point attempts.

Still, let’s not forget some of the circumstances that Crosby faced to reach that success.

Entering the 2013 season, one had to search long and hard to find any amount of confidence that Crosby would bounce back from the horror that was 2012.  Towards the end of that year and any time Crosby lined up to kick a field goal, fans and media alike held their collective breath, hoping that the ball was at least somewhere near the crossbars.

That season, during a game against the Indianapolis Colts, Crosby kicked a ball so far off base that some wondered if he had hurt himself on the kick.

After the 2012 season, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy immediately began fielding questions about Crosby and his future with the team.  The head coach expressed frustration about the output from his kicker but seemed to be supporting Crosby throughout the offseason and preseason.  McCarthy has had a tendency to remain loyal to “his guys” and players that he is familiar with, even when those players are sometimes not performing to acceptable standards.

This appeared to be the case as Crosby entered training camp the lone placekicker on the roster.  Shortly after it seemed that Crosby was still struggling to find his groove, the team signed Giorgio Tavecchio to come in and compete with Crosby.

The left-footed Tavecchio actually out-kicked Crosby in terms of field goals made during practice and preseason games, but lacked the ideal leg strength to offer the complete package the Packers would have needed to move in another direction.

Tavecchio was cut (much to the chagrin of our own Jersey Al) and McCarthy seemed ready to ride or die with Crosby in 2013.  Crosby didn’t let his coach down.

14

February

Big-name free agent targets for the “big-spending” Packers

Could free agent safety Louis Delmas join Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb in Green Bay? Never say never.

Could free agent safety Louis Delmas join Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb in Green Bay? Never say never.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Feb. 12 that the Packers, armed with $30 million in cap space, are prepared to spend on outside free agents this offseason to remake the defense in Dom Capers’ image.

Capers has been in Green Bay for five seasons, so the wording is a bit confusing. Surely, the Packers haven’t given Capers a team of bobsledders and asked him to mold them into an attacking 3-4 defense. But regardless, Rapoport’s report ignited a spark of hope among Packers fans that the team would make a rare dip into free agency.

With all due respect to Matthew Mulligan and Duke Preston, the Packers haven’t made any “splash” moves in free agency since 2006 — when they signed both cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

The Packers’ offseason spending spree got off to a roaring start with Thursday’s addition of fourth-year undrafted free agent tight end Raymond Webber. That was sarcasm. But it’s rather comical that a portion of the fan base almost seems upset that Webber’s name isn’t Jimmy Graham.

Of course, the Packers’ $30 million in cap space won’t be $30 million for long, as they’ll be forced to spend about $5 million on this year’s rookie class. And with Sam Shields, Evan Dietrich-Smith, and others (perhaps Jordy Nelson and/or Randall Cobb) likely to receive contract extensions, that number will continue to shrink.

But should the Packers let B.J. Raji walk — which seems more likely than not, given Raji’s production, or lack thereof, the past two seasons and his reported rejection of a contract extension that would have paid him $8 million per year — then they’ll have some financial flexibility to perhaps spend on veterans. Take into account Jermichael Finley’s cloudy future coming off major neck surgery, and the Packers could, really, become players in free agency.

As far as positions of need, the Packers could use help at every level of the defense. The opposite can be said about the offense, with the exception of tight end, at which they could still bring back Finley or opt for a cheaper option in Andrew Quarless.

Here are a few bigger-name free agents the Packers could — probably won’t — but could target once free agency hits.

22

January

Packers Free Agents: Top 10 to Re-Sign

Sam Shields is only the second most important UFA the Packers need to re-sign. Who's number one?

Sam Shields is only the second most important UFA the Packers need to re-sign. Who’s number one?

A couple weeks ago, our own Adam Czech took a look at the Green Bay Packers players hitting free agency this offseason.  Of the 19 offensive and defensive players, 16 are unrestricted and 3 are restricted. What I’ve done below is made a list of the top ten unrestricted players Ted Thompson should consider re-signing. They are listed in descending order of importance.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the ranking? Is there someone you would add or replace? Comment below!

 

10. Ryan Pickett

This could be the first year where Pickett’s age has been noticeable. The “Big Grease” has never been a flashy player, and he’s a true two-gap guy, but even in that role he saw some decline. Pickett could still be useful as a veteran leader and run-stuffer; there’s just not much more than that. If he returns, it shouldn’t be at a price anywhere near his last contract.

9. Matt Flynn

It seems like Matt Flynn is destined to be the back-up to Aaron Rodgers for the majority of his career. He got his payday in Seattle, never really saw the field as a starter, and eventually ended up back in Green Bay. The Packers have Scott Tolzien as a project this offseason, but wouldn’t they want to avoid the mess of a situation they had this year and sign Flynn as insurance?

8. B.J. Raji

This guy is going to be the biggest free agent storyline for the Packers. His performance doesn’t command a big contract, but his draft position does. It will all depend on the market, and I have a feeling Ted Thompson will let him test it. Still, if the price is right, it would be foolish for the Packers not to bring him back on board.

7. James Jones

Yes, James Jones can be considered “replaceable.” But this is the same guy who caught 14 touchdown passes for the Packers in 2012. In 2013, he was second in most statistical categories only to Jordy Nelson, and the only player who had fewer drops than him was Randall Cobb. (And Cobb was out most of the season.) James Jones didn’t get much from the market the last time he was a free agent, and he probably see less interest now that he’s hitting 30.

16

January

Safety First: Packers’ offseason needs start in secondary

Morgan Burnett had a disappointing 2013 season, and the starting spot alongside him is very much up for grabs.

Morgan Burnett had a disappointing 2013 season, and the starting spot alongside him is very much up for grabs.

Injuries, Ted Thompson, Dom Capers, Nick Collins and more injuries. The reasons identified for the Green Bay Packers’ struggles at safety are plentiful, but the current state of the position leaves little room for debate.

The Packers are in less-than-ideal shape at safety. And it’s debatably the team’s most glaring need this offseason.

After missing the first three games of the season, Morgan Burnett was, as usual, an every-down player for the Packers, leading the safeties with 874 snaps played. M.D. Jennings, prior to seeing a reduction in playing time late in the season, finished second among the team’s safeties, as he was on the field for 809 snaps. But with Jennings’ future in doubt as he hits unrestricted free agency, the 2014 depth chart is foggy.

It may be unlikely but still possible that the Packers’ opening-day starter opposite Morgan Burnett is already on the roster, however he’s probably not currently listed as a safety.

Casey Hayward, who missed all of the 2013-14 season except for 88 plays, is set to return in 2014, which brings Micah Hyde’s situation into light. Hayward graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 4 cornerback as a rookie in 2012 and is at his best operating from the slot–the same spot Hyde saw most of his action this past season.

When he’s healthy, Hayward will be on the field. Given the Packers’ state at safety, Hyde’s best chance to see significant playing time may be at safety. Remember you’re living in a world in which Mike Neal plays outside linebacker.

Despite dropping what would have been a career-defining interception against the 49ers in crunch time a couple weeks ago, Hyde had a terrific rookie season, one in which he proved capable of playing all over the formation. If the Packers give him a full offseason of preparation, perhaps Hyde could be “the guy” alongside Burnett.

Of course, Hyde’s transition to safety hinges on the uncertain futures of cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. And both could be playing elsewhere next season.

Ideally, the Packers want two players who can play both free and strong safety. By committing to Morgan Burnett with a long-term contract, the Packers feel they have one such player already. But other than Burnett, the Packers have just Chris Banjo–and his 192 snaps played in 2013–and Sean Richardson (156) set to return next season at safety, and neither player has proven to be anything more than a solid run defender.