9

March

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers football.

With Sam Shields locked up for the next four years, it’s time to focus on the Packers other free agents.

News of the Packers offering B.J. Raji a short-term contract to return as the team’s nose tackle brought out all kinds of reactions. Many Packers fans want nothing to do with Raji after he fell off the face of the earth midway through last season.

Other Packers fans are willing to stick with Raji if all it takes a relatively cheap, low-risk one-year deal.

I’m in the latter category. There is rarely such a thing as a bad one-year contract. If Raji flops again next season, you’re not tied to him long-term. If he’s horrible in training camp, and a good portion of the contract isn’t guaranteed, the Packers can just cut him.

That might make me sound like a Raji defender, but I am anything but. There were several times in the second half of last season where I wanted Ted Thompson to enter the Packers defensive huddle and cut Raji on the spot. He was that bad.

One talking point from Raji defenders that drives me crazy is the notion that it’s his job to “occupy blockers” so the middle linebackers can make plays. Yes, often in a 3-4 defense, it is the job of the defensive lineman to absorb double teams and sacrifice a little bit of personal glory to free up teammates.

But most people don’t understand what “occupying blockers” really means. It doesn’t mean you stand there and belly bump with other fat guys. It doesn’t mean you simply take up space. It doesn’t mean you never get to make a tackle for a loss or pressure the quarterback.

It definitely doesn’t mean you end up on your backside or blown off the ball like Raji is all too often.

The best way to “occupy blockers” is to kick their ass, to win your match-up, whether it’s against a single offensive lineman or a double team. Knock your man back a step and force the running back to alter his course, even if it’s a minor detour. Anchor yourself in the hole. Split that double team.

A 3-4 defensive lineman who does that often enough will get a tackle behind the line or a sack every now and then. He’ll also be doing a fine job of “occupying blockers.”

8

March

Cory’s Corner: B.J. Raji has regrets right now

After turning down $8 million from the Packers earlier this year, B.J. Raji must decide if he wants a one-year $4 million offer.

After turning down $8 million from the Packers earlier this year, B.J. Raji must decide if he wants a one-year $4 million offer.

I am sure that B.J. Raji is probably kicking himself about now.

The Packers’ fifth-year defensive lineman was offered an $8 million contract in the middle of last season but defiantly turned it down.

And now, Green Bay is low-balling their one-time Pro Bowler with a one-year $4 million offer. Ted Thompson knows that a prove-it contract is the perfect situation for a guy that, despite playing out of position, was nearly invisible on the football field.

Thompson has also realized that if Raji has already turned down $8 million, how much more would other teams be willing to risk when the free agency signing period begins on Tuesday at 3 p.m.?

Raji is an interesting study because in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense, he needs an anchor up front. He needs someone that will eat a blocker or two and clear a path for the linebackers. You could almost call him a defensive fullback.

But here’s the rub with Raji: the rest of the starting defensive line are also free agents. Ryan Pickett will turn 35 next season and has lost a few steps. His career high for tackles was 48 in 2005 and last year he tallied 19. Mike Neal is interesting because he’s so versatile. He was tied for third on the team with five sacks and he did it as a defensive end and an outside linebacker.

Raji hasn’t done much to impress anyone the last two seasons — 29 tackles and zero sacks. But there are teams that would be willing to dig a little deeper into the wallet just because he’s a large human being and there aren’t a lot of those to go around.

Thompson is doing the right thing with the low-money offer. I was astonished when he offered $8 million this year and I was even more astonished when Raji turned it down.

It’s hard to believe that Raji was taken as the ninth overall pick in 2009. He clearly has motivation issues if you cannot get charged up to play in the NFL — in a contract year. You hate to label a guy as a bust before he has even turned 30, but Raji doesn’t really give anyone a lot to work with. The one Pro Bowl season and the interception return for a touchdown that put the Packers in the Super Bowl are his career highlights. At best, he’s a work-in-progress and at worst he’s a big oops.

6

March

Packers Reportedly Nearing Deal with Free Agent D-Lineman

B.J. Raji

The return of Raji would maintain some continuity on a defensive line that stands to see many changes this season

The Green Bay Packers are reportedly closing in on a one-year deal with free-agent-to-be and defensive lineman B.J. Raji.  This news came according to Adam Schefter at ESPN and via Jason Wilde at ESPN Milwaukee:

This news comes as a bit of a surprise to some, as the talk about Raji seemed to center around his wanting to possibly play in a different type of defense.  There was also talk about the Packers wanting to get more athletic on the defensive line, something that may not bode well for a lineman tipping the scales at close to 340 pounds.

No figures have been announced or released yet, but the fact that Raji would be taking a one-year deal in Green Bay versus testing the free agent market likely signals that he may not have felt that he would receive the type of offer he wanted.

Statistically speaking, Raji had one of his poorest seasons in 2013, tallying just 17 tackles and only three for a loss of yardage.

Another signal of this potential Raji deal could be the Packers intentions early in May’s draft.  With Raji returning, there would seem to be less chance that the Packers would be looking at a defensive lineman in round one.  Anything is possible under Ted so don’t rule it out, but it would at least appear that Green Bay has their eyes on another position early on.

Stay tuned for contract details if and when they are announced.

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Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.com

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4

March

Cory’s Corner: Raji and Shields aren’t worth worrying over

B.J. Raji was not franchise or transition tagged by the Packers.

B.J. Raji was not franchise or transition tagged by the Packers.

There is no reason to worry about the Packers not tagging anyone with a franchise or transition tag.

I can totally understand not tagging B.J. Raji. Here’s a guy that scoffed at $8 million and if the Packers applied the franchise tag it would’ve cost them $9.654 million and $8.061 million if they used the transition tag. The Packers aren’t going to spend that kind of cash on a guy that appeared disinterested last year — which happened to also be a contract year.

Raji, while only 27, will likely be paid a king’s ransom but will never live up to his 2010 season in which he had 6½ sacks and gave us his own rendition of twerking in the NFC Championship at Chicago.

The same goes for Shields. The Packers’ secondary has been in shambles ever since Charles Woodson lost his ability to cover at a premium level. That unit has made subpar passers like Colin Kaepernick look like Peyton Manning and has put more pressure on the front seven to generate a pass rush.

Shields would be owed $11.834 million if he were franchised and $10.081 if the fourth-year cornerback were transition tagged. Another twist in this whole equation is that Shields’ agent is Drew Rosenhaus, the antichrist for front office pro teams. Rosenhaus is the guy that tells his clients to hold out while asking for more money and a long-term deal.

The 26-year-old Shields has blossomed into a reliable corner. I wouldn’t say he’s the shutdown corner the Packers covet and need for a division loaded with guys like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery but he is solid. ProFootballFocus.com has Shields as the 52nd best corner — 12 spots below teammate Micah Hyde.

The Packers have proven that they are unwilling to overpay just to keep a veteran. That was proven when the Packers let go of center Scott Wells in 2011 — which happened to be the same year he was named a Pro Bowler for the first time.

Many people see that the Packers have the sixth-most cap space with $34,197,930 and wonder why none of that is getting used. Ted Thompson knows that Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb must be taken care of after this season and he still may sign a defensive free agent.

15

February

Cory’s Corner: Ted Thompson will stick to his script

Ted Thompson is preparing for his 10th NFL Draft as general manager of the Packers.

Ted Thompson is preparing for his 10th NFL Draft as general manager of the Packers.

Now I don’t want to totally dismiss anything that NFL writer and analyst Ian Rapoport said…but I don’t believe any of it.

For those that missed it, Rapoport said that the Packers could sign as many as five free agents to take advantage of the Packers nearly $28 million in cap space.

Anyone who has been around a stale Ted Thompson press conference knows that the Packers general manager prefers to assemble his team through the lower risk, higher reward of the draft, which actually suits a small-market team just fine.

The Packers have not and are not in a position to be like the Redskins or Cowboys who routinely throw money at free agents just because they can. Washington and Dallas are more suited to sign high-priced free agents because they can absorb more mistakes than a team like the Packers.

But that doesn’t mean the draft is an exact science either. There are guys like Brian Brohm, Justin Harrell and Javon Walker in every draft. Obviously the key is finding out which one truly loves the game of football and which one just loves being the star.

The most important free agent signing Thompson has made was Charles Woodson back in 2006. That pales in comparison to Ron Wolf who brought in the hallmark free agent of a generation in Reggie White and then smartly paired him with free agents Sean Jones and Santana Dotson.

Of course Thompson could try and lure the top defensive end in Greg Hardy who has said is looking for a “crapload of money.” Hardy and agent Drew Rosenhaus have already turned down a contract for four years and $32 million. The 25-year-old wants security after netting 15 sacks, which led to his first Pro Bowl bid.

But Thompson cannot do that because dropping that much this year will severely hamper Green Bay’s chances of signing both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, whose contracts expire after the 2015 season.

Basically what Thompson has to weigh is Aaron Rodgers. The Packers’ best quarterbacking mind has a limited window of dominance. He will enter his seventh season as a starter next fall and will turn 31 next December. He has four years of being a game-changing quarterback in the NFL. In that time, the roster has to evolve. It not only has to get better around him, but also must prepare itself for Rodgers’ inevitable diminishing return.

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.

8

February

Cory’s Corner: Assistant coaches don’t excite me

Ron Zook was the head coach at Florida at Illinois. And is now the Packers assistant special teams coach. How did that happen?

Ron Zook was the head coach at Florida at Illinois. And is now the Packers assistant special teams coach. How did that happen?

It’s usually pretty hard to get excited about assistant coaches.

But now the Packers have the highest number of middle management in the NFC North.

And I’m still not excited.

Granted, Mike McCarthy knows that changes need to be made, but I don’t think having 21 assistants is going to be the difference. Does Ron Zook really get anyone excited? And what exactly does an assistant special teams coach do?

That’s quite a fall from grace for a two-time major college football head coach.

But new assistants are just window dressing. This team needs personnel. It needs players that don’t give a half-hearted effort like B.J. Raji and then turn down $8 million from the Packers.

It needs Tramon Williams to play like it’s 2010 and Derek Sherrod to start his first NFL game in his fourth season.

This team needs Clay Matthews to start 16 games for the first time in his career. It needs a tight end to fill Jermichael Finley’s shoes but do it without chirping.

I think we all saw how important a mean streak is. The Seahawks and 49ers approach the game like the movie, “Slapshot.” Both teams try to blow you up on every single play and it’s about time the Packers thought the same way.

Green Bay doesn’t have that on-field sergeant that will not only impose its will but make the opposition think twice about something just because of the physical ramifications.

By the end of the first quarter of Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos wide receivers knew they were beaten. They knew they weren’t going to outmuscle, out tough and outwork the best secondary in football.

I need to see more out of guys like Nick Perry and Andy Mulumba to get an accurate gauge. But adding a dynamic linebacker for the 3-4 defense wouldn’t be a bad thing.

This team needs more creativity from the offensive play calling. Just because it’s first down, it doesn’t automatically mean you have to run the football. This team needs more quarterback pressure out of the front seven to ease the burden on the secondary.