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.

11

January

Cory’s Corner: Criticize Mike McCarthy not Dom Capers

Mike McCarthy turned up the conservative calls when Aaron Rodgers went down in Week 9.

Mike McCarthy turned up the conservative calls when Aaron Rodgers went down in Week 9.

Now that you’ve all had some time to thaw out after watching Phil Dawson put this season’s hopes and dreams on ice, it’s time to reflect on what just happened.

First of all, Mike McCarthy needs to get the lion’s share of criticism. He is under contract through the 2015 season at roughly $5 million per year. If any season was a good example of how much he needed to prove his coaching mettle, this was the one. He lost his star quarterback in Week 9 and magically backed into the playoffs thanks to the combined efforts of said quarterback’s right arm and the inept Bears’ defense.

He was also dealt the second-most important injury on the team in Jermichael Finley. Without him eating up the middle of the field, receivers had more work to do to get separation and move the chains.

Granted, he was blessed with the Offensive Rookie of the Year in my opinion in Eddie Lacy but McCarthy didn’t exactly utilize him very well. Too often when backups Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn were under center he was more apt to call the predictable running plays on first and second down which usually set up the usual 3rd-and-7. That’s a tall task for an NFL starter let alone a backup.

As soon as the Packers lost Aaron Rodgers they lost who they were. And the head coach, who is also known as a quarterback guru, cannot let that happen. I’m not saying McCarthy should expect left rollouts thrown on a dime by his backups, but he shouldn’t pare the playbook down to the JV level either. The best example is that fateful game when Rodgers suffered that left collarbone injury.

With the Bears beating the Packers 24-20 very early in the fourth quarter, McCarthy dialed up a Lacy run on 2nd-and-7 from the 50. The run around the left end generated two yards setting up a tough third down which ultimately failed. And that came on the heels of the Packers throwing for 29 yards on back-to-back plays that took place on second and first down.

There’s a time and place to be conservative. I realize that coaches’ jobs have been lost due to knee-jerk risky decisions but when your team is losing in the fourth quarter, it’s at least a good time to start contemplating moves against the grain.

7

January

Packers Free Agent Overview: Defense

CB Sam Shields headlines the list of Packers free agents on defense.

With 17 free agents and just under $10 million in salary cap space carrying over into 2014, changes are coming to the Green Bay Packers roster.

Debate about whether it’s time for Packers general manager Ted Thompson to finally dip into free agency will heat up as the offseason rolls along. Just as important for Thompson is deciding which of his own free agents to retain and which to let walk.

Everyone asks if the Packers should resign (insert name of pending free agent). The answer to that question is almost always, “Sure, if the price is right.” Unfortunately for the Packers, the price isn’t always right and not everybody can be retained.

Let’s take a look at pending free agents on offense and dig into a few reasons why they might stay or go. We’ll examine free agents on offense later today.

CB Sam Shields
Getting Shields signed to a long-term deal should be the Packers top offseason priority, but it might not be possible. Shields will likely command around $9 million per season and a shade under $20 million guaranteed. That’s a lot of dough to squeeze under the salary cap and remain flexible enough to address other areas of the team. With Casey Hayward coming back, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shields walks. And if the Packers want to slap the franchise tag on Shields, it will likely cost around $11 million, so that probably won’t happen.

DL B.J. Raji
Raji became the first player to depart his team via free agency smack dab in the middle of the season. Wait, what? You say Raji didn’t leave the Packers in the middle of the season? He was on the active roster the whole time and even on the field while real live games were going on? Hold on a minute, what? Repeat that again, please? You say that not only was Raji still on the team after week seven, but he turned down an $8 million per season contract extension? LMFAO. Quit kidding around. This is a serious football site with serious football analysis. Nobody in their right mind would offer Raji $8 million per season ever again would they? Right?

19

December

What Happened to Packers Defensive Lineman B.J. Raji?

Where have you gone, B.J. Raji?

The Green Bay Packers have desperately missed Aaron Rodgers ever since he went down with a broken collarbone in week eight. Over that same stretch, the Packers have also desperately missed B.J. Raji, even though the 337-pound defensive lineman played in every game.

Through the season’s first eight games, Raji was a force. He was energetic and explosive and spent a good amount of time in the opposing team’s backfield. It looked like the Raji of 2010 had returned and he was finally establishing himself as one of those elite defensive lineman who doesn’t put up big stats, but makes a world of difference each and every week beyond the box score.

Then Raji fell off the face of the Earth. He didn’t just regress, he disappeared.

It’s weird because there were no warning signs that Raji was about to go in the tank. He was one of the few players on the team that hasn’t battled injuries (as far as we know, anyway). He’s still young and he’s a free agent this offseason. All signs pointed to a good season becoming great for the former No. 9 overall pick out of Boston College.

Raji was credited for 11 solo defensive stops through the first eight games, according to Pro Football Focus. He only has two in the last six games. Also according to Pro Football Focus, Raji has finished with a negative run defense rating in every game since the Bears loss.

Even if you’re not into Pro Football Focus metrics, it’s painfully obvious that Raji has fallen off a cliff. He’s always been susceptible to getting completely wiped out of running plays, but it’s gone from happening every now and then to happening on a regular basis. Watch the Vikings tie or the final drive of the Eagles game. When the Packers desperately needed a run-stuffing play up front, there was Raji getting washed down the line or blown off the ball.

Rumor has it that Raji turned down an $8 million per season contract extension from the Packers earlier this season. At the time, the offer made sense. Raji is a big and athletic lineman who played well inside and was able to hold his own outside. He’s also durable, a rarity on the modern-day Packers. He wasn’t a superstar, but $8 million per year for the type of player that Raji was matched the market rate.

9

December

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 22, Falcons 21

Andrew Quarless had a big day against the Falcons, and now the Packers are eyeing first place in the NFC North.

Andrew Quarless had a big day against the Falcons, and now the Packers are eyeing first place in the NFC North.

Maybe the Green Bay Packers didn’t save their season and keep themselves in the playoff hunt Sunday with a win over the Atlanta Falcons, but maybe they did.

Along with the Packers’ 22-21 win came a Philadelphia snowstorm and a Detroit Lions loss, which puts Green Bay only a half-game behind the Lions for first place in the NFC North. And while the Packers are certainly happy they were able to get a win without Aaron Rodgers, the possibility remains that the Packers’ quarterback will be ready to play Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

If Rodgers is back for the team’s final three games, the Packers could win out (at DAL, vs. PIT, at CHI) and squeak into the playoffs. That’s assuming the Lions (vs. BAL, vs. NYG, at MIN) lose one more game, which wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in the world.

But, once again, it will probably be a late-week decision on Rodgers, and the playoffs are still a long way away.

Now, after winning Dec. 8 for the first time since Oct. 27, the Packers are 1-4-1 since Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone, leaving them at 6-6-1 on the season. And it took everything the Packers had on both sides of the ball.

With seven of Atlanta’s 21 points coming on a Sean Weatherspoon pick-six before halftime, the Packers’ defense tightened up and allowed just 14 points on the afternoon, thanks to a second-half shutout. The Falcons put together a methodical 78-yard drive to tie the score at seven, but their only other scoring drive was set up by a Matt Flynn fumble deep in Packers territory.

Flynn and the offense turned in a much-improved performance after last week’s stinker, but the defense rose to the occasion and powered the Packers to a much-needed win.

Clearly, Jerron McMillian was the only problem with the Packers’ defense.

Game Balls

Matt Flynn

Coming into the game having given up at least 27 points in their last six games, many expected the Packers would need to light up the scoreboard in order to get past the Falcons. That wasn’t the case, but Flynn and the offense still mustered up 22 points and earned their sixth victory in the process. Flynn made some poor throws, but his lone interception came on a (that-kind-of) ‘WOW’ play, and he was efficient with the football throughout the day. Quite the difference from the debacle on Thanksgiving.

1

December

Is the Packers defensive line too fat?

What role had lack of conditioning played in the Packers plummeting run defense?

Remember when the Packers actually had a good run defense? It seems like forever ago, but as recently as October, the Packers turned into a brick wall against the likes of Frank Gore, Reggie Bush and others.

Those days are long gone now, and there are many reasons why the Packers run defense has gone from good to abysmal: Middle linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones are slow. The safeties don’t provide much for run support even when they play up on the line. Tackling, once again, is atrocious.

The Packers defensive line is also very fat. B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly all weigh in at over 325 pounds, and that’s listed weight. If I had to guess, I’d guess that Jolly is at least 15 pounds heavier than his listed weight of 325.

Remember back in the summer when reports came out that Raji and Pickett reported to minicamp overweight? I laughed it off because Raji and Pickett are fat guys and fat football players tend to get a little fatter during the offseason. No big deal. There was plenty of time to get back in shape before the season.

Jolly also had been out of football for three seasons and admitted that his weight climbed well above his playing weight before working to bring it back down and make the team.

Early in the season, it looked like I was right to just laugh off the reports of Raji, Pickett and Jolly being out of shape.

Led by the aforementioned three, the Packers only allowed one 100-yard rusher (Washington’s Alfred Morris in week 2) through the season’s first eight weeks. Since then, they’ve allowed a 100-yard rusher in four of the last five and have nearly allowed two players on the same team to top the century mark in the same game in consecutive weeks.

Are a few too many trips through the buffet line impacting the Packers run defense? Has the run defense slipped because Raji, Pickett and Jolly are wearing down due to poor conditioning after a strong start?

Only the Packers coaches and front office personnel can answer that question for sure. But as a fan watching the bottom fall out of this run defense, you can’t help but wonder if being out of shape in July is costing the Packers in November.

30

November

Cory’s Corner: Who’s to blame for Packers’ mess?

B.J. Raji has amassed only 13 total tackles and no sacks.

B.J. Raji has amassed only 13 total tackles and no sacks.

The main theme that trickled out of the Packers’ locker room on Thanksgiving was embarrassment.

The Packers didn’t just take a loss, they endured the worst loss in the Mike McCarthy era.

And with four games left, Green Bay must win out or stay home for the playoffs for the first time since the Packers missed the playoffs in 2008 with a miserable 6-10 record.

But how did they get here?

It’s too simple to say that the left collarbone of Aaron Rodgers is the genesis of all that ails the Packers. That isn’t responsible for the 95 defensive missed tackles or the 20 special teams missed tackles.

It also isn’t responsible for B.J. Raji looking like he is on cruise control when the Packers could use his girth and power to shut down the running game. Coincidentally, the Packers are 27th in the NFL by allowing 126 rushing yards a game.

It’s also not the collarbone’s fault that Marshall Newhouse and Co. have suddenly forgotten how to block. The Packers have allowed 32 sacks, which is surprising seeing as how successful Eddie Lacy has been behind a patchwork offensive line.

So where does the blame lie for a stunning 5-6-1 season that could easily end up in the history books as a dumpster fire?

First and foremost it has to lie with the coach. McCarthy has leaned on Rodgers so much that he may have taken him for granted. McCarthy never had to worry about trick or gadget plays because the impeccable precision and undeniable arm strength of Rodgers overcame a lot of the offense’s weaknesses. Let’s also not forget that McCarthy is a quarterback guru and it’s not exactly a feather in his cap to have four quarterbacks start for an NFL team that isn’t even finished with the season.

McCarthy obviously cannot do more than put players in position to succeed. But it’s the players’ job to take it from there. The biggest example of players not doing all they can is Raji. The 27-year-old defensive lineman becomes a free agent in March and has been offered a shocking $8 million a year offer by Green Bay — and what’s even more shocking is that Raji hasn’t accepted it yet. McCarthy can continue to put Raji in positions and places to make plays but if Rajij continues to take plays off and play soft, then the Packers should take that offer off the table immediately. Raji only has 13 total tackles and no sacks for a guy that plays a lot more than 30-year-old Johnny Jolly. Yet Jolly has 16 total tackles and one sack.