6

February

Green Bay Packers Offseason: Another Veteran Purge Could Be Coming

Packers WR Donald Driver

Packers WR Donald Driver might be a cut Ted Thompson makes this offseason. (Photo: Getty images)

It didn’t take long into Ted Thompson’s reign as Green Bay Packers GM for the unwavering 52-year-old to firmly establish that football moves under his direction would be made without the cling of emotion, void of any sentimental feelings that could effect a given decision one way or the other.

Among Thompson’s first moves as GM in 2005 were the releasing of guard Mike Wahle and safety Darren Sharper and declining to re-sign guard Marco Rivera, three players that were stalwarts for Packers teams that had won consecutive NFC North titles from 2002-04. Despite their undisputed contributions, each was shown the door both because of age and Thompson’s need to manage the Packers’ out of control salary cap.

Wahle was 28 years old and had played in 103 straight games when Thompson released him, but the move saved over $11 million in cap space. Axing Sharper, a 29-year-old All-Pro safety, saved another $4.3 million. Rivera went on to sign a five-year, $20 million contract with the Cowboys after Thompson let him walk at the age of 32.

All three of the moves were spurred by the Packers’ cap situation as he entered the job. No matter how unpopular, each needed to be made to get Thompson back into his salary cap comfort zone.

And while a drastic makeover like 2005 hasn’t been seen since, similar decisions to the ones Thompson made in that offseason have. In the end, making those tough decisions are a big reason why the Packers’ salary cap has never again reached 2005 levels.

Over subsequent years, Thompson released veterans Na’il Diggs (80 career starts, saved $2.9 million) and Bubba Franks (Three-time Pro Bowler, saved over $4 million), traded away an unretired Brett Favre, and let Ahman Green (the Packers franchise leader in rushing yards) and Aaron Kampman (owner of 54 career sacks in Green Bay) walk in free agency.

In 2010, Thompson released cornerback Al Harris, who started seven straight seasons for the Packers but was 36 years old and struggling to come back from a catastrophic knee injury in ’09.

Starting to sound like a broken record?  There was still more roster reshaping to do even after Thompson’s 2010-11 Packers reached the top of the NFL mountain.

1

August

Free Agent Status of Former Green Bay Packers

Tracking the free agent status of Packers released this offseason, with the exception of Al Harris, who was released during the 2010 season.

 

 S Derrick Martin: SIGNED WITH GIANTS  

UPDATE: Martin and the New York Giants agreed to a one-year contract on Monday, August 15. 

The Packers released Martin on March 3.

Despite being an important special teams contributor, the Packers let go of Martin early in the offseason. Injuries likely played into the decision, as Martin suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Washington Redskins.

Little has surfaced about team’s potential interest in Martin, but I’d be shocked if he didn’t find a team for 2011.

LB Brady Poppinga: SIGNED WITH ST. LOUIS RAMS 

The Packers released Poppinga on July 29.

UPDATE: Poppinga has reportedly agreed to a deal with the St. Louis Rams and was observing Rams practice on Tuesday night. He should get a chance to start at outside linebacker for St. Louis.

Much like Tauscher, Poppinga had similar factors working against him.

At 32 years old and coming off an ACL injury, Poppinga was due $2.34 million in 2011. For a guy that was going to be a backup and play primarily on special teams, that price tag was way too rich for the Packers liking.

He was also miscast in the Packers 3-4 defense, and he’ll likely look to team that runs the 4-3 as his next destination. Poppinga visited the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, but there was no word if a contract had been put in place.

LB Nick Barnett: SIGNED WITH BUFFALO BILLS

The Packers released Barnett on July 29, saving $5.9 million in cap room. Barnett then signed a three-year, $12 million deal with Buffalo Bills on July 31.

The Bills got a serious upgrade at linebacker, as Barnett averaged almost 110 tackles in his first seven seasons with the Packers. He’ll bring a veteran presence to a team that needs leaders on defense.

Barnett was expendable to the Packers after Desmond Bishop had a breakout season in his absence. Green Bay signed Bishop to a four-year, $19 million contract in January, putting the writing on the wall for Barnett’s eventual release.

TE Donald Lee: SIGNED WITH PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

The Packers released Lee on March 3. On July 29, Lee signed a one-year, $850,000 contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

29

July

Green Bay Packers Release Injured Brandon Chillar

Brandon Chillar

After reporting to camp with a hamstring injury, Brandon Chillar has reportedly been released by the Packers.

According to a tweet by Tom Silverstein of the Milwauke Journal-Sentinel, the Green Bay Packers have released inside linebacker Brandon Chillar. This report comes merely a day after news that he suffered a “serious hamstring injury” in the offseason. Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com also reported yesterday that the Packers intended to release Chillar but wasn’t given the news when Brady Poppinga and Justin Harrell were informed of their fate.

At the end of 2009, Chillar signed a four-year contract extension worth $19 million. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury at the end of November last season.

The release of Chillar clears $1.8 million in salary cap money.

This news puts the Packers into a slight predicament at the inside linebacker position. With the reports of Nick Barnett’s pending departure, the loss of Chillar would mean having zero veteran back-ups to A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop. The only exception would be if they signed free agent Matt Wilhelm to a new contract.

Ted Thompson could still keep Barnett on the roster and perhaps try to re-work his contract. He might also look into picking up a veteran free agent off the market, though at this point, it’s tough to say what kind of talent is still available for negotiations. The answer to this dilemma is unclear, but someone will probably need to be found soon.

As far as Brandon Chillar is concerned, he might have a hard time finding a new team to pick him up with his current contract and injury status. His time with the Packers has been decent yet unspectacular, and he might have already hit his peak as a player.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation at the now-thin inside linebacker position.

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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18

July

Bringing in the Cavalry: A Look at the Packers Injured Reserve

Ryan Grant Injury - Packers injured reserved

Ryan Grant's injury against the Philadelphia Eagles was one of the biggest blows to the offense last season.

With the NFL lockout well into its fourth month now, there has been ample talk of which teams will fare better with a limited offseason. One of those teams, of course, is the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. But it’s not their championship status that has people convinced they’ll be ready. No, most people point to the (now cliché) fact that they have “16 players returning from injured reserve.”

While this is certainly the case, I started thinking about this claim a little more in depth. I wondered: Will all sixteen of those players really be making a difference?

Sure, guys like Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant will have a HUGE impact upon their return. But what about a guy like Spencer Havner or even Brady Poppinga? What are they really going to be bringing back to the table?

Here’s a quick look at each player that ended up injured reserve last year and what their potential impact will be upon their return. They are ordered by the date of their injuries:

Josh Bell, CB

Type of Injury: Foot Sprain
When Injured:
Training Camp (August 10, 2010)
Impact for 2011:
None – The Packers offered Bell an injury settlement during camp, which he refused. After the Super Bowl ring controversy in June, it’s clear the team plans to go on without him next season.

#91 Justin Harrell, DE

Type of Injury: Knee (ACL)
When Injured:
Week 1 @ Philadelphia Eagles
Impact for 2011:
Questionable – Harrell could actually be a big influence on the 2011 season; however, one still has to be cautious with his downright unlucky injury history. If Harrell can manage to stay active for more than a game, then he might be able to do some damage along the line. We all know how big of an “if” that is, though.

#25 Ryan Grant, RB

Type of Injury: Ankle
When Injured:
Week 1 @ Philadelphia Eagles
Impact for 2011:
High – There’s no question that the Packers severely missed their primary running back for most of last season. Brandon Jackson just couldn’t get the job done, and James Starks, while showing a lot of promise, is still young and relatively inexperienced. Grant will provide some much-needed consistency to the ground game, even if he is splitting carries with Starks.

4

May

3 Main Themes Emerge From Green Bay Packers 2011 NFL Draft

The 2011 NFL draft is now officially over, and its time to take a look at what the Packers did.  Over the next couple of weeks, fans and analysts alike will sit in front of their computers and grade each team’s draft class; in my opinion this is completely absurd for two reasons.

For one, these players haven’t played a single snap in the NFL yet and no one knows exactly how these players are going to pan out; if anyone did the draft would be a pretty boring affair.

And second, the inherent flaw in grading is that it’s based on a big board typically made by an analyst or the fans themselves.  There are only a few people privy to the actual boards of the 32 teams, and I’m willing to bet that none of the boards you see online are even remotely close to the real things.

Nevertheless, one fact that must be true is that every team drafts with a logical purpose; whether drafting purely on talent, athleticism, speed, need or value, it would be simply foolish for a team to draft a player without an idea of what to do with him and how that player fits into the team.  With that in mind, in the following article I hope to analyze what the Packers were thinking when they drafted each player.

Overall Impressions:

  1. The retooling of the defense is basically complete: Teams set a tone with the players they draft and this year it was all about giving Aaron Rodgers more help.  Many people have forgotten that the Packers are only two years removed from completely changing their defensive scheme from a 4-3 bump and run scheme under Bob Sanders to a 3-4 zone blitz scheme under Dom Capers.The 2009 and 2010 drafts were very defensive heavy, with BJ Raji and Clay Matthews III being drafted in the 1st round in 2009 and Mike Neal and Morgan Burnett being taken in the 2nd and 3rd round in 2010.  This was simply based on the fact that many of the players acquired pre-2009 weren’t ideal for a 3-4 defense (such as DE/OLB Aaron Kampman).  In comparison, the 2011 draft was definitely an offensive draft, with the first 3 picks on the offense and 4 offensive skill positions being addressed overall.
25

April

2011 Draft Prep: Green Bay Packers Needs by Position – Inside Linebacker

In this next installment of our 2011 Draft Prep series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ needs by position, we are going to analyze how the inside linebacker position currently stands. Strengths, weaknesses, depth, and uncertainties will all be examined to determine the urgency of need in regards to next season.

This series is meant to help us figure out the needs of the team and how the draft could be used to improve the weaker areas. While Ted Thompson largely uses the “best player available” (BPA) approach, his decision to trade up or down the board is affected by what position players he would prefer to have. Additionally, the picking up of players in the later rounds and in undrafted free agency is often based on need, since the talent is less defined.

CURRENT PLAYERS:

#50 A.J. Hawk
27 yrs. old / 5 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2015

#55 Desmond Bishop
26 yrs. old / 4 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2014

#56 Nick Barnett
29 yrs. old / 8 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

#54 Brandon Chillar
28 yrs. old / 7 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2013

#49 Rob Francois
25 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

#48 Cardia Jackson
22 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed to reserve/future contract

#57 Matt Wilhelm
30 yrs. old / 8 yrs. exp.
Free Agent

* Contract information acquired from RotoWorld.com

POSITION STRENGTHS:

As it stands right now, the Packers are stacked at the inside linebacker position.

Nick Barnett is a well-seasoned veteran whose hair is almost as big as his reputation. He was a starter for Green Bay from day one, and has been an anchor at the position for the past eight years. He led the team in tackles for five of those years, set the single-season franchise record with 194 tackles, and ranks third in franchise annals with 986 career tackles.

Then there’s A.J. Hawk, the Packers’ top 2006 draft pick who finally seemed to make his mark this season with Barnett out of the picture. For the first three years, fans became increasingly frustrated with a performance that belied his first-round draft status. Finally, we have seen that his communication skills, good study habits, and great work ethic were a gigantic asset to the team. And for his efforts, Ted Thompson rewarded Hawk with a brand new five-year contract.

20

April

According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Inside Linebackers

Inside Linebackers: Here’s the eighth of a series of articles, looking specifically at the NFL combine and the Packers’ drafting tendencies. (Read here for the rationale for this serieshere for quarterbackshere for running backs, here for wide receivershere for tight endshere for offensive tackleshere for offensive interior linemen, here for defensive ends and here for outside linebackers).  This article will use the combine numbers from previous players drafted by GM Ted Thompson as a guide for what inside linebackers are likely to fit into the Packers’ scheme.

Again, this is merely an attempt to make a best guess based on statistics at which players the Packers might be interested in, game tape naturally trumps combine numbers, so take all of this with a grain of salt.  But I believe it will make for some interesting discussion.  Also listed below are also two inside linebackers in this year’s draft who I think fit the Packers scheme the best, based on their combine numbers.

Statistics of inside linebackers linemen drafted by the Packers:

Name Height Weight 40-Yard 3-Cone Shuttle Vertical Broad Bench
A.J. Hawk 6’1” 245.00 4.59 6.82 3.96 40.00 115.00 24.00
Abdul Hodge 6’0” 235.00 4.76 7.11 4.35 31.00 108.00 25.00
Desmond Bishop 6’2” 241.00 4.81 7.14 4.65 32.50 112.00 33.00
Average 6’1” 240.33 4.72 7.02 4.32 34.50 111.67 27.33
StDev 1.00 5.03 0.12 0.18 0.35 4.82 3.51 4.93

 

What the Packers are looking for: If its possible to have too much talent at a position in the NFL, the Packers epitomize it with their inside linebackers.  Nick Barnett, Brandon Chillar, AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop are all starting caliber inside linebackers and their contracts live up to it.  The Packers have invested over $110 million into the inside linebackers with about $30 million of that guaranteed.  Needless to say, that’s quite an investment for one position.

The conundrum facing the Packers at the moment is that they like all four of their opening day inside linebackers, but they can’t afford to pay them all; of the four, AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop received big contracts after playing in the Super Bowl and are the designated starters; this leaves Brandon Chillar and Nick Barnett, who both ended up on IR, looking in from the outside.  Will Barnett and/or Chillar still be with the team in 2011?  Economically the answer is probably no.