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.

31

July

Green Bay Packers Free Agent Tracker

Green Bay Packers 2011 free agency tracker:

 

FB John Kuhn: RE-SIGNED WITH PACKERS

The Packers re-signed fullback John Kuhn on a three-year contract worth $7.5 million. The deal puts Kuhn amongst the highest paid NFL fullbacks.

While you may raise your eyebrows a bit at that, I think it actually makes sense. Kuhn contributed in multiple ways beyond blocking last season, including shouldering some of the running back responsibilities, catching passes, short yardage back and special teams contributor. Kuhn is also a popular player among fans and in the locker room.

Kuhn wanted back in Green Bay all along, but he played it smart and let the market set the price for him. With Houston making a strong push for Kuhn to replace the departed Vonta Leach, the Packers most likely paid Kuhn more than they would have liked. That’s not to say he’s not worth it. Kuhn is a valuable asset for the Packers to have in their hip pocket, but this does affect one of the tight ends being looked at as a possible H back.

He won’t be running the ball as much as last season, but I’d expect Kuhn to help cover for the loss of Brandon Jackson on third downs.

WR James Jones: RE-SIGNED WITH PACKERS

The Packers agreed to terms with Jones on a three-year deal worth $9.6 million.

It sounds as if Aaron Rodgers and Donald Driver went to bat for Jones, and when teams in receiver market went elsewhere, Jones decided to come back with the Packers.

We heard Rodgers say that Jones should be the Packers No. 1 priority, but I still have doubts that he swayed Thompson in any way. The more likely reason for Jones’ return to Green Bay was the fact that receiver-needy teams such as Minnesota and New York signed other players, with the Vikings acquiring Michael Jenkins and the Jets Plaxico Burress.

Now, the Packers return all their pass-catchers from 2010. With this many toys at their disposal, expectations will be sky-high for this offense.

DE Cullen Jenkins: SIGNED WITH EAGLES 

The Philadelphia Eagles have signed Cullen Jenkins to a five-year, $25 million deal.

28

July

Brandon Jackson Signs With Cleveland Browns, Spitz Goes to Jaguars

Brandon Jackson signed a two-year deal with the Cleveland Browns Thursday night.

The Green Bay Packers backfield became a little less crowded when news broke Thursday night  that Brandon Jackson signed with the Cleveland Browns. The deal was reportedly for two years and $4.5 million.

Jackson was good in pass protection and figured to see plenty of action on third downs if he remained with the Packers. Two years and $4.5 million is a reasonable deal and I’m surprised the Packers didn’t make more of an effort to keep him.

Perhaps Jackson didn’t want to battle Ryan Grant, James Starks and Alex Green for playing time and felt he would have a bigger role in Cleveland. I can’t see him overtaking Peyton Hillis anytime soon, but Cleveland’s backfield is a little less crowded than Green Bay’s.

Either way, with G Daryn Colledge gone and now Jackson, the Packers pass protection has taken a bit of a hit. Neither Colledge or Jackson is irreplaceable, but both were better players than most people gave them credit for.

Jason Spitz will not be one of the players filling the pass protection void left by Colledge or Jackson. Spitz reportedly signed a multi-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

To summarize: Colledge, Spitz, Jackson and Korey Hall have signed elsewhere. Mason Crosby resigned with the Packers. Nick Barnett, Brady Poppinga and Justin Harrell were cut. Cullen Jenkins and James Jones appear to be on their way out, but nothing is official yet. The status of Atari Bigby, John Kuhn, Anthony Smith and Matt Wilhelm is unknown.

Did I miss anyone?

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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28

July

Breaking News: Daryn Colledge Agrees to Terms with Arizona Cardinals

Kevin Kolb wasn’t the only expensive player on the Arizona Cardinals free agent list apparently.  According to Jason Wilde of ESPN Madison, Daryn Colledge has agreed to a 5 year contract worth up to $27.5 million; that deal contains just under $10 million in guaranteed money and could net Colledge over $12 million over the first two years of the contract.

So it looks like Colledge’s agent was telling the truth all along, I can’t believe that Colledge is worth $6 million a year on average, not to mention the $10 million guaranteed.  Another thing that becomes obviously apparent is that there was no way that Packers General Manager Ted Thompson was really in the running.  Just as a point of comparison, Nick Collins, a pro-bowler who is considered one of the best safeties in the league signed a 4 year, $23.4 million dollar contract at the beginning of the season last year.

So what do the Packers do now?  Laugh a little probably.  TJ Lang, Nick McDonald, Marshall Newhouse and Caleb Schaluderaff become the natural candidates to replace Colledge, with Lang as the clear front runner based on his experience and being the back-up left guard on the depth chart.  Ironically, Colledge was probably the weakest link on the offensive line, even with Bryan Bulaga starting as a rookie in a position he’s never played before.  While fans seem split as to whether Mason Crosby is really worth $14.75 million, I think there will be a general consensus that Colledge is definitely not worth $27.5 million

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Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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27

July

Agent Says Guard Daryn Colledge Will Leave Packers

Colledge's days in Green Bay appear to be over.

According to a tweet from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel beat writer Tom Silverstein, the Green Bay Packers are no longer in the running for free agent guard Daryn Colledge.

Silverstein was in contact with Colledge’s agent, who also said the Cardinals are his likely destination.

“G Daryn Colledge’s days with the Packers are over,” Silverstein’s tweet said. “He’s going elsewhere, his agent said. Leader in the clubhouse is Arizona.”

Briefly afterwards, Silverstein gave Colledge’s reason for leaving.

“College gave Packers last two years to re-sign him and decided that was enough. Packers weren’t involved too much in competition.”

If the reports turn out to be true, then the 2011 season will mark a new era for the Packers at left guard. Colledge had been the starter there since being a second round draft pick in 2006. Possibilities to replace him include T.J. Lang, Nick McDonald and potentially either Marshall Newhouse or Caleb Schlauderaff.

Heading into the offseason, the chances of Colledge returning to Green Bay were 50-50 depending on who you spoke to. It’s clear from Silverstein’s tweet that Colledge was displeased with the Packers refusal to approach him about a contract extension. As a guy who has started 76 of the Packers past 80 regular season games and all of their playoff games since ’06, you can see why there would be some tension there.

It will also be interesting to see what the market ultimately values Colledge, even if his price tag doesn’t appear to be the reason why the Packers strayed away from re-signing him. If he is signed to a manageable price and the Packers have struggles at left guard in 2011, their decision will be questioned.

However, the Packers were obviously comfortable letting Colledge go, whether it be because of price or their own self-scouting of both Colledge and their alternate options at guard.

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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30

June

Despite Success, Packers Empty Backfield Formations Will Always Make Me Nervous

Aaron Rodgers needs to get rid of the ball quickly in empty-backfield formations.

Whenever the Packers lined up in an empty backfield formation last season, I got nervous.

Could Clifton and his creaky knees keep a speed rushing defensive end out of the backfield? Could the Colledge/Wells/Sitton interior combo handle a middle blitz without the safety net of a running back? Could Aaron Rodgers make his reads quick enough and get rid of the ball ontime? Could the ancient Mark Tauscher or the young Bryan Bulaga hold up the right side?

These are thoughts that raced through my head whenever Rodgers broke the huddle and set up behind center, all by his lonesome.

“That’s the franchise quarterback standing there all alone,” I would yell. “Somebody go stand next to him and protect him!”

If Julius Peppers or Ndamukong Suh broke through, there’s nothing Rodgers could do besides curl up and hope no major bones shatter while he’s driven to the turf. I resumed yelling: “Do we really want to alter the course of the franchise just so we can get Brett Swain in the game or line up a running back as a receiver?!”

Turns out, I shouldn’t have worried so much. The Packers were good in empty backfield sets.

Football Outsiders charted each team’s success in empty backfield formations last season. The Packers used an empty backfield 11 percent of the time (second most often in NFL) and averaged 5.5 yards per play (11th overall). Their DVOA with an empty backfield was 29.6 percent, ninth best in the league.

These are good numbers. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much.

Even though the evidence points to empty-backfield success for the Packers, I’ll likely always shudder when Rodgers lines up without at least one partner in the backfield. It’s my nature, I guess.

Whenever I play Madden on the PS3, the Packers are almost impossible to stop with an empty backfield, five wide-receiver set. Somebody gets open, and Rodgers just zips him the ball.

Sophisticated offenses, feakishly athletic receivers/tight ends and rules that favor the passing game are making real-life football more like Madden every season. We’re probably going to see the use of empty backfields increase in the coming years.

That’s not good for my blood pressure. Hopefully it’s good for the Packers.

23

June

Looming Questions for the Packers in a Post-Lockout NFL World

With NFL owners set to meet Tuesday in Chicago, a very important week in the sport’s labor situation is about to unfold. Optimism is starting to take hold in this lockout, and while I’d hesitate to say an agreement is imminent, things are finally starting to look like football will be played next season without interruption.

If an agreement is reached—and most of the NFL big-wigs, including Peter King and Adam Schefter, think sometime in July is the best bet—then the Packers and the rest of the NFL will have training camp as scheduled and the 2011 season will be played in its entirety. That also means that we will finally have some answers on the variety of questions about the team that we’ve all pondered over this lockout-striken offseason.

Let’s dive into the biggest questions surrounding the Packers in a post-lockout NFL world, starting with some obvious ones but ending with the most important question of all. And considering I already touched on James Jones in a previous post, I won’t touch that question again in this one.

 

Might the Packers Keep Five Tight Ends on the Roster?

The Packers are no strangers to having uncommon numbers at certain positions, as they’ve recently carried three fullbacks when most NFL teams only have one or two. Could next season see the Packers repeat this trend, but at the tight end position?

They certainly have the talent on board to pull it off.

Jermichael Finley’s spot is secure, and Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree return from 2010. But the Packers added two more tight ends in April’s draft, selecting D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively. Williams should be a lock, and Taylor appears on paper like the kind of versatile special teams player the Packers favor.

If the Packers don’t decide to keep all five, training camp should feature some kind of roster battle. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that group forced the Packers to keep all five players.

 

Where Will Nick Barnett be Playing in September?

There’s been plenty of discussion over Barnett’s future, but the lockout has robbed us of any clear answer on which way it could play out. I’m not positive that once the lockout ends there’ll be a quick resolution of the situation either. It’s a tough call for the Packers, and one that’s loaded with factors.