24

February

Adam Czech’s Green Bay Packers Offseason Blueprint

1) Release LT Chad Clifton, WR Donald Driver and S Charlie Peprah.
Saying goodbye to Clifton and Driver won’t be easy, but it’s time. The Packers save over $10.5 million by releasing the two veterans, money that can be used to resign Scott Wells. Ted Thompson has a good track record when it comes to drafting WRs and I’m confident he can fill Driver’s role quickley. If Clifton was healthy for even two-thirds of last season, I’d say keep him. But with Bryan Bulaga ready to take over at left tackle and Marshall Newhouse (or someone else not yet on the roster) capable of taking over at right tackle, it’s time to move on. One more thing on Driver: I wouldn’t bother asking him to take a pay cut. It’s time to move on and give Randall Cobb a chance to fill Driver’s role. As a diehard Packers fan, I hate myself for writing that, but it’s the correct move.  
 
2.) Let free agents RB Ryan Grant, DL Howard Green, QB Matt Flynn, LB Erik Walden and CB Pat Lee sign elsewhere.
It’d be nice to keep Grant around, but only if he takes a one-year deal at a bargain price. I think someone will offer him more than that and he’ll walk. Flynn earned a chance to start, and I hope a team, preferably a team in the NFC, overpays for his services. I think Flynn has a chance to be a decent QB, but I want an NFC team to overpay him and mess up their salary cap for a few years. Green, Walden and Lee are all replacement level players whose roles can be filled by just about anybody else.
 
Of course, with Finley now signed, the franchise tag is open for Flynn. Continue reading for more of my thoughts on that issue.
 
3) Re-sign C Scott Wells (3 years, $19 million), Re-sign CB Jarrett Bush (2 years, $3 million) and franchise TE Jermichael Finley (approximately 1 year, $5.5 million).
If I had to guess, I’d guess that the only reason Wells didn’t sign an extension during the season is because Thompson totally low-balled him, going below the typical “Packers-friendly deal.”  Thompson probably thinks there won’t be much interest in giving a huge contract to a 31-year-old center once he hits the open market, thus shifting the leverage in the Packers’ favor. I don’t think Thompson is completely off-base in that assumption, but I don’t think he’s totally right, either. Three years and $19 million sounds fair for both sides. The yearly salary is comparable to other top centers in the NFL and the three-year deal doesn’t tie the Packers to a player who is already on the wrong side of 30.
 
(On the flip side, perhaps Wells refused to sign an extension because he knows the Packers don’t have a replacement center on the current roster and he’s using that as major leverage. Or he’s got a major chip on his shoulder because of how the Packers have treated him during his career. Or he just wants a boatload of money. Probably some combination of everything.)
 
Signing Bush for two years would have sounded asinine a few years ago, but he’s earned a little security. Bush has been a major boost to the Packers special teams and his play in the secondary, while not stellar, has improved. I don’t see any reason why Bush can’t fill Charlie Peprah’s role as the emergency safety.
 
About Finley: I originally wrote this blueprint on Feb. 7, and the Packers signed Finley to a 2-year deal on Feb. 22. Finley’s signing opens the franchise tag for Flynn or Wells, which forced me to amend my blueprint.
 
3a) Re-sign Wells (3 years, $19 million), re-sign Bush (2 years, $3 million) and franchise Flynn only if there’s a trade already worked out.
 
Not much changes here. I still think Wells at 3 years and $19 million is good for the Packers. Ditto for Bush. It doesn’t make any sense for the Packers to franchise Flynn unless there’s a trade worked out. I really don’t think franchising Flynn now gives the Packers much additional leverage in trade talks.
 
4) Keep Charles Woodson at CB and leave him alone if he doesn’t want to re-structure his contract.
All this talk about moving to Woodson to safety needs to stop. Woodson’s best position is cornerback and that’s where he needs to stay. Woodson is a high-risk, high-reward type of player. He excels when he has a safety behind him and is able to take a few more chances that a corner probably should. Can you imagine Woodson being the last line of defense at safety? I’m not saying it would be a disaster — Woodson is an all-time great, I’m sure he’d be competent — but I wouldn’t be comfortable with a guy in his mid-30s playing safety for the first time and taking the sort of risks Woodson does.
 
On a separate issue, if Thompson approaches Woodson about re-structuring his contract and Woodson tells him to get lost, Thompson should get lost. Yes, Woodson showed his age a bit last season, but he’s still an important member of the defense. He’s always around the ball and his instincts for playmaking remain strong. Also, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields showed no sign of being able to handle the top two corner positions last season. The Packers need Woodson.
 
5) Sign free agent DE Red Bryant (4 years, $16 million)
This is the part of the blueprint where readers laugh hysterically at the author. Free agency?! The Packers?! It’ll never happen! The readers are probably right, but in case they aren’t, Bryant is a realistic option for the Packers to pursue (sorry folks, guys like Mario Williams and Brandon Carr won’t be wearing green and gold any time soon).
 
Bryant has battled injuries most of his career, but was healthy all of last season and became a force. At 6-4, 323 pounds, Bryant would fit right in at DE in Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme. Plus he’s only 27 years old, making him more than a one-season stopgap. I don’t see Thompson signing an older guy just to plug a hole for one season, which makes signing Bryant sound even more realistic. Bryant isn’t the dynamic pass rusher that the Packers (and just about every other team in the league) could use, but I’ll remind everyone again: Mario Willaims is not walking through the door at Lambeau Field any time soon.
 
Another note on Bryant: Most reports indicate that the Seahawks will do everything they can to keep him. Even if Thompson is interested in Bryant, I don’t think he’d engage in a major bidding war for his services. Bryant is significant part of my offseason blueprint, but he’s probably buried somewhere toward the end of Thompson’s offseason blueprint.
 
I’d also look for Thompson to shop for a bargain basement cornerback or pilfer a corner off another team’s practice squad.
 
6) Follow the best-player-available method in the draft.
Between now and when the draft finally starts in April, you’ll hear analysts and fans screaming about the Packers need to load up on pass rushers and other defensive players in the draft. Let those people scream. Thompson will draft the best player available regardless of position or perceived need. And he’s absolutely right in doing so.
 
Reaching for picks that are lower on your draft board based on need is always a dangerous proposition. The odds of that player coming in and immediately filling that need aren’t always that good. Every team has needs. Every team has areas that need fixing. The Packers are no exception. As long as Thompson continues to draft the best player available on his board, the number of areas where the Packers need fixing will remain low.
 
7) Move Bryan Bulaga to left tackle.
Bulaga has improved just about every game since starting at right tackle halfway through the 2010 season. According to Bob Mcginn of the Milwauke Journal Sentinel, Bulaga allowed only 1 1/2 sacks and had a team-low six bad run blocks. There’s something to be said for continuity on the offensive line, but in this case, I think moving Bulaga to the left side would improve the line’s continuity. The last position you want to take a chance with is left tackle. The line, and the offense as a whole, can’t function like it should if Aaron Rodgers has to constantly worry about his blindside. With Bulaga over there, I don’t think he’d have to worry so much.
 
8) After a stock sale that netted millions, the Packers should not raise ticket prices.
Guess I’m a little late on this one.
 
That wraps up my offseason blueprint. To close, here is how the Packers opening day starting lineup will look if my blueprint is followed:
 
Offense
QB Aaron Rodgers
RB James Starks*
FB John Kuhn
WR Greg Jennings
WR Jordy Nelson
TE Jermichael Finley
LT Bryan Bulaga
LG TJ Lang
C Scott Wells
RG Josh Sitton
RT Marshall Newhouse*
 
Defense
NT Ryan Pickett
DE BJ Raji
DE Red Bryant
OLB Clay Matthews
ILB Desmond Bishop
ILB AJ Hawk
OLB Brad Jones*
CB Charles Woodson
CB Tramon Williams
FS Nick Collins
SS Morgan Burnett
 
Special Teams
K Mason Crosby
P Tim Masthay
KR/PR Randall Cobb
LS Brett Good
 
*Denotes players most vulnerable to losing starting job to a yet-to-be drafted rookie.
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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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