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.”

2

March

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

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Foo

The WWE Network debuted on Monday and my wife immediately began filling out divorce papers.

I try to limit my classic wrestling viewing to the television in our room before bed or my iPad if I have a free minute or two in the living room. With WWE Network, I can now literally watch old (and new) wrestling whenever I want. On my phone, in the car, at church, during family dinners, or waiting to check out at the grocery story. Thousands of hours of wrestling footage is at my fingertips.

There is no way my wife is going to be able to deal with me watching wrestling when we’re supposed to be having a serious conversation about buying a new house or finding a good school for our kid.

While I’m reliving classic moments like this, my wife will be packing up her things and relocating as far away from me as possible.

I wonder if the NFL would ever give something like the WWE Network a try? On the surface, it makes sense that they would. But if you really think about it, you realize how silly the league would be to abandon the golden goose it currently has with its traditional television package.

In 2013, the WWE made about $168 million from its television deal. That’s a great deal for the networks that air WWE programming like Monday Night Raw and SmackDown, and not all that great of a deal for WWE.

Ninety-percent of WWE viewers watch shows like Raw and SmackDown live or less than a day after airing. That’s on par with professional sports like football or basketball. The majority of WWE viewership is also under 34 years old and ethnically diverse, two key components that prominent advertisers are looking for. Networks are also looking for more “DVR-proof” programming, or shows that are watched live instead of recorded and watched days or weeks later.

So why doesn’t the WWE have a more lucrative TV deal? Because it’s professional wrestling, duh! Nobody — especially fancy schmancy television executives and big corporate advertisers — has ever taken professional wrestling seriously. Sure, they might back-handedly acknowledge its solid track record of reliable TV ratings and a dedicated and loyal fanbase, but they’re not going to back it up with dollars.

24

March

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

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Forgive me, Packers fans, I’m about to stick up for the Chicago Bears.

(*The author pauses for a moment to put on his bullet-proof vest, change the locks on his home, and take a deep breath*)

I have no problem with the Bears one year, $2 million contract offer to Brian Urlacher. I’m actually insulted that Urlacher called the offer “insulting.”

Football is a business. Good teams make roster decisions not to reward once-great players or keep local heroes around to appease the fanbase. Football has been trying to teach us this lesson over and over again, but most people will never learn it, or simply refuse to even try to learn it.

Urlacher was a free agent for the first time in 13 seasons. He’ll be 35 years old in May and he missed the last month of the 2012 season with a hamstring injury.

In the 12 games that Urlacher did play, Pro Football Focus graded him out positively in only three of them. He finished with an overall season grade of -11.3. Pro Football Focus is not the be-all, end-all of player evaluation, but from what I saw of Urlacher in 2012, a -11.3 seemed generous. I thought he was slow and a shadow of his former self.

Does a $2 million contract offer for a once-great, but now aging player coming off an injury and likely on the downswing of his career really sound that insulting to you?

It doesn’t to me.

To be fair, there are two counter-arguments to this: 1) Urlacher’s leadership means a lot and is worth more than $2 million, and 2) the Bears have next to nothing at middle linebacker now that Urlacher is gone.

I don’t know how much “leadership” is worth, especially for a player who is declining on the field. To me, not very much, but I’m not in an NFL locker room, so who knows?

Yes, it’s true that the Bears now have next to nothing at middle linebacker, but that’s still not a good enough reason to overpay for an aging player. Draft a rookie to develop. Find a younger player who could do what Urlacher did for a fraction of the price. Sign Brad Jones.

17

March

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

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Of the many things that make the NFL great, one of my personal favorites is how new trends tend to pop up out of nowhere.  Just when know-it-all types like yours truly think we have it all figured out, some new wrinkle arises that brings us crashing back down to Earth.

For example, we all understand that the NFL is a passing league these days, but it’s probably safe to say that next to nobody saw the read-option and power-running game trend that came on and played such a major factor in the league last season.

Read option? Power running? In today’s NFL? Nah! What coach is stupid enough to try that? Well, thanks to a new breed of quarterback, several coaches gave it a try and it worked. We’ll see if it continues.

In NFL free agency this offseason, thanks to a stagnant salary cap, there are a lot of usable veterans cut by teams and left on the market. In the past, many of these veterans would have signed bloated new deals with new teams on the first day or two of free agency.

These types of deals are still happening, but not quite like they used to.

Is this the new trend in free agency? It appears to be, for this offseason, anyway. More  teams are taking the Packers’ Ted Thompson approach and being patient, either because they think it’s the right thing to do, or because they have no other choice due to the stagnant salary cap.

Don’t get me wrong, few teams — if any — are taking the extreme draft and development approach that Thompson takes, but the general trend appears to be heading in that direction.

This raises several questions:

  • Will all of these unsigned veterans eventually just sign cheap one-year deals after a while?
  • Will prices for these unsigned veterans actually go up as free-agency wears on and teams realize they need to fill a few holes on their rosters?
  • Prices appear to be down for wide receivers and defensive backs this offseason. Is that because there are too many on the market? Is it becasue there are so many on the market? Is it because teams feel it makes more sense to draft and develop their own WRs and DBs?
16

March

Tom Crabtree Leaves Packers, Signs With Bucs

Tom Crabtree Lambeau Leap vs. Chicago bears

Unfortunately for Packers fans, we won’t be seeing Tom Crabtree making any Lambeau Leaps this season.

The next time Tom Crabtree catches a touchdown, executes a fake field goal, or makes you laugh out loud with one of his Tweets, it won’t be as a member of the Green Bay Packers.

The tight end reportedly has signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Packers declined to place a low tender on Crabtree that would have cost about $1.3 million, thus making Crabtree an unrestricted free agent.

The Bucs will be getting a versatile player who can play tight end, line up as an H-back and contribute on special teams. Packers fans are losing a player who built a connection with cheeseheads everywhere through social media and general accessibility.

I’m sad to see Crabtree go, just like I’m sad to see any Packers player depart who is a solid contributor and appears to be a decent guy. But from strictly a football sense, I don’t blame the Packers for only offering Crabtree the minimum.

Crabtree only caught eight passes in 2013 (although three went for touchdowns) and Pro Football Focus gave him a negative run-blocking grade of -7.7. With Andrew Quarless returning, the Packers probably didn’t feel that Crabtree was worth more to them than the minimum.

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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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15

March

Packers News: Greg Jennings is reportedly a Minnesota Viking

Greg Jennings is now a member of the Minnesota Vikings

Almost four years after one beloved Green Bay Packer left for the Land of 10000 Lakes (and zero Lombardi Trophies), another member of the Green and Gold will don the purple.

That’s right, per Adam Schefter of ESPN now former Packers WR Greg Jennings has signed a five-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings.

After trading away Percy Harvin to the Seahawks,  the Vikings were in the market for a new deep threat for Christian Ponder and they got one in Jennings.

Initial reports of the dollar figures are 47.5 million  over 5 years with 18 million guaranteed. Jennings is the second high profile member of the Packers to join the Vikings since 2009 (Brett Favre) and this move undoubtedly will not sit well with many Packers fans.

The games against the Vikings will be a lot more interesting starting this season but consider this: now Aaron Rodgers will have another chip on his shoulder  to absolutely maul Minnesota.  An anonymous Packer player texted Mike Freeman of CBS Sports that he’s happy for Jennings but that “he went from prime rib to Burger King.”

That first Packers/Vikings game can’t get here soon enough.

As for the Packers, they will be fine.  With Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones they still have one the best groups of wide receivers in the league.    GM Ted Thompson likely will select a wide receiver at some point in the draft and Green Bay is still developing Jarrett Boykin.

The future is bright for this receiving corps. Relax, folks.

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Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke

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15

March

Around the NFC North: Making Fun of the Bears, Lions and Vikings

NFC North DivisionIt’s free agency time in the NFL, also known as the the perfect opportunity for Packers fans to take a nap for two weeks.

Sure, it’s been mildly entertaining trying to figure out if the Packers did, or did not, sign Steven Jackson. And it’s been somewhat amusing following Greg Jennings and his mysterious tweets as he navigates the free agency waters, possibly back to the Packers.

But none of those things bring as much joy to my heart as mocking and ridiculing the Packers NFC North opponents for their offseason signings, roster cuts and trades.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings traded Percy Harvin to Seattle for a first round draft pick and a couple other draft picks. They also cut veteran defensive back Antoine Winfield and resigned right tackle Phil Loadholt.

Isn’t it cute how Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is trying to act like Ted Thompson? Suddenly the Vikings are all about the draft and getting younger.

Let’s see how long Spielman is able to stick with this philosophy. Remember that the Vikings quarterback is Christian Ponder and owner Zygi Wilf has a new stadium opening in a couple years that he’ll want filled to capacity with drooling rubes in helga horns and goldilocks braids.

What if Ponder continues to stink and the Vikings take a step backward? Is Wilf patient enough to give Spielman enough of a leash and allow this draft and develop philosphy to take shape?

I doubt it.

You know what’s going to be awesome? Watching the Vikings spend the first-rounder they got for Harvin on the next Troy Williamson.

UPDATE: The Vikings signed Matt Cassel after I wrote this, so you know what else is going to be awesome? Hearing those drooling rubes in helga horns and goldilocks braids chanting Cassel’s name after Ponder goes 7-for-16 for 49 yards with two interceptions in the first half of Minnesota’s season opener.

Chicago Bears
The Bears signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett. The futures of Brian Urlacher and Israel Idonje remain up in the air.

Pro Football Focus ranked Bushrod 24th among left tackles who started at least 10 games at the position in 2012. Bushrod got a pass blocking rating of     -3.5. For comparison, the Packers Marshall Newhouse got a 5.2.