24

March

Cory’s Corner: The NFL isn’t broke, don’t fix it

The NFL has talked about moving back the point-after touchdown and adding two playoff teams.

The NFL has talked about moving back the point-after touchdown and adding two playoff teams.

First it was making extra points 43-yard kicks.

Now there’s talk about expanding the playoffs.

It should be obvious to the owners and NFL commish Roger Goodell that the National Football League is hands down the best professional sports product on the planet.

Sorry Premier League, but the NFL continues to get eyes glued to its games. For the fourth time in five years, last month’s Super Bowl has set viewership records in the U.S. And that was for a pretty much blah game with a final score of 43-8.

And so I ask you, why for all that is holy is the NFL even considering tinkering with its untouchable product? Leagues like the NHL, MLB and NBA would kill for the exposure, which allows the financial floodgates to be opened to the tune of over $39 billion just for broadcast rights.

Many might say you have to change or reinvent yourself in order to stay on top. That’s a valid argument but it doesn’t hold water when there hasn’t been any evidence of the NFL eroding. The game’s popularity has only exponentially grown thanks to things like fantasy football and the Madden video game, which continues to cultivate a younger audience.

Actually the NFL has changed. It has added things like replay challenges — even though a certain Lions coach really never understood how it worked — the two point conversion and less clutching and grabbing from defensive backfields.

The game is much more open now. The quarterback may still be protected a tad too much, but I’m willing to live with all the minor tweaks the shield has made over the years.

But seeing a kicker have to boot a 43-yard extra point in December just to secure a playoff berth seems a bit preposterous. And adding two more playoff teams into the mix sounds like a great idea right? It’s the simple math of more teams, the better.

However, all it would do is just dilute the postseason to NBA levels. How many people care or watch the 8th seed get trounced by the No. 1 seed in the NBA playoffs? Yes, I know Dikembe Mutumbo and the Nuggets bucked the trend by beating the Sonics. But that never happens — and worse yet, hardly anyone watches or cares.

14

March

Channeling Fire Joe Morgan about Packers GM Ted Thompson and NFL Free Agency

I decided to go all Fire Joe Morgan on this piece written by Frank Schwab at Yahoo Sports about Packers GM Ted Thompson and NFL free agency. Enjoy.

In 2006, Packers general manager Ted Thompson signed cornerback Charles Woodson in free agency, and it was one of the best moves he ever made.

Ok. A good start to this post. I agree with that statement.

You’d think that experience would give Ted Thompson the warm and fuzzies about free agency and he’d spend his time chasing the next Woodson. Instead, Thompson might be off on vacation this week. Wherever he has been, he hasn’t been signing any players.

Starting to go off the rails a bit now. Thompson didn’t “chase” Woodson. He signed him well after free agency opened. I think part of the reason Thompson doesn’t dive into the opening frenzy of free agency is because it is a “chase.” Chasing to fill this roster hole or plug that weak area. Chasing a big-name veteran who fans are familiar with. Chasing the notion that you have to “DO SOMETHING!!!!” to get better like the other teams around you. Those types of chases are from guaranteed to pay off. Oh, and the “Ted Thompson goes on vacation” thing became an eye-rolling cliche three years ago.

Green Bay didn’t sign one player, outside of retaining his (sic) own free agents, in the first three days of free agency.

Gasp!

It’s not like they don’t have needs. A stud left tackle would have been great, allowing David Bakhtiari to move inside to guard. Any of the top centers would have worked. A pass rusher would be swell. They could have spent on a big-time safety, and it’s not like Antoine Bethea, T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner or guys like that got a ridiculous amount of money.

Sign a stud left tackle and move a promising, young and inexpensive left tackle to guard when you already have one pro bowl guard and another guard coming off his best season (and Bryan Bulaga coming back from injury)? Was there a “stud left tackle” on the free-agent market this year? I didn’t see one. Stud left tackles, like stud QBs, typically don’t make it to free agency. If the Packers re-sign Evan Dietrich-Smith, that’ll meet the “any of the top centers” criteria. Yes, a pass rusher would be swell. Let’s see what the remaining days of free agency bring (yes, free agency lasts more than a couple days). Finally, none of the safeties Schwab lists are “big time.”

13

March

NFL Free Agency: Packers Re-Sign TE Andrew Quarless

NFL, Green Bay Packers, NFL Free Agency, Packers free agency, Packers free agents, Andrew Quarless, Andrew Quarless contract, Andrew Quarless free agentThe Green Bay Packers have announced that they have re-signed tight end Andrew Quarless.  Terms of the new deal were not disclosed, but according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, it is a two year deal.

The tight end position had been labeled as one of the needs for the Packers this offseason after Jermichael Finley’s neck injury and subsequent unrestricted free agency.  With Finley’s football future in doubt, many wondered if the Packers would look outside the team for a tight end or give Quarless a shot.  He played well down the stretch last season and that apparently was enough for the Packers to bring him back for a couple more seasons.

Getting Quarless back is big after reports that Jermichael Finley is still awaiting medical clearance.  He’s reportedly a favorite to land with the Seattle Seahawks once/if doctors give him the all clear. That is still far from a certainty, however.

Green Bay had also reportedly been interested in former Texans tight end Owen Daniels and even had him in for a visit.  The signing of Quarless does not necessarily exclude the Packers from adding Daniels as Quarless and Brandon Bostick are currently the only tight ends under contract. Daniels was reportedly planning on visiting with the Washington Redskins soon, so the Packers will have some competition for his services.

As for Quarless, he finally began to show promise late in 2013.  He missed all of 2012 with a knee injury he suffered late in 2011.  He caught a touchdown and had over 50 receiving yards in two of the Packers’ final four games and was earning a much bigger role in the passing game.  Along with Bostick, the Packers have a pair of solid tight ends but may still be one player away from checking tight end off their need list.

Will it be Daniels or will it be someone else? Only Ted Thompson knows for sure so stayed tuned to ALLGBP.com for all your Packers free agency news!

——————

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

——————

12

March

NFL Free Agency: Green Bay Packers Re-Sign DE/OLB Mike Neal

NFL, Green Bay Packers, Mike Neal, NFL Free Agency, Packers Free Agents, Packers free agencyAccording to his Twitter feed, defensive end/linebacker Mike Neal has signed a new two-year contract with the Green Bay Packers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Neal had his most productive season in 2013, but that was mainly due to the fact he was finally able to remain healthy for a full season.  Neal had 47 combined tackles, five sacks, one forced fumble and one interception in a season where he was moved from the defensive line to a linebacker position.

A second round pick of the Packers in 2010, Neal showed flashes of being a decent pass rusher during training camp but never was able to remain healthy and only saw action for more than half a season in 2012.  Neal had been rumored to be target by the Chicago Bears and the Arizona Cardinals, but ultimately chose to remain a Green Bay Packer.

With Neal’s return, it’s becoming clear no major defensive scheme overhaul is in order for the Packers this offseason. Moving Neal back to his original position on the defensive line however would indicate Green Bay wants to get leaner at the position.   There is also the possibility Neal could be moved all over the front seven as a pass rush specialist, lining up both with his hands on the ground as well as standing up.

This move at the least sets the stage for more competition throughout the unit as training camp approaches.  Neal is still young and has a lot to contribute.  He has natural athletic ability and now that he’s proven he can stay healthy, Neal could be critical towards Green Bay finally establishing a consistent pass rush.

——————

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

——————

12

March

Surprise! Packers Quiet on First Day of NFL Free Agency

Jarius Byrd

Safety Jarius Byrd signed a monster NFL free agent contract on Tuesday, but not with the Packers.

C’mon, folks. You didn’t REALLY think that the Packers and general manager Ted Thompson were going to make a splash on the first day of NFL free agency, did you?

No way Thompson was going to fork over $56 million ($28 million guaranteed) like the Saints did for safety Jarius Byrd.

Give defensive linemen Lamarr Houston (5 years, $35 million, $15 million guaranteed) and/or Arthur Jones (5 years, $30 million) deals like they got from the Bears and Colts, respectively? Not on Thompson’s watch.

What about safety T.J. Ward? The Packers desperately need a safety and Ward’s deal with the Broncos (4 years, $23 million, $14 million guaranteed) is much more reasonable that Byrd’s. Sure, Ward came at decent market value, but Thompson wasn’t going to pay that much for a box safety.

The list could go on and on. Aquib Talib (6 years, $57 million, $26 million guaranteed), Linval Joseph (5 years, $31 million), Paul Soliai (5 years, $33 million, $14 million guaranteed). The prices were outrageous and the potential return on investment far from guaranteed. Hell, the Jaguars gave Toby Gerhart 3 years and $10.5 million. Toby Gerhart!

You didn’t REALLY think Thompson was going to suddenly start gambling on the high-risk game known as Day 1 of NFL free agency, did you?

If you did, hopefully you learned your lesson (again) for next time. If you’re upset that Thompson didn’t deviate from his norm and dive into Tuesday’s madness, don’t be.

There is still a long way to go in free agency. I do think Thompson is going to step outside of his comfort zone and bring in some free agents, but it sure wasn’t going to happen on day 1.

Once the chaos of the opening of free agency calms down and  the funny money goes away, Thompson’s real work begins. That’s when bargains can be found and holes on the Packers roster plugged with players who sign contracts more in line with their true value.

But isn’t now the time to take a risk and overpay for a major free agent or two? After all, Aaron Rodgers isn’t getting any younger and the Packers have a few obvious holes.

10

March

Jared Allen and the Green Bay Packers: Crazy Enough to Work

NFL, Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers, Jared Allen, Packers free agency

Future teammates? It’s so crazy it just might work!

The Green Bay Packers have enjoyed a long run at (or near) the top of the NFC North and their divisional rivals are trying anything to knock Green Bay off of their perch, particularly the Minnesota Vikings.

It’s been a running joke amongst Packers fans for some time now that Minnesota is taking retread Green Bay Players in the hopes of passing them for supremacy in the NFC North.  History certainly makes it look that way, at least.  From Darren Sharper to Brett Favre to most recently Greg Jennings and Desmond Bishop, the Packers’ rivals to the west seem obsessed with getting as many former Green Bay players as they can.

Is it now turn for the Packers to return the favor?

With Sam Shields having recently signed a four-year contract to remain with the Packers, the team now turns its focus to improving the front seven of a defense that has fallen short of expectations three years running.  While safety seems to be the most glaring need on defense at the moment, the Packers also are still in need of improving their pass rush and allow their talented cornerbacks to get some turnovers.

That’s where a former Viking comes into play.  With the future of pretty much the entire defensive line in question (save Datone Jones), Packers general manager Ted Thompson may not be able to fill all the holes through the draft and very well may have to wade into the free agent waters.

If he does, there is one name he should consider and it’s a name that will make many Packers fans cringe: Jared Allen.

With recent reports that Allen will not be returning to Minnesota, he is set to test free agency for the first time in his career.  At the age of 31, Allen still has good years in him and would by no means be a “stop gap” solution for a team.  Adding him to the Green Bay defensive line would immediately add a pass rush and would take a lot of pressure off of Clay Matthews and the linebackers.

On the surface, Allen would not appear to be a “Packer person” and maybe that’s what the defense and the team as a whole needs.  While Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy focused strongly on toughening up their team in 2013, there is still a perception out there the Packers are not a team to bust the opposition in the mouth especially on defense.

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.”