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.

29

August

Despite Losses, Packers’ A.J. Hawk Expects Big Things in 2011

Green Bay Packers Linebacker AJ Hawk

Jim Biever, Packers.com

A.J. Hawk knows the score. In the National Football League, roster turnover is part of the business. Teams change and evolve every season due to the draft and free agency.

The 2011 Green Bay Packers are no different.

After winning their fourth Super Bowl title in February, the Packers were forced to cut ties with several contributors from that championship team, including defensive end Cullen Jenkins and linebacker Nick Barnett.

In their place, the Packers are turning to two players—one who has proven he can play and the other who has failed to show he can stay on the field in his short NFL career. Of course, we’re talking about Desmond Bishop and Mike Neal.

When I talked to Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk on the phone last week, he said the team has high expectations for their defense despite the losses.

However, he did express that it might be difficult to replace Jenkins in the Packers defense.

“The thing about Cullen Jenkins is that you just can’t replace a guy like him,” Hawk said. “He’s a special player. He’s one of the best interior pass rushers I’ve ever seen. Just super quick, with good moves and a knack at getting to the quarterback.”

An unrestricted free agent this offseason, Jenkins signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles a week or so after the lockout was lifted. When asked if he thought the team would bring back Jenkins, Hawk seemed a touch surprised but also cognizant of the NFL’s business landscape.

“Yeah, I was hoping we were going to find a way to bring him back, but I understand there’s a business side to this,” Hawk said. “It hurts us, but I know those kind of things don’t always happen, especially this offseason with the lockout. We only had a short time to negotiate with him, which I’m sure made it tough on both sides.”

The Packers never did get serious in bringing back Jenkins, either because of the perceived cost it would take or the confidence the organization had in the players behind him. Being 30 years old and having an injury history likely also led to the Packers’ failure to offer any deal that Jenkins would have accepted.

13

August

Thoughts on the Dozen Green Bay Players Sent Packing

Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson

Ted Thompson on the prowl...

It happens every Summer when Training Camp rolls around in Green Bay, at least under the TED THOMPSON’S regime. Some familiar veteran names show up as ‘cuts’ from the PACKERS roster as the team gets under way preparing for the upcoming season both financially & athletically. It may be less frustrating to deal with this year than most because the team has the Lombardi Trophy on display within the bowels of Lambeau. But once again a rather long list of vet players will no longer wear the Green-and-Gold.

Let me remind you who is MIA as the team prepares for its first Pre-Season game.

NICK BARNETT/ILB     BILLS    Too much $ already being paid to HAWK/BISHOP inside.

ATARI BIGBY/S    Once he got his big contract he’s been fighting HARRELL for hot tub time too often.

BRANDON CHILLAR/LB    Was coming back to team until he hurt his leg (again) in offseason.

DARYN COLLEDGE/LG  CARDINALS    Never completely satisfied coaches with inconsistent play. Too expensive.

KOREY HALL/FB/ST   SAINTS       Pure Special Teamers get too expensive after a few years.

JUSTIN HARRELL/DE     The king of the training room was never available.

BRANDON JACKSON/RB    BROWNS     Solid 3rd Down RB, but wanted, and got, more $ than that role is worth.

CULLEN JENKINS/DE     EAGLES    Great attitude, average athlete who greatly benefitted under CAPERS schemes.

DERRICK MARTIN/S      Marginal player who helped during injury rash last year… no upside.

BRADY POPPINGA/LB    RAMS   Too old, too expensive for ST and back-up OLB with no speed.

JASON SPITZ/OG    JAGUARS    Looked like the real deal until back injury made him a risky investment.

MARK TAUSCHER/RT     Could still play, if he wanted, but BULAGA & SHERROD are in town.

ANTHONY SMITH/S    TITANS    See Derrick Martin

I also believe JAMES JONES would have been on the list without a verbal shout-out from AARON RODGERS  to bring back one of his favorite targets.

For those of you mathematically challenged, that’s a baker’s dozen vets no longer around to do their thing in a PACKERS uniform. It’s not as though they were all chopped liver. Even though most will not all start in their new NFL homes it is clear that other teams perceived value in most of the PACKERS cast-offs.

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.

——————

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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20

July

Dare To Be Great: Mike McCarthy’s Challenge In 2011

During his press conference after his Green Bay Packers–sans Aaron Rodgers–nearly upset the mighty New England Patriots in Foxboro, head coach Mike McCarthy uttered the phrase “we’re nobody’s underdog” to describe his team and that the Packers “came to win.”

McCarthy initially was mocked for the comments by many, but it turns out they served as a springboard for the Packers’ magical run to the Super Bowl XLV title. McCarthy and his staffed played the underdog card brilliantly and the Packers never looked back after that game.

So with the 2011 season upon us (I think), the Packers are about to embark on the defense of their throne.  They have gone from the hunters to the hunted which means the coaching staff has thrown the underdog card to the bottom of the deck.

This is McCarthy’s greatest challenge entering 2011.  The coach has spoken repeatedly about “handling success” as well as adversity.  We saw in 2010 how well his players respond to adversity, but how will they respond to having targets on their back?

Actually the Packers began last season as a chic pick for the Super Bowl, but as the season went on and injuries piled up, many people left the Packers for dead.   McCarthy played that into the “this is our time” theme throughout the postseason and into the Super Bowl.   It was a theme the players embraced and it showed as the Packers marched to Super Bowl XLV.

So what can McCarthy do for an encore?  Well, he really has to look no further than one of his predecessors.  While it is highly doubtful any team in the modern free-agency era will be able to duplicate the amount of championships in the same time span that Vince Lombardi’s Packers did, McCarthy could push his players to be the second Packers dynasty.

A way to approach that is that while winning one trophy is good, to be truly great you have to win two.  McCarthy could basically say to his players, “OK, you won one. You’re good. You want to be great? Go win another one.”  Winning two Super Bowls in a row is a tough feat to accomplish, but in order to truly be “great” you have to meet those kinds of challenges.

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.