1

June

B.J. Raji: Next in line, when will he sign?

Packers DL B.J. Raji

Packers DL B.J. Raji

Despite being predictably quiet throughout free agency, the Packers have successfully locked up perhaps their two most valuable players.

The team locked up quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews to long-term contract extensions. Matthews signed a five-year deal that makes him the highest-paid defensive player in football, while Rodgers became the highest-paid player in league history.

The next guy in line for a new deal may be defensive lineman B.J. Raji.

The Packers spent the ninth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft on Raji–a player they hoped would anchor the defensive line as they transitioned to the 3-4 alignment.

One Pro Bowl, a Super Bowl and four years later, Raji is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

Since becoming a weekly starter in 2010, he has started all but two regular-season games for the Packers. Statistically, Raji’s best season was in 2010 when he racked up 6.5 sacks and scored the deciding touchdown in the NFC Championship Game in Chicago. Following Raji’s breakout year in 2010,  he was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2011 despite an inconsistent season.

Pro Football Focus gave Raji a +15.1 season grade in 2010, -20.8 in 2011 and a +6.5 last season. And now, Raji has high expectations for himself as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.

“I want to get back to the Pro Bowl,” said Raji, according to JSOnline.com. “I think that I have that ability. And I want to help other guys get to the Pro Bowl who haven’t been there. I want to obviously help us get back to being a top-five defense. And I just want to dominate the game, from Week 1 to whenever we’re done playing and just have an impact in every football game.”

Raji’s agent, David Dunn, also represents Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. Both Rodgers and Matthews signed contract extensions earlier this offseason.

“I’m not really going to talk contracts,” Raji said, per the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “Obviously, the Packers are a great organization and I’m sure they’ll do right by me. I’ll leave it at that.”

In 2012, Raji’s play improved dramatically after the team’s Week 10 bye.

Pro Football Focus: B.J. Raji in 2012

Pro Football Focus: B.J. Raji in 2012

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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6

October

Packers Should Extend Wells Before Finley

Green Bay Packers C Scott Wells deserves a contract extension before TE Jermichael Finely.

Josh Sitton received a contract extension before the season. Jordy Nelson recently signed on the dotted line for three more years. That leaves Scott Wells and Jermichael Finley as the Green Bay Packers most high profile players that will hit free agency in 2012.

If I told you one year ago that Wells should receive an extension before Finley, you would have laughed in my face. But now, one year later, that’s exactly what I’m going to tell you.

If I were Ted Thompson, I’d lock up Wells before Finley. And I would do it soon.

A year ago Wells was trying to help the Packers offensive line recover after a shaky 2009 campaign and Finley appeared to be on the verge of greatness. Today, Wells has quietyly become a reliable player at an important position and Finley is trying to re-establish himself after a knee injury cut short his 2010 season.

Finley is a great weapon and I hope the Packers find a way to keep him too, but the Packers have shown they can win without him. I love how the Packers offensive line is playing right now. If Thompson can keep this group together (with Derek Sherrod or Marshall Newhowse likely stepping in for Clifton at some point), Aaron Rodgers has a good shot at staying healthy and carving up defenses for years to come.

Continuity on the offensive line is especially important for the Packers. Wells calls out the blocking assignments on pass plays and is doing a masterful job. McCarthy’s offesne isn’t an easy one to learn, and it probably isn’t any easier with a QB like Rodgers who has the freedom to changes things at the line. You need a center that can handle his own assignments and set the protection for his linemates. Wells has been doing just that for a while now.

Yes, Wells is on the wrong side of 30, but he appears to be the rare player that has gotten better with age. He’s always been solid in pass protection, but now he’s blowing guys off the line run-blocking. Did you see him handle Sedrick Ellis and Shaun Rogers agaisnt the Saints? I’m surprised Thomspon didn’t order McCarthy to call a timeout during the game so Wells could sign his new contract right then and there on the sideline.

2

September

Breaking News: Josh Sitton Signs Long Term Extension

Josh Sitton

News has broken that right guard Josh Sitton has agreed to a long term deal with the Packers.  Interestingly, specifics about the deal were not made immediately public, with the only information coming from Sitton’s twitter account saying that he will be a Packer for another 6 years, which minus this year (which is his last year on his rookie contract), would make it a 5 year contract that will keep him a Packer until he is 30.

Sitton is highly regarded as the best player on the Packers offensive line and was the 2010 NFL Alumni Offensive Linemen of the Year after being drafted out of Central Florida in the 4th round in the 2008 NFL draft.

Sitton, along with Jermichael Finley were the frontrunners for extensions this year and the Packers had roughly $12 million in cap space to work and with General Manager Ted Thompson’s MO of locking up his own players, it was expected that either one of them would get an extension.

What this probably means for Finley is that the team still wants to see him produce after spending the majority of last year on the IR and he could possibly see a extension as early as mid-season (which is also one of Thompson’s favorite moves).  Also Finley has stated that he wants to be the highest paid tight end in the NFL and Thompson will certainly take his time before offering up that kind of money.

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

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