17

March

Farewell, Tom Crabtree

For those who have known me for any extended period of time, you know how long I’ve always wanted to become a sports writer. I’ve always been a Green Bay Packers fan but I knew that if I wanted to make that career jump I would have to exercise some kind of objectivity and hopefully I have been somewhat successful.

Right now, however, I’d like to at least somewhat circumvent that objectivity.

As you’re probably aware by now, now former Packers tight end Tom Crabtree signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.   On the surface, this move should not be that painful for the Packers. Crabtree was mainly a blocking tight end and highlights from 2012 aside, he wasn’t much of a threat in the passing game. This should not be that big of a deal.

That’s at the surface. Deep down, this is painful and in ways I never imagined.

I remember the first time I heard Crabtree’s name—when he scored his first career touchdown against the Eagles in the Wild Card round in the 2011 playoffs.  The Packers won that game en route to the Super Bowl XLV title.   We didn’t see much else from Crabtree in the rest of that playoff game but he did make many appearances on this thing called Twitter (or “the tweeter” as Mike McCarthy once referred to it as).

This was early 2011. I followed (and still do) quite a few Packers players and enjoyed the banter  between the players as well as the interaction with fans. I’d reply every once in a while but never really expected a response due to the massive number of mentions the players had to have been getting.

One day, Crabtree made a joke of some kind. I wish I could remember what it was but I don’t.  I replied back with my own wisecrack and Crabtree actually replied.  As someone who was aspiring to be a writer and wanted to build a good reputation  with the players, this was like Christmas.  Crabtree and I exchanged a few more tweets and I really enjoyed the conversation.  At that moment he ceased to be a Packer for me and was just a regular guy.  I know many others feel the same.

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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12

March

Packers News: Team issues Restricted Free Agent tenders

Sam Shields received the second-round tender

Sam Shields received the second-round tender

Today is the day free agency is officially set to kick off, and it’s also the deadline for teams to tender their restricted free agents.

Yesterday, the Packers surprised some by hitting Evan Dietrich-Smith with the lowest possible tender. Because Dietrich-Smith was undrafted, the Packers would get no compensation if they he signed with another team and they opted not to match the contract. If the Packers don’t reach an extension with him before the season, he’ll make $1.323 million next year, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Dietrich-Smith is expected to step in as the team’s starting center if he returns. He replaced Jeff Saturday in the starting lineup in week 16 after starting four games at left guard earlier in the season.

According to Silverstein, Green Bay slapped Sam Shields with the second-round tender worth $2.023 million. If a team signs Shields to an offer sheet and the Packers choose not to match, they’ll get a second-round draft pick in return.

The Packers clearly don’t want to take a chance with Shields, as they are with Dietrich-Smith. Shields bounced back from a poor 2011 season and played well in 2012. Along with Casey Hayward, Tramon Williams and Davon House, Shields makes the team’s cornerback group one of the deepest positions on the team.

While Dietrich-Smith and Shields received their tenders, the team has decided not to tender linebackers Frank Zombo and Robert Francois, or tight end Tom Crabtree. Zombo and Francois would figure to generate only moderate interest on the open market, but Crabtree could garner some interest as a reserve tight end.

With the uncertain future of tight end Jermichael Finley, some were quick to point to Crabtree in identifying the team’s next starting tight end. And while Crabtree had his fair share of big plays in 2012, the team clearly doesn’t view him as a starting-caliber player or they would have handed down a tender.

Zombo, an undrafted rookie in 2010, has appeared in 12 of a possible 32 regular-season games the past two seasons. It’s possible the Packers could bring him back on a minimum contract.

Francois has been open about his desire to return to Green Bay after spending the last three seasons with the Packers. He made two starts in 2011 with Desmond Bishop sidelined with an injury, but his role is primarily on special teams.

2

March

Expect to see Jermichael Finley back with the Pack

Packers TE Jermichael Finley

Packers TE Jermichael Finley

Much has been made about the future of Packers tight end Jermichael Finley in Green Bay.

Finley, 25, is entering the final year of the two-year, $14 million contract he signed last offseason, and those close to the situation have been on both sides of the fence in regards to his return.

Longtime beat writer Bob McGinn wrote in December that the team appeared to be finished with Finley, but after the maligned tight end improved late in the season, ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde suggests it’s nearly impossible to think the team would release him.

Before the team’s bye week, Finley averaged 3.2 catches for just 30.1 yards per game in nine games. After the bye, those numbers improved to 4.5 receptions and 56.5 yards per game.

Finley is due a $3 million roster bonus next month and is owed a total of $8.25 million in 2013. In an interview with ESPN’s Josina Anderson, Finley suggested he would consider restructuring his contract but wouldn’t be willing to take a pay cut.

“I’d have to walk for sure, meaning I couldn’t take a pay cut,” Finley said. “Maybe I’d restructure if it’s a deal that I like and it makes sense, but I’m not the guy that’s just going to sign anything and let anything pass. I’m not that guy.”

Finley certainly has a unique way of wording things.

His comments to Anderson can be interpreted several different ways. The negative interpretation suggests that Finley is a me-first player unwilling to back out of a deal that he has yet to live up to. The other side of it is that Finley is willing to restructure his deal in order to remain in Green Bay beyond next season.

Early last season, his comments on the lack of chemistry between he and Aaron Rodgers elicited a similar polarizing response.

“I need the quarterback on my side, and I need to catch the ball when he throws it to me,” Finley said. “It takes two things to get that going. So, the chemistry, I feel like we need to get that going.”

One could read Finley’s quote and immediately rush to the conclusion that he’s publicly calling out his quarterback. On the other hand, Finley accepted accountability to a certain degree, citing the fact that he needed to make the most of his opportunities.

16

February

Packers Tom Crabtree: 2012 Player Evaluation and Report Card

(1) Introduction: Packers TE Tom Crabtree is an old school tight end. You’re more likely to see him blocking along the line than running routes, but the past two seasons Crabtree has focused on improving his pass-catching abilities. A legend on Twitter, Crabtree looked to have his strongest season in 2012 before heading into restricted free agency.

Tom Crabtree

Packers Tight End Tom Crabtree

(2) Profile:

Thomas Lewis Crabtree

  • Age: 27
  • Born: 11/04/1985, in Carroll, OH
  • Height: 6’4”
  • Weight: 245
  • College: Miami (OH)
  • Rookie Year: 2009
  • NFL Experience: 4 years

Career Stats and more:

3) Expectations coming into the season: With Andrew Quarless likely to be out for the majority of the 2012 seasons thanks to a knee injury, Crabtree became the team’s primary backup tight end.  He was expected to contribute as an extra blocker and on special teams and occasionally in the passing game.  Crabtree was expected to do the dirty work tight ends sometimes have to do and comfortably made the 2012 roster.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: If the Packers were playing on national television, Crabtree somehow found a way to make a big play.  Perhaps the most stunning was a 27 yard touchdown by Crabtree on a fake field goal in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears.  Crabtree found the end zone in front of a national audience again against the Houston Texans with a 48-yard touchdown.  His longest of the year came on a 72-yard touchdown against the Cardinals when Rodgers found him over the middle. As for lowlights, he did miss two games with injuries and was at times part of a line that gave up 51 sacks of Aaron Rodgers.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success:  The Packers special teams struggled at times and Crabtree was part of that unit.  His sudden knack however for the big play on offense helped spark the Packers to a win over the Bears and sealed a victory over the Cardinals in a game the Packers should not have had has much trouble with. He had eight catches (a career high) on 12 targets.

6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs:  Not much from Crabtree as far as receiving during the playoffs as he had only one catch (against the Minnesota Vikings) for 10 yards. He was targeted only one other time in the playoffs.

Season Report Card:

3

February

Casey Hayward, Crabtree Fake Field Goal TD Lose Out on 2013 NFL Honors

Casey Hayward

Hayward was a candidate for 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year

Many of us are surely still feeling the sting after how the 2012 Green Bay Packers season ended.  It comes with the territory:  one of the most successful franchises in all of pro sports, a recent history of winning and the expectations of winning, perennial postseason appearances and a constantly bright future.

It has been suggested that maybe we have become too spoiled and perhaps have forgotten, a bit, how to stop and appreciate what this team does accomplish each year.

In keeping with that spirit, it’s time to take a brief pause from the “what if’s” and “why not’s” and acknowledge a few of the bright spots from this past year’s team.

On Saturday, the NFL held its annual Honors Awards show and announced the winners of such prestigious categories as Most Valuable Player, NFL Offensive/Defensive Rookie of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year, to name a few.

The Green Bay Packers had representation in two categories as cornerback Casey Hayward was nominated for Defensive Rookie of the Year and the fake field goal/touchdown play in the week two win vs. the Chicago Bears was nominated for Best Play.  Each warrants a closer look at how it became one of the NFL’s best this season.

Casey Hayward

Hayward was the team’s third draft pick in 2012 and their second selection in the second round.  General Manager Ted Thompson traded up to snag Hayward and while his potential was sky-high, the early expectations for his immediate contributions to a crowded secondary were tempered.

Hayward wasted no time in making an impact and by mid season, he was and remained among the league leaders in interceptions.  He led the Packers in 2012 with six.  It’s very encouraging to think that Hayward still has quite a bit of room to improve his game.  With question marks surrounding the future of Charles Woodson and possibly Tramon Williams in the Green Bay secondary, Hayward is a budding star who is ready to take those reins.

No one expected Hayward to be up for this award when he was drafted.  By season’s end, hardly anyone expected him not to be.  He didn’t win, but was easily the most pleasant surprise for the 2012 Green Bay Packers.  We will be seeing and hearing plenty of Hayward’s name as the Packers prepare for the 2013 season.