Sunday, March 19, 2017

Packers 2017 Free Agency: They're Letting Everyone Go

After the initial flurry of free agency and the signing of TE Martellus Bennett, the Green Bay Packers spent the next week watching as their unrestricted free agents signed with other teams. Two players signed for reasonable one-year deals that maybe would have been good deals for the Packers. But they did have one signing of their own.
I was hoping GM Ted Thompson would go after one of the top free agent corners who could take over on the outside across from CB LaDarius Gunter, but instead he brought a familiar face back who was released after two seasons in Jacksonville. House is far from a comparable replacement for CB Sam Shields, but his one-year, $2.8 million deal comes with no risk. And House has played like a No. 1 corner, sometimes. They had to add someone to compete with Russell and Rollins, and they at least did it. While House basically takes Hyde's roster spots, they didn't play the same role when they were with the Packers (House typically outside, Hyde in the slot or safety) but the Packers might prefer Rollins in the slot anyway. They at least know what they're getting with House, who spent his first four NFL seasons in Green Bay. However, they still have to address this position early in the upcoming draft.

Now for two players I thought they'd re-sign:
Based on the above, it looks like they just let their top pass rusher walk to the Vikings on a reasonable one-year "prove it" deal, similar to the one they gave to OLB Nick Perry last year. In Perry's case, he proved himself with a big 2016 season and received a multi-year deal as his reward, and their stats through their first four seasons are awful similar. Jones could easily have a breakout 2017 season with double digit sacks. PFF is a great resource but the Packers have their own charting and apparently didn't believe that Jones was twice as good as Perry last season. Jones has bounced around in his first four seasons, first at DE, then at OLB, and he even played over the center a lot last season on passing downs. Maybe he's not a good fit for Capers's scheme, but he's a good player and it's too bad they couldn't have worked something out to keep him.
The Bob McGinn report being referred to is the one that said RB Eddie Lacy was weighing 267 lbs. when the Seahawks signed him. There are two problems here: 1) Lacy isn't a good player when he's overweight, and 2) he's still hurt. I had hoped the Packers would re-sign him as a low-cost candidate for next season but the Packers rarely (never?) sign injured players. He's not technically injured, he passed his physical, but still going through rehab on his injured foot so that he can't keep his weight down is a bad sign. I'm not at all surprised they didn't get him back.

It wouldn't be a shock to see the Packers sign another free agent between now and the draft on a low cost deal, but it's just as likely that they're finished. This was a worst offseason than usual with a couple more departures than I was expecting. But they might have upgraded the tight end position, which was the secret to their late season offensive success, and kept their best pass rusher. QB Aaron Rodgers will miss Lang, but I'd imagine he's happy with the addition of Bennett. This offseason has made them a little worse but it can also be viewed as a wash.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Packers 2017 Free Agency: The Good and The Bad

Every year GM Ted Thompson waves good bye to one or two members of the Green Bay Packers who played a significant role in the past. And next year the Packers usually return to the top of the NFC North anyway. There isn't anyone essential that's been lost but they do have to figure out who's going to replace Hyde, Lang and Peppers. In order of the players that they've lost:

TE Jared Cook. Technically he's still a free agent but he's not coming back because the Packers signed Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. Cook transformed their offense when he returned from injury mid-season but so can Bennett who I've gotten used to as an annoying match-up problem when he played for the Bears. I also had some concerns about Cook because of the occasional drop and fumble. Also, Bennett's a real TE while Cook was more like an oversized WR. This is a swap for a better player and a good move.
DB Micah Hyde. I've been a big fan of his but obviously the coaches had some reservations. He was never in the mix to start at corner or safety in four seasons and even when they were falling apart last season at corner, he only played on the outside in the playoffs when the Packers were completely out of options (he did pretty well). It's OK to let a free agent walk if the coaches don't view him as a starter, especially when a deep cornerback draft is on the horizon. Unfortunately I've recently lost some faith in their front office's ability to scout corners (see Randall, Rollins) or know when they should keep a free agent DB (see Casey Hayward).

RG T.J. Lang. He's the loss that hurts the most but I've been bracing for it the minute I saw him being carted off during their playoff loss in Atlanta. The Packers were in the bidding but they didn't match the Lions' price. There were a lot of signs that Lang was soon to be a former Packer. GM Ted Thompson has a long history of letting interior offensive lineman leave in free agency (Wahle, Rivera, Wells, Dietrich-Smith) and you can add the release of Josh Sitton last year too. There are good reasons not to give offensive lineman their third long-term contract once they're over age 30 and none of those departures listed above came back to haunt them. The concern is that they don't have a replacement on hand because they also let JC Tretter leave in free agency. The remaining free agent guards are the sort of older veterans, major injury concerns, or disappointments that the Packers never sign, or might sign on a minimum contract, and none of them could be considered a realistic replacement anyway. This is not a good year to draft a guard either. OL Don Barclay was re-signed on a one-year deal if no one else works out, but I'd have to imagine they'll give second year players Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy the first opportunities.

OLB Julius Peppers. He had a great three year run in Green Bay. He's an athletic freak who doesn't seem to have missed a game due to injury since 2007. His stats were down a little but they tried to play him less while also asking him to do more than just rush the passer. Carolina was going to have the hometown pull over him that the Packers couldn't match and it's unrealistic to pay him several million per season when he's not playing starter's snaps. But he can still play for a couple more seasons and he'll be missed. Luckily this is a pretty strong draft for edge rushers.

Friday, March 03, 2017

The Packers Are Going To Draft Running Backs!

The NFL combine is happening this weekend in Indianapolis. GM Ted Thompson and his coaches are saying the usual stuff about wanting this or that free agent back, which usually means nothing in of itself. Most of the skills being tested don't amount to much, but sometimes a legitimate warning sign emerges. However, some of the statements being said make more sense than others:
The 2016 running back position was like the 2015 offensive line. After every offensive line starter missed at least some time during the 2015 season, and they were forced to play Don Barclay at left tackle in a disastrous game in Arizona, the Packers responded by drafting two offensive lineman in 2016. 

Right now, the only running back on the roster is Ty Montgomery, though former practice squad players John Crockett and Don Jackson finished the season on I.R. I'm a big Montgomery believer but he's only one guy and is often hurt or trying to return from injury. They can't rely on him exclusively. They are thin! Where do they go from here?

Free agency. GM Ted Thompson's least favorite place. I'm not a fan either. There are some big names available (Adrian Peterson! Jamaal Charles!) that I can't imagine Thompson pursuing. At least one former player has said Peterson's a really bad idea, and he certainly knows the Packers' front office better than we do. James Starks is already gone, and I haven't seen any interest in re-signing Christine Michael. It's really easy to see them re-sign Eddie Lacy, who's exactly the type of running back Mike McCarthy prefers, but after two injury filled seasons, he's not someone they can rely on. So maybe Lacy (depending on whether a market emerges for him) and probably no one else.

The draft. Since the roster is bare and free agency is a no-go, this is really the only option. If they want to draft a new version of Eddie Lacy, runners like D'Onta Foreman and James Conner will be available in the mid-rounds. The Packers have previously drafted versatile backs like Johnathan Franklin in 2013, Alex Green in 2011, and Brandon Jackson in 2007, but none of those players were very successful. I'm not sure if they've given up looking for those types of backs but a bigger back seems much more likely.

If Jackson and Crockett return (exclusive rights free agents are usually brought back) to go along with Montgomery, and then the Packers re-sign Lacy on a one-year deal, they can draft a big McCarthy type back with a mid-round pick (Foreman, Connor, whoever) and give themselves five running backs. It's almost a given they'll sign at least one undrafted rookie back after the draft, but because of their concerns surrounding Lacy and even Montgomery, I could see them wanting to draft a better caliber player so they aren't forced to started an undrafted rookie again, like they did last season with Jackson. If the Packers do draft multiple players at any one position in 2017, running back might be the spot.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Packers 2017 Free Agency: Perry, Lang and Tretter

The Green Bay Packers took care of their most important free agent (LT David Bakhtiari) during the season. There are some starters and key rotational players about to hit unrestricted free agency, but I feel much less optimistic about re-signing them once that GM Ted Thompson allows them to test the market. There are plenty that he does re-sign, and maybe some of those players and agents just need the official start of free agency to confirm the market, but there are some players that he has no intention of re-signing.

He's sure to re-sign several of their free agents. But the first three ones I'm looking at are the trickiest of the offseason.

OLB Nick Perry. Since the Packers selected him in the 1st round he's been often injured, sometimes great as a pass rusher, and sometimes great against the run. In 2016, he put it all together for the first time in his career (even the injury part, as he played the final few games with a cast on his hand). After accepting a modest one-year, $5 million contract in 2016 (a pay cut from the cost of picking up his 5th year rookie contract option) he'll be looking for a big pay day this offseason. He's not good enough for the franchise tag, but he should receive a Jamie Collins type contract (four-years, $50 million). That's not too rich for the Packers, they have the cap room and he's worth that type of money based on his 2016 season. He missed a lot of time over his first two seasons, but he's played in 14 games or more in each of the past three seasons. He'll also be nearly impossible to replace in any way other than in the draft (and even then...) I expect he'll be re-signed.

LG T.J. Lang. I think his last time in a Packer uniform was, unfortunately, as he was being driven off the field in Atlanta with a leg injury. GM Ted Thompson doesn't often re-sign a drafted player to a 2nd free agent contract, and this would be Lang's 3rd contract with the Packers. Thompson also hasn't shown much interest in re-signing interior lineman to a new contract that would start or stretch into their mid-30s (Marco Rivera, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton). Lang's a great player who doesn't need to take a discount and should have many teams interested in him. He's been a great Packer and I don't want to see him leave, but I'd be surprised to see him return in 2017.

C J.C. Tretter. The stats love him and he's a quality young center in a free agent class that doesn't have any other ones:
If a team is making a free agent center a priority in free agency, they'll be targeting Tretter. And speaking of injury prone, Tretter's only played in 31 games in his first four NFL seasons, he ended the 2016 season on I.R. and had surgery in January. He's a good player but I only see him as a center, and he's not better then Corey Linsley. Another future compensatory pick for the Packers!

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Way Too Early Look At The 2017 Fantasy Football First Round

The biggest bet game of the year (the Super Bowl) is over, the previous link is from Covers.com, so now I won't be losing any money until March Madness begins. But once again I also lost money on my fantasy football team last season, which was a disaster.

In my final game, I started Jonathan Stewart and Ryan Mathews, both barely ranked in the Top 25 for running backs last season. I had hoped my wide receivers would carry me but DeAndre Hopkins got hit with a case of the Osweilers and A.J. Green missed the last four games of the season. My best non-QB player probably was Stewart! What a terrible season.

My number one problem last year was that I didn't end up with any outstanding running back. I used to see maybe one wide receiver drafted in the first round, and now there were four drafted in the top 10, including my first round pick on Hopkins, because there weren't enough quality running backs to go around. But I expect we'll see a more traditional draft in 2017 because there are so many proven, young running backs available after the 2016 season.

Here's a look ahead based on Matthew Berry's early 2017 rankings. I'll look at the Top 13 players for Packer related reasons:

1.  RB1 Le'Veon Bell. He fell into my draft's second round last year because of an early three game suspension. It seems like a player who gets suspended once is a risk to get suspended again, and he's technically a free agent though the Steelers aren't letting him go anywhere. He's great but I'd prefer either of the next two players.

2. RB2 David Johnson. The Cardinals were awful last season but he was great, which is a good sign that he'll be great again in 2017 no matter what happens around him. His scary knee injury in Week 17, his knee was twisted up like a pretzel, might have been a good sign because it suggests he's close to indestructible. A couple weeks after his MCL sprain, he's stand jumping out of a pool. He's going to be great.

3. RB3 Ezekiel Elliott. Great things were expected from him as a rookie and he delivered. And Dallas is a great place to be with a great young QB, great young offensive line, and a No. 1 WR to distract the defense.

4. WR1 Antonio Brown. He didn't score in 2016 like a No. 1 overall pick, but Martavis Bryant applied for reinstatement, and his return could make his 2017 look like his 2016 was supposed to be.

5. WR2 Odell Beckham Jr. Nothing against him as a player, or him as a side show, but QB Eli Manning was one step closer to finding a fork in his back last season. There aren't a lot of great skill players on the Giants besides Beckham but still, Manning should have been better. I'm not a big fan of Beckham in 2017 because of his quarterback.

6. RB4 LeSean McCoy. A change of coaching staff, change in quarterback, wondering whether WR Sammy Watkins ever be healthy, bad weather Buffalo during my fantasy playoffs... I'd love him in the NFC South, but I'm not sure about him in Buffalo next season.

7. WR3 Mike Evans. He's great and an unstoppable deep threat last season, but I'd have trouble selecting him at this point and passing on the next two players.

8. RB5 Jordan Howard. With a full season as a starter and a hopefully better quarterback situation, he could be outstanding next season. Or he could be a one year wonder and a huge bust. Who knows! I'd take a chance on him.

9. WR4 Julio Jones. How'd he only have 6 touchdowns last season? That seems like a fluke. Even if the Falcons offense takes a step back overall, he could easily double his TD receptions next season anyway.

10. WR5 A.J. Green. It didn't help that he missed 4 games but he wasn't a superstar for most of the season anyway. He'd get his targets and yards but he rarely found the end zone. The Bengals offense looked blah last season. Maybe a healthy Tyler Eifert will help but I'm not liking him as a first round pick in 2017.

11. RB6 Melvin Gordon. I love ex-Badgers but as much as it was fluke that Gordon didn't score a single TD as a rookie, his 12 TDs in 2016 felt like just as much of a fluke. I'm not a fan of him at this spot in the draft.

12. RB7 DeMarco Murray. He found a great place in Tennessee, and the offense could easily improve with some better receivers. I'd be completely happy with him at the end of the first round.

I'm going to No. 13 just so I can include a Packer!

13. WR6 Jordy Nelson. I'd rank him higher because he was so much better later in the season after he shook off the rust. I do worry about how much more punishment his 30+ year old body can take, but he's still great.

20. RB11 Devonta Freeman. I'm a huge fan so I'm including him. This ranking is too low. Ranking him behind Blount and Peterson? I understand the concern that he shares time with Tevon Coleman, but he's going to be great again next season anyway.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Packers Free Agency: The Release of Sam Shields

My previous post was about how I considered whether the Green Bay Packers might change their typically cautious free agent ways if they decide to release CB Sam Shields and then go after one of the top corners in a strong free agent class. Step one happened on Wednesday, they released CB Sam Shields. Step two, an aggressive move in free agency, remains an option. How big a blow was his absence last season while the secondary was shredded on a weekly basis?
Huge. And his absence next season will be huge. From the stand point of on-the-field performance, this is a disastrous move. They can't sign Richard Sherman to replace him (and Revis isn't that player anymore) and basically anyone else is a step down.

But this roster move isn't about his football play, it's about the five documented concussions he's had during his career (along with who knows how many undocumented ones). This is like past ones with TE Jermichael Finley (never re-signed after a spinal injury) and FS Nick Collins (released after a spinal injury) and it hurts just as much as those roster moves. All three of them are great players, in the primes of their careers, and they were cut short due to serious injuries.

The defense has to sort out it's situation at outside LB with three players (Peppers, Perry, Jones) headed to free injury, but having an upgrade at cornerback (not from Shields, but from his replacements last season) is the more important task. There's always the draft but they tried that in 2015 and ended up with Randall and Rollins. Just like with Shields back in 2010, they did better job that year finding an undrafted corner (Gunter). With the salary cap room saved by releasing Shields, it would be best spent targeting a free agent corner who would fit in Capers's system.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Could The Packers Change Their Free Agency Ways For A Cornerback?

The Green Bay Packers don't avoid free agency, they talk to a lot of free agents during the offseason, but they never overpay. If a free agent is available at the right price (like LB Julius Peppers and TE Jared Cook) then it happens once ever other year or two. But they aren't going on a NY Giants-like spending spree no matter what's been reported.
Maybe they'll be more active but not more aggressive. The only player they really need to keep happy is QB Aaron Rodgers. But he's under contract for three more years (and he'll probably keep playing beyond 2019) and he hasn't seemed to be demanding a free agency spending spree. The Packers are usually focused primarily on keeping their own free agents.

If the Packers do change their free agent ways this year, the one position that stands out is cornerback. Obviously it's a need (based on last season) but the Packers had a plan with CB Sam Shields as their No. 1 guy and now his career is in doubt because of repeated concussions. The Packers would have a $3,125,000 cap hit if they released him but they might not have any choice and they save $9,000,000 that they could use on a free agent cornerback, in what is a pretty good group of free agent corners.

Over The Cap lists seven unrestricted free agents who could be available. Rams' CB Trumaine Johnson reminds me of Shields as an all-cover, no-tackling type. Texans' CB A.J. Bouye, Johnson, and Bills' CB Stephon Gilmore should all cost more on an annual basis than Shields but prices have gone up since Shields signed his four-year extension. Even players like Jaguars CB Prince Amukamara and Patriots' CB Logan Ryan, who should cost less and aren't as good as Shields, could at least plug the dike and allow the other cornerbacks to move down the depth chart.

If anything, the Packers will probably address this position in the draft with someone like Washington's CB Sidney Jones or Iowa's CB Desmond King. But this is an unusual situation at cornerback with Shields so maybe his injury forces the Packers to do something they don't normally do.