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.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Packers Were Beaten By Falcons in NFC Championship Game By A Lot

It's hard for the Green Bay Packers and all of their fans to start Sunday with a whole lot of optimism and then have all of the adrenaline leave your body by the end of the day.
The Packers and mostly QB Aaron Rodgers pulled a formerly 4-6 team through an eight game winning streak to make it to the NFC Championship game. But there were problems under the surface and they all seemed to take center stage against the Falcons.
It felt like that first round bye made all the difference. The Falcons were mostly healthy while the Packers were losing players due to injury left and right. How much of that was due to having to play an extra playoff game (against a great opponent) and having that one extra week to rest?

Losing CB Micah Hyde in the 2nd quarter from a paper thin secondary was horrible. DT Letroy Guion finished up the last few minutes of the game at right guard because the Packers ran out of offensive lineman (Taylor, Lang and Bulaga were all hurt). Holding WR Jordy Nelson's ribs together with military-grade kevlar was kind of symbolic of the game. The Packers just ran out of gas.

On offense: They played OK but they had a couple uncharacteristic problems. They didn't do a good job of picking up the blitz, and I haven't seen the receivers drop that many receptions in a while. In someways, the drops are nothing new; TE Jared Cook seems obligated to drop every third pass to mix in with his great receptions. The fumble near the goal line by FB Aaron Ripkowski hurt too. But these problems alone didn't decide the game.

Special teams: K Mason Crosby missed his first FG attempt in the playoffs since 2010. Again, he didn't cost them the game, but they couldn't afford to miss out on any points.

On defense: The defense had to slow them down, make them settle for field goals, like the did to the Cowboys the week before. Instead the pass rush didn't get anywhere near QB Matt Ryan, which was especially a problem on 3rd downs, they didn't force any turnovers, and the Falcons scored a touchdown on nearly every drive. Other than the long TD reception by WR Julio Jones when he ran through a couple tackles, the Packers did a good job at preventing the big plays. But it didn't do them any good because the Falcons were marching down the field. The Falcons spread the ball around through the air, and were still able to take advantage of Jones against CB Ladarius Gunter, who's had a fantastic season considering he wasn't expected to be more than the No. 4 CB this season. He has a role on the defense but not against No. 1 wideouts. And I lost count of all the missed tackles. The entire team struggled but the defense fell apart.

While this could be viewed as another lost opportunity (Mike McCarthy now has a record of 1-3 in NFC Championship games) another way to look is that this was a flawed team (especially in the secondary) that still got within a game of another Super Bowl. It was a great season, even if it didn't end up with a trip to Houston and another championship.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Everyone Says The Falcons Will Beat The Packers

Statistically, the Falcons have been a better team over the course of the 2016 season, and they should defeat the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. Of course, the Packers haven't lost since November and are in the midst of "run the table" but the Falcons haven't lost since early December and their defense has been playing great over their past several games. So maybe those two hot streaks will cancel each other out and it'll come down to who's the better team. Statistically, the Falcons are better.
While I was worried about facing the Giants in the cold at Lambeau, or having to win a game in Seattle, I wasn't worried about playing in either Dallas or Atlanta under a roof. QB Aaron Rodgers thrives in those games, even if his Georgia Dome record is only 2-2, he's been lights out.

The big concern is injuries. Nelson, Adams and Allison are all still maybes and if all three can't play, that's a big problem. Cobb's been playing fantastic since taking a couple weeks off to heal late in the regular season, but Davis and Janis have done basically nothing this season. Janis might just live for the postseason, but that's not really something to count on. This could either be an OK situation or a big problem.

Even if the situation at receiver is the worst case scenario, at least Rodgers can lean more on TE Jared Cook and his running backs. Also, add to the list below that the Packers didn't have RB Christine Michael last time.
QB Matt Ryan did shred the Packers defense in their early season match-up but that was the start of a four game losing streak during which the secondary completely fell apart. It's still the same cast of characters in the secondary (minus Morgan Burnett, who appears likely to miss the game with a quad injury) but they've not been as bad over the past couple months. Hopefully they can just hang on. 

Facing Dallas in Dallas, and Atlanta in Atlanta, is a challenge but those were the exact match-ups I was hoping they would face. Injuries and an MVP season from Matt Ryan are both tough to overcome, and the odds are against them, but this is the tough road to the Super Bowl and I'm very optimistic that the Packers will win in Atlanta.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What Are The Packers Like Without Jordy Nelson?

So the real bad news from after the Green Bay Packers' victory over the Giants:
WR Jordy Nelson is the No. 3 ranked receiver according to Football Outsiders and led the NFL with 14 touchdowns. What's more impressive is that most of his production came during "run the table" time. He was so much better in the latter part of the season, and there's no way they're better without him than with him.

The good news is that the Packers did score 38 points against the Giants last weekend without him. But the bad news is that the offense fell off a cliff in 2015 without him. Assuming he cannot play in Dallas, the offense should look like they did in the 2nd half against the Giants instead of the struggling 2015 unit.

WR Davonte Adams and Randall Cobb. Without Nelson in 2015, both receivers struggled and Adams was a disaster. But 2016 is a different season for Adams. Though he's far from a perfect receiver (he's dropped three TD passes over the past few games) he's much better playing the role of a short(er) route runner. Cobb looked like a different man after having taken a couple weeks off to rest and playing exclusively in the slot against an over-matched nickel corner.

WR Geronimo Allison. If he's dropped a pass this season, I don't remember it. He's like the anti-Adams, and he's taken over the role the Packers seemed to foist onto Adams in 2015 as a deep threat. He doesn't draw a lot of attention in coverage and he's a good route runner (without a lot of speed). He'll kind of take over the James Jones role from last season.

TE Jared Cook. What a difference he's made. When Nelson was out last season, I expected the Packers would lean heavily on Eddie Lacy and the tight end position to make up some of the production. But Lacy struggled with his weight in 2015 and TE Richard Rodgers just can't do too much on offense. But Cook can truly replace some of what Nelson provided and he's been a major part of the "run the table" offense.

RB Ty Montgomery. Somehow he avoided destroying all the ligaments in his knee when he got twisted up like a pretzel in the 2nd half against the Giants, so he's still a factor. He's what I hoped Lacy could have been as a rushing threat and a receiver out of the backfield.

RB Christine Michael. Oh, the burst through the line. He doesn't bring a lot of skills to the field (he's not better than Montgomery) but when he finds a running lane, he explodes through it. He'll only get a few touches, but he'll be a home run threat when it happens.

As much as I'll miss seeing Nelson in Dallas (assuming that's the case), the additions of Cook, Montgomery and Michael make up for it in ways that the Packers didn't have on their roster in 2015 (Montgomery was out most of the 2015 season).