Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Michael Hawthorne received a $175,000 signing bonus and $1.425 million for the 2004 season, reported, which is probably far less than William Bartee, who the Packers were considering as their third cornerback, received from Kansas City when they gave Bartee a 4 year contract last week. It was probably a rude awakening for Hawthorne, because he was quoted while speaking about himself in the 3rd person on back on January 28th saying "Michael Hawthorne has to look out for Michael Hawthorne." Hawthorne reportedly was looking for a starting job at a starting salary in an active market for cornerbacks, and he missed badly. He should have a lot to prove in 2004.

Larry Smith was resigned at the league minimum, reported. Smith was picked up from Jacksonville last preseason but missed the opening game roster in favor of Curtis Fuller. He was resigned after Joe Johnson got hurt (again) and Smith was able to create some pass rush from the tackle position on 3rd downs. He was a reason why Cleditus Hunt (5 games pre Smith-0 sacks, 11 games with Smith-4 sacks) and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (5 games pre Smith-2 sacks, 11 games with Smith-8 sacks) both improved their sack totals. His return is welcomed.

And to make sure no stone was unturned, the Packers signed an Australian Rules Football player named Nathan Chapman to try out at punter, reported. Well it worked out for San Diego with Darren Bennett.

Mark Hatley is probably disappointed after being awarded only one seventh round pick as compensation for free agents lost last offseason. reported that Hatley was expecting multiple picks, based on a formula that considers free agents signed and lost and how the free agents performed. The Packers' primary losses were Tyrone Williams and Tod McBride, who both played lousy for Atlanta, and Vonnie Holliday, who started strong and finished weak in Kansas City. The Packers' primary gains were starting linebacker Hannibal Navies, along with useful part time performers Nick Luchey and Chukie Nwokorie. Cincinnati received a 3rd round pick for the pro bowl linebacker Takeo Spikes, and Philadelphia received two 4th round picks for starting linebacker Shawn Barber and former pro bowl defensive lineman Hugh Douglass. Only Holliday approaches the level of those three players, although Douglass had multiple teams after him last offseason while Holliday was lucky to find a multiyear deal, and he is defintely a step below those three players. Maybe an additional 5th round selection would have been appropriate for Holliday, instead of the 7th round selection.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Michael Hawthorne was resigned for a two year deal as the 3rd cornerback after the Packers lost out on William Bartee. Bartee has not done much in his NFL career (zero interceptions in 57 career games) so the Packers were probably interested in his potential. Hawthorne outplayed Bartee in 2003 with 2 interceptions and 5 pass defenses compared to Bartee's 0 interceptions and 1 pass defense. I'm suspicious of players who have all the ability in the world, but can't perform on the field, so its probably for the best that Bartee stayed in Kansas City.

Hawthorne has great size (6'3"), but he is a little slow, which is probably why reported the Packers think Hawthorne could play at safety too. added a little dig on Hawthorne that he had some responsiblity in the botched 4th and forever in the playoff game against Philadelphia. If Hawthorne was responsible for the underneath coverage on the slot receiver, he really blew it because there was no defensive back playing underneath on that play. Terms were not released, but I would expect Hawthorne signed for about the same amount of signing bonus as Mark Roman ($700,000) signed for last week. If Hawthorne does have some coverage responsiblity miscues and because of his fallout with his coaches in New Orleans last season, its probably for the best if Hawthorne doesn't receive too much guaranteed money.

Its possible that Antuan Edwards will be resigned, although I am not expecting him back, but if Edwards did return the Packers would have an interesting mix of veteran defensive backs (Roman, Hawthorne, Edwards, Jue, maybe Bryant Westbrook, if healthy) who all could play corner or safety. If all these players are truly capable of playing either position, then its possible to enter camp with no one in a competition for just one position, although it appears Corey Fuller and Marques Anderson are safeties only, and the Packers are able to play the two players who have the best preseason no matter their expected position. It gives the Packers a lot of flexibility in deciding who plays alongside Mike McKenzie, Al Harris and Darren Sharper next season.

The first games of the 2004 NFL season were announced, and the Packers drew the short straw of having to play at Carolina on Monday Night Football in week 1. There should be a lot of energy in the stadium that night, and the Packers had a lot of preseason rust, Brett Favre in particular, in the opening game vs. Minnesota last season. Other useless stats: the road team hasn't won in the opening MNF game of the season since Miami in 1999, Carolina whipped the Packers 31 to 14 in Carolina on MNF in 2000, however, the Packers were 2-1 last season on MNF including the first win in the new Solider Field. It would be a very good win to start the season off 1-0, but it won't be easy.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Tim Couch...I rarely catch Cleveland's games and I can't recall if I have seen a full game Couch has played in, however, he has some promising stats. For his career, Couch has completed 59.8% of his passes, and in his last two full seasons has the starter (2001 and 2002), he completed 60.7% of his passes. He is better than Donovan McNabb's 57.0% career completion percentage, and McNabb has never completed more than 58.4% of his passes in a single season.

Now that the good part is out of the way, Cleveland is unloading Couch and Butch Davis has given up on him because he is poor at making decisions and he throws too many interceptions. Brett Favre throws a lot of interceptions, but his career TD to INT ratio is 1.7 to 1, while Couch is an awful 0.95 to 1. Couch's replacement in Cleveland, Jeff Garcia, has an outstanding career 2 to 1 ratio while McNabb is Favre-like at 1.8 to 1. Couch has an unimpressive 6.49 yards per attempt for his career, far below Favre (7.06) and Garcia (6.95), but actually better than McNabb (6.16). There is enough past performance and future potential in Couch to bring him in as backup for the right price.

The Packers brought in Akili Smith in 2003, so Couch would continue the Packers' annual attempt to rehab a quarterback bust from the 1999 draft (apparently Cade McNown's turn is in 2005). Couch's agent is probably wary that the Packers gave up on Smith last preseason, but Couch has shown much more potential than Smith ever showed. Couch would probably like a starting job, or the opportunity to compete for a starting job, but there doesn't appear to be any opportunities in the NFL. Maybe after minicamp, Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Miami, NY Giants, Oakland (if Rich Gannon isn't healthy), Pittsburgh, or San Diego may decide they need some competition at quarterback, but after Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger are drafted, its likely three of those teams won't consider Couch. If the Packers are the best Couch can do in 2004 and the Packers are interested, then Couch might be well off to come to Green Bay and see if he can get some of the QB pixie dust off of Favre that gave life to the careers of Mark Brunell and Aaron Brooks.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

So Eric Crouch is back in camp, and there was much rejoicing. At 6'1" 200 lbs., Crouch is taller than Bhawoh Jue but lighter than Antuan Edwards. Edwards is unlikely to resign with the Packers, so Crouch would find himself fighting for the 4th safety spot with Corey Fuller. Since Crouch has no experience with playing either safety position, it seems likely the best Crouch could expect this season is a roster spot as the 5th safety only if he is a demon on special teams. If Crouch is average or worse on special teams, then the best he could expect is the practice squad. I can't think of one successful offense to defense conversion in the NFL in the last 25 years, so this signing has to be viewed as a long shot.

Travis news alert: the Packers signed punter Travis Hale to compete with Travis Dorsch, and released wide receiver Travis Williams. Hale averaged an unremarkable 40.6 yards per punt in college and had surgery on his right knee in late 2002. Hale must have cost nothing, so it is no risk situation. Williams was hanging on in the NFL by the skin of his teeth before he was cut, because the Packers had him on their "reserve-non-football injury NFL Europe list." I had no idea such a list even existed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Cruising the sale rack, the Packers signed safety Mark Roman to compete with Marques Anderson for the starting strong safety position. Roman played free safety last season in Cincinnati, and he is about the same size as Bhawoh Jue, so he will be one of the smaller strong safeties in the league. Roman came cheap, his signing bonus was less than $1 million compared to the $2.5 million John Lynch got on the same day from Denver. reported that the Packers preferred Roman over Lynch because he can "play man-to-man coverage", while Lynch supposedly cannot, but the key is that the Packers "anticipate [Roman] providing superior tackling than either Antuan Edwards or Marques Anderson." Packers linebacker's coach Mark Duffner apparently liked Roman when the two were in Cincinnati and Duffner thinks Roman is a superior tackler. If Roman is a better tackler than Edwards and Anderson, and Roman can avoid being steamrolled by running backs in the open field, then this is a great value signing.

Rod Walker left the Packers to sign with the NFC champs in Carolina. With Walker and Gilbert Brown's departures this offseason, both of the nose tackles that started the 2003 season are now gone. Grady Jackson remains in their places, and he had a solid 2003 season with the Packers, but Walker was effective and valuable when healthy. Unfortunately Walker was rarely healthy. Either James Lee, last year's 5th round pick out of Oregon State, is ready to contribute as Jackson's backup next season, or this is an area the Packers will probably address early in the draft. Larry Smith and Kenny Peterson lined up last season at nose tackle on passing downs, but the Packers need a big body to play the spot on rushing downs if Jackson is injured.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

It sounds like these last two years have not been the greatest times in the life of Joe Johnson. Season ending injuries in two consecutive years, charges of marijuana possession, and now his father has passed away. I don't know if the Packers still consider him an important part of the 2004 team, but hopefully this is his low point and everything goes better for him from here on out.

What about the Packers signing ex-Tampa Bay strong safety John Lynch? He would be a very interesting signing, but he would be very expensive and would strain the salary cap. I have not read anywhere that the Packers are interested in him, but he has the skill set as a strong safety that would help the Packers. At this stage in Lynch's career, there are probably a number of veteran secondary players who could play at the same level as Lynch if given an opportunity, but the advantage with Lynch is that you know what to expect. Hopefully Lynch is a possible addition that the Packers will consider.
It was quite surprising to find two teams, the Packers and Tampa Bay, bidding on Josh Bidwell. The signing bonus of $150,000 offered by both teams was microscopic in today's NFL free agency, but it was still interesting. I expected Bidwell to either be offered a 1 year deal by the Packers or end up in another team's camp for some competition to an incumbant punter. Bidwell wasn't a big success for the Packers considering that they actually spent a draft choice to acquire him, and he missed a season during his battle with cancer. Between the illness and the mild disappointment, Bidwell probably wanted to move on and put Green Bay behind him. Plus, Bidwell will probably not face any competition next season in Tampa Bay while with the Packers he would have to outkick Travis Dorsch because the small contract amount wouldn't guarantee Bidwell a roster spot.

More proof that I'm an idiot and Chad Clifton is a bargain for the Packers: Chicago paid $14 million in guaranteed money for starting right tackle/failed left tackle John Tait. Tait is a solid player, but his name doesn't bring images of Anthony Munoz to mind. Still, Chicago needed to improve their O-line that ranked as 26th in run blocking and 27th in pass blocking. Chicago probably would have been better off spending that money to improve their anemic 31st defensive pass rush. Is Chicago better off spending $14 million for Tait, when they could have resigned pass rusher Rosevelt Colvin last offseason for half of that amount? Who knows if Colvin will come back from his 2003 injury in New England, so maybe Chicago did the right thing, but its always good news to see Chicago making questionable roster moves (unfortunately Chicago figured out Kordell Stewart wasn't the answer to any question).

The Drew Henson experience landed in Dallas. So now Dallas has two former baseball prospects, Chad Hutchinson and Henson, as backup quarterbacks and one starting quarterback, Quincy Carter, who might be better off playing baseball. I have no idea whether Carter can throw or hit a breaking pitch, but after watching Carter in a couple of NFL games its possible that he is better at baseball then he is at running an NFL offense. I am glad Mike Sherman gave Henson a look, considered the possiblities, and then let the Henson sideshow move on to the most appropriate NFL team to be running a sideshow.

It is good to see the team giving Marcus Wilkins another shot. He showed some promise as a situational pass rusher and special team player in 2002, before injuries derailed his 2003 season. Hopefully his healthy return can improve the special teams and finally give the Packers a good reason to dump Jamal Reynolds.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

The Packers wined and dined a couple of interesting free agents.

Strong safety Mike Logan is out in Pittsburgh, making way for last year's 1st round draft choice Troy Polamalu. Apparently he would be well received by the Packers' beat writers because he won an award in Pittsburgh last year for his work with the media, for what that is worth. He tore his knee up in the 2002 playoffs, but came back to start 16 games in 2003. Pittsburgh's pass defense was 6.3% worse than average in 2003, according to, but had one of the best run defenses (19.6% better than average) while Logan was their 3rd leading tackler. Logan sounds like Marques Anderson with more experience. No strong safety has signed this month, although strong safety Greg Wesley resigned with Kansas City for $5 million in guaranteed money several weeks ago so that might be in Logan's mind. The strong safety market has been dead the last couple of offseasons, so I would be surprised if the Packers jumped in with an offer and instead are waiting to see if Logan is still available right before the draft at a reduced price.

Mark Roman played free safety for Cincinnati last year, but he was shown the door when Cincinnati signed free agent Kim Herring. If "defensive genius" Marvin Lewis doesn't want you anymore, does that mean the Packers should be interested in him? Maybe the Packers are looking at him as a backup safety/cornerback.

William Bartee would be a project. He played in college at Oklahoma, and that makes me compare him to fellow alum Torrence Marshall, in that both players have the physical ability to play at a high level in the NFL, but neither has gotten the job done. Bartee has played 4 seasons in the NFL, partipated in 57 games, and has never once made an interception. He was bumped out of his starting cornerback spot after 2002, he was the 3rd cornerback in 2003, and Kansas City's pass defense improved from 12.5% worse than average in 2002 to 2.7% better than average in 2003 according to, but their opponents might have avoided a good pass defense to run the ball against Kansas City's anemic 10.1% worse than average run defense in 2003. The year ended on a really bad note for Kansas City when Peyton Manning dominated their pass defense in the playoffs. Signing Bartee and counting on him to fill the 3rd cornerback position sounds like a substantial risk.

Finally, the Packers brought in backup quarterback Billy Volek. It doesn't sound like any team is looking for a starting quarterback, so now he seems to be weighing his backup offers. Volek played well when healthy in 2003 (QB rating of 101.4) and Tennessee would probably prefer to have him backup Steve McNair in 2004 but they have big cap problems. According to, offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said "I'm hoping [Brett Favre will] play another four or five years" which is exactly what I want to hear. Volek is the best free agent quarterback available at this point, for what that is worth, so I would expect him to find a better opportunity for playing time elsewhere behind an injury prone starting quarterback. Until Favre retires, hopefully in four or five years, the Packers should keep the backup spots occupied by low cost veterans (Doug Pederson) or low cost projects (Craig Nall) who could come in relief if Favre misses some time, but no highly paid quarterbacks of the future please.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

If the Packers don't resign Michael Hawthorne or don't acquire a new third cornerback in the next month or in the draft, Atlanta is likely to release former Packer Tyrone Williams on June 1. Williams was not a great player, and blew his punt coverage responsiblities during the 2002 playoff game vs. Atlanta which led to an Eric Metcalf fumble, but he could be the third cornerback for the Packers in 2004.

Although Williams was a useful cornerback for the Packers, Atlanta gave him a $3 million signing bonus for one year of disappointing play. Now Atlanta is blowing up its entire secondary, releasing all of the players likely to stay out of jail, and took the first step by signing former San Francisco corner Jason Webster to a 6 year deal with a $7 million signing bonus. The NY Jets signed a cornerback David Barrett to a 6 year deal with a $4.5 million signing bonus plus a $1 million roster bonus probably due next March. I had never even heard of Barrett before he signed this weekend, apparently he played with Arizona for the last 4 seasons. The more I read about deals like these, the high priced signings of second tier players and their release in subsequent seasons, the more I'm convinced the big early spenders on other teams free agents are the ones unlikely to succeed in the NFL.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

The NFL continues to make the Packers signing of Chad Clifton for an $11 million bonus look positively frugal. Houston gave right tackle Todd Wade a $10 million signing bonus. This would be in line with the signing bonuses for other top flight right tackles, Washington's Jon Jansen got $8 million while St. Louis's Kyle Turley got $10 million, that signed last offseason. However, is Todd Wade even a top flight right tackle? didn't even list him as a top 10 free agent offensive lineman, while determined Clifton was the 2nd best available, behind only multiple Pro Bowler Orlando Pace.

On the bargain side of the free agent tackle aisle, Tampa Bay signed veteran San Francisco offensive tackle Derrick Deese. Deese can play left tackle, guard, or right tackle, and only cost a $2.5 million signing bonus. Although one player doesn't make an offensive line, it is interesting that San Francisco's offensive line was good last season while Miam's (where Wade played) was a disaster and I am curious whether Wade or Deese will be the better player next season.

There were two signings that made defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt's signing last offseason look like a bargain. Houston signed Robaire Smith with an $8 million signing bonus, after Smith had a career best 4.5 sacks in his first season as a starter. Then, Washington gave Cornelius Griffin an $8 million signing bonus after his 1.5 sack 2003 season. Both players appear very comparable to Hunt, who has 15 sacks for his career along with a career high 5.5 sacks in the 2002 season, except Hunt signed for $1.5 million less than Smith or Griffin. Aside from the financial savings, this savings might be the difference between filling out the roster with quality veterans instead of untested rookies. The Packers are well positioned to make it to the Super Bowl next season, and the fewer rookies they have to rely on next season the better.

Griffin brings up the whole matter of Washington, who have given out substantial signing bonuses for the second straight season. $15 million to Clinton Portis, $8 million to Griffin, $3 million to recently released Phillip Daniels, $7 million to Marcus Washington, and $8.6 million to Mark Brunell. Brunell might not even be the starting quarterback. Back in December, Washington gave Lavar Arrington a $20 million bonus. That is $62 million in bonuses, although some of it was deferred until later years. This is all on top of the approximately $30 million in bonuses Washington gave to players like Laveranues Coles, Chad Morton, Jon Jansen, and Randy Thomas last offseason. No other team has even approached this level of spending, because they don't have it or are unwilling to spend it, but this spending will explode Washington's salary cap in 2 or 3 years. Washington can renegotiate salary out into future years, but this team has the potential to one day have more dead weight on its salary cap then any team in the NFL had ever believed was possible.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Much to my disappointment, Chad Clifton gets his $11 million signing bonus from the Packers. That is the market rate for left tackles of Clifton's ability, but it begs the question; why is a quality left tackle so much more valuable than a quality left guard or any other position on the offensive line? Is it that much more important to have a left tackle who can handle power and speed rushers on the quarterback's blind side than a good guard or center who is adept at pulling on runs and picking up blitzes on passes? When Mike Wahle went into free agency two offseasons ago, you could hear the crickets chirping because there was so little interest in him. They are both comparable players for their positions, so I don't agree that Clifton is worth so much more than Wahle. At this price, Clifton is more valuable than the rest of the line.

The NFL has seemed to go bonus crazy this offseason, so its good to see the Packers only gave an $11 million bonus to Clifton this offseason instead of the $10 million he would have gotten, hypothetically, if he was a healthy free agent left tackle last offseason. $18 million for Champ Bailey? In 2003, Washington had the 14th ranked pass defense, so one player does not improve an entire pass defense. $17 million for Clinton Portis? If Portis is worth a $17 million bonus, how much is Ahman Green's agent asking for in an extension? Then there is the titanic $34.5 million for Peyton Manning. Is Manning worth 75% more than Donovan McNabb? Is he worth over 200% more than Brett Favre? Reading on it seemed to me like Indianapolis completely messed this up by not taking care of Manning last offseason. If Manning hadn't been signed this week for the insane bonus of $34.5 floated by Manning's agent, Indianapolis would have been forced to cut 8 players, or 15% of their roster, that they didn't want to cut. Manning shouldn't be blamed for asking for whatever contract he wants, but Indianapolis shouldn't have left themselves in this position. Then today, Philadelphia gives Jevon Kearse $16 million as a reward for not being healthy since his rookie season. All these signings make Clifton's signing appear positively frugal.

In addition, the Packers cut Gilbert Brown, who they mistakenly gave a 6 year deal last offseason. The signing bonus was minimal, so it isn't a huge cap hit, but the better policy with Brown was to keep him on a year to year basis as had been done the previous couple of seasons. Brown gave the team everything he had last season, playing the entire season with a torn muscle, but he eventually lost his starting job to Grady Jackson. Prior to Jackson, the Packers run defense was better with Brown then without, but his release this week probably marks the final appearance for Brown on the roster. I'll remember Brown for his spectacular 1996 season with the Packers, although it doesn't show up on the stat line, Brown was a terror in the NFL that season.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

A couple of interesting signings by the Packers in the last week.

First was the resigning of restricted free agent safety Corey Fuller. Although he probably is not the Packers first choice to start alongside Darren Sharper, its possible he could be the starting strong safety, so he is someone to watch. However, Fuller might have to compete for his roster spot as backup safety candidate Eric Crouch (could the Packers please cut Crouch and just end this soap opera?).

Second was the hiring of Lindy Infante-era Center James Campen as an assistant offensive line coach. Campen hasn't been on the roster for over 10 years but only two other players, Frank Winters and Mike Flanagan, have been the starting center since Campen played. Not that I'd expect Campen to suit up anytime soon, but its just amazing how little turnover there was at the position and how well Winters played for so many years.

Third was the promotion of Joe Philbin as tight ends coach. The Packers made some noise after the late collapse in Philadelphia by firing the defensive coordinator and tight ends coach, only to fill both positions from internal promotion. These two men might have been the best possible candidates for the job, but they generated zero excitement for the upcoming season. Although with an approximately two millenium long season ticket waiting list, the Packers aren't too concerned with creating some offseason buzz for the season ticket holders.

Fourth is the hiring of Vince Tobin. Tobin hasn't coached in the NFL since 2001, but if that was enough to disqualify him then Washington's hiring of Joe Gibbs was the worst move of the offseason. Tobin knows what good defenses look like, not necessarily from his time with Arizona in the 1990s or with Detroit in 2001, but from his days as a member of Chicago's defensive coaching staff in the 1980s. Tobin's assistance could potentially be very important for the 2004 season and I'm really excited to see the Packers bring someone like him into the coaching team.