Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Profootballweekly.com posted that three teams have shown interest in trading for CB Mike McKenzie.

Houston. Their secondary is a work in progress, but they appear unlikely to be interested in McKenzie in any way other than as a 3rd cornerback. CB Aaron Glenn is coming back from a groin injury, but he has practiced in mini-camp and appears ready to play. CB Marcus Coleman is being moved to free safety, while rookie CB Dunta Robinson (10th player taken in 2004 draft) is the likely starter opposite Glenn. CB Kenny Wright seems settled in at 3rd cornerback after his 3 interception, 12 pass defense season in 2003. McKenzie would upgrade the cornerback position in Houston, he would likely start in 2004 while Robinson learns the position as the 3rd cornerback, but I can't imagine Houston would offer much in return for McKenzie.

Pittsburgh. McKenzie would start immediately in Pittsburgh. CB Chad Scott returns for his 8th season in Pittsburgh, but longtime cornerback CB Dewayne Washington left in free agency. Opposite Scott is 7th year CB Deshea Townsend who has only started 17 games in his career. There is very little depth at cornerback, although Pittsburgh did draft well regarded rookie cornerback Richardo Colclough in the 2nd round, who will probably have a steep learning curve after playing college ball at small Tusculum. Pittsburgh is not known for trading, but they are looking to release LB Jason Gildon and might be trying to trade Gildon for McKenzie, but the Packers wouldn't trade for a linebacker likely to be released on June 1 anyway. It seems unlikely that Pittsburgh would offer a high draft choice for McKenzie when they have made so few trades in the past.

New Orleans. New Orleans is one of the few teams in the NFL that commonly makes trades, although they are more likely to trade for a high draft choice (RB Ricky Williams for two 1st round picks, OT Kyle Turley for a 2nd round pick) than trade away a high draft choice (FS Tebucky Jones for 3rd, 4th, and 7th round picks, CB Jason Craft for a 5th round pick). New Orleans has some depth at cornerback with little experience and two veteran cornerbacks in Ashley Ambrose and Fred Thomas. New Orleans' pass defense was below average last season, and the only substantial addition was trading for reserve cornerback Craft. They also let CB Dale Carter leave in free agency, but Carter was not a factor in 2003 due to his umpteenth suspension by the league. The Packers would probably not want to trade McKenzie to New Orleans, because they both play in the NFC and New Orleans could potentially compete with the Packers for a wild card spot in 2004. New Orleans has salary cap room and would probably have no problem offering a package of middle round draft choices for McKenzie, similar to the package given up for Jones, but the Packers would be unlikely to accept that offer.

It seems likely that the Packers will wait McKenzie out rather than accepting any of the offers these teams would likely make to them.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Last Monday I started looking at the offseasons for the other NFC North teams. Did each team address their team's weaknesses? Did any team break up a strong unit?

Chicago. They almost had a .500 record (7-9) but the record masked a poor season. The other two NFC teams with 7-9 records, San Francisco and Tampa Bay, both outscored their opponents during the season, but Chicago was outscored by 63 points. Footballoutsiders.com ranked Chicago 25th between 4-12 Oakland and 5-11 Atlanta. No unit on Chicago could be considered a strength, although their run defense was solid and their special teams led by K Paul Edinger and P Brad Maynard was above average.

Chicago did address some weaknesses. Their biggest weakness last season was the terrible, eye covering performance by QB Kordell Stewart, and Chicago immediately improved the position by dumping Stewart. QB Rex Grossman didn't show much last season (QB rating 74.8 and completion rate of 52.8%) but it was a small sample size and there is no where to go but up from Stewart. Footballoutsiders.com rated Chicago's offensive line as one of the worst in the NFL (26th vs. run and 27th vs. pass) and Chicago spent $14 million in a signing bonus to acquire OT John Tait. Interestingly, Chicago signed OG Ruben Brown from Buffalo, who has been to many Pro Bowls but has long been regarded as overrated, while Buffalo signed ex-Chicago OG Chris Villarrial, essentially trading guards. Brown might have been a salary cap victim in Buffalo, but maybe Buffalo actually preferred Villarrial.

Chicago failed to address a couple of problem areas. Chicago created only 18 sacks last season, the same number of sacks as were recorded by DE Michael Strahan in 2003. Chicago used their top two picks on defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Terry Johnson, but rookie defensive tackles rarely record many sacks, but maybe their presense can help 2nd year DE Michael Haynes. Chicago had little production from their receivers, only WR Marty Booker (along with seldom used but now third WR Justin Gage) generated a positive ranking on footballoutsiders.com, but the entire group of receivers is due for improvement with the upgrade at quarterback (aka dumping Stewart).

Although Chicago didn't really have any strengths to break up, they tried nonetheless to weaken units that played better than average last season. Runstopping DT Keith Traylor left in free agency from the 11th best run defense (footballoutsiders.com ranking), but his loss could be offset by the rookies Harris and Johnson. RB Anthony Thomas had a good rebound 2003 from a slumping sophomore 2002 season, Thomas was ranked by footballoutsiders.com in 2003 between Charlie Garner and Travis Henry, and he establishd himself as a solid second-tier running back. So the first signing in free agency for Chicago is RB Thomas Jones to replace Thomas. Jones was given an opportunity in Tampa Bay in 2003 after it was obvious Tampa Bay was out of the playoffs, and Jones actually showed some signs of life compared to absolutely nothing in his first three NFL seasons in Arizona. However, Jones couldn't beat out RB Michael Pittman for the first three quarters of the 2003 season, and Pittman's ranking by footballoutsiders.com is similar to Thomas. In the end, Jones will probably lose the starting job to Thomas in the preseason and wind up as the 3rd down running back.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

It was news on ESPN.com that QB Kerry Collins cancelled his planned visit with the Packers, but it was surprising Collins agreed to come and visit in the first place. If Collins was willing to be the backup quarterback and be paid like a backup quarterback, he would still be on the roster for the New York Giants. Collins and QB Tim Couch want exactly the same thing, to be a big money starting quarterback, and both have been surprised that no one is willing to pay big money for a quarterback prone to making turnovers. Its possible that both Couch and Collins remain free agents until the preseason starts, waiting for a preseason injury or ineffectiveness to open the door to a starting job. But they might be better off deciding before June 1, when QB Kurt Warner becomes a free agent.

Jsonline.com reported that CB Mike McKenzie hired Drew Rosenhaus as his fifth agent in five years. Rosenhaus has developed a reputation as one of the more aggressive agents in the NFL, so this is not a good sign that the Packers can expect McKenzie to return. Rosenhaus told jsonline.com that he was targeting teams with needs at cornerback, but they have to return equal value back to the Packers. That is a short list, when you consider salary cap considerations.

All of Rosenhaus's clients have ties to Florida, McKenzie lives there in the offseason, so I started with Jacksonville. They have the salary cap room, they are rebuilding their secondary, and they could trade disgruntled SS Donovan Darius, however, Darius' availability has been widely known in the NFL and if the Packers had really wanted Darius, they probably could have traded for him before now.

Miami has the salary cap room and a quality player, DE Adewale Ogunleye, that they are having trouble resigning, but no obvious need at cornerback.

San Francisco would have the salary cap room if they traded LB Julian Peterson for McKenzie, but they passed on resigning their CB Ahmad Plummer this offseason so they don't appear to be looking for a veteran corner.

Dallas might have an interest after losing CB Mario Edwards to Tampa Bay, they have the salary cap room, and Dallas is historically accurate in the trading market, but no obvious player they could trade back in return.

Some other teams: Arizona has salary cap room, but its unlikely McKenzie wants to play in Arizona; New Orleans has cap room and would probably listen to an offer, but they probably wouldn't trade anything higher than a 3rd round pick in next season's draft, similar to what they gave up for FS Tebucky Jones last season; Kansas City has salary cap room and still needs to improve their defense, but it isn't obvious what they could trade in return; Houston was interested before the draft according to jsonline.com, but they are pretty tight against the salary cap when you consider the cost of signing their rookies; Philadelphia, San Diego, and Seattle all have some salary cap room, but no other obvious reason to trade for McKenzie.

The entire NFL has known that McKenzie wanted a trade, and any sincerely interested team could have approached the Packers by this point, but apparently no one has done it. It seems unlikely that the Packers and McKenzie will find a trading partner that suits both of them.

Monday, May 17, 2004

As May is the dead time between the draft plus first mini-camp until the June cuts plus June mini-camps, I wanted to take a look at the rest of the NFC North. Did each team address their biggest weakness in the offseason? Did any team break up a strength?

Detroit. So many holes, so little time... Detroit had no running back deserving to start and no wide receiver deserving to start opposite WR Charles Rogers, so RB Kevin Jones and WR Roy Williams filled two needs. Detroit did not address their anemic pass rush. Detroit improved their run defense by drafting LB Teddy Lehman and their offensive line signing free agent OL Damian Woody, but both their run defense and the offensive line played well in 2003. Their biggest hole is at quarterback where QB Joey Harrington improved his completion percentage and QB rating in 2003, but regressed in Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement as calculated by footballoutsiders.com. Unfortunately for Harrington, you can compare his career path so far to fellow Detroit QB Rick Mirer, which is not company Harrington should keep. Detroit should continue to struggle if Harrington stays on the Mirer career path while they continue to have no pass rush and their top rookies are learning their key offensive positions.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

One mini-camp was all it took to tell the Packers that undrafted rookie free agent WR Chris Shreve was not meant to be on the team. Shreve had one asset, speed, but that was apparently all he had to offer. On the other hand, undrafted rookie free agent DE Jadae McGuire from Division II West Virginia Tech apparently showed enough to earn a contract. Defensive end is still wide open besides DE KGB, so who knows. Both the release and the signing were reported by jsonline.com.

Jsonline.com has a number of articles about what's going on with the secondary. The competition to start alongside CB Al Harris and FS Darren Sharper is wide open, and will probably remain so until the regular season starts. I'm not even considering CB Mike McKenzie because I still think he is crazy enough to sit out the season, although he hasn't missed a paycheck yet.

Jsonline.com also had another article trying to justify drafting P B.J. Sander. It can't be justified. He shouldn't have been drafted until the 6th or 7th round, and Sander is a longshot to be worth the 3rd round pick. If he really becomes the consistant directional punter the Packers think he can be, then he will be worth it, but the odds are against it happening.

At least the Packers haven't signed QB Damon Huard. QB Kerry Collins seems to be attracting attention from Oakland, according to Yahoo Sports, and when Al Davis wants someone, he usually gets him. Collins seems like a perfect Davis veteran, been to a Super Bowl, not much left in the tank, type of signing. Collins would probably be more interested in Oakland than the Packers because QB Rich Gannon is older and more fragile than QB Brett Favre. Plus, I think Oakland would consider making Gannon a cap casualty in June 2005, while the Packers would never let Favre end his days as a Packer because of the salary cap. QB Tim Couch is still looking for a job, but I haven't read about any teams other than the Packers and Chicago who are interested in him. Both Chicago and the Packers are strictly backup jobs, although its more likely Couch could start in Chicago. Right now I can't imagine any team trading for Couch, and more teams might appear as possible suitors once Cleveland releases Couch in June.

Overall, I would rather see QB Craig Nall have an opportunity than bringing in either Collins or Couch, while keeping QB Doug Pederson on as the 3rd quarterback and stashing rookie QB Scott McBride on the practice squad.

Friday, May 07, 2004

I'm getting inside the head of the Packers. I write an entry speculating that there is no way Michael Westbrook remains a Packer on the same day he is cut. There are probably a number of teams interested in Westbrook for depth in their secondary.

Jsonline.com reported that Damon Huard visited Green Bay as a possible backup quarterback. Ugh. Huard put up some respectable stats as a starter in 1999 for Miami (4-1 record along with 8 TD, 4 INT, 57.9% completion percentage, and 79.8 passer rating) before showing nothing for Miami in 2000 (60.2 passer rating) and finding himself released after the season. On the other hand, in 2003 he showed that 1 incomplete pass attempt for the season garners a QB the passer rating of 39.6. Huard's stats in 1999 and 2000 are very similar to the 62.9 rating in 1999 with Philadelphia and the 56.6 rating in 2000 with Cleveland that Doug Pederson managed to post on two bad offensive teams. Huard is a few years younger than Pederson, but it is unlikely that Huard is better than Pederson. Even with the talk surrounding Tim Couch and Kerry Collins as possible backups, it could be better to stick with the status quo and have faith in Craig Nall.

Jsonline.com reported that the Packers signed two more rookie free agents, WR Chris Day and LB Jermaine Taylor. Day is short (5'11") and small (178 lbs.) and has to be a real long shot to make the team. On the other hand, he is in good company with fellow short and small wide receivers Carl Ford, Antonio Chatman and Donald Driver. Taylor is short for a linebacker (5'10") and there are probably very few linebackers under 6' playing in the NFL. It doesn't help Taylor that he is trying to make the leap from Division III to the NFL.

Packersnews.com reported that Mike McKenzie's ex-agent Brian Parker was his fourth agent in the last five years? Very weird.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Jsonline.com reported that Bryant Westbrook is recovering from his second achilles tendon tear suffered last August, although he is unlikely to practice with the team until training camp. This was his second achilles tendon tear in three seasons. Westbrook is a lost superstar; in his first 51 NFL starts prior to turning 26 years old, he had 11 interceptions, 3 interception returns for touchdowns, and 66 pass defenses. In 2000, he was on pace for his third season of 20+ pass defenses in his first four seasons (he missed half of the 1999 season with injuries) before his first achilles tendon tear. Only 5 cornerbacks recorded 20+ pass defenses in 2003 in the NFL, only 4 cornerbacks did it in 2002, and none of the players who did it in 2002 repeated the feat in 2003.

Westbrook is not the same player he was before his injuries. His speed must be a shadow of its former self, because the Packers have no intention of keeping him at cornerback and he is only playing safety, according to jsonline.com. He was a great pickup in 2002, when the Packers were suffering from injuries in the secondary, but he will have a hard time keeping his job with the Packers this season. There are four safeties (Darren Sharper, Mark Roman, Marques Anderson, and Curtis Fuller) with swing men Bhawoh Jue and Michael Hawthorne likely to see time at both safety and cornerback. Westbrook probably has a couple of seasons left in him at a safety position, but probably not with the Packers.

Mike McKenzie fired his agent according to jsonline.com. It sounds like McKenzie isn't getting what he wants, a new contract and a trade to a new team. Neither of these things are going to happen for McKenzie, so it looks like the messenger was shot. He probably wasn't too thrilled to read that Brett Favre and Ahman Green were quoted on jsonline.com as saying McKenzie should honor his contract and report for mini camp. I don't know if this is a good sign that McKenzie wants to make some sort of a deal and report to camp quickly, or if he wants a new agent to force the Packers into trading him.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Jsonline.com is usually gushing with praise for the Packers front office and coaches, that is what beat writers are supposed to do, but they had an article that was very critical of drafting P B.J. Sander in the 3rd round, and especially critical of their decision to trade up to draft him. As I've said before, I would never draft a kicker, because punters and place kickers are too inconsistant. Sander can expect a lot of criticism because of his high draft selection. Its unlikely that the Packers 4th and 5th round picks would have made an impact on the team, only 6 players the Packers have drafted in the 4th or 5th round are still with the team, but still the Packers have success historically in these rounds. Excluding previous 4th and 5th round picks that are starting in the NFL, QB Mark Brunell, QB Aaron Brooks, and WR Corey Bradford, the Packers drafted DEs KGB and Aaron Kampman, LB Na'il Diggs, RB Najeh Davenport, QB Craig Nall, and DT James Lee. 6 of the 11 last picks by the Packers in the 4th and 5th rounds are still with the team. If the Packers have a 50% success rate with 4th and 5th round picks, then the Packers essentially traded one of those players for a punter.

Another problem with trading this draft's fourth and fifth round picks for the pick that brought in Sander is that the Packers could have used either of the picks to draft a wide receiver, and this year's draft was deep in wide receivers. The Packers are set at their top 3 receiver spots with WRs Donald Driver, Javon Walker, and Robert Ferguson, but after those three, its a bare cupboard. Only WR Carl Ford has showed any promise, and that was only during last preseason because the Packers hid him on the injured reserve for all of 2003. This explains why rookie free agent wide receivers Sam Breeden and Chris Shreve were brought into minicamp. The Packers have no intention of bringing back WR Antonio Freeman, they gave his number 86 to Ford, but Driver, Walker and Ferguson all missed time with injuries in 2003, so I would expect the Packers will be signing a veteran free agent to back them up at some point this summer.
Mark Hatley signed a contract extension to remain in the Packers' front office, acting as the number 2 personal guru behind Mike Sherman. Hatley did a good job rebuilding Chicago after the Dave Wannstedt era, acquiring all of the important players involved with Chicago's great 13-3 season in 2001. While in Chicago, he drafted such studs as Brian Urlacher, and he also drafted such duds as Cade McNown; such is the mixed resume that makes up every general manager's resume (although Hatley wasn't the "general manager" in title, because the McCaskey family were such control freaks that Chicago didn't have a general manager from 1985-2001). The Packers have become a better team since Hatley's arrival, so its good to see he will remain with the Packers.

One thing that was mentioned on ESPN during the draft was that the CB Ahmad Carroll played man-to-man coverage at Arkansas, and that was needed by all teams in the NFL because the league would be enforcing the rule that defenders can't put their hands on receivers after 5 yards from the line of scrimmage. This was an issue last season, especially since keeping their hands on the receivers during their routes was a main part of the strategy used by Carolina's secondary in the playoffs. As jsonline.com reports, this isn't a new rule, just an actual enforcement of existing rules. Who knows if the NFL will actually improve their enforcement in this area, but it might take away some of the glamour from cover 2 coverage schemes in 2004.

Nate Wayne won his dispute over a roster bonus according to jsonline.com . As usual, the lawyer screwed up. Apparently the NFL told the Packers they had until March 10 to make a roster decision with Wayne, while they actually had to make up their mind on March 9. I always expected the Packers to lose this battle, and it especially hurts because the entire reason why they cut Wayne was to avoid paying this bonus. The only consulation in this whole matter is that Philadelphia wasn't too impressed with Wayne's play last season, so Wayne isn't playing at the level he did a couple of seasons ago.

I forgot to mention one other player as a possible third tight end for next season. Jsonline.com reminded me that converted linebacker TE Tony Donald is playing in NFL Europe, and the Packers are keeping a close eye on him. Donald and rookie free agent TE Keith Willis will have to show something in camp to make an impression and make the roster, because the Packers are keeping the phone number for TE Wesley Walls handy. It didn't hurt the Packers last season, but with Walls and TE David Martin as the Packers options as the second tight end in short yardage situations, the Packers often brought in backup T Kevin Barry as tight end eligible. It limited the plays the Packers could run, and reduced the opportunities for QB Brett Favre to throw to the tight end. Martin and Walls bring the same type of game, weak in blocking but strong pass receiving skills. The fact that Walls isn't in camp makes it appear that the Packers would rather have Donald or Willis make the team, rather than ask Walls to return.