Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Well I was wrong about the signing bonus for WR Robert Ferguson, who I thought would receive a signing bonus slightly lower than the one given to Cleveland WR Dennis Northcutt ($2.25 million) back in May, but the Packers blew past that amount and gave Ferguson a $3.5 million signing bonus.

The Packers are paying for what Ferguson can become and not how he has performed over the last two seasons. If the Packers are paying Ferguson how he has performed over the last two seasons, his contract should have been similar to the following three offseason signings. WR Dez White signed for 2 years and $2 million total contract with Atlanta after catching as many TD passes and more receptions over the last two seasons in Chicago, and White is the same age (24) as Ferguson. Minnesota signed WR Marcus Robinson for a $2 million signing bonus after he caught 6 TD passes over the last 5 games in 2003 for Baltimore. Northcutt has caught far more receiptions for more receiving yards over the last two seasons, same number of TD catches as Ferguson, plus he established himself as one of the more dangerous return men in the NFL, but Ferguson received 50% more in signing bonus than Northcutt.

On the other hand, the New York Jets paid WR Justin McCareins a $7 million signing bonus after he broke out with 7 TD receptions in his third NFL season with Tennessee in 2003. Although McCareins had a great 2003 season, the New York Jets are paying him for what he could do over the next few seasons based on 2003 and his physical abilities. Similarily the Packers are paying Ferguson based on a solid 2003 season and what he could do over the next few seasons.

Overall, the Packers paid a premium based on Ferguson's past performance because they expect him to improve next season. He didn't improve much from 2002 to 2003 and he has had trouble staying healthy, so right now his contract extension looks like a risk.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

It is surprising to see the Packers sign Robert Ferguson to a contract extension. Although Ferguson was drafted in 2001, he didn't start playing until 2002 and in the last two seasons he has averaged about 30 catches, 400 yards, and 3 to 4 TD receptions. Ferguson only played 1 year of major college football, so he has learned a lot in the NFL, but it would have been reasonable to wait and see how he plays in 2004 before committing long term to him. He has also had problems staying healthy, so that could be another concern.

On the other hand, the Packers are counting on him in 2004 because the Packers lack depth at wide receiver behind him, Javon Walker and Donald Driver. Ferguson has the size and speed that every NFL team wants at wide receiver, and if Ferguson had left after the 2004 season, then the Packers would have made wide receiver a priority next offseason and during the 2005 draft. reported that Ferguson's base salaries over the 5 year contract are just over $6 million, and he couldn't have signed for a huge signing bonus. His signing bonus will not be as high as Driver's $4 million signing bonus that Driver signed in 2002, and should be less than the $2.25 million signing bonus given by Cleveland in May 2004 to WR Dennis Northcutt. If Ferguson received a $1.75 million signing bonus and can emerge in 2004 as a reliable and consistant deep passing threat, then this will be a great signing.

Monday, June 28, 2004

The Packers have been quiet since the end of the June minicamp and the signing of QB Tim Couch, not that it is unexpected since it is only the end of June and training camp hasn't opened yet. Looking around the rest of the NFC North, winning the division is more important than ever since realignment caused more competition for fewer wild card spots, here our some of the stories getting press this June.

Minnesota. The team released 2003 starting strong side LB Henri Crockett and 2003 starting middle LB Greg Biekert retired, leaving only LB Chris Claiborne as a return starter. Claiborne is moving to the strong side (over the tight end), second year LB E.J. Henderson (coming off May knee surgery) will start in the middle, and the weak side LB spot is a wide open battle between LB Mike Nattiel and rookie LB Dontarrious Thomas, according to Minnesota's defense was awful after week 6 last season and a revamped linebacker group along with a very young defensive line will probably lead to a inconsistant defense in 2004.

Chicago. Their defense is getting younger and only LB Brian Urlacher is a true impact defensive player. No one on Chicago's offense could be accused of being an impact player yet. The defense is being revamped under new coach Lovie Smith, which is to be expected by the former defensive coordinator. Contracts for draft choices are slotted (based on last year's contract plus 5% or so increase for this season, therefore DT Tommie Harris should be paid the same as last year's 15th overall pick plus 5% approximately), and Chicago had generally worked out contract terms with Harris' agent in the minutes before they selected Harris in the April draft, but now Harris has a new agent, according to As reported, it is probably not a problem, due to the slotting of draft choices' contracts, but it could delay Harris from participating in training camp from day 1.

Detroit. The biggest story for them is the weight of DT Shawn Rogers. I've read one story about it on and probably another on as well. Rogers should have been drafted in the first round a couple of years ago because he can dominate, but he has a history of injury and weight problems. He has the most potential of any player on Detroit's defense, but it is Rogers responsibility to make it happen. Another story is the charges of insurance fraud against new FS Brock Marion. Detroit has spent a lot of money to revamp their secondary, signing Marion and DB Fernando Bryant this offseason to play alongside last season's big free agent DB Dre Bly. Detroit was counting on Marion to solidify their secondary which has lacked consistant free safety play for a few seasons, but the criminal investigation against Marion probaly derailed those plans.

Overall, all three teams have question marks, which is to be expected because none of them made the playoffs last season, but all these changes are obvious attempts to improve their respective teams.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Packers released their financial records for the fiscal year starting April 1, 2003 and ending March 31, 2004. Prior to the renovation of Lambeau Field, the Packers operating revenue had slipped in comparison to other teams due to many new stadiums (Seahawks Stadium, Reliant Stadium (Houston), Heinz Field (Pittsburgh), Ford Field (Detroit), Gillette Stadium (New England)) and the Packers would have probably slipped further this fiscal year if not for the Lambeau Field renovation with new stadiums opening in Chicago and Philadelphia.

I thought it was important for Brown County and the city of Green Bay to pass the sales tax referendum that kept the city's biggest source of civic pride financially able to compete in the NFL and not risk losing the team. Without the renovation, the Packers would likely be around 25th out of 32 teams in gross revenue.

However, when Packers treasurer John Underwood says that the team is "headed for financial oblivion" he is not being honest with Packers fans. I would define "financial oblivion" as bankrupt but Underwood's interpretation of it more analogous to driving a Mazda in a league full of Ferraris. The Packers still collect $100 million per season in TV revenue and would sell out Lambeau Field every Sunday even if the team returned to a post-Lombardi/pre-Favre level of performance.

Without the added income, the Packers probably wouldn't have the financial resources to keep players like DT Cleditus Hunt or DE KGB, or sign a free agent like DE Joe Johnson or DE Reggie White. Obviously some of the millions the Packers spend on signing bonuses are better spent than others, and having the most money in the NFL does not necessarily buy you a winner (just ask a Washington fan). The Packers would probably be able to retain one player like QB Brett Favre and try to build a team of cheaper and younger players around him.

I'm glad the Packers have the financial resources to maintain and improve their roster, but the Packers should be more honest as to what are the financial realities for the team.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

QB Tim Couch finally signed with the Packers this week after months of negotiations. Back in March, I compared Couch to QB Donovan McNabb, and Couch has a higher career completion percentage (59.8% to 57%) and a high yards per attempt (6.49 to 6.16), but what ended Couch's career in Cleveland was his career 0.95 touchdown passes to 1 interception ratio. If Couch can show can take better care of the football and prove that he can lead a team, then he can turn his career around. The 1 year deal is a good start to see if Couch can actually beat out QB Craig Nall for the backup job and then determine what future Couch has with the Packers.

Last week the Packers signed TE Steve Bush. He's only caught 46 passes in his 6 year NFL career, but he is a giant at 6'3" 280 lbs. If he can show some strong run blocking, he will show something that neither TE Bubba Franks or TE David Martin specialize in. The Packers have two inexperience tight ends (TE Keith Willis and TE Tony Donald) on their roster competing for the 3rd tight end spot too, but if the Packers want someone with experience to backup Franks and Martin, Bush would be the man.

CB Derek Combs was cut this week by the Packers. He is the 3rd defensive back released since this April's draft (S Eric Crouch and CB/S Bryant Westbrook were the first two) and it is not a surprise that some defensive backs would be released after the Packers drafted two defensive backs (CB Ahmad Carroll and CB Joey Thomas) in the first and third rounds. Combs showed a little bit in 2003, but only on special teams or has the 4th cornerback. He would have had a hard time beating out CB Erwin Swiney for the last cornerback spot on the roster, so its not surprising that Combs has already lost that battle after the June mini-camp. Swiney, along with CB Chris Johnson, are both going to have a hard time making the Packers roster as it currently stands if CB Mike McKenzie returns to the team.

Thursday, June 10, 2004 had a number of articles from the June minicamp yesterday, but there are just a few points that caught my attention.

First was an article on DE Aaron Kampman. Sometimes Kampman seems to be everything an NFL team expects in a power defensive end because he won't be pushed off the corner while he forces the running back to go further outside before turning upfield and he generates some pass rush by pushing the offensive tackle back into the quarterback. Othertimes Kampman seems to be pushed around and it is obvious that isn't the strongest or most talented defensive end in the NFL. Kampman is only 24 years old and he is still learning how to play, but he will probably never be an anchor on the defensive line which is why the Packers spent most of this offseason looking at free agent defensive ends and drafted multiple defensive lineman in this April's draft who are being auditioned at defensive end and tackle. Kampman has shown the potential to be a reliable starter in the NFL and he has shown the dedication to working out and film study that coaches love. Kampman deserves to start in 2004 and be given the full season to show that he can be the Packers starting defensive end for the next few seasons.

Second was that Kampman really should never have had any opportunity to start with the Packers because the Packers signed DE Joe Johnson to start in Kampman's position the same year that the Packers drafted Kampman. Yesterday, the Packers release Johnson, who has been a big bust. He doesn't rank as one of the biggest busts ever in free agency because teams are paying too much for marginal or problem players every year. Denver's fiasco with DT Daryl Gardner is one recent example, while Dallas's signing of WR Joey Galloway for $42 million and 2 1st round draft choices and Carolina's signing of DT Sean Gilbert for approx $46 million and 2 1st round draft choices are probably the two biggest free agent busts ever. Teams that overpay for marginal talent (like Atlanta's signing of ex-Packer CB Tyrone Williams) hurts but not as bad as when a team spends top dollar on a truly talented player with a history of physical injuries or disciplinary problems. Washington seems to find new ways to burn money every offseason. For example, Philadelphia should have been wary of the injury history surrounding DE Jevon Kearse in Tennessee, but they still decided to pay him a $16 million signing bonus this offseason. Just as Philadelphia should have been concerned about Kearse, the Packers should have been careful with Johnson, who has a lot of talent but he had a lot of injuries even before he was signed by the Packers. The Packers took a gamble, just as many teams in the NFL have done in the past few years, and the Packers lost it.

Third was that WR Carl Ford has an injured hamstring. It doesn't seem to be too serious, but Ford has just reinjured it. Ford showed some promise last preseason before the Packers hid him on injured reserve for all of last season. Ford's injury wasn't too serious last season, but it was unlikely he would have made the roster because of the injury (he was expected to miss a few weeks) and he possibly would have been offered a contract by another team and wouldn't have settled for a spot on the Packers practice squad. This season he comes into the preseason as the likely number four wide receiver (clearly behind WR Donald Driver, WR Robert Ferguson, and WR Javon Walker). It can be a very important position, last season both Driver and Ferguson were injured by week 2 and the Packers had to sign WR Antonio Freeman. If Ford can't stay healthy or doesn't perform like he did last season, then its very likely the Packers look to sign a veteran free agent wide receiver again this season for some added depth.

Fourth, Cleveland finally gave up and released QB Tim Couch. Couch still wants a starting job or a one year contract so he can find a starting job in 2005. Its unknown how many teams will show interest in Couch now that he can be signed without trading a draft pick in compensation for him, but now it is possible the Packers will offer him a 1 year contract and let him compete with QB Craig Nall for the backup quarterback spot.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Both and reported that free agent LB Jason Gildon visited with the Packers last Friday. It really surprised me that Gildon would even visit, and that the Packers were the first team he visited after Pittsburgh released him. Gildon would not be a good fit for the Packers 4-3 defense, because its likely that Gildon has lost a step and would have trouble defending receivers and running backs near the sidelines. If Gildon started with the Packers in their standard 4-3 defense, it would be likely that Gildon would play the strong side linebacker and replace LB Hannibal Navies. Defensive coordinator Bob Slowik was reported by as saying that "he would consider using some 3-4 [defensive alignment]" and that Gildon could play in the dime (3 defensive linemen, 2 linebacker and 6 defensive backs). The Packers primary need for Gildon is as a situational pass rusher opposite DE KGB, but Gildon brings an added dimension as a pass rushing linebacker that the Packers do not currently have on the roster. Starting linebackers Na'il Diggs and Navies have combined for 9 sacks in their careers, while Gildon has averaged 9 sacks per season over his last 8 years starting with Pittsburgh. Gildon would be a tremendous addition to the Packers, adding an element to their defense that is currently absent, but it still seems unlikely that Gildon will sign with the Packers and more likely that he will end up in Houston, Cleveland, or Baltimore.

Its confusing keeping track of Keith Willis. and list 44 year old DE Keith Willis on the Packers roster. Good old number 93. Except they mean rookie free agent TE Keith Willis from Virginia Tech who has taken number 81. DE Keith Willis had a solid 10 year career with Pittsburgh in the 1980s, but he retired in 1994 and probably is not part of the Packers plans for the 2004 season. However it is an open competition behind TEs Bubba Franks and David Martin for the 3rd tight end roster spot, and TE Keith Willis has a very good chance at making the 2004 Packers roster.

Monday, June 07, 2004

It was surprising that reported the CB Michael Hawthorne started with the first team defense in place of absent CB Mike McKenzie for the first week of the June minicamp. The Packers had given repeated indications that Hawthorne was a safety first and a cornerback second this offseason, even lists Hawthorne as a safety, although it might be temporary until rookies CB Ahmad Carroll and CB Joey Thomas learn the playbook.

Even more surprising was that when CB Al Harris sat out with a bad ankle on Friday, free agent CB Chris Watson played on the first team defense in place of Harris, according to When the Packers first signed Watson before the draft, I compared Watson favorably to high priced free agent CB Jason Webster, who signed with Atlanta this offseason. Although Watson has proven himself to be a useful 3rd or 4th cornerback when he played in Buffalo, he is coming off a lost season in Detroit (injury) and he seemed like a longshot to make the Packers. Apparently Watson has showed more promise than second year CB Chris Johnson, and now Johnson has to be considered the longshot to make the Packers. reported that former-CB Bhawoh Jue is out of the rotation at cornerback and working with the second team defense at free safety, and he will have to battle for a roster spot with S Curtis Fuller.

As far as starting off on the wrong foot: had a quote from defensive coordinator Bob Slowik that Carroll didn't play well in April's mini-camp because of "all those draft parties". Although Slowik followed up by saying "there's a noticeable improvement now" with Carroll, it sounds like Carroll is a early candidate for the doghouse and being deactived for Sunday ala DE Jamal Reynolds.

Current cornerback depth chart (excluding McKenzie) reads: 1. Harris; 2. Hawthorne; Nickel. Watson; Dime. Thomas.

Friday, June 04, 2004

So what did Minnesota do this offseason to address their team's weaknesses? Did they break up a strong unit?

Minnesota. I always like Minnesota's offseasons. They always seem to improve their team by drafting a promissing player in the first round but few of their other picks ever work out. RBs Moe Williams, Doug Chapman, and Ontario Smith have had some success over the last couple of years and they were all mid-round selections, but Minnesota's offense has been very kind to their running backs over the last decade and all of them have taken a back seat when star 1st round running backs Robert Smith or Michael Bennett have been starting. The only three current exceptions remaining on the roster from their poor post-1st round draft selections are C Matt Birk, TE Jimmy Kleinsasser, and LB Nick Rogers (and Rogers is in danger of losing his starting job). Minnesota has a pretty poor record of bringing in impact free agents either, with only ex-QB Randall Cunningham coming to my mind as a great signing. Their organizational inability to build depth around their usually excellent first picks has probably been the main cause for why Minnesota looks better on paper than in performance.

Minnesota has arguably the best offense (statistically) in the NFL. I placed the qualifier "statistically" on the assessment of their offense, because it seems to go through stretches where it can't be stopped (6-0 start last season) then stretches where it can't seem to get anything going (0-4 after 6-0 start). The biggest weakness it has had is replacing ex-WR Cris Carter as the receiver opposite WR Randy Moss. 2nd year WR Nate Burleson might take the step forward to fill this position, but he faded as the 2003 season went on. WR Marcus Robinson was signed as a free agent, but Robinson was given up for dead before he was reborn with a 4 touchdown domination of Seattle in week 12 last season. Robinson finished the 2003 season strong, but that was his first sign of life since his serious 2000 knee injury derailed his promissing career.

Minnesota's run defense was an interesting beast in 2003. rated it slightly above average (17th overall) but it was torched on big runs (only Kansas City was worse at giving up big runs). DT Fred Robbins left for big money in New York (Giants) and MLB Greg Biekert retired. Up the middle DT Chris Hovan remains, maybe ex-Packer DT Steve Martin can help, or maybe DE Kevin Williams moves over to tackle to help replace Robbins. MLB E.J. Henderson was projected as a 1st round pick last year, but Minnesota grabbed him in the 2nd round and are now hoping he can improve the run defense. Rookie linebacker Dontarrious Thomas was picked in the 2nd round this April, he has a lot of speed, and he could take a starting job away from weakside linebacker Rogers, which could improve the run defense. This year's first round pick DE Kenechi Udeze has pass rush ability and can play the run too. If Thomas and Udeze win starting jobs, then Minnesota will rely on four players 23 years old or younger (Udeze, Williams, Henderson, and Thomas) to anchor their run defense. Overall, it isn't clear whether this unit will be improved in 2004 and might have to wait until 2005 to see substantial improvement.

Minnesota had an average number of sacks in 2003 but were above average in sacks per pass attempt according to This unit can only improve with the top 2 sack men from last year returning (DE Lance Johnstone and Williams) and the addition of Udeze. Minnesota was 2nd in the NFL in interceptions (28) but ranked the unit below average (17th) and their season was defined by the last second collapse by the secondary at Arizona in week 17. Gone is CB Denard Walker, in is CB Antonie Winfield. Winfield was highly regarded but he is short (5'9") and he reminds me of former Chicago CB Thomas Jones, another highly regarded Buffalo free agent but Jones flopped in Chicago after signing as a free agent. Winfield and Jones had one thing in common (other than starting their careers in Buffalo); they were regarded as exceptional in coverage although they recorded few interceptions. Winfield only has 6 interceptions for his career (58 starts in 72 games). Teams might have been avoiding Winfield, but that seems unlikely because Buffalo CB Nate Clements started opposite Winfield and he played like a number one cornerback (12 INTs and 40 pass defenses in 43 career games started and 48 games). The pass rush should be improved, but it is unclear whether Winfield can single-handedly improve the pass defense.

Minnesota's special teams were one of the worst in the NFL last season, ranked 31st overall according to They seemed to play pretty well against the Packers last season, so they must have sucked the rest of the season. No kicks were returned for touchdowns and K Aaron Elling made an unremarkable 72% of his field goals attempts. P Eddie Johnson was 2nd worst in the league in net punt average and 4th worst at kicks inside the 20 yard line, so P Darren Bennett was brought in to challenge Johnson. Bennett did very well in San Diego last season, 5th best at kicks inside the 20 yard line and while only 16th in net punt average. Bennett will probably win the punting job and he would be likely to improve the unit.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

After the Packers drafted two cornerbacks with their top 2 draft picks, it was inevitable that the Packers clear out some of their marginal players in the secondary. First DB Bryant Westbrook was cut and now S Eric Crouch was cut. If CB Mike McKenzie returns, then him and CB Al Harris will start with rookie CB Ahmad Carroll and rookie CB Joey Thomas as the nickel and dime cornerbacks. If no McKenzie, then its possible second year speedster CB Chris Johnson is the dime cornerback, with recently resigned DB Michael Hawthorne and DB Bhawoh Jue battling with S Curtis Fuller and S Marques Anderson to backup FS Darren Sharper and SS Mark Roman. Crouch wasn't going to be given any opportunity at cornerback, so Hawthorne and Jue's flexibility to play cornerback or safety gave them an obvious advantage over Crouch.

More QB Tim Couch negotiating between the Packers and Cleveland. It is obvious that Couch will only accept a one year deal, so he can go find a starting job next season, and reported that the Packers won't trade for Couch unless he accepts a two year contract. Couch will not accept a two year deal, the Packers will start June mini camp this week, and the Packers interest in Couch will be over. reported the Packers had some interest in soon to be released LB Jason Gildon. He could be an effective situational pass rusher opposite DE KGB and could even push LB Hannibal Navies to the bench. But reported that three AFC teams (Baltimore, Cleveland, and Houston) that are very familiar with Gildon's abilities and have more salary cap room than the Packers are also interested. Baltimore would probably be his first choice, but I don't know where Gildon would fit in alongside linebackers Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs. Houston seems his likely destination, where he can teach Houston's rookie 1st round draft choice LB Jason Babin how to play the pass rushing outside linebacker position in a 3-4 defense.