Monday, March 23, 2015

Packers Compensatory Picks To Be Announced This Week

Later this week the NFL will announce which teams will receive compensatory draft picks for players lost in free agency during 2014. When you see the actual trades for players (for example, the Saints recently received a 5th round pick for OL Ben Grubbs), the idea of receiving two 6th round picks for the free agent departures of C Evan Dietrich-Smith and WR James Jones, plus a 7th round pick for OT Marshall Newhouse (which is laughable that he's worth anything in trade) is a pretty sweet deal. Especially when it was time to move on from some of them (Newhouse especially) anyway.

It also helps that GM Ted Thompson has found some of his best players with compensatory picks.
While he doesn't always select players as good as Daniels, or former compensatory pick LG Josh Sitton (the book is still open on his 2014 compensatory selections of TE Richard Rodgers and WR Jared Abbrederis) it sure doesn't hurt to give him more picks to work with. I'm not enough of a draft nut to know which sleeper picks might be available in the late 6th and 7th rounds, but odds are that at least one of them will turn into a useful player.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tramon Williams Leaves For The Browns

I'm more sentimental about players than GM Ted Thompson. CB Tramon Williams played more snaps on defense last season than any other Packer defensive player and was still one of their most valuable players last season. But that was last year and it's important to consider what you think he'll be worth in a couple years. Thompson considered it and thought Williams was worth $4 million annually over the next two years. This is probably the reason the Packers often don't give their own players a second multi-year contract after their rookie deals are over. The market inflates the value of older players based on past performance (see WR Greg Jennings as a recent example) while Thompson has a much better understanding of their future value.

Williams also visited with the Saints and was thought to be pursued by the Seahawks, the Patriots had interest too, but none of these typically better run organizations were willing to pay as much as the Browns, who just made one of the worst free agent decisions of 2015 by betting on QB Josh McCown.
He's been a great player for the Packers and I'm glad he's going to get paid, but that contract is based on his past performance. Thompson was praised by Bill Barnwell for negotiating only $8 million in guaranteed money for RT Bryan Bulaga (who almost certainly could have gotten a lot more from the Bills) and I bet Williams will have more guaranteed dollars in his new contract than Bulaga.

Like I said, I'm sentimental and I wanted him back for next season, but if the Packers had matched the Browns then his contract could have been a problem as soon as next season. Without Williams, depth is a major concern that will have to be addressed in the draft, but the Packers should be fine for next season with CB Micah Hyde sliding over into Williams's role.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Packers Don't Add Anyone From Outside, Keep Their Own, and Watch As Greg Jennings Is Released

Unlike last year when the Packers made a big splash by signing LB Julius Peppers, it looks unlikely that they'll add player from another team, making them one of three teams with no new additions. Things could change over the next few weeks, but usually there are rumors by now that the Packers are talking to a player outside the organization, so I'm guessing that it won't happen.

Players should get the best offer for their services that they can, they don't have to give up millions of dollars and be loyal to the Packers when the Packers might just as well release them in a couple years, but there are some non-monetary factors that goes into their decision. RT Bryan Bulaga received an offer for more money from the Bills but decided to remain with the Packers. I don't know which teams might have been talking to WR Randall Cobb's agent last week, but Cobb got paid significantly less the Chiefs paid to WR Jeremy Maclin ($22.5 million guaranteed for Maclin, $17 million for Cobb).
Would WR Greg Jennings have been released now if he had re-signed with the Packers in 2013? I really have no idea, but it's a fair question. His stats were good over two seasons with multiple below average QBs, and he might have reached 1000 yards in each of the last two seasons with QB Aaron Rodgers (Jennings has only missed one game over the past two seasons in Minnesota). If he had stayed, then he would have presented the Packers with a decision between to make between him and Cobb.

As for the current situation, I can't see Jennings returning to the Packers. He was still useful last season, but he wasn't worth the cap charge (the Vikings are still taking a $6 million cap hit in 2015 for his release). He wouldn't start with the Packers, but he could start somewhere else. He won't receive a huge contract, maybe a Brian Hartline like two-years, $6 million contract, but he should be able to find a starting role somewhere.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Davon House Signs With Jacksonville, Tramon Williams Visits New Orleans

The defensive backfield might need a lot of help in the upcoming draft. When I read the words that CB Davon House wanted to be a starter, and knowing how the coaches gave him even less playing time down the stretch last season, it was only a matter of time before he went elsewhere. By the time he received an offer of $10 million guaranteed with a $6 million per year annual value, it was a done deal for him.
He's going to be a starter in Jacksonville, and good for him, but I think he's going to be stretched as a starter. He has some great moments, but he's not consistent and I wouldn't want him to be the 2015 starter in Green Bay.

I've been hoping the Packers would find a contract that would work for CB Tramon Williams. If House is worth $6 million per season then it shouldn't be impossible for Williams to find a similar annual contract with maybe fewer years and less guaranteed money. The Packers don't seem to be willing to go that high. No Packer defensive player was in on more plays last season than Williams, so while a huge multi-year contract is a big risk for a 32 year old cornerback, he's probably a solid option for the next year or two.

With House gone, and with Williams having one foot out the door, where does that leave the Packers?

CB Micah Hyde. He's been a jack-of-all-trades in his first two seasons, and he'd have to be the first choice to line up outside across the field from CB Sam Shields. Pro Football Focus gave him a higher grade in 2013, when he was primarily a cornerback, and a lower grade in 2014, when he was more of a hybrid safety/slot cornerback, so a move outside might be good for him.

CB Casey Hayward. The Packers haven't seemed interested in lining him up outside, and I've got no problem with that because he's been excellent against slot receivers in his first three seasons. With Shields/Hyde/Hayward at corner, and Clinton-Dix/Burnett at safety, the Packers top five defensive backs would be well set if Williams joins House in a free agent departure.

But there's no depth after the top five. DB Sean Richardson will return, he's a restricted free agent and the Packers offered him a 2015 contract, but no other defensive back currently on the roster played another snap on defense last season. They also have last year's draft choice, CB Demetri Goodson, who they kept all last season though he didn't play. The Packers don't have to use a high draft pick on a cornerback, but they'll have to draft at least two corners. That doesn't look like a tall order this year. CBS Sports lists thirty-eight cornerbacks who could be drafted.

While I hope they do bring back Tramon Williams, the Packers have enough depth to move on from him, and I'd expect GM Ted Thompson would do a good job of finding a couple defensive backs in the draft to replenish their depth.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Surprise! Packers Will Keep Bryan Bulaga

I wasn't too thrilled with the prospect of watching either JC Tretter (he struggled in spot duty at RT) or Don Barclay (coming off a lost 2014 season due to a knee injury) but I thought RT Bryan Bulaga would cost too much for the Green Bay Packers. Instead, it looks like the Packers were willing to meet his demands.
Now it's being reported that he'll receive a five-year, $35 million deal from the Packers. That's good for the 2015 team but a bit of a premium for a right tackle (the Cowboys just re-signed Doug Free for $5 million per season). If Bulaga had been viewed as a left tackle by other teams, his price tag might have been as high as $9 million per season.

The Packers can afford him in 2015 but his re-signing is probably going to force them to let T.J. Lang or Josh Sitton (or both) leave in a couple years. Several recent contracts are going to have big cap charges in a couple years (Rodgers, Matthews, Nelson, Shields, Cobb) and keeping Lang, Sitton, and Bulaga at a combined $20 million isn't going to be easy.

The Packers are built to win now so keeping the offensive line intact for a 2015 title run makes sense. But there is a slight premium being paid, so the Packers might not have as much salary flexibility in a couple years.

Monday, March 09, 2015

I Don't Care If The Packers Lose Davon House In Free Agency

I often think about CB Davon House when the topic of free agency comes up, but I never think enough to write about him. He graded out in 2014 by Pro Football Focus as an average cornerback and he might be a relative bargain (CB Byron Maxwell is going to be paid a ton by the Eagles and PFF rated him lower than House last season) but he had very tough time earning the coaches' trust over the past four seasons.
Early in the 2014 season, I was wondering why he played so much at the expense of Casey Hayward. When Sam Shields was hurt mid-season, House replaced him for a couple games and his worst game of the season happened in New Orleans as Shields's replacement, which was also the only game of the season when he played on nearly every snap. After his bad game against the Saints (I thought Drew Brees picked on him in coverage and PFF gave him a huge negative grade for poor tackling on Mark Ingram) he played sparingly down the stretch. His only significant late season playing time came in their win over the Patriots, and he didn't look great in that game either.

The big problem with House is his inconsistency. At 6-0 he's taller than many cornerbacks and he can make some great one-on-one plays downfield in coverage. But then he zones out for a game or two and the coaches lose faith in him for several weeks. That pattern seems to happen to him every season.

The Packers are already paying a lot for Sam Shields and maybe Tramon Williams if he returns (despite the age gap, I'd much rather see Williams back than House). Plus I'd rather see them give Casey Hayward a big contract extension over House. He didn't look like a better cornerback than any of those three guys last season, and I see no reason why he should be paid more than any of them either.

Some team might make a significant contract offer because he does look good at times (some GMs might blink while watching his blown coverage/missed tackles on film) and he's a young, healthy free agent with experience. But he'll be stretched as a 16 game starter and I don't expect his next employer will be thrilled with the player they've signed.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

A Tale of Two NFC Teams: Packers Sign Cobb, Lions Lose Suh

Throughout the 2014 season, I wasn't concerned about WR Randall Cobb's impending free agency. He's a Ted guy (great player, great locker room guy) and Ted keeps those players after their rookie contracts. But as it got closer, and closer, to the start of free agency with no deal in place, and a massive amount of free agent dollars looming in the coming week, pessimism set in and I was worried he'd leave. It's looking like the dollars might be too much to keep RT Bryan Bulaga, but they did keep Randall Cobb.
The Packers probably got Cobb to stay for millions less than he would have received had he waited a week and talked to other teams. Making $10 million a year is a lot, but making $12 million (that's $2 extra million per year!) is still a massive chunk of change, if he could have gotten it. He should be set for life anyway, but he's really giving up something that might never come around again for him in his lifetime.

I guess I shouldn't ignore the new contract for QB Scott Tolzien, so here it is! He's not very good, but he's OK which is really all that can be expected from a backup. And at $1.35 million he's cheap relative to a lot of backups. I don't see why it means the end for Matt Flynn, who could be brought back on a similar one-year deal without causing any problems with their salary cap. He's essentially the 53rd man on the roster, which is usually someone the Packers pay the minimum, but after watching the backup disaster of 2013, they do need to pay some type of premium just to make sure they have a competent backup (or two) in place.

On the other hand, the Lions bungled their salary cap and are expected to lose Ndamukong Suh to the Dolphins. While keeping Cobb is a bigger deal, it's still notable that the 2nd best team in the NFC North is losing one of the best players in their franchise's history while he's in the prime of his career. The Lions were offering a serious contract ($17 million per season, $58 million guaranteed) but the Dolphins apparently can and will offer more. The Lions defense last season was their strength, and it's a major blow to lose their best defensive player. Even worse, their other top defensive tackles (Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley) are also free agents, who might now be overpaid to stay. It's hard to imagine the Lions will be better in 2015 without Suh, while the Packers got better during the 2014 season (Rodgers's calf injury excepted) and could enter 2015 in great shape for a title run.

It's hard enough to win in the NFL, but it's great to see the Packers are well run, unlike some of the other teams (Lions!) in the NFL. They could have survived without Cobb, but I'm a big fan of wide receiver depth and it's very important for their offense.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Bears Win: Brandon Marshall Is Now The Jets' Problem

One of the last articles I wrote for Acme Packing Company was an analysis of the Bears trade for WR Brandon Marshall. I thought it was an awful trade for the Bears and the comments from that post were pretty sure that I had no idea what I was talking about. Three years later, it still looks like it was an awful trade for the Bears.

The final haul is that the Bears traded two 3rd round draft picks (No. 72 overall in 2012, and No. 82 overall in 2013) for three seasons of production (and headaches) from Marshall plus a 2015 5th round draft choice from the Jets. He also cost the Bears a lot of money. They paid him for the last two seasons of a four-year, $47.5 million contract he signed with the Dolphins plus $9.375 million in 2014 as part of a three-year, $30 million contract he signed a year ago. The money is easy to see, but did he make the Bears any better and what happened to those 3rd round picks?

How much did QB Jay Cutler improve with Marshall? As a receiver, Marshall is going to put up big numbers because he's going to get a ton of targets (462 over the past three seasons). In 2011 without Marshall, Cutler had a QBR of 55.9 and averaged 7.39 yards per attempt. In 2012 with Marshall, he actually declined in both categories (50.2 and 6.99). Cutler's best season as a Bear came in 2013, but was his improvement due to the emergence of Alshon Jeffrey and the free agent addition of Martellus Bennett or because of anything Marshall did? While Marshall has value as a big target wide receiver, he isn't someone who makes a team any better on his own and based on those stats he wasn't worth two 3rd round picks.

With the Bears 2012 3rd round pick, the Dolphins selected DE Olivier Vernon. For a Bears team with little pass rush, that's a big loss. Vernon has recorded 21.5 sacks over the last three seasons. While he had 11.5 sacks in 2013, he logged a negative grade for the year from Pro Football Focus. When the Packers played the Dolphins last season, Vernon was a terror (his 2nd best rating of the season from PFF) and he overall recorded a higher rating on the season according to PFF though his sack total declined. Three picks after Vernon, the Seahawks chose QB Russell Wilson. Viewing the trade as a swap of Vernon or Wilson for Marshall by itself looks awful, but former Bears GM Phil Emery probably wouldn't have actually selected either player. When the Bears were on the clock seven picks after Vernon, they selected safety Brandon Hardin, and Hardin has never played a snap in the NFL.

The Dolphins traded away the Bears 2013 3rd round pick, and the Saints used it to select DT John Jenkins. While there's no player taken in the late 2013 3rd round of Vernon or Wilson's caliber, Jenkins is a useful run stuffer who wouldn't have hurt the Bears over the last two seasons. One interesting side note is that when the Dolphins traded that 3rd round pick away, they received two 4th round picks and traded the second of those selections to the Packers (No. 109 overall). GM Ted Thompson used that pick to select LT David Bakhtiari.

Viewing the trade as Vernon and Bakhtiari for three highly paid seasons of Marshall makes it look like an even bigger mess for the Bears. Holding onto Marshall for another three seasons probably wouldn't have made it look any better or undo the damage that's been done. Though they only received a 5th round pick in return, which isn't nearly as valuable as either of those previous 3rd round picks, the best thing they could have done in this situation is move on. That's why it's a small victory for the Bears and one of the many steps they'll have to make to get back to playoff contention.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

It Looks Like The Packers Won't Re-Sign Randall Cobb

I believe the Green Bay Packers want to bring WR Randall Cobb back next season, but he's coming off a Pro Bowl season, not injury prone, and still young (age 25 next season). There aren't a lot of players available who have those three things going for them at any position, and he isn't a player the Packers absolutely have to re-sign at any price (though I'd like to see him back next season).
That tweet is reference to this article. This is almost feeling like a re-play of the Greg Jennings free agency experience of 2013. The Packers were willing to pay him, but another team was willing to pay him even more. Cobb's agent seems to believe there will be another team willing to pay Cobb more when free agency begins.

Cobb's a great free agent target under any circumstances because of what I wrote about above, but he's also clearly the top wide receiver available. Philadelphia's Jeremy Maclin is another good option. But after those two, you're left wondering if down years from Torrey Smith and Michael Crabtree were flukes or whether they will bounce back next season.

There are also a lot of teams with a lot of cap room available. Oakland's been mentioned because they have needs everywhere and former Packer executive Reggie McKenzie is their GM, but Jacksonville has almost $70 million available and they need everything too. Cleveland has $54 million available and a major need at wide receiver. Would a cap strap team like the Chiefs open up room to make a big offer to Cobb? Another former Packer, John Dorsey, is their GM and they desperately could use help at wide receiver. All it takes is for one of those teams to prioritize Cobb and blow the Packers's previous contract offers out of the water.

I've been pessimistic about re-signing Cobb for a couple weeks now, and I've seen nothing in the last couple days to make me feel better about it.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Franchise Tag: Packers Let Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga Test The Free Agent Market

The NFL announced the 2015 salary-cap at $143.28 million and the Green Bay Packers have $33 million available, but they decided not to use the franchise tag ($12+ million for a wide receiver) on Randall Cobb or Bryan Bulaga.
Usually I expect a free agent will walk if GM Ted Thompson hasn't re-signed a free agent by early March. That's what he did with offensive lineman like Daryn Colledge and Scott Wells, and WR Greg Jennings in 2013. But he did sign CB Sam Shields at the start of free agency last year, so I'm not sure what he'll do this time around.

Not paying Cobb $12 million annually makes sense. WR Jordy Nelson's cap charge will be a third of that in 2015 and he won't go over $12 million annually until 2018. The Packers would want to re-sign Cobb to a contract with a smaller cap charge. But a long-term deal might put a lot of strain on their salary cap and they could have as many as six players with a cap charge of more than $10 million by 2017 (depending on if they re-sign Bryan Bulaga). Having a salary cap that's dominated by a few players isn't how GM Ted Thompson has operated in the past.

The good news here is that if they really didn't think they could afford Cobb in a couple years then they probably would have used the franchise tag. Nelson has a bargain cap charge in 2015 ($4.6 million) and they could afford to pay a premium price for Cobb in 2015. Then they wouldn't have to worry about their 2017 cap because Cobb would be gone in a year or two. They aren't going to need $33 million in cap space for their rookie class, and there's no other current free agent that appears to be a target for them. I don't think LB Nick Perry or CB Casey Hayward should expect a big extension from the Packers, but they might be thinking about extending DT Mike Daniels this offseason to use up some of that 2015 cap room.

I don't have a good feeling about them re-signing Bulaga. He would add another big offensive line contract at the top of their salary cap (along with T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton) and his injury history is a concern. He might have been a perfect candidate for the cap to keep him for one more year, but the tag also brings a lot of bad feelings with it.

So I think it's a good thing that they didn't use the franchise tag on Cobb because it means they want to re-sign him long-term. However some bad teams have so much salary cap room available that they might want to consider overpaying for him since he's one of the best free agents on the market. Maybe they'll have wait and see if he receives a crazy offer that they wouldn't think of matching. That danger is real but I expect they're still the favorite to sign him for 2015.