Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Packers Make A Move In Free Agency: Sign TE Jared Cook

I was just writing about the Green Bay Packers' underwhelming 2016 free agent period and they go out and sign TE Jared Cook to a one-year deal that worth $3.6 million only if he reaches certain incentives. While I'm still disappointed they didn't re-sign WR James Jones, Cook brings an element to the offense that's been missing since TE Jermichael Finley retired.
The deep ball down the seam is one thing, but he'll be a difficult match-up in the middle of the field because he's too big for slot cornerbacks and too quick for most linebackers. He's been a disappointment with both the Titans and Rams over the last several seasons, but he's still under 30 and he's never played alongside a good NFL quarterback. Arguably the best QB he's ever played with was Matt Hasselbeck in 2011. Now he'll get a one-year prove-it contract while catching passes from a two-time MVP. There's nothing but upside for both the team and player.

And once again GM Ted Thompson shows the NFL how free agency is done. It's crazy that teams can't first meet with players signed right at the start of free agency. The Packers waited out the initial frenzy and then scheduled a visit with Cook to get to know a player, which was a very good idea because Cook's underperformed in the past and they probably didn't know what he'd be like in the locker room. They gave him a couple weeks to figure out his options and let him discover that the Packers were his best choice, and they acquire a player at a fraction of the price that a similar player (TE Coby Fleener) signed for with the Saints.

As a bonus, signing Cook won't cost the Packers any compensatory draft picks because the Rams released Cook and players released by their former teams don't count in the calculation. The Packers had cap room available to sign another player, and they got a younger player with upside on an affordable one-year deal. There's nothing not to like here.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Recapping The Packers 2016 Free Agent Period

The NFL free agent period is rarely an exciting time for GM Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers, and 2016 has been no exception. Extending DT Mike Daniels was the most important task they could have accomplished, and they did it back in 2015, but I'm still left more disappointed than usual. There were some notable free agent departures and they'll be looking to find replacements, and depth, at those positions in April's draft.
WR James Jones. Maybe Jones's agent was talking about a $4 million per season Jermaine Kearse type contract, which I would never expect them (nor should they) agree to. But Jones signed for under $1 million twice last season (first with the Giants and then the Packers) so he's probably not looking for a big deal. He finished 2015 as the 20th best receiver in the NFL according to Football Outsiders and he was the team's best receiver by a mile, so asking him to return in 2016 as a $1 million insurance policy looked like a no-brainer, even if he loses the battle in camp this summer to WR Jeff Janis and/or Jared Abbrederis. Yes, WR Jordy Nelson will be back, Janis and Abbrederis should continue to improve, and Jones might not have been necessary. But he was absolutely necessary in 2015 and he wouldn't have broken the bank. I'm also not mentioning WR Davante Adams, who the team appears to have faith in, though I don't. I'd have made re-signing Jones a priority if he's still available in the $1 million range.

DTs B.J. Raji, Letroy Guion, and Mike Pennel. Pennel wasn't a free agent but his upcoming four game suspension should factor into their 2016 plans. But I don't think they expected Raji to walk away from football. Mike McCarthy thinks Raji will return some day but I'm less sure about it because football doesn't seem to be the most important thing in his life. Good for him, but that won't help the Packers much in 2016. That leaves the middle of their line anchored by Guion and Daniels, and a couple other guys who've never played meaningful NFL snaps. DT Josh Boyd will also return, but he was never very good and he's now coming off a season ending injury. I'm worried that some teams will be able to run right over the defense next season.

LB Mike Neal. The Packers want to move LB Clay Matthews back outside next season and they did re-sign LB Nick Perry, so this seems like a good time to let Neal find another NFL home. I've never been his biggest fan so I'm glad they're looking to find someone better than him. But he was 5th on the team with 734 defensive snaps last season so they have to replace him with somebody, and I have no idea who that somebody will be. LB Sam Barrington will return but you never know what a player is like after a season ending injury. LBs Jake Ryan and Joe Thomas should continue to improve while platooning as a run stuffing and pass covering inside linebacker combo. Also, former disappointments LB Nate Palmer and Carl Bradford remain on the roster. The Packers have a lot of draft choices in the upcoming draft and they're sure to draft at least one linebacker, but they haven't had the best track record of developing inside linebackers. The loss of Raji and Pennel up front, along with Matthews moving back outside from inside, has left the middle of their defense looking like a giant question mark heading into 2016.

CB Casey Hayward. The Packers really didn't need Hayward anymore. The Chargers are paying him $5 million per season starting in 2016 and he might have been challenged for playing time with the Packers by CB Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter. Also, former 5th round pick CB Demetri Goodson is in the mix. But letting a solid player like Hayward go for only a future 3rd or 4th round compensatory pick seems like a poor value. Hayward is a good player now, and that future draft choice is only maybe a good player someday. They've given up something without getting enough back, while at the same time the defense is taking a step back at tackle and inside linebacker.

I'm just not feeling the power of young players when a few of them disappointed last season at key positions like receiver and linebacker. That's the way the Packers work and free agency isn't the answer for most teams, but it's still left me underwhelmed with their offseason plans while I wait for them to re-load in the upcoming draft.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Tolzien To Colts, Hundley To No. 2, and Two More 4th Round Picks

The 2015 preseason featured three of the better backup quarterback auditions I've seen in any preseason for the Green Bay Packers. The offense scored points with either QB Scott Tolzien or QB Brett Hundley under center, and Hundley's accuracy and athleticism stood out. But Hundley hasn't played in a football game in several months, so I wasn't sure if the Packers were ready to part with Tolzien. But apparently they are, and it's probably a good decision because Hundley looked ready to play last preseason.
I can't recall another tweet from the Packers official twitter account when a free agent leaves Green Bay. Apparently Tolzien was well well liked within the organization and they're wishing him well.

It was also reported that they received two fourth round draft choices for losing CB Tramon Williams and CB Davon House to free agency last year. I'd have been supportive if they had re-signed either of them last season, but to gain two 4th round draft picks is very sweet. I doubt the Packers could have traded either one of them for a selection that high, had they still been under contract.

Friday, March 11, 2016

It's Depressing To See The Packers Re-Sign LB Nick Perry

It's important not to get swept up in NFL's free agency, watching it as some teams instantly transform themselves with major signings or departures. It's usually fool's gold, most teams will regret half of these contracts a year from now, and they'll be looking to dump their new players just like the Eagles did with CB Byron Maxwell. Or RB DeMarco Murray, for anything they can get.

So re-signing your own players at a reasonable price is a good way to go.
And there's nothing wrong with re-signing Perry. He wasn't bad last season and their thin linebacking corps looks even worse now that they've given up on Andy Mulumba, so keeping some of their depth from last season is important. And he's a great value signing. A one-year deal comes with no possibility of dead money in a future year (unless he can't even make the team out of training camp, which seems highly unlikely) and they saved themselves a couple million by declining his 5th-year option at $7.75 million and re-signing him for $5 million. They let him test the market, he found little (none?) interest, and they were willing to give him another chance.

But this is a really depressing move. Perry's not a bust, but he's been a disappointment. He's struggled to stay healthy, he's struggled to earn playing time, and his pass rushing skills vanished last season. He does nothing to make them any better next season, unless he magically puts it all together in 2016. I have no idea what they have in mind for him next season after he barely played in 2015 while they gave his potential playing time to Mike Neal, who did little to earn it either. $5 million from GM Ted Thompson for a backup seems rich for him, so I'm expecting they're going to use Perry as a starter next season (assuming Clay Matthews remains inside). But if he wasn't good enough to start in 2015 then what's changed now?

Maybe this is an area they plan on focusing on in the draft, and they just needed a one-year starter they could rely on for one season. They've been good enough over the past two seasons to hang with the top two-through-five teams in the NFC, so maybe trying to keep the current team together as best they can and hope it all comes together in 2016 is their plan. But it's not an exciting one.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

NFL Free Agency Opens With The Usual Silence From The Packers

UPDATE: Actually it looks like the Bears had one of the best free agent signings with Trevathan. Signing a linebacker for $6 million per season who can stay on the field for every down is a good move. He might have been more motivated to work with the Bears and his old HC John Fox than he would have been with the Packers.

It also looks Forte signed for less than I expected but even at $4 million per season, if the Packers were going to make one splash in free agency, I'd rather they spent it on a linebacker or to re-sign Hayward over a backup running back.

Do you remember the good old days of 2014 when GM Ted Thompson made a splash in free agency? The past is in the past, and so far the Packers have only made one free agent move this week.
At first, it didn't seem like a good idea to give a backup a two-year deal, but the guaranteed money isn't much and he's currently the lowest paid player on the roster who isn't still playing under his rookie contract. They trusted Taylor to start two games last season, and they obviously liked what they saw. Offensive line depth around the NFL is very shallow, once you get beyond every team's top six lineman your probably looking at a player who's a future revolving door, so keeping a player who's good enough to start is valuable.

The only big name free agent that seemed to be rumored to have drawn any interest from the Packers was RB Matt Forte, but he's going to the Big Apple.
That should put Forte's new deal at around $6 million per season. That's not crazy money, Forte wouldn't be in the top 10 cap charges on the Packers' 2016 roster, but adding him would be a luxury if they're planning on sticking with RB Eddie Lacy as the starter next season. The Packers always carry forward some cap space into the next season, so a hypothetical Forte signing would probably only leave the Packers with about $5 million of cap space they'd like to use. That might not even be enough to re-sign NT B.J. Raji and would end any hope of a free agent upgrade at inside linebacker, and those are two positions I'd rather see upgraded before adding an extra running back. Plus, they'd be giving up on the chance to re-sign CB Casey Hayward (which might not be happening anyway).

Unfortunately I don't know who that magical inside linebacker might be that they can use their free agent dollars on. ILB Danny Trevathan is great but he's going to get overpaid by the Bears. After Trevathan, the free agent class features a number of veterans you'd hope could stay healthy (Derrick Johnson, Stephen Tulloch) or you hope can rebound from a disappointing season(s) (Bruce Carter). So basically no one that would look like a difference maker.

So the silence that began the 2016 free agent period will probably continue for a while.