Keep or Cut – Defensive Decisions

B.J. Raji is again a free agent. Does he return to Green Bay?

B.J. Raji is again a free agent. Does he return to Green Bay?

By Jon Meerdink

Following our look at the Packers’ offensive free agents, let’s take a look at some decisions they may look to make on the defensive side of the ball.

Letroy Guion – DT

The Good – Guion remains a monstrous presence along the Packers’ defensive front. When he’s at his best, he can be a disruptive force as both a tackle and end.
The Bad – Was consistent in 2015 than 2014 and missed three games with legal entanglements at the start of the season. Lost out on playing time to the ascending Mike Pennel.
The Verdict – Cut. Guion is a replacement level player who is becoming redundant with the improving play of the aforementioned Pennel. If the decision comes down to a choice between Guion and B.J. Raji, however, Guion could be more affordable.

Casey Hayward – CB
The Good – He’s still a decent cover corner, though he lacks high end speed.
The Bad – Hayward’s knack for creating turnovers has abandoned him following his rookie year. He failed to record an interception this season, the second time in the past three year’s that’s happened. He’s also facing increasing competition from younger players.
The Verdict – Cut. Much like Davon House last year, Hayward doesn’t provide anything special enough to merit keeping him around, especially given the contributions of younger players like Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Micah Hyde can also fill Hayward’s slot corner role just fine.

Mike Neal – DL/LB
The Good – Neal continued in 2015 much as he has over the past couple seasons: serving as the ultimate front line jack-of-all-trades. He plays a little bit of everything and kept up that effort in 2015, earning reps as an outside linebacker, defensive end, and interior rusher in sub packages.
The Bad – Nothing performance-wise factors as much of a negative for Neal. At this point in his career, he is what he is (and that’s much in his favor!) The only bugaboo for Neal is his age, which at 28 (turning 29 in June) puts him on the track for replacement sooner rather than later. Also, he blocked me on Twitter for no reason, and if that’s not bad, I don’t know what is.
The Verdict – Keep. Neal should be an affordable option that provides depth at multiple positions.

Nick Perry – OLB
The Good – The Nick Perry we saw in 2015 was basically the same Nick Perry we’ve seen since he was drafted: a stout, stiff defensive end who’s miscast as an outside linebacker. He flashed occasional burst as a pass rusher (just ask Washington!), was mostly above average against the run, and was generally just a rotation-type pass rusher.
The Bad – I wonder if things ascribed to Perry as “bad” would be thought of as bad if he were a third round pick instead of a first rounder. He’s never been extremely unproductive, just inconsistent. It’s worth wondering if he’s just a poor man’s Mike Neal. He’s not a star, but I don’t know if we’d be expecting him to be one if he wasn’t picked in the first round. Still, he was a first rounder (and taken one pick ahead of Harrison Smith, who would be a terrific leader for the Packers’ young secondary. And no, I will not let that go.)
The Verdict – Keep. He’s not terrible, and he should be affordable enough to justify keeping around as a rotational rusher.

B.J. Raji – NT
The Good – Playing at his more natural nose tackle position, Raji had his best season since 2011. That’s sort of a backhanded compliment, since he was a virtual no-show in 2012 and 2013 and was out all of last season with a biceps tear. Still, he looked livelier than he has lately and was a solid starter.
The Bad – He’s not getting younger, has been injury plagued, and had performed inconsistently over the recent past. He’s also likely to command a higher price than the Packers’ other free agents in the front seven. He still hasn’t recorded a sack since 2011.
The Verdict – Keep, but only at an affordable price. If it comes down to Raji versus Guion, the cheaper option may be the pick.

Sean Richardson – S
The Good – Made a handful of plays in the preseason and early going that showed the Packers’ investment may not be for naught.
The Bad – Reinjured an already suspect neck, shelving him for the season.
The Verdict – Cut. He’s been injured too frequently, and his next neck issue could be tragic. This is probably the end of his NFL career.

Restricted Free Agents 

Andy Mulumba – OLB
The Good – Mulumba gets an “incomplete” grade for his 2015 season. He made the roster again, which is saying something for a guy who’s still very much learning how to play football at a high level. However, his season was cut short again due to injury problems, so the Packers didn’t get much of a look at Mulumba in his third season.
The Bad – He’s one of many linebacker prospects with middling returns. Injuries have slowed his growth, and contributions from players like
The Verdict – Cut. He hasn’t been able to stay on the field, and more polished and productive prospects like Jayrone Elliot merit a longer look.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

Chris Banjo – S
The Good – A core special teams player, Banjo played in all 16 games in 2015. He’s probably never going to be more than a stopgap player on defense, but his special teams acumen is valuable.
The Bad – See the “good” section. There’s no reason to discount Banjo outright, but his position on the roster makes him expendable almost by default.
The Verdict – Keep, for now. He’ll be cheap, which is good, but he’ll have to fight for a roster spot this year.

 

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Keep or Cut – Offensive Decisions

The Packers are facing decisions on James Starks and 17 others in the very near future.

The Packers are facing decisions on James Starks and 17 others in the very near future.

By Jon Meerdink

Decision time looms for the Packers front office on 18 free agents this off-season. 14 of those free agents-to-be are unrestricted, two are restricted, and two have their exclusive rights held by the Packers. Based on this list provided by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, let’s play Keep or Cut with the gentlemen on the offensive side of the ball whose futures with the Packers will be decided in the next few months.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Don Barclay – T
The Good – Barclay remains a versatile backup at two positions along the offensive line. He can still play both guard and tackle, though he’s less effective now than before his ACL tear. At 26, he should still have plenty of football ahead of him.
The Bad – The 4th year man was badly exposed during the Arizona game and struggled during other appearances as well. He seems to be diminished as a player following his knee injury, although that is to be expected.
The Verdict – Cut. The Packers have other ascending linemen with cleaner bills of health.

Mason Crosby – K
The Good – Crosby tied the second best mark of his career in terms of field goal accuracy this year, hitting 24 of 28 attempts. He was one of just a handful of kickers league-wide to convert all of his PAT’s at the new, longer distance.
The Bad – His game winning attempt against Detroit was probably his worst miss ever, judging both by the circumstance and the result.
The Verdict – Keep. Crosby has an elite leg and is one of the NFL’s premier kickers, especially from long distance. He’s converted more than 80 percent of his kicks every year since 2011, barring his 2012 disaster.

Brett Goode – LS
The Good – Was virtually un-noticeable as a long snapper, which is the best possible trait for a long snapper to have.
The Bad – Tore his ACL late in the season, which could put his availability for the start of the 2016 season in jeopardy.
The Verdict – Keep, provided he can recover and be ready for the start of the season. Even if he can’t, injured reserve would be a great option for a long snapper as consistent as Brett Goode.

James Jones – WR
The Good – 
Returned to the Packers during a period of dire need and came up pretty big, leading the team in receiving yards and touchdowns.
The Bad – Jones isn’t getting any younger, and his already suspect speed put the Packers in a bind when they needed a field stretcher to take the top off the defense.
The Verdict – Cut. If breakout performances from Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis in the playoffs didn’t seal it, Jordy Nelson‘s return certainly should. Jones was a rental player from the moment he returned to Lambeau, no matter how great his story may have been.

John Kuhn – FB
The Good – Despite his advancing age, John Kuhn somehow seemed even more valuable to the Packers in 2015. He was involved more on offense down the stretch and earned praise from Aaron Rodgers time and time again.
The Bad – Though his beard is as red as ever, Kuhn isn’t getting any younger and the fullback position isn’t getting any more desirable in the NFL. Ted Thompson didn’t draft Aaron Ripkowski for nothing, and the younger fullback contributes much more on special teams than does Kuhn.
The Verdict – Keep, but only at a bargain price. As much as he adds to the offense, an aging fullback is a luxury, not a necessity.

Andrew Quarless – TE
The Good – Highlights were few and far between for Quarless in 2015. A knee injury kept him on the sidelines for the majority of the season, and when he was on the field he didn’t offer much.
The Bad – See the “good” section. Quarless is a pretty unremarkable player at this point in his career, past performances aside.
The Verdict – Cut. The Packers had a serious lack of production at the tight end position in 2015, and bringing Quarless back won’t help with that.

James Starks – RB
The Good – Starks had a career year in 2015, notching career highs in rushing attempts, rushing yards, receptions, receiving yards, yards per reception, and receiving touchdowns. He also played all sixteen games for the second consecutive season. Though he may never have become a feature back, Starks finally blossomed into the best version of himself that we’ve ever seen.
The Bad – Starks will be 30 next season, and it’s likely he will not duplicate this year’s output. He also fumbled five times, equal to his previous career total.
The Verdict – Keep. 30 year old running backs are affordable, and the Packers know exactly what they have in Starks. He’s in phenomenal shape, he has fewer than 700 career carries, and the Packers have finally found a perfect niche for him.

Scott Tolzien – QB
The Good – Tolzien played his part perfectly in 2015 in that he never appeared on the field in a significant capacity. Good job, Scott!
The Bad – There’s nothing really to say here. Tolzien didn’t do much negatively in 2015.
The Verdict – Keep him, but only at the right price. Tolzien is a backup quarterback, and there’s no sense paying extra for a backup QB if you don’t have to.

Restricted Free Agents

Lane Taylor – G
The Good – Taylor got two spot starts with the Packers during the worst of their offensive line woes, and filled in just fine. He may never be a starter, but he’s not a slouch either. Taylor is a little bit shorter, but about 30 pounds heavier than Don Barclay, and his extra girth could make him a better fit long term.
The Bad – Taylor is likely a career backup and could be replaced with a draft pick or free agent pickup.
The Verdict – Keep. He’s a known commodity and should be available on a low-end restricted free agent tender.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

Justin Perillo – TE
The Good – Perillo finally managed to get some extended play in 2015 after two games on the active roster in 2014. He added some sorely needed athleticism to a tight end corps lacking in any sort of explosive qualities.
The Bad – Production came in fits and starts for Mr. Perillo. He never recorded consecutive games with more than one reception and was held without a catch in four of the nine games in which he appeared.
The Verdict – Keep. He’ll be cheap, the Packers have exclusive rights, and he’s shown enough in his two years on the roster to merit further consideration.

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So What’s the Difference?

Nah, prolly not.

The Cardinals handled the Packers easily in the regular season. Can the Packers rebound?

By Jon Meerdink

Editor’s note: Hi there! Packer Perspective is back. You may have followed our live tweeting of last Sunday’s win over Washington. I can’t say for sure exactly how this will play out in the future, but at the very least, we’re back for now!

It’s easy to compare the 2015 Packers and the 2010 Packers. Both were 10-6. Both were perceived to have underachieved. Both finished second in the NFC North behind relatively strong defenses and relatively inconsistent offenses, at least at times.

The 2010 Packers went on to win the Super Bowl, so the easy assumption is that the 2015 squad will do the same. But will they?

I don’t think so, but I’m becoming less sure that this year’s team is really markedly different from 2010. Speaking broadly, my general consensus about this year’s team is that some of the key contributors are a little on the old side and some of the players who find themselves more on the young side aren’t really pulling their weight.

The initial data wouldn’t necessarily seem to bear that out. The average ages of both the 2010 and 2015 Packers’ starting lineups is almost the same, at just over 27. The average ages of the rosters as a whole is pretty close too: the 2010 team averaged out at just over 26 years old, while the 2015 team is just under that point.

However, the similarities break down when you delve into exactly who did what for both teams. For instance, here’s a look at the average ages of the top five rushers by yardage for both 2010 and 2015:

Rushing

As you can see, the Super Bowl champion Packers relied on a much younger stable of backs than this year’s team. 28.8 isn’t terribly ancient for running backs, but 28 or so is about when runners start to head downhill, and three of the Packers’ five most successful rushers this year are past that point.

Oddly, the Packers have the exact reverse problem when it comes to their pass catchers:

receiving

The Packers’ receivers this year are just over a year and a half younger than their 2010 counterparts, but I bet you’d take the 2010 crop over this year’s group in a heartbeat, right? While younger and presumably springier, the Packers’ receiving corps this year was underwhelming to say the least.

These same two problems hold true for almost every other area on the two teams. Here’s a quick look at the age differences between the leaders for tackles, sacks, and interceptions:

tackles

sacks

interceptions

The 2015 Packers were either younger and less effective or older and less productive than their 2010 counterparts. Even though, as I said earlier, the average ages between the two teams’ starting lineups and overall rosters are about the same, the 2010 Packers really had it where it counts: they got consistency from their young performers (a la James Starks in the playoffs) and they got the solid, leadership-style performances from their older players.

This entire phenomenon leads me to believe that the Packers are far closer to a full teardown and rebuild than we might want to believe.

Logically, the younger players presently on the Packers roster (think about the surprisingly successful and youthful secondary) will need a couple more years of seasoning before they really become team leaders. That ads a couple more years to the Packers core…which is surprisingly long in the tooth.

Julius Peppers, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, and Sam Shields are all 28 years old or older. How many years of contention does that group really have left? Two, if we’re lucky?

My point, in all of this, is that no matter how this weekend’s game goes, bear in mind that we may be seeing the end of an era. The Packers may be ready for a reshuffling, and it’ll be incumbent upon Ted Thompson to give the roster a reworking in the offseason to make the best use of whatever remains of Aaron Rodgers’ prime.

The Pick – Cardinals: 34 Packers: 28

 

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Farewell (For Now)

130504021345903499Now that training camp is nearly three weeks old, you may have been surprised at the lack of content here on Packer Perspective. I’m sorry to report that for reasons beyond my control, we’ve reached the end of our run on the site. At least, for now.

For the foreseeable future, The Packer Perspective will be on indefinite hiatus. I’m very thankful for all of you that have taken the time to read everything we’ve posted over the past three-ish years or so. What started as a project almost entirely intended for my own enjoyment grew to something much more. At our very best, we averaged more than 142 visitors a day. In October 2012, WordPress featured us on the “Freshly Pressed” page on the main WordPress site. We’ve amassed more than 1,100 “likes” on Facebook and just over 1000 followers on Twitter. That’s no small accomplishment in my book.

I say that not to toot my own horn, but to thank you for all that you’ve done for the site. Thank you for reading. Thank you for tolerating  my silly posts. Thanks for commenting, tweeting, and liking everything we’ve put up. I can’t truly express how much I appreciate it.

I can’t guarantee that Packer Perspective will ever return, or if it does, it will be anything like it was over the past few years. What I can tell you is that it’s been an amazing ride, and I’m so thankful for all the people who helped make it special.

Thanks to you for reading, Jordan Huenink for joining the venture as a writer, and for everyone who’s offered advice and feedback since post number one went live. I’ll miss you all.

-Jon

The Story So Far

The four biggest names of the Packers offseason so far could all be out of Green Bay when it's all said and done.

The four biggest names of the Packers offseason so far could all be out of Green Bay when it’s all said and done.

By Jon Meerdink

In the month since the Super Bowl, things have largely been quiet in Green Bay. Sure, there was that whole “we should totally have that Brett Favre ceremony at Lambeau Field” thing, but that wasn’t a story at all outside Wisconsin and was barely a story outside the eastern chunk of the state.

However, plenty of little things have developed over the past month or so, and since we’ve neglected to mention any of them so far, allow me to give you an episodic recap, as well as a few predictions.

1) A.J. Hawk probably should have been gone two years ago, but better late than never.

Everybody knows A.J. Hawk should have been cut years ago, but ever since Desmond Bishop shredded his hamstring, there was never a viable replacement on the roster. This roster move is only sad if you were convinced that Hawk was going to be something he never became and was never going to be. Hawk’s selection as the fifth pick remains a fascinating story to me, but it was time for him to go.

2) A.J., please make sure Brad leaves with you

If A.J. Hawk should have been gone two years ago, Brad Jones should have been gone with him. Ever since Pro Football Focus named him a “Secret Superstar” (an article I refuse to link to any more because I’m not going to give pageviews to a bad prediction unless it’s mine), he’s been an unmitigated disaster. How many plays did he completely screw up this season through silly penalties or missed assignments or airballed tackles? I don’t know, but it feels like it was a lot. This was a long time coming.

3) Maxx Williams is the new Tyler Eifert

Remember two years ago when seemingly every mock draft under the sun had the Packers picking Tyler Eifert? That trend seems to be repeating this year. I’m seeing Williams pop up a lot on mock drafts, which is surprising to me because the Packers have such serious needs at other positions. I know, I know…”best available player.” What determines best, though? Does talent determine what’s best or does need determine what you think is best? Either way, I have a tough time seeing the Packers picking a tight end, but stranger things have happened.

4) Prediction time: the Packers will draft a tackle, and may do so early

I know inside linebacker is probably a greater need, and if Randall Cobb leaves (more on that in a second) wide receiver will be a position of interest too, but don’t sleep on tackle either. Even if Bryan Bulaga returns, are you really comfortable with J.C. Tretter and post-ACL surgery Don Barclay as the top backups to David Bakhtiari and Bulaga? It’s probably not fair to cherry pick one play, but I can’t get the image of Tretter getting toasted by Mario Williams to end the game that could have locked up home field advantage for the Packers. I would not mind at all if Ted Thompson went tackle early.

5) Uncomfortable revelation time: I will be very sad if Randall Cobb leaves

Over the past few days, I’ve been trying to come to terms with the increasingly real possibility that Randall Cobb, perhaps my favorite Packers player, will not be in a Green Bay uniform next season. I understand all the reasons for not keeping him, but I think he’s still an ascending player and would probably be worth money at least comparable to what Jordy Nelson is getting. He’s the most versatile offensive threat that the Packers have had since Ahman Green, a guy who put up numbers that would have won him an MVP but for the fact that Priest Holmes existed. I think the Packers are still learning what he’s capable of being, and it would be shameful to see a 25 year old with such enormous upside leave. He could have five to seven more Pro Bowl-caliber seasons left.

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Super Bowl Email Chain

feature.super.bowl.2015.640x380.2Packer Perspective writers Jon Meerdink and Jordan Huenink traded emails about the Super Bowl this week. Here’s what they talked about. Who’s your pick for the Super Bowl?

Jon: Looking ahead to Sunday’s Super Bowl, I think it’s interesting how the stories of both teams have been similar. Both were highly regarded out of the gate, and for good reason. The Patriots are the Patriots and the Seahawks are the defending champs. But both faced significant questions throughout the year, too. The Patriots went through the whole “is Tom Brady washed up?” episode and the Seahawks had a bit of a midseason swoon. My question is, have both sides answered their questions? If not, what do you see as the issues they’re facing going into the game?

Jordan: There’s no denying that two, solid football teams are playing on Sunday. There’s also no denying that I enjoyed witnessing the early season struggles for each of them as well. Seeing the Patriots lose a few games and panic about the mortality of their QB probably brought joy into the lives of a majority of Americans – not just me. And knowing that the Packers could very well be facing the Seahawks in the post-season made their early-season stumbles that much more meaningful. But throughout the course of the season, both organizations seemed to have righted their respective ships. The Patriots offense has once again become the juggernaut that we know they can be with Brady and Gronk, and the Legion of Boom has found their footing as well.

The only issue I see for Seattle is one that was brought to light against the Packers. If they find themselves playing from behind, they don’t necessarily have the offense to come back. (Unless the other team hands it to them on a silver platter, that is.)  And while the Patriots offense is definitely capable of getting out to a quick lead, they proved against Baltimore that they can come back as well.

Jon: I think I agree that Seattle still has some work to do to prove that they can come back against teams. By all accounts, they had that game lost two weeks ago, if not for the two dozen or so things the Packers somehow managed to screw up.

I am starting to wonder, though, if people might be overlooking the Seahawks a little. I know you can’t really overlook anybody in the Super Bowl, but it seems like popular opinion is beginning to unite behind the Patriots as the favorite. But if anybody can shut down Rob Gronkowski and get to Tom Brady, it has to be these guys, wouldn’t you think?

Jordan: With their dominant performance against the Colts in the AFC Championship, it seems like the Patriots have definitely become the popular choice to raise the Lombardi. This situation seems eerily similar to the week leading up to Super Bowl XLIII when everyone wrote off the Seahawks against one of the best offenses the NFL has ever seen in the Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos. And we all know how that one ended…  After last year, I refuse to write off Seattle against the Brady Brigade, no matter how many points they’ve scored recently.

What aspect of the game are you looking most forward to? I’ll be making a point of watching Gronkowski versus the Seahawks linebackers – a position that they struggled with mightily over the course of the season.

Jon: I’m going to watch Russell Wilson intently. There were a lot of things that surprised me about Wilson in the NFC Championship game. He looked completely confused early, and the Packers managed to get pressure on him in a big way, making him look skittish in the pocket and shaky on his reads. We both know that Seattle’s offensive line is a liability. Can New England do the same? If anybody can scheme something up, it’s Bill Belichick.

Jordan: I have no reason to believe the Patriots aren’t going to attempt to attack Seattle how the Packers did in the first half of their game. I found it hard to believe how rattled Wilson looked over the course of 98% of that game. I mean, he only had seven interceptions all season, and then the Packers pick him off four times in ONE GAME? I bet you Revis is licking his chops.

It ceases to amaze me how Belichick can transform and mold his offensive schemes to fit the weaknesses in opposing defenses. In Week 11 against the Colts, they ran the ball 40 times for 250 yards and four touchdowns, and in the AFC Divisional playoff game against the Ravens, they only ran the ball seven times all game while Brady had 50 pass attempts. (You can see why owning Patriots players in fantasy football is frustrating!) I’m starting to find it harder to pick against the Patriots on Sunday

Jon: So who’s your pick? Blowout or close game?
Jordan: I’m definitely going with the Patriots, but the score is something harder to decide on. I’ll say Patriots 28, Seahawks 24. I can’t imagine it’s going to be a blowout. How about you?

Jon: 

I really want to pick the Patriots, but the more I think about it, the harder and harder time I have believing that the Seahawks can have two stinkers in a row. As I said earlier, we all know they were lucky to get out of the NFC Championship game alive, but the Seahawks haven’t had to rely on luck all that much recently. I think If they withstand New England’s early charge, they’ll come out on top. I’ve got Seahawks 30, Patriots 24.

The NFL Draft – Meeting Our Needs

"The

The Packers drafted safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with their first pick last year (21st overall).

 

by Jordan Huenink

Even though I’m still finding myself having conversations with co-workers about ‘the game,’ I think I’m finally coming around to accept the reality that the Packers season is over. Of course I plan on watching Sunday’s game, but I don’t plan on enjoying one second of it. Not even the commercials. Or the Puppy Bowl. Or the food. Okay, maybe the food.

But since the post-season is over, we now officially find ourselves in the off-season, a time where teams mold and shape their teams to give them a better shot at making a run to the Super Bowl next season. Their first shot at improvement is Free Agency, which Jon covered yesterday. After that comes the NFL Draft.

I’ve scoped out a few of the major sports sites and compiled a list of positions that they think the Packers need to address at the draft.

NFL.com
– Inside Linebacker
– Defensive Lineman
– Tight End

Inside linebacker was a position of need going into the 2014 season, but was not addressed by the front office. This weakness shined brightest in the play of A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones this past season. With B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion listed as free agents this year, the Packers could find themselves with a hole or two on the d-line. Richard Rodgers showed great improvement over the course of 2014, and I’m personally not ready to write him off. I think the Packers have other positions to address than tight end.

FoxSports.com
– Cornerback

This article was written days after Matt Ryan and Julio Jones carved up the Packers secondary on Monday Night Football. If the Packers choose not to or are unable to resign Tramon Williams and Davon House, they will find themselves thin at the cornerback position. Even if they resign Williams, he will only have one or two decent years left in him. Might not be a bad idea to invites in a young CB.

Bleacher Report
– Inside Linebacker

The article labels Hawk as a fan favorite, but a player that has become a hindrance on the field at times due to his lack of speed. They rightfully seem high on Jamari Lattimore, but feel a new face will be brought in on Draft Day to add speed to the linebacking corps.

WalterFootball.com
– Inside Linebacker
– Cornerback
– Nose Tackle
– Rushing Linebacker
– Wide Receiver

This site uses some of the same reasons for needing ILB, CB and DL. They also realize that although Julius Peppers had a fantastic 2014, he won’t be around for very long. The Packers will need another linebacker able to rush the quarterback opposite Clay Matthews. They also mention a need at WR, but it seems like more of a need to sign Randall Cobb than find one in the draft.

Inside linebacker was the position that immediately came to mind before I started writing this post. If I have to sit through another game where Brad Jones draws a flag that extends the opponents’ drive and results in points, I may hate the number 59 for the rest of my life. I don’t mind A.J. Hawk one bit – I’m actually a Hawk jersey owner – but he either needs to stop pulling a piano around every time he chases a quarterback or he needs to thank the Packers for drafting him when he finds himself in a different team’s jersey.

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Ranking the Free Agents-to-Be

Two of these three men are important free agency targets. The third is Jamari Lattimore.

Two of these three men are important free agency targets. The third is Jamari Lattimore.

By Jon Meerdink

Of the 13 potential free agents we previewed before last season even began, only 11 remain. Derek Sherrod and Ryan Taylor have been involuntarily moved on to greener pastures. Well, I really can’t speak to the color of the grass where Sherrod and Taylor are, but assuming there is grass, I hope it’s green.

Anyhow, there are just 11 remaining free agents, and you could make a compelling case for keeping most of them around, if not all of them. Some need to be prioritized, so let’s take a look at each of them, tiered for your convenience.

Tier 1 – Big Bucks, But Worth It?

Randall Cobb – He’s no doubt the cream of the Packers free agent crop, and as such, he’s going to be expensive. I tried to handicap the market for cobb before the season, but the numbers may have close to doubled since then. I’d be inclined to pay him almost whatever he’d ask. Cobb has such terrific chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. His loss would be a tremendous blow to the Packers’ offense.

Bryan Bulaga – The former first round pick finally seems to have shaken the injury bug that’s bothered him the last couple seasons, but he always seems like he’s one bad step away from missing another game or two. Still, this year’s offensive line was by far the best in recent memory, and Bulaga’s steady play was a big reason for that. He was Pro Football Focus’s fifth ranked right tackle this season, and Fox Sports’ Paul Imig provides a good estimate as to what he could be worth.

Tier 2 – The Twins

B.J. Raji/Letroy Guion – The first pair of teammates hitting the free agent market is an interesting case, and one where I don’t think the Packers have a downside. The Packers could keep both, either, or neither and make a good case for any one of them. B.J. Raji was primed for a “prove it” year before he was sidelined with a torn bicep, and Guion, on a one year contract, was in a similar situation. Guion had a career year, but his career year wasn’t elite by any stretch of the imagination. I think it’s likely that Raji returns on a deal averaging slightly less than he’d have been paid this year and Guion gets slightly less than that.

Tramon Williams/Davon House Here’s a good case for “older but limited” vs. “potential but injured.” We know exactly what Tramon Williams is at this point in his career: a decent cover corner who will make between two and seven completely inexplicable bad plays a year, like the dunderheaded tackling job on Dallas’ short pass that turned into a touchdown in the divisional round. And while his plays are bad, it’s fair to point out that cornerbacks, at least when we watch on TV, usually go unnoticed, so perhaps it’s just that his plays look worse than others. What’s all that worth, especially with Williams on the wrong side of 30? Hard to say, but I think the Packers look to bring back House first, if only because he’s younger. Injury concerns, though, would seem to drive down House’s value.

Matt Flynn/Scott Tolzien – Color me unimpressed by either Packers back-up. The Flynn mythos is well established, although crossing your fingers that he’ll put together yet another lightning in a bottle game seems like a wish and not a plan. Tolzien has the tools, but questions constantly abound about the way he throws the ball. Tom Silverstein covered the topic at some length in November, and the concerns go back even farther than that, at least five years from what some cursory Googling reveals. At this point, I’m fine with keeping one or neither, and it’s probably a safe bet that at least one of them will be around at least through training camp next year.

Tier 3 – Spare Parts

John Kuhn – The annual Kuhn debate returns with the same talking points, only a year older! He’s still a fullback, still a pal with Aaron Rodgers, and still probably valuable in some capacity as a lead blocker, not that it made any difference down near the goal line during a recent game whose outcome I can’t remember.

Jarrett Bush – The annual Bush debate returns with the same tal…oh sorry. Anyhow, Jarrett Bush. He does special teams better than most other guys but nothing else, aside from destroying tight ends named Tony Gonzalez and occasionally Jason Witten. If Demetri Goodson figures things out, Bush is gone.

Jamari Lattimore – Here’s a fact that you may have forgotten: Jamari Lattimore started not one but SEVERAL games for the Packers this year. The fact that I can’t remember one thing that he did, good or bad, doesn’t seem to bode well for a guy who started five games.

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Wasted

There was a game that happened here. I'm not sure exactly what happeend.

There was a game that happened here. I’m not sure exactly what happeend.

By Jon Meerdink

I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the final quarter and a half of Sunday’s meltdown. I had to turn off the TV just as the Packers kicked a field goal to make the game 19-7 just past the midway point of the third quarter and return to church for volunteering purposes. Needless to say, the worst of my fears was realized: I watched the Packers slowly lose the lead and succumb to one of the greatest postseason collapses in history.

I have no plans to watch that final quarter and a half, as it would probably just make me feel worse about the game than I already do. And while the bad feelings are mitigated in large part by the news of the untimely passing of Mike McCarthy’s brother, I’m still left with the impression that the Packers wasted one of the best opportunities they may ever have to score another title during the Aaron Rodgers era.

As I detailed before the game, opportunities to truly contend are limited. For all we know, this could have been the Packers last, best shot to grab another championship before Rodgers rides off into the sunset. Whether they could have beaten the Patriots again, we’ll never know. We’ll always have to wonder what could have been.

This game reminds me very much of another road playoff collapse: the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on January 11, 2004, better known as the 4th-and-26 game. You know the story. I remember exactly where I was sitting in the basement of my family’s house on North Main Street in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin when the game ended. I remember Brett Favre gifting an interception to Brian Dawkins in overtime. I remember seething as the game ended. And most of all, I remember a guy from my parents’ church group saying “well, that’s a bummer,” and then leaving the basement, like he didn’t have a care in the world.

That irritated the 15 year old version of me very much, but in hindsight I wonder if he had a point. He’d watched the same on-field disintegration that I had, but it didn’t bother him. He’d probably barely think about it on his drive home, because he’d properly compartmentalized that part of his life. He was much better adjusted than I was. I could spin it as saying that he wasn’t as much of a fan, and that may be true, but it’s probably equally likely that he was just a better fan than me.

So yes, the Packers may have wasted an incredible opportunity on Sunday, the fact remains that the clock is slowly ticking towards another football Sunday. We won’t see the Packers compete in a game that matters again until September, and even when we do, it won’t be the team that we invested in this season. And that’s okay. We’ll still watch. We’ll still enjoy the games. We’ll still have fun with our friends and families as we see a new version of the Packers grow and develop and succeed. All that will happen again next year, just as it did this year. And no matter the outcome, none of it will be wasted if we remember the game’s proper place.

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Another Shot – NFC Championship Preview

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Julius Peppers nows moments like these are rare. Appreciate them when they come along.” width=”436″ height=”287″ /> Julius Peppers knows moments like these are rare. Appreciate them when they come along.

By Jon Meerdink

Football is a rare commodity. You’re guaranteed sixteen games a year and no more. As Packers fans, we’re already well into bonus coverage. Our team gets another shot this weekend, and we get another chance to see them play.

The Packers have now made the playoffs in six consecutive seasons. Six years in a row, our favorite team has had a shot at the ultimate goal. If that’s not remarkable enough, think back a generation to the beginning of the Brett Favre Era in Green Bay. How many shots did the Packers have then? How many times did the season extend beyond Week 17?

It’s been a long run of success in Green Bay, and that run got a little longer this year. But this is far from ordinary. The Packers have had two consecutive Hall of Fame quarterbacks under center, and more than enough good fortune to put excellent players around them. What we’ve seen over the last two decades and change is extraordinarily rare.

But think deeper about those years. The Packers have won two Super Bowls, been to three, and gotten to the conference championship two more times, only to fall short. In those more than two decades of success that’s five times the Packers have had a shot at either winning or going to a Super Bowl. This Sunday makes number six. Even with Hall of Fame quarterbacks, chances at winning it all don’t come along all that often.

Few people on the Packers know that better than Julius Peppers. He’s had all the individual success in the world, but a ring eludes him. In a news conference this week, Peppers talked about what it’s like to come up short time and time again.

“All of those were close calls,” he said. “I always thought I’d be back the following year, and it never happened. It makes you realize that you have to take advantage of the moment when you have it.”

Peppers has another moment on Sunday, and so do we. The odds are steep, and the Packers will need more than a few breaks to fall their way to come out on top. But they have a shot, and that’s the most important thing.

Football is a rare commodity indeed, and opportunities to watch your team succeed at the highest level are even more rare. Appreciate this Sunday. Enjoy the ride, no matter what the outcome. We never know when this chance could come back again.

The Pick – Packers: 31 Seahawks: 30

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