Five Options for the Packers at 1-29

With the NFL Draft tomorrow

Reach – Hassan Reddick – EDGE rusher

Reddick is my favorite pick of anyone I’ve seen mocked to the Packers. And because of that, he surely won’t be available at pick 29. Reddick is one of this year’s fastest rising prospects. He projects as an outside linebacker who can also move inside and drop back into coverage when needed. He’s one of the more explosive athletes at his position, AND one of the most versatile. Reddick played defensive back in high school, and according to Pro Football Focus, Reddick dropped into coverage on 14.2 percent of plays. Oh, and he posted the longest broad jump by a defensive lineman since 2003, the fourth fastest 40 time by a D-lineman in the last 10 years. He’s an elite athlete.

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Hassan Reddick’s NFL Combine spider chart courtesy of mockdraftable.com

When we look at his mockdraftable.com spider chart and pro comparisons, some impressive names come up. Bobby Wagner, DeMeco Ryans, Lawrence Timmons, and Ryan Shazier are all matches for Reddick’s athleticism. If the Packers could get a Wagner or Timmons at the end of the first round, I’d take it.

Again, Reddick has reportedly skyrocketed up lots of teams draft boards and likely won’t be there for the Packers, but this is my reach pick after all.

Stop the Drop – Reuben Foster – ILB

Foster is moving the other direction on teams’ draft boards. While Reddick rises and could potentially be taken as high as the top 15, The Ringer’s Mike Lombardi claimed on Twitter that Foster would be available in the second round. That’s a drastic drop for a player once considered a top-10 pick.

If that’s true that many teams will be passing on Foster, the Packers should strongly consider drafting the middle linebacker. Green Bay hasn’t had a reliable middle since AJ Hawk and Nick Barnett patrolled sideline to sideline. GM Ted Thompson has tried to patch together an inside presence with Day 3 draft picks and undrafted free agents in recent years, but Foster could be the talented piece in the middle the Packers have been missing.

Foster’s NFL.com draft profile includes the phrase “Brings swagger to a linebacking corps.” Foster is a big hitter and someone offensive weapons will be aware of at all times when coming over the middle. That’s a difference maker the Packers could buy into when his stock is at its lowest.

One of a Kind – Kevin King – Cornerback

Bill Belichick is known for liking tall cornerbacks. Bill Belichick is known for loving the 3-cone drill. Kevin King is in the 98th percentile for height among cornerbacks. Kevin King is in the 96th percentile in the 3-cone drill among cornerbacks. I think Bill Belichick would like Kevin King, and players Bill Belichick likes usually turn out to be very good.

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Kevin King’s NFL Combine spider chart courtesy of mockdraftable.com

Unfortunately, King is another player who could be off the board by the time the Packers get to picking. But, considering it’s a very strong cornerback class, it only takes one or two corner-seeking teams to have a different player higher on their board for King to slip a few picks.

I think King is the real deal and would be a great get at the end of the first round.

Grab an Athlete – Jabrill Peppers – Safety/Linebacker/Whatever You Want

I won’t be including Peppers’ spider chart for the same reason I think he’ll make a great NFL player. He’s too versatile. Mockdraftable.com gives the option to compare Peppers to “linebackers” or “athletes”. At linebacker, Peppers is obviously WAY smaller and weaker than most others, and it’s a similar situation at athlete. At the same time, he’s in the 98th and 95th percentile of LBs in the 40 and broad jump.

In today’s NFL, versatility is the new king. With so many specialized packages and formations, being able to stay on the field despite the situation is an incredible asset. And Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to shift around and experiment with players at different positions. Clay Matthews inside? Morgan Burnett at linebacker? Remember the Psycho formation a few years back when there were like 6 linebackers all standing at the line and B.J. Raji was the only lineman? Peppers would thrive here.

I’d see Peppers playing mostly in rotation with Morgan Burnett at safety and the other moving into a sort of linebacker/nickel corner hybrid player. It’s always a good thing to get another elite athlete on the field. Add the ability to return punts and we’ve got a winner.

Bore Everyone but Make Probably the Right Move – Trade Down

This is what I think will happen Thursday night. Packers fans will wait for three hours while the draft draaaaaaaags on and on, only to learn their team won’t be selecting anyone that evening and they’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Lots of mock drafts have those enticing quarterbacks still on the board near the end of the first round. Guys like DeShone Kizer, Patrick Mahomes, and Davis Webb are all mocked into that late first/early second area. Both the Steelers and Saints have been rumored to be looking to groom backup quarterbacks and they’re picking just one and three spots respectively behind the Packers.

So if Cleveland, San Francisco, Jacksonville, San Diego, or another quarterback-hungry team pass on a passer with their first pick, they may want to jump some teams to grab their guy at the end of the first. As well, they’ll get the benefit of the fifth-year option on their future star that wouldn’t be available if taken in the second round.

It just makes too much sense to me that someone a few picks behind Green Bay would get too anxious and want to move up. Even if it’s not a quarterback, somebody will want to move back into the first to grab a player they’ve fallen in love with, and Thompson will be all too happy to oblige.

Evaluating the Packers Offseason Moves (So Far) Part III

In the third and final edition of this blog post grading the Green Bay Packers moves this offseason, I’ll take a look at free agents the Packers have signed from other teams. In part one, we discussed the free agents from last year’s team that won’t be returning to the squad in 2017 and part two chronicles the players that will be returning.

The Packers seem more active on the open market than in recent years, signing multiple veterans from other teams that will attempt to contribute immediately in 2017, as well as a familiar face and some young players looking to prove themselves.

Martellus Bennett – The “big splash” of Green Bay’s offseason has been the decision to swap out Jared Cook for Bennett. The move immediately drew comparisons to Packers GM Ted Thompson’s two most famous offseason additions – Charles Woodson in 2006 and Julius Peppers in 2014. While Peppers was older when he joined the Packers, Woodson and Bennett both joined the Packers in their age-30 seasons. Bennett is perhaps less agile than Cook in space, but he uses his bigger body (he’s three inches taller and 13 pounds heavier according to Pro Football Reference) more effectively and is a substantially better run-blocker. Bennett has potential to be a top-three tight end in this offense and is a major upgrade for this team. On his 3-year, $21 million contract (only $6.3 million guaranteed), this is a great move. A

Ego Ferguson – The most recent addition to the 90-man roster, Ferguson’s $980,892 contract will count against the Packers’ cap space only if he makes the 53-man roster. Failed his physical. n/a

Derek Hart – A long-snapper. I don’t really see the point of this one, as Brett Goode has been nothing but reliable. Maybe they’ll still bring Goode Back and Hart is just competition. I’m not going to spend too much time evaluating the long-snapper competition. D

Davon House – A familiar name! After leaving for big Jaguars money two seasons ago, House returns to Green Bay and will be a key contributor to a young secondary that lacked consistency last season. House was an excellent press corner in his previous stint with the Packers and first year with the Jaguars, but struggled in a zone coverage system last season. A Packers draft pick returning to the club on a cheap contract – just $850,000 of his $2.8 million dollar deal is guaranteed – is possibly the most Thompsonian transaction there is. B

Ricky Jean-Francois – I love this move. Jean-Francois seems like the kind of player that will provide consistent, if unspectacular play. And on the cheap as well! The Packers interior D-line now looks like one of the teams great strengths: Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Letroy Guion after his 3-game suspension, Dean Lowry, Ricky Jean-Francois, and Christian Ringo. That’s an All-Pro level player with four other solid contributors rotating in and out. I like this very much. B+

Lance Kendricks – The Packers now have an elite TE1 (Bennett), an league average TE2 (Kendricks), and an elite third-stringer in Richard Rodgers. After Jared Cook showed what an athletic tight end could do for this offense last season, the team reallocated a large sum to the position. B

Justin McCray – McCray won’t likely fill in for departed Pro Bowler TJ Lang at right guard, but he’s a solid camp body. CONSPIRACY: The Packers signed McCray’s twin brother Jordan in 2014 and acquired Lerentee McCray (no relation, to my knowledge) last offseason. Does Ted Thompson believe a McCray is necessary to the team’s success? In 2015 a McCray-less Packers didn’t win the NFC North. There are no McCray’s in the 2017 NFL Draft, so Thompson decided to find one through other means. C-*

*If conspiracy theory is correct, it’s an A+

With the 2017 NFL Draft beginning next week, the Packers still have clear holes on their roster, but have shored up plenty of areas of concern going into the offseason – notably the tight end position and defensive line depth. Remaining areas to address include cornerback, EDGE rusher, and guard as well as some others. Hopefully, I’ll be able to provide some draft coverage before Thursday.

Evaluating the Packers Offseason Moves (So Far), Part II

Last week, we took a look at the players the Green Bay Packers didn’t re-sign from expiring contracts. Now we’ll take a look at many of the notable names they did choose to bring back.

Geronimo Allison – Allison came on strong at the end of the season. Over his final five games, including playoffs, he brought in 13 receptions on 21 targets for 222 yards and a score. That’s great production from an undrafted rookie and the talented Allison will look to take a step forward in his second year with the team. A-

Don Barclay – I don’t get it, man. For a while I’ve considered Barclay the weakest link in the Packers’ rotation of lineman. He can (and has) played every position on the line, but just not very well. I’d rather let Barclay go and let second-year tackles Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy back up the line, while bringing in another young guy (perhaps in the draft) to see what he’s got. Barclay will never be more than a below-average offensive lineman. Maybe he’s a locker room guy. D

Jayrone Elliott – In contrast to how I’ve always felt about Barclay, I’ve always like Elliot. He seems to have a few big plays in him as a rotational piece on the D-line, though he can disappear at times. Thompson made a savvy move in not tendering the defensive end, then bringing him in on a 1-year deal worth less than the lowest tender. B-

Don Jackson – I guess it’s always good to have running back bodies… Jackson was not impressive in his very few snaps before getting injured, but he knows the offense after spending time on the practice squad and will fight for a roster spot in the preseason. C

Joe Kerridge – While many teams don’t even keep one fullback on the roster, the Packers kept two last year. Kerridge is more of a special teams player than an actual backup fullback behind Aaron Ripkowski. That alone gave the Packers a reason to bring him back on a veteran’s minimum deal. C+

Christine Michael – Michael makes more sense to me than Jackson. He’ll count for only $640,000 against the Packers’ salary cap and is a proven commodity, kind of. He’s clearly talented and plays with a lot of enthusiasm. He hits the hole hard, but almost too hard. The anti-Le’veon Bell, Michael will hopefully develop some patience during the offseason and will likely earn a roster spot as the Packers’ number two or three back depending on how/if they address the position in the draft. B

Nick Perry – The shiniest piece of the Packers’ free agent class is returning to Green Bay. Perry led the team in sacks and finished the season tied for eighth in the NFL in that category. Perry earned a 5-year, $60 million payday and will continue to be the team’s main source of pressure on the defensive front. With Clay Matthews getting older, and potentially moving inside, it was important for the team to lock up their only proven, productive pass rusher (aside from an ancient Julius Peppers). A

Christian Ringo – Ringo was drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft and hasn’t really gotten a chance to show off yet. He’s a pass rush specialist, which is extremely valuable in today’s NFL, but it’s concerning that that hasn’t gotten him on the field in the two year’s he’s been with the club. Perhaps the third year will be the charm, but even if not, he’s cheap enough to warrant the opportunity. C

Jacob Schum – I liked Schum, but maybe it’s just because I had such a sour taste in my mouth from Tim Masthay. Schum doesn’t have the biggest leg by any means, yet he still averaged within a yard of Masthay’s 2015 season average. I think he’s more consistent and can pin teams back with smart, accurate directional punting. B-

Joe Thomas – Thomas was a solid coverage linebacker who developed into a decent ILB option for the Packers. While I don’t think Thomas is the long-term stalwart fans have been waiting for for years, I do think he’s a very solid rotational piece that is a steal at $615,000 this year. B+

Jordan Tripp – Tripp joined the team midseason in 2016 and appeared in just two games without recording a tackle. It’s hard to hate the move to bring him back when we really don’t know if he’s any good in the Packers’ system. C-

It’s also worth mentioning that the Packers have yet to make a move on RB John Crockett or LS Brett Goode. Both remain unrestricted free agents as of publishing. Crockett was an Exclusive Rights Free Agent that Green Bay chose not to tender and Green Bay has brought in two other long snappers via free agency, so perhaps Goode’s time in green and gold has passed.

I like most of the moves Thompson and the Packers’ organization have made in regards to returning players. It’s easier to get excited about who’s coming back than who’s moved on and I agree for the most part with the offseason plan.

Evaluating Packers Free Agency Moves (So Far)

I usually agree with most moves Ted Thompson makes, and even if I disagree, I think he’s earned enough of the benefit of the doubt to let a controversial roster move play out before passing judgment.

Since free agency opened three weeks ago, there have been more than a few moves that Packers fans have argued back and forth over, however, most of them make sense when viewed in the context of the entire offseason plan.

And remember, there’s still the NFL Draft next month. Maybe the Packers surprise everyone and take a guard in the first round, and he turns out to be a quick fix. Nobody really KNOWS these things.

But that’s no fun. Let’s prematurely grade these moves.

Let Go

Jared Cook – I’d be willing to bet about 90% of Packers fans would have been upset over not bringing back Jared Cook if Martellus Bennett wasn’t brought in. What would have been a huge loss for the offense turned into an upgrade in talent and depth with the further addition of Lance Kendricks. B+

Micah Hyde – Hyde got WAY more money than I thought he would. Seen mostly as a utility defensive back in Green Bay, Hyde is clearly a major piece in Buffalo’s long-term plan after getting a 5-year $30.5 million contract ($14 million guaranteed). Thompson’s hands were tied, as he couldn’t match the price. The Packers’ secondary woes were on the outside, where Hyde isn’t as helpful, making his departure less problematic. B-

Datone Jones – Jones has underperformed and I was on the fence about whether he deserved a second contract. There were rumors of a “prove it” deal similar to what Nick Perry got, but Perry has always shown more signs of production than Jones. It’s hard to admit when you’ve missed on a first-round draft pick, but Thompson had to do just that. I won’t miss him. B

TJ Lang – A fan favorite who was a vocal leader in the locker room and a Pro-Bowl guard. Not re-signing him was strictly a money issue, and after seeing how much money Lang received from his hometown Lions ($9.5 million Average Annual Value), I’m not surprised Thompson decided to move on from the 30-year old. The Packers had a clear replacement plan for releasing Josh Sitton last season, but Lang’s replacement is now the biggest offensive question mark going into the 2017 season. C-

Eddie Lacy – I was on the record saying I wanted Lacy back. A two-headed rushing attack of Ty Montgomery and Eddie Lacy makes my mouth water. Let Montgomery’s agility and bowling-ball body tire out a defense that ALSO has to chase around elite receiving weapons before bringing in Lacy’s fresh and MUCH bigger bowling-ball body to pound them into the dirt. New England has done this with LeGarrette Blount to great success in recent years. It really sucks that he signed with Seattle and will probably run for 160 yards against the Packers in the Divisional Round next season. Now the Packers will likely need to draft a running back. HE WASN’T THAT EXPENSIVE, TED. D-

Julius Peppers – This was the right move. Peppers likely won’t be worth the $3.5 million dollars he’s could make this year ($1.65 million guaranteed), but it’s worth it to the Panthers to bring him home and let him finish his career where he started it. Not getting Peppers a Super Bowl is a regret Packers fans will feel for awhile. A

JC Tretter – Tretter, like seemingly every offensive lineman, got a lot more than initially expected. The center proved at the beginning of the season that he is starter-quality, but further proved he is injury-prone. The Packers have another player on the roster who also somewhat falls into those categories in Corey Linsley, but he’s still on his rookie contract. Tretter will make good money on a great offensive line in Cleveland. It would have been nice to keep Tretter and let Linsley and him battle for the starting center spot, shifting the other one to right guard to replace Lang. But, alas, the guard spot remains open. C+

There are a lot of quality players moving on from the organization this offseason – definitely more than usual. But, the Packers will likely take an EDGE rusher and a running back early in the draft, they already replaced the tight end, and Davon House will likely play a role similar Micah Hyde’s last season. The right guard spot is the only major question that evolved out of who the Packers didn’t bring back this season.

Packers Free Agents: Who’s Back? Part II

This is Part II of my assessment of the Packers’ expiring contracts. For Part I, see this link

With the offensive side of the ball taken care of, it’s time to turn to the much-maligned defensive group. As a unit, it was far inferior to the offense, but that is to be expected when Aaron Rodgers is on your team. Still, it would be incorrect to say the defense wasn’t a disappointment this season, particularly the secondary.

The highlight was probably the first four weeks when the run defense didn’t allow more than 50 yards to any team. However, the 191 allowed to the Cowboys in Week 5 somewhat soured that achievement. The cornerback position was devastated by injury at a rate Packers fans haven’t seen since, well, the running back position this year. After the team released cornerback Sam Shields last week, the rest of the position remains under contract going into 2017.

Let’s take a look at all the impending defensive free agents.

Defense

Datone Jones, Christian Ringo (ERFA), Jayrone Elliot (RFA), Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Joe Thomas (ERFA), Jordan Tripp (RFA), Micah Hyde

With fewer important free agents on this side of the ball, is it possible GM Ted Thompson looks to free agency to shore up a weak spot in the lineup? The last big name he signed was Peppers, who he’ll have another decision on this year. The biggest name of the list is Perry who had a monster year and led the team in sacks. After a disappointing career up until this point though, how much faith does Thompson have in the former first-round pick?

Exclusive Rights and Restricted Free Agents

It feels like Joe Thomas has been around the organization for a lot longer than two years, and that’s because he’s been on the field a lot more often than you’d expect an undrafted free agent. He started as just a dime package linebacker, but eventually beat out Blake Martinez for a starting spot before Martinez’ injury. I fully expect the Packers to tender an offer to Thomas – it’s one of the easier decisions of the offseason.

Ringo could also be tendered as he’s still very young, but he hasn’t gotten on the field enough and has been beaten out consistently over the past two seasons. I wouldn’t be surprised if Green Bay wants another look, but I wouldn’t be sad to see him leave.

Tripp may come back as a contributor on special teams, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the organization let go of someone brought in so late in the season.

Elliot is a player I would like to see return. He doesn’t get a ton of attention on the team, but it seems like he’s good for depth on that defense. He affects the game quite often for someone who’s not regularly on the field. Because of the small-ish investment (~$1.67 million) an original round tender would require, I’d quite expect the Packers to bring him back.

Nick Perry

Perry will be expensive. Quality edge rushers usually are. The problem with Perry is that this was the first year that he’s actually been productive since he was drafted in 2011. Perry played in 46 games over his first four seasons in the league and recorded just 12.5 sacks. He nearly matched that number in 14 games this season when he took down the quarterback 11 times to lead the team. In the NFL, you don’t pay for past performances, good or bad, but for what the player will accomplish over the length of the deal you’re offering. Perry was disappointing enough on his rookie deal for the Packers to not pick up his team option, but still promising enough to bring back on a 1-year “prove-it” deal. Perry proved what he’s capable of, but has also shown he can disappear.

Someone will offer Perry a big contract if the Packers don’t pursue him, and I don’t think he would be willing to return to Green Bay for a significant discount. That happens more often with veterans who have already gotten a big contract earlier in their career. Perry hasn’t made a ton of money yet and this could be his only opportunity to cash in big time – the NFL is cruel. If the Packers want him back, they’ll have to pay.

Edge rushers are some of the most valuable players in the league and are paid as such. I think Perry will want more than $40 million over five years… at least. Perhaps he’ll take a small discount and stay around that $8 million/year range and I think the Packers would be comfortable paying that – they have a lot of cap room this offseason. But if Perry decides to test the market, there’s always teams like the Jaguars who overpay for free agents and can inflate value.

I hope to see Perry back next year, and I think we will. The Packers don’t have a lot of talent on defense and it would be irresponsible to let one of their best players on that side of the ball walk.

Julius Peppers

Peppers is another interesting case. He’s 37, a legend who has stayed productive throughout his career. He was drafted in 2002(!!!!) and, as Robert Mays of The Ringer pointed out earlier this season, has at least 7 sacks in 14 different seasons.

But, he IS 37 and didn’t play nearly as many snaps as he has usually played. I have no doubt that Peppers can still be productive on the field, but I do have doubt for how many times he can get on the field.

It would be great to have Peppers return and perhaps finish his storied career in Green Bay, but I don’t see that happening. He was a good three year investment for Thompson, but perhaps it’s only right if he retires a Panther.

Micah Hyde

Hyde is a rare playmaker in the Packers secondary. Normally a safety, he was forced to play nickel corner quite a bit this year with all the injuries at that position. And he played it quite well! One of the plays of the season was Hyde’s anticipated interception of Dak Prescott in the Divisional Round. Hyde really came around in the second half of the year and earned himself some more money as a versatile defensive back and return man.

I’ve seen some reporting that claim it will take about $5 million/year to sign Hyde, but I don’t think he’ll cost that much. He’s only started 33 of 63 career games, and many of those are due to injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s a great, great player for mixing it up with different looks and depth purposes, but he’s not an every down starter. I would be happy with a 3-year deal at around $10 million, and I think Hyde would be too.

Datone Jones

Jones was drafted the year after Perry and has provided a similarly disappointing return on that first round investment. He moved to the “elephant” position and replaced Peppers while he was off the field, but was underwhelming. He played over 53% of defensive snaps this season, but how many times can you remember him making an impact play? My guess is not many. He has a tendency to disappear. It’s difficult to give up on a first round draft pick, especially for Ted Thompson apparently, and especially-er when the first rounder from the previous draft just leapt forward last year. Maybe a similar “prove-it” deal that Perry got last season is in order for Jones.

Packers Free Agents: Who’s Back?

Now that we’ve reached the first football-less Sunday of 2017 (I guess the Pro Bowl counts), it’s time to take a look at who the Packers should bring back for next year and who they should let walk and hit the open market. GM Ted Thompson is famous for bringing back his own drafted players on second and third contracts, but probably equally famous for not overpaying when a player’s value on the market exceeds his value on the field.

With 20 players set to hit free agency on March 9th, the first day of the 2017 season and when free agency begins, it’s a good thing Thompson has more or less $43 million in cap space to work with. Not everyone will return next year, but not everyone should.

Let’s take a look.

Offense

Eddie Lacy, Christine Michael, Don Jackson (ERFA), John Crockett (ERFA), Joe Kerridge (ERFA), Geronimo Allison (ERFA), Jared Cook, TJ Lang, JC Tretter, Don Barclay

The two biggest names here are Lacy and Lang, though there are good reasons for letting both of them walk, despite their name-recognition. After that, there’s a slew of supporting-role players that certainly helped the offense, but aren’t vital to it.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

First of all, there are four Exclusive Rights Free Agents on offense in Jackson, Crockett, Kerridge, and Allison. This means if the Packers want to keep any of these players, they can offer them a minimum tender, very roughly around $500,000 depending on a player’s experience.

The Packers will definitely give this to Allison as he showed a lot of promise late last year. As for Jackson, Crockett, and Kerridge, I’d give Crockett the best chance at returning next year, though Kerridge could justify a tender offer due to special teams play.

Eddie Lacy

Lacy played in just six games this season after a tough showing in 2015, but he looked really good doing it. He averaged over five yards per carry for the first time in his career. He looked like he had more stamina and agility than the year before, likely thanks to his well-publicized offseason training program.

Lacy’s injury set in motion a revolving door at the running back position as each successive back the Packers tried out either also got injured or failed to produce. Finally, Ty Montgomery, who was originally a wide receiver if you hadn’t heard, proved capable and more.

Many will call for Lacy to be let loose due to his injury history and weight issues, but a two-headed monster of Lacy and Montgomery is a productive backfield. Look at how New England uses LeGarrette Blount. They let their other backs wear down the defense for two-and-a-half quarters and then bring in their big bruiser to lay the finishing blow. Lacy is a very good back, and using him like this will keep him better-rested, healthier, and more effective. It may take a 3-year, $15 million contract to keep him, but with so little invested in the running back position, that’s a fair price to pay.

TJ Lang

Lang is the other offensive free agent that will require a large sum to retain. Thompson released fellow guard Josh Sitton just before the season began last year and showed that he certainly isn’t afraid to get younger on the line (Lang will be 30 in September). Lane Taylor stepped in and was a rousing success and, while there’s no clear backup guard to take over if Lang leaves, Jason Spriggs could fill in.

Lang has repeatedly said he wants to return and loves playing in Green Bay. He’s an emotional leader in the locker room and one of the team’s longest-tenured players (only Jordy Nelson, Brett Goode, Mason Crosby, and Aaron Rodgers have been there longer).

I think Lang would be willing to take a cheaper deal than he’d get on the open market if it meant he could stay in Green Bay. That said, he wouldn’t sign for free and Thompson may be hesitant to hand a 30-year-old interior lineman a three or four year deal. However, the temptation to bring back the same offensive line that was giving Aaron Rodgers up to nine seconds of time to throw has got to be too much. I anticipate the two sides meeting in the middle and settling somewhere around a three-year, $20 million dollar deal.

Jared Cook

Cook was a late-season hero for the Packers as he made some of the most important grabs of the season, not the least of which allowed the Packers to kick the game-winning field goal against the Cowboys in the Divisional Round. While statistically his season wasn’t amazing, it’s important to remember that Cook’s value isn’t just his ability to catch the ball. He draws safety help away from other players and occupies a lot of space with his 6-4 frame. It’s no coincidence that the Packers were 10-3 in games Cook played in this season, including the playoffs.

Cook signed in Green Bay on a cheap one-year deal last offseason and I expect most fans want to see him back again next year. It will cost a big more money and will need to be a longer deal, but after eight years of THIS throwing you the ball, I’d rather stay very, very close to Aaron Rodgers. I think a 3-year, $13 million dollar deal will have both sides leaving the negotiating table happy.

JC Tretter

Tretter was the team’s starting center to begin the season and performed very well. Then, a surgery-requiring knee injury ended his season as Corey Linsley stepped in and re-earned his starting spot. Tretter is a very interesting case as an unrestricted free agent this year. It’s very possible there is a team out there who saw Tretter’s skill at the start of the season and wants him as their starter in the middle. However, Tretter has proven to be injury-prone in his short career.

Linsley is likely going to stay at center assuming everyone is healthy, which means Tretter is most likely to find starting money with a different club. However, the other possibility is if the Packers decide to move Tretter to guard and let Lang’s more expensive name walk to save some cap room. I don’t think that is what will happen, but I’m not the GM.

What I think is best for both sides is probably to let Tretter go to another team and hopefully make a lot of money and play a lot of football. There’s no denying that he’s a very talented player, but he’s going to be too expensive to keep as just an injury-prone backup behind a very talented group.

Don Barclay

This is an easy one because I think Don Barclay is bad.

That’s not entirely fair to a player who has been forced to play every position on the offensive line over the course of his career, often at a moment’s notice. But, when Barclay is in the game, the opponent knows where the Packers’ weak spot is. He’s okaaayyy anywhere on the line, but not very good at any one position. There are younger and better backups to take a look at next year that keeping Barclay would be irresponsible. I know he is very well-liked on the team, but it’s time to part ways.

Christine Michael

The last offensive free agent is an interesting one. Michael was brought in after spending a few years on the Seahawks as “the next big thing” after Marshawn Lynch. The team kept waiting for him to break out and prove he’s a future star, but it just never happened.

A similarly lackluster stint in Green Bay left Packers’ fans wanting. Michael showed flashes of productivity, but rumors were that he was still struggling with the playbook even after several weeks in the organization.

I’ve never seen, held, or been read aloud an NFL Playbook. I don’t know really know how to read one and I doubt I’d be able to figure one out on my own. Perhaps I wouldn’t even recognize one if it were in front of me. But, if someone paid me $725,000 to learn one, you better be damned sure I’ll learn that playbook.

I think Michael won’t be missed too badly if Lacy and Montgomery are in the backfield next year. And with Aaron Ripkowski also taking a carry or two each game, there aren’t enough left to justify Michael on the roster. Let him go.

Packers @ Falcons Matchup Preview: Part Two

Yesterday, I started previewing the NFC Championship Game between the Packers and Falcons by taking an (admittedly, pointless) look at where each team had advantages at each position on offense. Today, I’ll look at the defense.

First, analyzing a defense’s strengths and weaknesses is always harder than an offenses. Defenses act as a single unit more than offenses and they are also usually more reactionary (run-pass options aside). Because an offense can decide whether a particular play is a pass or run and where the ball is going, every individual player has a specific job on that play that they know before the ball is snapped. On defense, each player’s job may change depending on if the play is a run or pass and where particular offensive players go.

That’s a long way of saying that individual defensive players are generally more reliant on the talent around them and therefore, more difficult to evaluate. But onward we march, regardless!

Interior Defensive Line

Falcons: Jonathan Babineaux, Grady Jarrett, Courtney Upshaw

Packers: Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry

Mike Daniels may be the strongest player in the NFL – at least it seems that way. Watch Tyron Smith try to cut block him, only to have Daniels shove him away and make the tackle. That’s the signature move of four-time Pro-Bowler, 2016 All-Pro left tackle, possibly-the-best-lineman-in-the-league Tyron Smith. In fact, Pro Football Focus named Smith’s cut block as the seventh most unstoppable force in the league before the season. Apparently, Daniels’ two-hand shove is a even less “stoppable”.

Banineaux is a fine player himself, but he doesn’t have the game-wrecking ability that Daniels does. The Falcons are extremely athletic all over their defense, but the Packers are better on the nose.

Advantage: Packers

Edge Rushers

Falcons: Vic Beasley, Brooks Reed, Tyson Jackson, Dwight Freeney

Packers: Nick Perry, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Datone Jones

Beasley led the league in sacks this season and has taken a huge leap forward in his second year. He’s the best player on the Falcons defense and they could be relying on him to get the Packers offense off the field with a sack or forced fumble. And he might do just that! Buuuuuut, he’s cooled off a bit. He’s accrued just three solo tackles and one sack over his last three games and last week had just two assisted tackles. I think he’ll be a great NFL player, but at this point, I think he’s still able to be game-planned out of a big game.

Nick Perry is the Packers’ answer on defense. He’s probably not as good as Beasley, but the Packers run much deeper here. Where the Packers can put edge rushers all over the field with Perry, Clay Matthews, ageless Julius Peppers, and Datone Jones, the Falcons follow Beasley with Brooks Reed (Clay Matthews-lite), Tyson Jackson, and ageless-but-not-quite-as-much Dwight Freeney.

Advantage: Packers

Inside Linebackers

Falcons: Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell

Packers: Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez, Joe Thomas

Man, this is a young group. Ryan is the only one of the four starters (Jones, Cambell, Ryan, and Martinez) who isn’t a rookie, and he’s just a second-year player with almost exclusively special teams experience. Thomas comes in as a nickel player and is usually effective, but nobody here is someone the opposing offense should worry too much about.

Advantage: Draw

Secondary

Falcons: Robert Alford, Brian Poole, Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, Jalen Collins,

Packers: LaDarius Gunter, Demarious Randall, Micah Hyde, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Kentrell Brice, Josh Hawkins

While the Packers list of guys here is unfortunately long, the Falcons only played five different players in the secondary last week. Brice was fine after Burnett went down with an injury, but the Packers really need him back healthy this week and it’s still unclear if they’ll get that. Green Bay has suffered from injuries and terrible cornerback play all season, but Clinton-Dix and Burnett have been the main reason the pass defense has been arguably passable (pun intended).

LaDarius Gunter has faced off with Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant already this playoffs and now he’ll get another top-tier wideout in Julio Jones. He worked out Odell well and wasn’t terrible against Bryant, despite the big wideout’s impressive stat line. If Gunter can slow down Jones even a little bit, that’s a huge win for the Packers.

Micah Hyde’s playmaking abilities are the Packers’ Vic Beasley equivalent, insofar as he could stop one or two Falcons drives and that could be enough to win, with how both offenses are playing.

Despite all that, the Falcons have more consistent corners and safety play that’s just as class as what the Packers provide. With all the injuries the Packers are nursing in the secondary, as well as their receiving corps, I could see Allen and Neal having particularly good games.

Advantage: Falcons