Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Advice for Ted Thompson for Building the 2011 Green Bay Packers

Unless the NFL Owners and NFL Players come to a new agreement, the Collective Bargaining Agreement between both sides is set to expire on Friday, March 3, 2011 at 11:59 p.m. EST. That means that the Green Bay Packers lose their exclusive negotiating rights with their "potential" free agents at that time. In a bit of an oddity, at the exact minute the players are set to become a free agents, each team’s ability to sign those players expires as well.

Depending on what type of agreement the owners and the players reach, some of the players below might not have enough accrued service time to become free agents (i.e. James Jones) but to make things as simple as possible, players will only be considered under contract for 2011 if they actually signed a deal with the Packers as of February 16, 2011 at 11:59 PM CST*.

Here is a blueprint for how Ted Thompson should proceed before the 2011 NFL season to help the Green Bay Packers win Super Bowl XLVI:

- Under Contract for 2011: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, and Graham Harrell
- Free Agent: None
- Advice: The Packers should have locked up back-up quarterback Matt Flynn to a four-year, front-end loaded long-term deal at the start of 2010 because it was an uncapped year. Even if the Packers decided to trade Flynn, having him under contract for a few years at a cap friendly amount would make him even more enticing to other NFL teams. After playing well against the New England Patriots with Rodgers out with a concussion, a number of NFL teams took notice and Flynn likely priced himself out of Green Bay. Since the Packers didn’t lock up Flynn long-term, they need to keep Graham Harrell on the roster to see if he is worthy of backing up Rodgers in 2012 when Flynn is set to become a free agent.

Running Back:
- Under Contract for 2011: Ryan Grant, James Starks, and Dimitri Nance
- Free Agent: Brandon Jackson
- Advice: Brandon Jackson never performed like a starting running back after starting running back Ryan Grant went down for the season Week #1 against the Eagles. As a result, let Jackson leave via free agency. The Packers should draft another young running back in the 2011 NFL Draft to create an open competition between Dimitri Nance and the running back taken in the draft for the 3rd running back spot.

- Under Contract for 2011: Quinn Johnson
- Free Agent: John Kuhn and Korey Hall
- Advice: Hall showed flashes of being a starting fullback but struggled with injuries throughout his Packer career so the Packers should let Hall leave via free agency. John Kuhn is the younger version of Craig Counsell (jack-of-all trades that plays a number of positions along the infield for the Brewers) in the backfield for the Packers so the Packers should sign Kuhn to a three-year contract extension. Finally, please do not draft another fullback.

Wide Receiver:
- Under Contract for 2011: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Brett Swain, Antonio Robinson, and Chastin West
- Free Agent: James Jones
- Advice: The new wide receiver pecking order in terms of production is Jennings, Nelson, Jones, Driver then Swain. Jones is set to become a free agent and ironically his shaky hands give the Packers a chance to bring Jones back in 2011. With Nelson set to become a free agent after 2012 and Driver getting older, the Packers need a long-term plan at wide receiver. Start by offering Jones a respectable four-year contract extension. No matter what Jones does, draft a wide receiver early in the 2011 NFL Draft. Finally, start negotiations with Nelson about a long-term contract extension.

Tight End:
- Under Contract for 2011: Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree, Spencer Havner, and Donald Lee
- Free Agent: None
- Advice: Finley is the presumptive starter heading into 2011 despite missing most of the 2010 season with a knee injury chasing down a defender that scooped up a Donald Lee fumble. After Finley, everyone else will have to fight to earn a roster spot. Lee is getting paid too much money to be a back-up tight end so cut Lee. Take a wait and see approach with Quarless, Crabtree, and Havner. Although it is not a position of need, if the right tight end is available in the 2011 NFL Draft, take him because the Packers use tight ends all over the field.

- Under Contract for 2011: Chad Clifton, Bryan Bulaga, T.J. Lang, Mark Tauscher, Marshall Newhouse, and Chris Campbell
- Free Agent: None
- Advice: If healthy, Chad Clifton deserves to be the starter at left tackle in 2011. If Clifton starts at left tackle, keep Bulaga at right tackle. After that, Newhouse and Lang are still playing under their rookie contracts so they deserve to be on the team in 2011 as developmental guards/tackles. Unfortunately the odd man out is the glorious neck beard of Mark Tauscher because he is coming off another season ending injury and is owed $4.5 million in 2011. The Packers should take a quality left tackle early in the 2011 NFL Draft because Clifton is probably playing his last season in Green bay in 2011.

- Under Contract for 2011: Josh Sitton, Nick McDonald, and Adrian Battles
- Free Agent: Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz
- Advice: Sign Sitton to a long-term extension now. Barring a catastrophic injury, Sitton's asking price is only going up the more games he plays. After an up and down 2009, Daryn Colledge rebounded to play well in 2010. Colledge expects to be one of the highest paid guards in the NFL so let him leave via free agency unless he accepts a cheap, short-term extension. Much like Colledge, unless Spitz accepts a cheap one-year deal, let him leave via free agency too. Finally the Packers should draft a guard in the 2011 NFL Draft to make-up for potentially losing Colledge and Spitz.

- Under Contract for 2011: Scott Wells and Evan Dietrich-Smith
- Free Agent: None
- Advice: Evan Dietrich-Smith is not a long-term answer at center for the Packers or they would have kept him at the end of training camp. With Wells entrenched as the starter at center, the Packers need to groom their successor at center. The most likely candidates are McDonald or a future draft pick.

Defensive End:
- Under Contract for 2011: Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal, Howard Green, C.J. Wilson, Jarius Wynn, Curtis Young, and Justin Harrell
- Free Agent: Cullen Jenkins
- Advice: Jenkins played with a broken hand for the first half of 2010 and missed part of the second half of the season with a calf injury because he was playing during garbage time. I know Jenkins is 30 and suffered a few injuries but Ted Thompson should have used the uncapped year to sign Jenkins to a four-year, front-end loaded extension. Since Jenkins did not sign an extension, let him leave via free agency. With Pickett, Neal, Green, Wilson, and Wynn in the fold the Packers should cut Justin Harrell. Packer fans feel bad for Harrell on a personal level but why keep him on the roster year-after-year just to put him on injured reserve?

Defensive Tackle:
- Under Contract for 2011: B.J. Raji and Jay Ross
- Free Agent: None
- Advice: Pickett and Green can play defensive tackle in a pinch but the Packers need to add younger depth at defensive tackle via free agency or the draft to allow B.J. Raji to play fewer snaps in 2011.

Outside Linebacker:
- Under Contract for 2011: Clay Matthews, Brad Jones, Frank Zombo, Brady Poppinga, Erik Walden, Robert Francois, Diyral Brigs, and Cardia Jackson
- Free Agent: None
- Advice: Fans are clamoring for the Packers to use a high draft pick on an outside linebacker to pair with Clay Matthews for the next decade. I completely disagree, there are a number of good outside linebackers on the roster. Jones, Zombo, and Walden showed flashes last year but were injured too much to get a good gauge of who is the best of the three. If the right player is available in the draft, take him, but don’t use a high draft pick on an outside linebacker.

Middle Linebacker:
- Under Contract for 2011: Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, Brandon Chillar, and Matt Wilhelm
- Free Agent: None
- Advice: I like the four-year contract extension the Packers gave Desmond Bishop because it gives the Packers perfect roster flexibility at middle linebacker. Once Barnett went down in 2010, Hawk took over as the main signal caller and performed admirably. Barnett is owed $6.05 million in 2011 and $6.55 million in 2012. Chillar is owed $2.6 million in 2011, $3.3 million in 2012, and $3.6 million in 2013. Hawk is owed $10 million in 2011, which is the final year of his rookie contract. The Packers need to sign Hawk to a five-year extension so they can stagger their middle linebacker contracts to come off the books yearly from 2012 through 2015. One final note, the four best linebackers on roster are: Matthews, Hawk, Bishop, and Barnett. Unfortunately three of them play middle linebacker. Since the Packers only play a traditional 3-4 defense on about 1/3rd of their defensive snaps allow Hawk, Bishop, and Barnett to be on the field at the same time. I say open camp with Hawk and Bishop as the starting middle linebackers. Let Chillar play as the primary back up at middle linebacker. Barnett is coming off an injury so it might be tough, but see if Barnett can play a hybrid middle linebacker/outside linebacker.

- Under Contract for 2011: Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee, Josh Gordy, and Josh Bell
- Free Agent: None
- Advice: The Packers know that their top three cornerbacks in 2011 will be Woodson, Williams, and Shields. After that the Packers have a bunch of guys that have failed to seize their opportunities. With Underwood getting in trouble off the field, Bell and Lee getting hurt all the time, and Gordy being raw the Packers need to draft a cornerback earlier rather than later in the 2011 NFL Draft. Hopefully competition for the 4th and 5th cornerback spot will bring out the best in the lower level cornerbacks on the roster.

- Under Contract for 2011: Nick Collins, Morgan Burnett, Jarrett Bush, Derrick Martin, Anthony Smith, Michael Greco, and Anthony Levine.
- Free Agent: Charlie Peprah and Atari Bigby
- Advice: Charlie Peprah played great in place of injured rookie Morgan Burnett during the regular season and elevated his play in the playoffs. The Packers need to resign Peprah to a two-year contract extension. After that, the Packers need to decide whether Smith, Bigby, or Martin is worth keeping as a 5th safety behind Collins, Burnett, Peprah, and Bush. I say keep Smith but get rid of Bigby and Martin.

- Under Contract for 2011: Tim Masthay (P) and Brett Goode (LS)
- Free Agent: Mason Crosby (K)
- Advice: With Masthay and Goode signed for 2011, the Packers need to resign Crosby. Instead of creating a training camp competition for Crosby, resign him and tell him that he is the starter heading into 2011. Crosby is past competition being a source of motivation to perform better. Plus if Crosby struggles in 2011 there is always a free agent kicker available.

* = General manager Ted Thompson signed everyone that finished the season on the practice squad (Adrian Battles, Chris Campbell, Michael Greco, Cardia Jackson, Anthony Levine, Antonio Robinson, Jay Ross, Chastin West, and Curtis Young) to "futures" contracts. That basically means the Packers signed those players to their 80-man roster for the off-season and gives them a chance to make the 53-man roster.

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