Sunday, January 27, 2013

2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks Midseason Player Rankings

As I discussed in my 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks Initial Player Rankings there was a ton of roster turnover from the start of last season so I thought that might lead to some growing pains but the Bucks actually meshed for the most part.  In fact the biggest continuity issue happened because of a coaching change.  When the Bucks were sitting at 16-16, head coach Scott Skiles and the Bucks "mutually parted ways".  The Bucks named Jim Boylan head coach for the rest of the season and are 7-3 since Boylan took over as head coach, which puts them at 23-19 roughly halfway through the 2012-13 season.

The other big organizational move was owner Herb Kohl giving general manager John Hammond a three-year contract extension.  Going into the 2012-13 season both Hammond and Skiles were working under expiring contracts so there was a good chance that at least one would no longer be with the organization.  Once the Bucks and Skiles parted ways, conventional wisdom was that Hammond would get an extension.  There is no question that Hammond has been a much more effective general manager than he predecessors Ernie Grunfeld and Larry Harris but those guys set the bar so low that so besting those two incompetent general managers is not impressive.  My biggest gripe with Hammond is that he continues to keep the Bucks a borderline playoff team at best aka NBA No Man's Land.  Hopefully armed with some job security, Hammond will make some bold moves at the trade deadline and this off-season to go for it all or bottom out and re-build.

With all the foreplay our of the way, here are my mid-season rankings (initial ranking in parenthesis) of the 15-man roster for the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks taking into account contract, age, position, and running in reverse order:

#15 (13) Drew Gooden (#0, PF/C, 6'10", 236 lbs, Kansas, 11th NBA Season):
Without question the most redundant player on the entire roster since the Bucks have at least five younger and better versions of Gooden (Henson, Ilyasova, Mbah a Moute, Sanders, and Udoh).  Despite that, the Bucks continue to keep Gooden on the roster and actually occasionally play him ahead of some of the younger and better players.  There is virtually no chance a team will trade for Gooden's albatross of a contract.  Bucks fans nee to bide their time till the off-season when we all try to get #AmnestyGooden trending on Twitter to convince the Bucks to finally amnesty Drew Gooden this off-season.

#14 (15) Joel Przybilla (#10, C, 7'1", 245 lbs, Minnesota, 13th NBA Season):
The backup, backup, backup center (behind Dalembert, Udoh, and Sanders) has not seen much playing time in his return to Milwaukee, which I am sure is a little inauspicious personally for Przybilla.  I guess there is a reason why no other NBA teams were clamoring for the Vanilla Gorilla's services during the off-season.

#13 (12) Doron Lamb (20, SG, 6'4", 210 lbs, Kentucky, Rookie):
I don't begrudge Lamb for turning pro despite having another year of eligibility at Kentucky because Lamb was already one of the most prolific long-ranges shooters in the program's history.  I blame the NBA for not having a better minor league system in place to soften Lamb's transition from college to the NBA.  Don't get me wrong, the NBA is making strides to improve the D-League but I find it shocking that every NBA team does not have an entire minor league system in place.  Despite playing limited minutes as a rookie, Lamb is currently the only player on the entire roster with negative win shares this season.  Possessing a negative win share makes a strong case for ranking Lamb 15th but when you factor in age and more importantly contract, you get an appreciation for why Lamb is still more valuable than Gooden or Pryzbilla.

#12 (6) Samuel Dalembert (#21, C, 6'11", 250 lbs, Seton Hall, 11th NBA Season):
Before the season I thought Dalembert was going to give Milwaukee their first legitimate shot blocker not named Andrew Bogut since Dan Gadzuric's back-to-back 100-plus block seasons (2003-04 and 2004-05).  Thus paying Dalembert a little less than $7 million in a contract year seemed like a bargain.  As it turns out, the Bucks do have one of the best shot blockers in the NBA on their roster (Sanders).  Unless Dalembert can add something offensively, the Bucks might as well play their young centers ahead of Dalembert.

#11 (14) Marquis Daniels (#6, SG, 6'6", 200 lbs, Auburn, 10th NBA Season):
I saw Daniels as a warm body at shooting guard/small forward if younger players struggled (i.e. Lamb with negative win shares).  As it turns out, Daniels actually started 16 games so far this season, which is 6th most on the entire team.  With a strong finish to the season, Daniels has a chance to sign a multi-year contract in the off-season.  Let's just hope the Bucks aren't that team because Daniels has all the makings of landing a John Salmons light type contract.

#10 (7) Tobias Harris (#15, SF, 6'8", 226 lbs, Tennessee, 2nd NBA Season):
Harris looked like he was finally putting things together scoring at least 10 points in six of the first 11 games of the season but after posting 10 points in a home loss to the Chicago Bulls on November 24th, Harris has failed to score in double digits even once.  Harris suffered an elbow injury that caused him to miss seven games and Harris has played sparingly since.  Even when healthy, Harris has only logged 9 minutes in 10 games since Boylan took over as head coach.  If these rankings were only focused on this season, there is no way that Daniels would be ranked behind Harris but Harris is still one of the youngest players in the NBA despite this being his second season in the league so Harris still has time to blossom.

#9 (11) Ekpe Udoh (#13, PF, 6'10", 245 lbs, Baylor, 3rd NBA Season):
Udoh was the 6th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors, which was the wrong choice since Greg Monroe was the next player drafted by the Detroit Pistons.  I look at Udoh as the A.J. Hawk of the Milwaukee Bucks, both players are pretty good but will never be great.  If Udoh or Hawk were taken at the end of the first round then they would be much more revered since their high draft status almost undermines their accomplishments.  After starting a few games earlier this season, the Bucks finally realized that Udoh is much more effective as a backup center.  Udoh has the second most blocks on the team basically morphing into the backup version of Larry Sanders.

#8 (5) John Henson (#31, PF/C, 6'11", 220 lbs, North Carolina, Rookie):
Currently Henson is 2nd on the team in PER at 17.5 but that is a little misleading because nine other players logged more minutes for the Bucks this season than Henson.  I understand the Bucks are trying to ease Henson's transition to the NBA since he is a rookie but to have only played Henson in 31 games (started five) of a possible 42 games seems foolish, especially since Henson has played well against quality competition: @ Miami (17 points & 18 rebounds in 27 minutes) and against San Antonio (20 points and 9 rebounds in 23 minutes).  There is no question Henson has some offensive limitations as evidenced by the fact that he is only making 51% of his free throw attempts but the Bucks still need to get Henson more consistent minutes at backup power forward and center.

#7 (10) Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (#12, SF/PF, 6'8", 230 lbs, UCLA, 5th NBA Season):
After missing 14 games in November, The Prince finally returned healthy at the start of December and slide back into the starting small forward spot seamlessly.  The Prince is one of the best defensive players on the roster, the question is whether he will make a leap offensively. Although The Prince is still only averaging 7.9 points a game, which is only a .2 point improvement from last season, he looks much more effective on that side of the court this season so look for the Packers to push for a spot in the Top 5 in my final rankings.

#6 (8) Beno Udrih (#19, PG/SG, 6'3", 203 lbs, Slovenia, 8th NBA Season):
If Udrih was under contract for two more years at an annual salary of $7.8 million, he wouldn't crack the Top 10 despite usually being the second guy off the bench.  The fact the Udrih is on an expiring contract, all of a sudden Udrih is a valuable asset, especially since Udrih is shooting over 50% from the floor right now despite only making 29.7% of his three-point attempts.  The NBA is the opposite of the NFL and MLB when it comes to the trade value of players on expiring contracts.  Even if the Bucks are still in the hunt for a playoff spot as the NBA trade deadline approaches, they might try to deal Udrih if they think Daniels and Lamb can fill his minutes.

#5 (4) Mike Dunleavy Jr. (#17, SG/SF, 6'9", 230 lbs, Duke, 11th NBA Season):
A big reason why the Bucks are four games over .500 is their bench, which is in the Top 10 in scoring, rebounding, and assists.  Dunleavy is the perfect role player off the bench, whose value does not translate that well to certain stats as evidenced by the fact that Dunleavy is 8th on the team in PER at 14.5 behind Dalembart.  Dunleavy and Steve Novak (former Marquette Warrior and current New York Knick) are very similar players, earning roughly the same amount of money per season.  The only difference is that Dunleavy is in a contract year while Novak is signed through the 2015-16 season.  Despite loathing Dunleavy for being Dunleavy when he signed with the Bucks and loving Novak for being Novak, I have done a 180 over the last two seasons, so much so that I wonder whether the Bucks will be able to retain Dunleavy at a reasonable prince this off-season.

#4 (2) Monta Ellis (#11, PG, 6'3", 185 lbs, Lanier High School, 8th NBA Season):
Ellis leads the team in scoring (18.8 points per game), is second on the team in assists (5.6 assists), and second on the team in steals (1.8 steals per game) but also leads the team in turnovers (3.0 turnovers per game).  Ellis basically is the Quentin Tarantino of the NBA.  Ellis is a high volume shooter while Tarantino make gratuitously long movies.  Both could easily change their method, in Ellis's case he could stop shooting so many three-pointers while in Tarantino's case he could shorten his films.  That all seems simple enough on its face, but that might come at the expense of something great.  In Ellis's case he finally made a three-pointer after going 0 for 4 at home against the Golden State Warriors, which turned out to be the dagger to sink his former employer.  In Taraentino's case the last kill scene in Django Unchained, which was 140 minutes into the movie, was glorious.  Last night against his former team is a perfect microcosm of why I've changed my mind on Ellis so many times since the Bucks acquired him from the Golden State Warriors.  Despite only shooting .250 from three-point land, Ellis hit a deep three with a player in his face to seal the game.  I am more convinced than ever that Ellis is destined to be the irrational confidence shooter as the 4th banana on a championship team not a high volume shooter as the second banana that he currently is for the Bucks though.

#3 (3) Ersan Ilyasova (#7, SF/PF, 6'10", 235 lbs, Turkey, 5th NBA Season):
The Poor Man's Dirk is finally starting to play like the Poor Man's Dirk.  Ilyasova began the season in the starting lineup but struggled.  Former head coach Scott Skiles took Ilyasova out of starting lineup but that didn't seem to help much.  I get that Ilyasova needs to be play better whether he is starting or coming off the bench, especially considering that he signed a four-year, $32 million contract in the off-season but sometimes coaches need to keep starting players even when they struggle.  Once Jim Boylan took over as head coach, he made it a priority to get Ilyasova playing better.  The results have been quite impressive with Ilyasova on an absolute tear the last week.  Despite a somewhat uneven season, Ilyasova is 4th on the team in scoring (averaging 10.6 points per game) and second on the team in rebounding (averaging 6.3 rebounds per game).  If Ilyasova continues to flourish under Boylan look for the Bucks to sign Boylan to a contract extension before the end of the season.

#2 (9) Larry Sanders (#8, PF/C, 6'11", 235 lbs, Virginia Commonwealth, 3rd NBA Season):
I like to think that I deserve the credit for Sanders's drastic improvements from his sophomore to junior season in the NBA.  In my initial rankings for this season I wrote this about Sanders: "we are reaching put up or shut up time for Sanders because Hammond might actually decline their option on Sanders like he did with Joe Alexander if Sanders struggles this season".  Trust me, there was never any comparison between Sanders and Alexander, I was just trying to highlight that younger players need to starting preforming on the court to fulfill some of the promise that goes along with being a first round pick.  Sanders leads the team with 128 blocked shots (3.1 blocks per game), 350 rebounds (8.5 rebounds per game), and a PER of 18.7.  Still not convinced, national media outlets agree with me as well, Sanders finished 22nd on ESPN's 25 under 25 list earlier this year.

#1 (1) Brandon Jennings (#3, PG, 6'1", 169 lbs, Oak Hill Academy, 4th NBA Season):
After finishing 17th last year in ESPN's 25 under 25, Jennings finished 20th this year.  That is less of an indictment on Jennings since he is playing as well this season as he did last season and more to do with his competition raising their level of play.  Speaking of that, earlier this week Jrue Holiday and Kyrie Irving were named the eastern conference all-star reserves at guard after Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade were named starters.  Some people claimed Jennings was "snubbed" but that is silly since both deserve to make the team ahead of Jennings.  Absent injuries or roster expansion as LeBron James suggested:

Jennings outplayed Holiday earlier this week at home before the all-star reserves were announced.  After the all-star reserves were announced, Irving clearly outplayed Jennings on the road.  Jennings has a ceiling of a poor man's Allen Iverson, which is higher than Holiday but lower than Iriving. Either way, if Jennings becomes a poor man's Allen Iverson, it would be fun to watch for the next decade.

I hope that you enjoyed my midseason player rankings for the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks.  Check back over the next few weeks for my 4th annual NBA trade deadline advice for John Hammond (2010, 2011, and 2012) with an assist from ESPN's NBA Trade Machine.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Building The 53 - Initial Advice for Ted Thompson

The Green Bay Packers usually have at least a 20% turnover of their 53-man roster from one season to the next so that means general manager Ted Thompson will have some tough decisions to make over the next month.  Just like I've done the last two off-seasons (2011 and 2012), here is my friendly advice for how to deal with the players on the current roster at the end of the 2012 season:

#1) Approach Jeff Saturday about retiring.  After a lackluster season with the Packers that ended with him being voted the starting center on the NFC Pro Bowl team despite not starting for his own team, Saturday played his last snap as a Packer.  Just to frame the decision, Saturday signed a two-year, $7.75 million contract before the 2012 season and made roughly $4 million in 2012.  If Saturday retires, the Packers save $3.8 million in cap room ($1.35 million base salary, $2.4 million roster bonus, and $50,000 potential pro bowl bonus) in 2013 and only have to count $825,000 of his pro-rated signing bonus on the 2013 salary cap instead of only saving $2.2 million when the Packers inevitably cut Saturday if he doesn't retire.

#2) Extend tenders to all restricted free agents.  There are some restricted free agents the Packers should value more than others but absent injury, all deserve a chance to earn a roster spot in 2013 so I would tender Tom Crabtree (TE), Evan Dietrich-Smith (C), Robert Francois (LB), Sam Shields (CB), and Frank Zombo (OLB).  According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network the restricted free agent tender amounts for 2013 are $2.879 Million (1st Round compensation), $2.023 Million (2nd Round compensation), and $1.323 million (original draft round). All the restricted free agents are undrafted free agents, which makes the lowest tender risky since the Packers could lose all of them without any immediate draft pick compensation but could get compensatory draft picks the following year.  I would give Shields the highest tender of $2.879 million and give Crabtree, Dietrich-Smith, Francois, and Zombo the second round tender of $2.023 million.

#3) Approach A.J. Hawk, John Kuhn, and Charles Woodson about taking a pay cut.  If all three are not interested in taking a substantial pay cut then things get interesting.  If the Packers cut Hawk after June 1st, they save $5.5 million of cap space in 2013 but that puts $3.2 million of dead money on the 2014 salary cap.  That is not usually the Packer way but delaying the hit till 2014 makes sense if Hawk will not take a paycut.  If the Packers cut Kuhn, they get almost $2.5 million in salary cap space in 2013 and the only cap charge they would take is $250,000 for the amortization of his signing bonus.  If Woodson won't take a pay cut, keep him on the roster for at least 2013 because I am convinced 2012 was an aberration as opposed to the start of his decline.  Even though Woodson will be 36 at the start of next season, he is the perfect hybrid cornerback/safety to roam the field looking for turnovers.  Don't believe me?  Aaron Rodgers agrees with me and let's not forget the last time Rodgers spoke up about a personnel decision it was for the Packers to re-sign James Jones after the 2010 season so Rodgers is both selective in speaking up and usually correct.  Plus we need to see Woodson doing Woodson things for the Packers for at least one more season.

#4) Franchise tag on Greg Jennings.  This presumes that Hawk, Kuhn, and Woodson take a pay cut while Saturday retires.  If all of those things don't happen, the Packers would not have the temporary salary cap space to franchise and trade Jennings.  The recent chatter is that Jennings will not get anywhere close to the five-year, $55,555,555 contract with $26 million guaranteed but I still see at least one wide receiver starved NFL team offering their first round pick (or second round pick at worst) in exchange for Jennings.  That or look for the Dolphins and Packers to franchise tag and trade Jake Long (LT) for Jennings straight up.  Despite Long struggling in the zone blocking scheme under former Packers coaches Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman last season that ended with him going on injured reserve, he is still one of the best left tackles in the NFL.  Don Barclay, Bryan Bulaga, Marshall Newhouse, and Derek Sherrod are all fine NFL offensive tackles but can't hold Long's jock. The Dolphins need a wide receiver and the offensive coaches in Miami worked extensively with Jennings.  This trade makes too much sense so the chances of it happening are slim but it seems like the perfect win-win deal for both teams where they can control the contract negotiation process with their now asset instead of bidding against a number of other suitors in free agency.  Even if the Long for Jennings trade is a pipe dream, losing Jennings for merely a late round compensatory draft pick like they did with Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins is foolish.

#5) Sign Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji to contracts extension before the start of the 2013 season.  There is a ton of future salary cap uncertainty hanging over the Packers since Matthews and Raji are set to become free agents after the 2013 season.  Athletes First currently represents five Packers: three high profile (Matthews, Raji, and Rodgers) and two backups (Graham Harrell and Ryan Taylor).  Although Athletes First wants to maximize every dollar for their clients, they need to make sure there is enough money to go around for their three high profile clients because one way or another, all three will be wearing the green and gold well beyond 2013.  The question is how much will that cost the Packers?  Rodgers will make the most followed by Matthews and Raji.

#6) Let some, not all, unrestricted free agents leave.  The Packers should let Donald Driver, Ryan Grant, and Brad Jones leave via free agency.  The decision on Grant is the easiest since he was the 6th or 7th best running back on the roster in 2012.  The decision to let Jones leave via free agency is partially due to the glut of capable middle linebackers (Bishop, Smith, Hawk, Manning, and Lattimore) already on the roster combined with how horrible Jones looked in coverage down the stretch after a promising start.  That brings us to DD, who is currently my second favorite Packer of all-time, wedged right between Favre (#1) and Rodgers (#3).  It is sad how 2012 played out in the field for DD but that does not diminish the legacy of one of the all-time great stories in Packers and possibly NFL history.

#7) Don't extend Aaron Rodgers yet.  There is all this talk that the Packers need to extend Rodgers sooner rather than later but I disagree.  Let's not forget that the Packers signed Rodgers to a six-year, $65 million contract with $20 million guaranteed after only a few professional starts in 2008.  Rodgers knows the Packers are committed to him but if they give Rodgers too much money they will not be able to pay the protectors (offensive lineman), weapons (skill position players on offense), and defensive cogs (Matthews, Raji, et al.) to keep the team competitive.  Look for the Packers to wait till after the 2013 season unless Rodgers will sign a "club friendly" contract because absent a career ending injury, Rodgers will sign at least one more mega contract with the Packers no matter what.  The Packers might as well sign a mega deal that they don't have to keep re-negotiating like they did with Favre to create new cap room every off-season.

#8) Negotiate a long-term extension with Jermichael Finley (TE) that lowers his 2013 cap charge
.  Finley signed a two-year, $14 million contact before the 2012 season.  As a part of that deal, Finley is due a $3.5 million roster bonus on the 15th day of the 2013 league year.  If Finley's agent is unwilling to discuss an extension, at least get Finley to push back his roster bonus a few months while both sides discuss a long-term deal.  Let's not forget that in the middle of December it looked like Finley was going to be a salary cap casualty thanks to the aforementioned roster bonus and an $8.75 million cap hit for 2013.  After a strong finish to the season, Finley has to be in the team's long-term plans.  Much like Matthews, Raji, and Rodgers...the question is how much will Finely cost?  The New England Patriots set the market for Finley because he probably deserves to be paid more than Aaron Hernandez (seven-year, $41 million contract with $16.4 million guaranteed) but less than Rob Gronkowski (eight-year, $55 million contract with $14 million guaranteed).  A six-year, $45 million deal with $20 million guaranteed seems fair for a guy that I predict will end up going to the NFL Hall of Fame.

#9) Play the "wait and see" approach with Cedric Benson and Erik Walden.  Both Benson and Walden are set to become unrestricted free agents.  Let both test the free agent market to see if they can get something more that a one-year deal for the veteran minimum.  If so, thank them for their services and let them leave.  If not, offer them both a one-year contract for the veteran minimum after the draft.

#10) Draft a place kicker in the 6th or 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft and cut Mason Crosby after June 1st
. Place kicker accuracy is inherently volatile, a study over a ten year period found that there is no correlation between previous and future place kicking performance.  Thus a Bottom 10 kicker in terms of accuracy is just as likely to be a Top 10 kicker the following so cycle hot kickers on the cheap.  Crosby is currently the 10th highest paid place kicker thanks to the insane five-year, $14.75 million contact with a $3 million signing bonus he signed in 2011.  The Packers would gain roughly $3 million of cap space in 2013 at the expense of a $1.8 million cap charge in 2014 if they cut Crosby after June 1st.  Presuming the kicker they draft makes $600,000 in 2013 that gives the Packers $2.4 million in cap room to spend on extensions for the plethora of players discussed above.

I obviously find all of the aforementioned moves sensible but would be shocked if even half happen.  Check back for more Cheesehead sports coverage in the next few weeks as the NBA trade deadline and spring training approach.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

2012 Green Bay Packers Final Rankings

I knew this was going to be a lengthy post so yesterday I dealt with the roster turnover from my mid-season player rankings to the final 53-man roster.  It is a little odd doing the final rankings because some guys are set to become unrestricted free agents (i.e. Greg Jennings and Donald Driver) while other guys that are under contract for next season could be cut (i.e. Charles Woodson and Jeff Saturday).  I like to factor in contract, age, and position in determining each player's value but that has some flaws since the season is over so I treat the final rankings as a hybrid of a look at how they performed in 2012 combined with their trade value.  Here are my final rankings of the 53-man roster for the 2012 Green Bay Packers (mid-season and initial rankings in parenthesis):

#53 (NR, NR) Ryan Grant (RB) - Ahman Green had a second stint with the Packers after leaving that was equally forgettable as Grant's second stint.  According to a number of players, Grant is a "consummate professional" but the NFL values production much more than being a good guy so we've most likely seen Grant play for the Packers for the last time.

#52 (28, 21) Jeff Saturday (C) -
 The ultimate tip of the cap to Aaron Rodgers and Packer fans is that Saturday was voted onto the NFC Pro Bowl team despite not even being the starting center at the end of the season.  The Packers clearly overvalued Saturday at the expense of simply re-signing Scott Wells last off-season and the two-year, $7.75 million deal they gave Saturday will go down as the worst free agent contract of the Thompson Era.  Luckily the Packers can cut Saturday this off-season with very little salary cap ramifications. The four-year, $24 million deal Wells signed with St. Louis was obviously too rich for the Packers but I have to believe they could have retained Wells if they showed interest but much like Cullen Jenkins the previous year, the Packers didn't seem to make an effort to retain Wells.  Let this be a harbinger of things to come for DD, please do not pull a Saturday to extend your career one most uneventful season.

#51 (30, 23) Donald Driver (WR) -
Speaking of DD, oh how the mighty have fallen.  DD is currently on the Mount Rushmore of Good Guy Packers in my lifetime along with LeRoy Butler, Aaron Rodgers, Reggie White (minus his speech to the Wisconsin Assembly), and Mark Chmura.  Just kidding on Chmrua.  This is Driver's last year in Green Bay as a player but he looks like the perfect candidate to takeover Rob Davis's role as Director of Player Development if the organization decides to increase Davis's responsibilities following the departure of John Dorsey.

#50 (NR, NR) Jordan Miller (DT) - The former Chicago Bear practice squad player was never given a chance to prove his worth since he was added to the 53-man roster before the last regular season game.  I would be shocked if we ever discussed Miller in this space again.

#49 (38, 27) Mason Crosby (K) -
Although Crosby had a mini bout of competence at the end of the season that does not dismiss how consistently horrible he was throughout most of the 2012 season. The Packers have to use a late draft pick or sign someone before training camp to push Crosby.

#48 (53, 53) Jarrett Boykin (WR) - Of all the players that stuck on the 53-man roster for the entire season, Boykin seemed the most expendable since the Packers have at least six better receiving options but that also means if he is healthy in September there is a good chance he will be on the 53-man roster.

#47 (49, 42) Terrell Manning (MLB) - The Packers already envision Manning, when healthy, as the regular special teams contributor.  The real question is whether Manning can push for playing time on defense, which would make certain veterans (i.e. Francois, Hawk, and Jones) expendable.

#46 (47, 41) Graham Harrell (QB) - The vaunted Mike McCarthy off-season quarterback school is going to have two or three pupils with Harrell, B.J. Coleman, and possibly a 2013 draft pick competing for one roster spot backing up Aaron Rodgers.  The early money is on Coleman but if Harrell can build on his impressive showing in Week 4 of the 2012 preseason against the Kansas City Chiefs then it might come down to who performs better in preseason next year.

#45 (46, 46) Rob Francois (MLB) - Despite being a quality special teams player, Francois owes most of his roster spot to all the linebackers that were lost for the season, which means his days in Green Bay are probably numbered.

#44 (NR, NR) Jeremy Ross (WR) - In 2012, Ross was prominently involved in the two most notorious special teams fumbles.  The bigger of the two fumbles came inside the 10-yard line on a punt return with the Packers leading the 49ers 14-7 in their Divisional Round playoff game, which turned the game on its head.  Ross is a professional but I blame head coach Mike McCarthy for putting Ross in such a pressure packed situation.  Despite the fumbles, Ross showed some spark as a return guy and might even be the 4th or 5th receiver next season if the Packers lose wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver this off-season.  Ross signed a three-year, $1.44 million contract with the Packers in 2012.  According to a number of teammates (most notably quarterback Aaron Rodgers), Ross wants to learn as much as possible, so he seems like a cheap option to keep on the roster despite being responsible for the biggest gaffe by any Packer in 2012.

#43 (48, NR) Greg Van Roten (OL) - The Packers used Van Roten as a 6th offensive lineman in the U-64 formation like they did in the past with Kevin Barry in the U-71 formation.  The sample size was too small to determine whether it was very effective but just the fact that the Packers tried to get Van Roten on the field towards the end of the season makes me think the Packers have a long-term interest in Van Roten.

#42 (45, 39) D.J. Williams (TE) -
After being named the best tight end in college football in 2011, Williams has been less than impressive in the NFL thanks to rather shaky hands.  The Packers have so many weapons on offense that Williams needs to show real value on special teams as well as the ability to lineup as a fullback if he wants to make the opening day roster next year.

#41 (44, 44) James Starks (RB) -
The fact that Starks was the 3rd leading rusher on the team behind Alex Green and Aaron Rodgers with 255 rushing yards shows you how pathetic the Packers were at running the ball in 2012.  Since the middle of his college career Starks has battled a multitude of injuries so the Packers should operate as if Starks will never be healthy again.

#40 (42, NR) Frank Zombo (OLB) -
The former collegiate defensive end turned outside linebacker showed flashes early in his career but was injured or unproductive for all of 2012.  With the emergence of some younger options, Zombo can only be counted on as positional insurance as opposed to a potential starter at outside linebacker in the base 3-4 defense.  Zombo is a restricted free agent so the Packers might as well give him a low-end tender to see if they can rent him for another season.

#39 (40, 35) Jamari Lattimore (MLB) - With all the injuries the Packers suffered at linebacker in 2012, Lattimore still never really got a chance to play in the base 3-4 defense.  Thus Lattimore better focus on being the best special teams player not named Jarrett Bush if he wants to be on the roster long-term.

#38 (41, 43) Ryan Taylor (TE) - Speaking of special teams mavens, Taylor needs to fit that bill as well because despite catching a pass for no gain against the Vikings in the playoffs, Taylor is on the roster for his special teams play.

#37 (40, 29) Alex Green (RB) - The leading rusher for the 2012 Green Bay Packers only amassed 464 yards on 135 carries for an unimpressive 3.4 yard per carry average.  Let's not forget that Green tore his ACL in 2011 and despite Adrian Peterson putting up one of the more impressive rushing season in NFL history coming off the same injury, Peterson is a freak of nature so it is unfair to compare Green to Peterson.  Injuries aside, Green does not look like an every down back based on his small body of work so far.  The Packers should get Green to focus on being a 3rd down back that can pickup the blitz but also catch some balls out of the backfield in 2013.  If Green masters that role then the Packers can look at giving him more touches on the 1st and 2nd down.

#36 (39, 33) John Kuhn (FB) - As just discussed, Green looks like a perfect candidate to takeover Kuhn's 3rd down back role.  I appreciate that Kuhntang became the 5th player in NFL playoff history to have two games with a rushing and receiving touchdown but his days could be numbered in Green Bay, especially because of his high salary cap number of $2.6 million in 2013.

#35 (18, NR) Erik Walden (OLB) - The entire Green Bay defense looked horrible in their Divisional Round playoff game against Colin Kapernick and the San Francisco 49ers but Walden was the worst of the bunch.  Almost every time Kapernick kept the ball on the read option, Walden guessed wrong and lost containment of the quarterback.  Walden showed glimpses of being a violent pass rusher in the second half of 2012 but killed his free agent value against the 49ers.  Given Walden's previous off the field problems, I wouldn't offer him anymore than the veteran minimum for 2013.

#34 (36, 45) Brett Goode (LS) -
Goode performed his job well throughout 2012 but the Crosby stink spilled onto Goode a little.  Obviously Goode cannot make kicks for Crosby but as the long snapper, Goode spends lots of time with Crosby so he gets a minuscule amount of the blame since he was unable to orchestrate any breakthroughs for Crosby.

#33 (31, 48) Brad Jones (MLB) - After playing well as the starting middle linebacker alongside A.J. Hawk thanks to countless injuries the Packers suffered at the middle linebacker position, Jones looked horrible for the last month of the season.  In the middle of December it looked like Jones was going to get a nice free agent offer but now it looks like Jones is just the next Brady Poppinga or Brandon Chillar.

#32 (33, 36) Dezman Moses (OLB) - Probably more upside than Vic So'oto or Zombo but Moses still lacks the ability to be an every down outside linebacker opposite Matthews.  Oddly the best thing for Moses is if Nick Perry can return healthy in 2013 after missing most of his rookie season due to a hand injury.  A healthy Perry means the Packers will only need Moses in passing situations, which will keep Moses fresh and effective.

#31 (35, 38) Mike Daniels (DL) - Despite having a short but wide frame, a number of scouts like the "juice" Daniels brings to the table as a pass rusher.  Obviously Daniels is not going to get any taller but if he can add a little muscle in place of fat he can morph into something more than just a situational pass rusher.

#30 (34, 37) Tom Crabtree (TE) - A blocker more than a pass catcher, Crabtree could be more of a focal point of the offense in 2013 depending on what the Packers do with Jermichael Finley.  Even if the Packers keep Finley, the NFL is evolving into a tight end heavy league.  I am not saying Finley and Crabtree will be the next Mark Chmura and Keith Jackson but it is not out of the realm of possibilities.  It will be interesting to see how the Packers tender Crabtree as a restricted free agent.  I would trade Crabtree for a 3rd round pick, especially given the glut of quality tight ends on the roster, but would be shocked if anyone offered such a high draft choice for Crabtree

#29 (29, 16) Jerel Worthy (DL) - Injuries really hurt my ability to accurately evaluate Worthy.  Unfortunately Worthy will spend the off-season rehabbing a knee injury so it might not be till the middle of next season or even 2014 before the Packers get the Worthy on the field.

#28 (32, NR) Mike Neal - For a few games towards the end of the regular season the pass rush combo of Matthews and Neal was impressive but Neal could not sustain that into the playoffs.  Neal is the strongest guy on the team but this off-season the Packers need to work with Neal on converting that raw strength into production on the field otherwise Neal will join a long list of workout champions that never actually produce on the field.

#27 (26, 32) Jerron McMillian (S) - The transition from college to the NFL is big for all rookies but especially for rookies from small schools like Maine.  Guys that play in Big "12", Big "Ten", Pac 12, or SEC face potential NFL talent regularly.  Guys like McMillian rarely see that type of talent.  Hopefully with an uneven rookie campaign under his belt, McMillian can improve enough to push to be the regular starting safety opposite Morgan Burnett.

#26 (NR, NR) DuJuan Harris (RB) - I am not sure what running back story bothered me more at the end of the season, the Ryan Grant "resurgence" story or the Harris being 2010 James Starks story. I like that Harris is a violent runner but let's not get too carried away.  Harris was cut but the Jacksonville Jaguars and attempting to sell cars just a few months ago.  I hope I am wrong but it is much more likely that Harris is the next Samkon Gado than even a poor man's Maurice Jones-Drew.

#25 (27, 34) Evan Dietrich-Smith (C) - I would have ranked EDS five spots higher but he is a restricted free agent.  The Packers should take 75% of the money they were going to spend on Saturday next year and use that as a signing bonus for the three-year contract they offer EDS to see if EDS is really the center of the future in Green Bay.

#24 (20, 26) Davon House (CB) - Much like Starks, House seems to be injured more than healthy.  There is no question that House used to fit the scheme the defensive scheme the Packers play but his should injury might preclude him from fulfilling the lofty expectations the Packers have for him.

#23 (24, 40) M.D. Jennings (S) - The Packers only owe Jennings $555,000 next season before he is a restricted free agent in 2014.  I view Jennings at worst as a core special teams player and at best the starting safety opposite Morgan Burnett.  As a result, I would offer Jennings a four-year contract extension with some up front money along with roster bonuses in 2015 and 2016 that limit the salary cap ramifications if Jennings flames out.

#22 (15, 14) Marshall Newhouse (T) - Although Newhouse was the starting left tackle all of 2012, he gave up a number of sacks and pressures.  There is no question that Newhouse has been much more impressive than you would expect from a 5th round draft pick but when the Packers committed to Newhouse as a starter in the beginning of 2012, they probably expected him to play better.  Going into 2013 I would have an open competition for the starting left tackle job between Bryan Bulaga, Andrew Datko, Newhouse, and Derek Sherrod.

#21 (21, 22) Jarrett Bush (CB) - There is never a dull moment when Bush is on the field, whether it be covering punts or opening lanes for returners, Bush continues to hold the belt as the special teams ace of the Packers.

#20 (23, 25) Tim Masthay (P) - Much like Bush, Masthay does so well on special teams that I almost undervalue how important he is to the Packers.  Luckily Masthay is a man of faith because being the holder for Mason Crosby can't be easy.

#19 (14, 28) A.J. Hawk (MLB) - The "Business HJ" of the defense turned himself into the "Naughty HJ" of the defense this season.  Jones still wore the communication helmet, which meant he was on the field more than Hawk, but that is because the Packers finally stopped asking Hawk to do things that he is clearly not qualified to do (i.e. cover a running back or tight end) and focused on his strengths (i.e. being a sure tackler and occupying offensive lineman so other people can make plays).  The Packers probably have to wait till the end of next season before cutting Hawk to avoid more than a $5 million cap hit.  Plus, Hawk is expensive insurance for Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith since there is no guarantee that both will be 100% at the start of 2013.

#18 (43, 50) Don Barclay (T) - Hands down the pleasant surprise of 2012.  Barclay played so well that the Packers have the option of moving the short-armed former starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga to left tackle depending on how they view Marshall Newhouse long term.  There are varying reports on the severity of Bulaga's hip injury, which would impact whether he is even available for training camp.  The good news is that Barclay, proved he is healthy, can be the starter at right tackle no matter how things shake out with the rest of their offensive tackles.

#17 (25, 30) C.J. Wilson (DL) -
Usually when players miss an extended period of time they risk losing their job since the Packers totally subscribe to the "next guy up" mentality.  In Wilson's case, the Packers really don't have any traditional 3-4 defensive ends on the roster besides Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji so when Wilson was out of the lineup because of injury, the Packers were just bidding their time till they could plug him back in.  The Packers are only on the hook for $600,000 next season for Wilson but he is a unrestricted free agent in 2014 so they might want to extend Wilson before he prices himself out of Green Bay. 

#16 (11, 7) Charles Woodson (CB) - This kills me to put Woodson so low on the list but injuries are finally catching up to Woodson.  Two broken collar bones for Woodson in the last three years means its time the Packers force Woodson to wear larger shoulder pads, if they keep him in 2013 but with the largest cap number on the roster for next season he might have played his last snap for the Packers.

#15 (16, 9) Greg Jennings (WR) - Speaking of playing their last snap for the Packers, although Jennings is scheduled to be a free agent, the Packers should place the franchise tag on him and put him on the trade block.  I know that is not usually the way the Packers do business but after watching Aaron Kampman, Cullen Jenkins, and Scott Wells leave via free agency the last three off-seasons, it time to get something more than a compensatory pick for a stud free agent.  I am not sure that Jennings is going to break the bank on the free agent market anyhow because the salary cap is not set to go up much until 2015 but he priced himself out of Green Bay so franchising and trading Jennings is the Packer's only viable option

#14 (6, 5) Tramon Williams (CB) - This might be an emotional reaction to how horrible Williams played down the stretch for the Packers but with the emergence of other young cornerbacks, Williams is a candidate to get released this off-season.  Williams does not play physical unless it is after the play (remember the back breaking personal foul against the Vikings in the regular season finale) so with his cap number set to jump $1.6 million for next season (from $4.7 million to 6.3 million), the Packers need to decide what to do with Williams.  I think the Packers should get Williams because he had a relatively modest signing bonus ($6 million) for such a hefty contract (five-years, $38.2 million) that he signed in 2010, which would take up some much needed cap space.

#13 (19, 4) Jermichael Finley (TE) - It was nice to see Finley do some positive Finley things (make tough catches) towards the end of the season instead of negative Finely things (complain about Rodgers).  Thanks to playing well down the stretch, Finley set a team record for the most receptions by a tight end in a season with 61.  Not even a month ago I thought the Packers would cut Finley instead of paying him $8.75 million next season but this would be the perfect time to approach Finley about an extension since his market value dropped overall in 2012 despite a strong finish to the season.

#12 (8, 17) Ryan Pickett (DL) - After signing a four-year, $25 million contract that only contained a $2 million signing bonus in 2010 most observes thought Pickett would play a few more years before getting cut.  Instead, Pickett continued to improve and might actually be worth signing to a contract extension once everything is sorted out with the extensions for the "Big Three" (Rodgers, Matthews, and Raji).  Whether Pickett receives an extension has much more to do with the progression of Daniels, Neal, and Worthy than Pickett because the Packers know they have a quality defensive lineman in Pickett, the question is whether they can save some money by going young at the position along the defensive line.

#11 (10, 6) Jordy Nelson (WR) - Injuries really hampered Nelson in 2012, which really hurt his leverage with the Packers because Nelson signed what looks like a totally club friendly a four-year, $14 million contract in 2011.  The Packers owe Nelson roughly $4 million a year through 2014 so if he stayed healthy in 2012 then negotiations might have started on another extension but now I see the Packers waiting to see what Nelson does in 2013 before approaching his agent about an extension.

#10 (22, 24) Sam Shields (CB) - I know this might sound crazy but when healthy, Shields might be the best defensive back on the team.  Think back to how well Shields played during the Packers' Super Bowl run in 2010.  In understand that Shields comes from the Tramon Williams school of tackling but Shields is possibly the fastest guy on the team and actually plays fast, which allows him to chase down plays that others cannot.  With Shields set to be a restricted free agent this off-season, the Packers better give him the highest tender and decide whether they want to commit to Shields or Williams long-term.  Personally I would commit to Shields ahead of Williams.

#9 (12, 18) Casey Hayward (CB) -  It is easy to point to Hayward's team high six interceptions as a rookie in 2012 to show his worth to the Packers but it is the deeper stats that showed those interceptions were less a product of luck and more a product of quality player whenever Hayward was on the field.  Shields, the player just discussed before Hayward, had a great rookie season but lackluster second season in the NFL.  It will be interesting to see if 2012 was a flash in the pan or the start of an amazing career for Hayward.  I provide it is the start of an amazing career for Hayward but only time will tell.

#8 (13, 12) Morgan Burnett (S) - With how horribly the rest of the secondary tackled in 2012, it makes sense that Burnett lead the secondary in tackles.  The Packers should appreciate what Burnett did in 2012 but plan accordingly because usually safeties that throw their body around like Burnett did last season miss some time the following season.  Especially when you factor in that Burnett and James Laurinaitis (MLB) of the St. Louis Rams were the only players to play every defensive snap for their team in 2012, the odds of Burnett doing that again in 2013 are slim.  Either way, it was nice to see at least someone in the secondary healthy for the whole season and actually tackle players.

#7 (3, 13) Randall Cobb (WR) - There is no doubt that Cobb had a season for the ages in 2012 leading the team in receiving yards en route to besting Ahman Green's all-time single-season team record for net yards.  The all-time single-season record comes with a slight asterisk because Cobb got to include special teams yardage while Green only touched the ball on offense.  In my review of the Packers/Titans game I made the case for keeping Cobb as the return guy instead of using Ross as their returner in the playoffs.  Ross's fumble against the 49ers confirmed what I advocated, but it was too late.  Finally, some people might argue that Cobb should be in the Top 5, but let's not forget that Cobb had 10 drops this season.  Those same drops almost lead to James Jones playing elsewhere.  If Cobb can fix the drops, look for him to push for a bronze medal in the rankings.

#6 (7, 11) T.J. Lang (G) - Like any other position in the NFL, the offensive line positions have gone through a number of different evolutions.  With the advent of the hurry-up offense, athletic centers that could make adjustments on the fly became the flavor of the day.  Following that trend, the rise of the left tackle became the next trend to counteract the rise of impact defensive ends and outside linebackers.  The most recent trend is a shift to larger, athletic guards to combat the rise in the amount of mammoth, athletic defensive tackles.  Since Lang is a large athletic guard, he got paid in the off-season signing a five-year, $22.5 million contract with a $5.5 million signing bonus. 

#5 (5, 19) James Jones (WR) - In less than two years Jones went from a big play threat with shaky hands to leading the team in touchdowns (14) while making a number of highlight reel plays.  Is this a one year aberration for Jones or the new normal?  With the presumed departure of Driver and Jennings this off-season, if 2012 is the new normal for Jones then the Packers need to consider extending him this off-season since he is scheduled to make $3.75 million next season in the final year of the three-year, $9.4 million contract with a $1.5 million signing bonus.  If not, Jones will undoubtedly test the free agent market to try to sign the mega deal that never materialized in 2011 unless the Packers franchise Jones.

#4 (4, 3) B.J. Raji (DL) - Without Raji, the Packers might not have been able to make a successful transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4.  After overworking Raji to the point of making him ineffective in 2011 (played 79% of defensive snaps), the Packers dialed back Raji's snap count in 2012 (played 65% of defensive snaps) to make him much more effective.  With three quality defensive lineman (Pickett, Raji, and Wilson) in the fold, now the Packers need to identify at least one more defensive lineman (Daniels, Neal, Worthy, and a 2013 draft pick) to play along the defensive line, which will continue to increase Raji's effectiveness in 2013. 

#3 (9, 8) Josh Sitton (G) - Left tackles get paid more than right tackles but that does not seem to apply to guards.  Don't get me wrong, Sitton is a slightly better version of Lang so he justifiably earned a slight larger contract (six-year, $35 million contract with a $6 million signing bonus) than Lang (five-year, $22.5 million contract with a $5.5 million signing bonus).  Look for Sitton and Lang to be a better pair of guards than Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera were for the Packers in the late-90's and early-00's.

#2 (2, 2) Clay Matthews (OLB) - With all due respect to KGB and Aaron Kampman, Matthews has been the best past rusher in Green Bay since Reggie White.  The real question is what that will cost the Packers.  Matthews is entering 2013 in the last year of his rookie contract, which is a five-year, $10 million contract with a $800,000 signing bonus.  Matthews became the first Packer to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons in the NFL so there is no question that the Packers have to extend Matthews at some point before the end of the 2013 season.  The real question is how much will it cost the Packers?  In 2009 the Dallas Cowboys signed outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware to a seven-year, $79 million contract with a $20 million signing bonus.  Before the 2012 season the Buffalo Bills signed defensive end/outside linebacker Mario Williams to a six-year, $96 million contract with a $19 million signing bonus.  Ware looks like he is worth every dollar while Williams struggled last season in Buffalo.  Either way, it looks like Mathews is set to best the Williams contract before the end of 2013.

#1 (1, 1) Aaron Rodgers (QB) -
Keeping in mind that the NFL is a quarterback driven league, if a franchise could take any player currently in the NFL to have on their team for the next 10 years, you would be hard pressed to pick anyone besides Rodgers.  Don't get me wrong, there are other veteran quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Payton Manning that are playing as well as Rodgers but they are all in their mid-30's while Rodgers is only 29.  There are also a bunch of young quarterbacks like Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, and Russell Wilson but they've all only done it for one year.  Rodgers is in that sweet spot where he's done it for a number of years but is still young enough to build around for the next decade, which make him the hands down #1 ranked player on not only the Packers but probably the entire NFL.

Please feel free to comment if you disagree with any of my rankings.  As always, thanks for reading my extended Packer thoughts.  Check back on Wednesday for my annual advice for general manager Ted Thompson on how to deal with the players on the current roster.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ranking "In Memoriam (Part II)" Packers through 2012

I had a mid-season "in memoriam" post before my mid-season player rankings to break down the fact that the Packers replaced six guys (Brandian Ross, Phillip Merling, Brandon Saine, Cedric Benson, D.J. Smith, and Nick Perry) on initial their 53-man roster with Andrew Quarless (TE), Mike Neal (DE), Greg Van Roten (OG), Erik Walden (OLB), Johnny White (RB), and Frank Zombo (OLB).

As it turns out, two of the six guys added by mid-season (Quarless and White) were not on the 53-man roster at the end of the season.  All told, four players that were on the roster in the middle of the season were either cut or put on injured reserve.  To get a feel for how much the Packers are missing each of the four players, here is a quick look at where I ranked the four of them in my mid-season rankings:

INC) (NR) Vic So'oto (OLB) - The number assigned to So'oto was "INC" because he joined the Packers 53-man roster after my mid-season rankings but was cut, signed to the practice, and ultimately ended the season on the Washington Redskins' 53-man roster.  I had to include So'oto because he is the ring leader of the defensive end turned outside linebacker that was supposed to be the next James Harrison (undrafted free agent turned franchise player) for the Packers.  Sadly So'oto will never be even a poor man's version of Harrison, which is probably why he decided to pursue a career as a professional wrestler in the WWE.

#52 (51) Sean Richardson (S) - After one season, it looks like Richardson is the James Starks of the secondary sans a memorable playoff run that resulted in a Super Bowl.  That is a long way of saying Richardson looks physically gifted but is always injured.  That is too bad because Richardson's combination of size and speed make him an enticing player in the secondary.

#51 (NR) Johnny White (RB) - Being the 7th or 8th best running back roster is never a compliment, especially with the rag-tag bunch that the Packers had in 2012.

#50 (NR) Andrew Quarless (TE) - The Packers knew that Quarless had some off the field issues when they drafted him in 5th round of the 2010 NFL Draft.  It turns out that Quarless has been a good citizen off the field but has had a number of injury issues on the field.  For his blocking ability alone, the Packers will give Quarless another shot in 2013 but if he suffers any more injuries I see the Packers reaching an injury settlement with Quarless to let him try to resurrect his (health) career elsewhere.

#17 (10) Bryan Bulaga (T) - Originally it looked like losing Bulaga was going to be the biggest loss of the season but undrafted rookie free agent Don Barclay performed well in place of Bulaga.  In fact, Barclay played so well that the Packers might have to entertain playing the short armed Bulaga at left tackle to keep Barclay at right tackle.

Losing Richardson, White, and Quarless was not a big deal.  Even losing Bulaga did not turn out to be as big of a loss as first thought thanks to Barclay so although the Packers were ravaged by serious injuries to key players (Bishop, Benson, Smith, and Perry) throughout the first half of the season, they stayed relatively healthy in the second half of the season.  General manager Ted Thompson replaced the players discussed above with DuJuan Harris (RB), Jeremy Ross (WR), Ryan Grant (RB), and Jordan Miller (DT).  Check back tomorrow to see where I rank the new roster additions along with their 49 teammates in my final rankings for the 2012 Green Bay Packers' 52-man roster.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Milwaukee Bucks and Skiles "Mutually Part Ways"

The Milwaukee Bucks have been hot and cold to start the 2012-13 NBA season.  The Bucks won 6 of their first 8 games but proceeded to lose 7 of their next 9 before they won 4 in a row to push their record to 12-9.

Just when it looked like the Bucks had some positive momentum, they lost 7 of their next 11 including their last four (@ Detroit, v. San Antonio, v. Houston, and @ Indiana) to drop their record to 16-16 overall (9-8 at home and 7-8 on the road).  Sadly for the Eastern Conference, a .500 winning percentage is actually good enough for a playoff spot so if the season were to end today, the Bucks would be the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference.  A record of 16-16 (14-8 against Eastern Conference and 2-8 against Western Conference) seems fitting since the Bucks have had some impressive wins (@ Boston twice and v. Miami) to go along with some horrible losses (@ Charlotte, @ New Orleans, v. Cleveland, and @ Detroit).

Despite currently being a playoff team (I know lots of things can change over the next 50 games), the Bucks and head coach Scott Skiles "mutually decided to part ways".  According to a report by's David Aldridge, Skiles told the Bucks he was not interested in signing an extension with the organization despite being in a contract year, which was probably a proactive move by Skiles to hasten his exit.  Apparently Skiles has long disliked the current roster, despite the presence of a number of quality front court defensive players.

Following the Los Angeles Lakers firing Mike Brown and Brooklyn Nets firing Avery Johnson, the Bucks and Skiles "mutually deciding to part ways" marks the third head coaching change of the 2012-13 NBA season.  The Bucks appointed assistant coach Jim Boylan head coach for the rest of the season, Boylan becomes the 12th head coach in franchise history.

Skiles compiled a 162-182 (.471) regular season record as the head coach of the Bucks, which is a worse winning percentage than his all-time regular season coaching record of 443-433 (.506) in charge of the Phoenix Suns, the Chicago Bulls, and the Bucks.  Here is a yearly breakdown of Skiles's coaching record as head coach of the Bucks:
2008-09: 34-48, missed playoffs
2009-10: 46-36, 8th seed & lost in 1st round to the Atlanta Hawks in seven games
2010-11: 35-47, missed playoffs
2011-12: 31-35, missed playoffs
2012-13: 16-16

Skiles made 6 playoff appearances in 13 seasons as a head coach so far but only once in 5 seasons as a head coach of the Bucks.  Skiles' post-season record is even more lackluster than his regular season record going 18-24 (.429) while only winning two playoff series ever as a head coach.

The Bucks should not be surprised that it ended this way.  Skiles did a similar thing on his way out of Phoenix in 2002.  Instead of sticking around, Skiles wore out his welcome and was fired.  The same thing happened in 2008 when Skiles was fired by Chicago.  This is not the first time that Jim Boylan replaced Skiles as head coach, Boylan replaced Skiles as the head coach of the the 2007-08 Chicago Bulls.

Skiles is a detailed oriented, defense first coach so he might actually be a better fit as a college head coach (assuming he can pander to top recruits and parents which feels like a stretch) or even better as a defensive assistant coach for a top NBA team with a well revered head coach (i.e. Gregg Popovich or Doc Rivers).

Current Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was considered the defensive guru as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers for the Boston Celtics, which was Thibodeau's sixth organization as an assistant.  Finally Thibodeau got his own head coaching gig when he took over for the 2010-11 NBA season.  Although it seems like step back, it might make more sense for Skiles to become a Thibodeau-esque defensive assistant coach, which is not only a lucrative job but also comes with a lot less stress than being the head coach.

If Skiles really wants to continue as an NBA head coach, he might as well turn into the Bain Capital of NBA franchises.  Skiles should only sign two-year contracts where he toughens up teams before he wares out his welcome, which he obviously did as a head coach in his three previous jobs, then move onto his next head coaching (project) job.

Leaving Boylan out of consideration, sadly Skiles is one of the best five coaches in franchise history.  Here is my hierarchy of head coaches in franchise history (worst to best): Mike Dunleavy, Frank Hamblen, Larry Krystkowiak, Chris Ford, Terry Stotts, Terry Porter, Scott Skiles, Del Harris, George Karl, Don Nelson, and Larry Costello.

The Bucks sit at an odd crossroads on a number of fronts, which means owner Herb Kohl has a number of short-term (management composition) and long-term (whether to sell the franchise) decisions.  The Bucks just lost their head coach and general manager John Hammond, despite being named the NBA Executive of the Year in 2009-10, is in the last year of his contract.  Although it might not help Hammond's job security, the Bucks might as well go young since that is the only way that they are going to improve for the long haul.  That means the Bucks need to keep Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Joel Przybilla, and Marquis Daniels on the bench while making sure Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, John Henson, Larry Sanders, and Ekpe Udoh get lots of playing time.

Besides deciding whether to commit to a youth movement, an even bigger decision looms over the back court since starting point guard Brandon Jennings is set to be a restricted free agent this off-season and starting shooting guard Monta Ellis holds an $11 million player option for next season.  The Bucks have a hard time attracting stars so early indications are that the Bucks will match any offer that Jennings receives.  That leave what to do with Ellis.

There are questions whether a no defense, high volume shooter like Ellis is even worth keeping long-term, especially if the Bucks keep a similar player like Jennings long-term.  If Ellis exercises his option that allows the Bucks to delay making a decision.  If Ellis declines his option, I would let him leave via free agency unless he will sign for a the mid-level exception (I know there is almost no chance of this happening) so the Bucks do not have a John Salmons 2.0 situation.

As a borderline playoff team, the Bucks continue to sit in NBA No Man's Land, which is the worst place to be.  With a chance to shed some expensive contracts (Ellis, Beno Udrih, Samuel Dalembert, and Drew Gooden) over the next 18 months, the Bucks have to see what players currently on rookie contracts are potential franchise players.  If the Bucks determine none are even potential franchise players, they might as well go into full tear down mode.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2012 Wildcard Round Playoff Review of Packers/Vikings

The weekend got off to a great start Friday afternoon with an unprecedented hour long conference call with Mark Murphy, the President of the Green Bay Packers.  Obviously this is catnip to a Packer fan like me but being as objective as possible, it was nice to hear Murphy field fan questions while having an open and honest discussion about the state of the organization.

Cheesehead Chick, Dre, Tessa, Nick, Sug, and me left Chicago early Saturday morning.  We snagged Gaber, The Burban (aka The Seamonster's grandpa), and some tasty sausages in Milwaukee then headed for Graceland.  After a quick stop at the Aloft Green Bay to check into the hotel and throw on a couple extra layers, we hopped back into The Burban to choose the proper tailgating spot by Lambeau Field.

Green Bay has to be one of the only towns that actually encourages parking and tailgating in yards around the stadium.  We decided not to tailgate in a yard since we were leaving our car overnight.  We had a great set-up of bags, rum apple cider, and plenty of tasty treats.  As expected, it was super cold at the tailgate but that didn't damper any of the fun.  A fellow tailgater dropped their ticket and was unable to find it until we got Dre on the case to save the day.  All of this happened as rumors spread that the Vikings were going to start Joe Webb instead of Christan Ponder at quarterback.  There was talk of Webb possibly playing because Ponder was banged up but no actually thought Ponder would be inactive.  About 90 minutes before kickoff the official word spread that Ponder was inactive so Webb started at quarterback for the Vikings.

The Vikings lost 10 of their last 12 trips to Green Bay.  If more Vikings fans were being honest, they knew that number was going to extend to 11 of their last 13 when Webb was named the starting quarterback.  Here are "10 Things I Think I Think" (trademark Peter King) about the Packers' 24 to 10 win over the Vikings:

#1) The Packers spread the ball around through the air so it is hard for any one guy to rack up a ton of rushing yards (lack of opportunities) or receiving yards (too many options).  That's why despite Rodgers throwing for more than 4,000 yards, he did not have a 1,000 yard receiver.  The Packers' leading receiver in the regular season was Randall Cobb with 954 yards and their leading rusher was Alex Green with 464 yards.  That makes the 2012 Packers the 3rd playoff team (1986 Kansas City Chiefs and 1991 New Orleans Saints) in the last 30 years without a 1,000 yard receiver or 500 yard rusher in the regular season.  Case and point, Rodgers tied an NFL playoff record by completing a pass to 10 different players against the Vikings: Randall Cobb (1 catch for 7 yards), Tom Crabtree (1 catch for 10 yards), Jermichael Finley (1 catch for 10 yards), Ryan Grant (1 catch for 16 yards), DuJuan Harris (5 catches for 53 yards), Greg Jennings (4 catches for 61 yards), James Jones (4 catches for 51 yards), John Kuhn (2 catches for 15 yards & a TD), Jordy Nelson (3 catches for 51 yards), and Ryan Taylor (1 catch for 0 yards).  Too bad tight end D.J. Williams or running back Alex Green couldn't snag a pass (wide receivers Jarrett Boykin and Donald Driver were inactive) to give Rodgers the record of completing a pass to 11 (or 12) different receivers in a playoff game.  For the day, Rodgers completed 22 of 33 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown.

#2) The captains for the game were Aaron Rodgers (QB) and James Jones (WR) on offense, Clay Matthews (LB) and Charles Woodson (CB) on defense, and Jarrett Bush (DB) and Jamari Lattimore (LB) on special teams.  All of those make sense to me, especially Jones since he was exceptional all season.  I was way off the mark when I said he was the 4th most overpaid on the roster before the season.  The Packers won the toss but decided to defer.  That was a curious decision because the Vikings scored 6 times when they received the ball to open a game in 2012, 3rd highest in the NFL.

#3) I am an unabashed Woodson fan, I wear his jersey for every game so I thought it was great to have him back in the lineup with his new scary looking face mask.  I know Woodson's cap number for next season might mean I witnessed his last home game in Green Bay unless the Packers beat the 49ers and the Seahawks beat the Falcons to set-up a Packers/Seahawks NFC Championship Game in Green Bay.  That said, the Packers need to come up with a way to keep Woodson around for next season.  Sure Woodson is a step slower and is getting handsier in coverage than a horny 13-year old boy with a chance to touch his first boob, but with how well Woodson tackles and creates turnovers (2012 excluded), the Packers can ill afford to cut Woodson.

#4) The Packers dominated the Vikings in the first half amassing 239 total yards (197 passing and 42 rushing) to merely 97 total yards (91 rushing and 6 passing) to take a 17-3 lead thanks in large part to scoring on their last possession of the half.  If there was any doubt whether the Packers were going to win, they got the ball to start the second half and lead a methodical drive that was extended by the Vikings having too many people on the field for a Mason Crosby field goal attempt that ended in a Kuhntang (trademark Pat Leo) receiving touchdown to extend their lead to 24-3.  Kuhntang became the 5th player in NFL history (Earnest Byner, Emmitt Smith, Ricky Watters, and Thurman Thomas) to score a rushing and receiving touchdown in two playoff games.  The Packers perfectly executing the "Double-Up" (scoring in the last possession of the first half and first possession of the second half) put the game out of reach.  A 21 point deficit on the road is tough to overcome with less than two quarters of football to play, especially for a team without a quarterback that can actually complete passes down field.

#5) Speaking of Webb, he joined Roger Staubach (1972 Cowboys), Gary Danielson (1983 Lions), and Frank Reich (1992 Bills) as the only quarterbacks since 1950 to start a postseason game without starting a regular season game.  What made the Webb start even more remarkable is that he is the only one of those four not to at least throw a pass in the preceding regular season (took three snaps: two hand-offs and a kneel down).  Joe Webb is clearly an athletic guy but he struggles throwing the ball, which is a deal breaker when you play quarterback.  Usually when the starting quarterback struggles, fans want to see the backup quarterback play.  Oddly with how well Ponder played towards the end of the season, Vikings fans were finally clamoring for Ponder instead of Webb.  To be fair, part of the reason Webb struggled was the presence of Clay Matthews who got a strip sack in the first half and a strip sack in the second half.  In the defense of Webb, even if Ponder was healthy and played his best, I am not sure the Vikings would have won anyhow.

#6) Sad to see wide receiver Donald Driver as a healthy scratch in a home playoff game since rookie linebacker Terrell Manning was needed to play special teams.  The Packers have an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver and tight end now but that could change this off-season with the likely departure of Driver, Jennings, and possibly Finley.  Cheesehead Chick wears a #80 jersey, which will sadly be assigned to another receiver as early as next year since this looks like Driver's last season as a player in Green Bay.  I wish the Packers would retire #80 as a joint James Lofton and Donald Driver jersey.  The Green Bay Packer Wide Receiver Mount Rushmore is currently Driver, Don Hudson, Lofton, and Sterling Sharpe.  If there is a way to simultaneously honor two of those four guys by joint retiring #80, I am totally on board.  The Packers have the option to do that with #36 as a joint LeRoy Butler and Nick Collins jersey as well.  Trust me, I know both will never happen, but something fun to think about.

#7) After gashing the Packers for 409 yards on 55 carries and 2 touchdowns in their two previous meetings, Adrian Peterson had the quietest 99 rushing yards in NFL playoff history.  The only other running back that the Packers gave up more than 100 yards rushing to this season was Week 1 to Frank Gore of the San Francisco 49ers.  If I had an MVP vote, there is no question that I would vote for Peterson over Peyton Manning.  I have so much respect for Peterson that he is my favorite non-Packer in the NFL.  In fact I admire what Peterson does so much that I would trade him straight up for any player on the roster besides Rodgers, Matthews, and Raji.  I am not sure the Vikings would trade Peterson for anyone on the Packers' roster besides Rodgers.

#8) Head coach Mike McCarthy is making his 5th playoff appearance in 7 seasons.  With a win over the Vikings, McCarthy improved his playoff record to 6-3.  My biggest gripe with McCarthy is his in-game adjustments.  There is no doubt that McCarthy has an innovative passing offense that already resulted in winning one Super Bowl, but let's not forget that he's had Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as his quarterbacks the last seven season.  Part of the blame might be on general manager Ted Thompson but if the Packers aren't throwing the ball well, they can't run the ball.  Although running back DuJuan Harris has given the Packers a 2010 James Starks-esque spark towards the end of the season, McCarthy refuses to commit to the run, which has already hurt the Packers twice in the playoffs against the Giants and could be problematic next week against the 49ers.

#9) Hard to believe it took eight seasons (drafted by Packers on April 23, 2005 to January 5, 2013) for Aaron Rodgers to get his first home playoff win.  Rodgers has the highest all-time regular season passer rating (104.9 ahead of Steve Young @ 96.8 and Tom Brady @ 96.6), post-season passer rating (105.5 ahead of Bart Starr @ 104.8 and Drew Brees @ 104.2), a Super Bowl Ring, a Super Bowl MVP, and a league MVP that all happened before ever winning a home playoff game.  The Packers missed the playoffs in Rodgers's first season as the starting quarterback in 2008, lost @ Arizona in 2009, won the Super Bowl XLV in 2010 (won @ Philadelphia, @ Atlanta, @ Chicago, and @ Dallas beat the Steelers), lost in Green Bay to the Giants in 2011, and beat the Vikings in Green Bay so Rodgers is now 4-1 on the road and 1-1 at home in the playoffs.  I have a hard time believing that Rodgers finishes with less than a touchdown of home playoff wins for his career, but I would never have guessed it would take this long to notch his first.

#10) I can't say enough about Sug and the Aloft Green Bay.  Getting tickets actually wasn't all that cost prohibitive, we payed slightly over face value to have great seats.  Since it was a 7 pm kickoff, getting hotel accommodations was the bigger issue.  Sug stepped up in a big way using Starwood reward points to book us rooms.  When we got back to the hotel I asked the front desk what time the pool was open until.  I thought they would give the usual answer of 10 pm but was shocked when they said it is open 24 hours. Talk about a novel idea.  I get the potential liability of keeping the pool open 24 hours but there is really no better way to celebrate a playoff win than drinking beers in the hot tub.  One final kudos to Aloft Green Bay, a staff member checked in on us around 3 am.  Despite us goofing around and openly sucking down beers, he gave us no heat whatsoever.

Next up, the Packers travel to San Francisco for a Divisional Round match-up against the 49ers.  The Packers are 4-1 in playoff games played at Candlestick Park, possibly the most outdated stadium in the NFL.  Their only loss was the missed Jerry Rice fumble game aka the T.O. "Crying Catch" game.  Let's hope the Packers can avenge their embarrassing loss to the 49ers in Green Bay to start the 2012 regular season with a playoff win in San Francisco.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wisconsin loses to Stanford in the 2013 Rose Bowl

The 99th installment of the "Granddaddy of Them All" was one of the more unlikely match-ups in Rose Bowl history when the 8th ranked Stanford Cardinal (11-2) faced the unranked Wisconsin Badgers (8-5).  I say unlikely because although it involved a Big Ten program playing a Pac 12 (artist formerly known as the Pac 10) program, the Badgers became the first team to participate in the Rose Bowl with five loses.

Take those five loses with a grain of salt though.  The Badgers lost three games in overtime to Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State.  Their two non-overtime loses came on the road to Oregon State and Nebraska, which are both currently ranked in the Top 25.  All five of those loses heading into the Rose Bowl were by merely 19 points so the Badgers haven't been blown out this year.

Finishing the Big Ten regular season 7-5 (4-4 in the Big Ten) meant the Badgers were the 3rd best team in the Leaders Division and nominally only the 5th or 6th best team in the Big Ten based on their record.  The top two teams in the Leaders Division (Ohio State and Penn State) were ineligible to play in the Big Ten Championship Game so the Badgers represented the Leaders Division.  Wisconsin walloped the Legends Division representative Nebraska 70-31 to avenge a loss to them earlier in the season and more importantly earn the right to play in the 2013 Rose Bowl.

Stanford is made their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1999 while the Badgers made their third consecutive Rose Bowl appearance.  Wisconsin is the first Big Ten to make three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances since Michigan did the same thing from 1977 to 1979. Chalk it up to geography or too many consecutive Rose Bowl appearances but according to various reports Stanford sold roughly 40,000 tickets while Wisconsin only sold roughly 16,500 tickets.

In games decided by seven points or less heading into the 2013 Rose Bowl, Stanford was 7-2 including 2-1 in overtime (lost 17-13 at Washington and lost 20-13 in overtime at Notre Dame) while Wisconsin is 2-5 including 0-3 in overtime.  Part of Stanford's success in close games came thanks to head coach David Shaw benching junior quarterback Josh Nunes for dual-threat redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan much like previous Standford head coach Jim Harbaugh did recently as head coach for the San Francisco 49ers benching veteran quarterback Alex Smith in favor of second year dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Speaking of head coaches, Barry Alvarez decided to coach the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl after Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas.  Early returns on Alvarez's performance were not positive thanks to a pair of early first quarter rushing touchdowns for Stanford. Towards the end of the first quarter it looked like the 2013 Rose Bowl was going to be a blow out like many national pundits thought.  That was exacerbated early in the second quarter when Wisconsin running back Montee Ball scored a rushing touchdown that was nullified by a senseless holding penalty by left tackle Rick Wagner.  At the end of that same drive Wisconsin faced a 4th and goal with less than a yard to go.  Stanford stonewalled running back James White so Wisconsin turned the ball over on downs.  I know it seems easy to say now but I would have kicked the field goal, especially since Stanford has one of the best rush defenses in the country.

Instead of going into a shell, Wisconsin forced Stanford to punt after turning the ball over on downs and responded with a second quarter touchdown run by Ball for his FBS record 83rd career touchdown to cut the deficit to 14-7.  That touchdown also made Ball the only player to score a touchdown in three different Rose Bowls.

Stanford quickly countered with a 47-yard field by Jordan Williamson, a kick way out of the range of any Wisconsin kicker.  That is more of a shot at struggling Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby than either Wisconsin Badgers kicker because a 47-yard field goal is a lot to ask of any collegiate kicker, especially in a pressure packed game like the Rose Bowl.  Unfortunately that is also too much to ask of Crosby despite the fact that he earns $3 million (signed a five-year, $15 million contract in 2011).

Wisconsin responded again, this time with a methodical drive at the end of the first half capped off by a four-yard touchdown pass from Curt Phillips to tight end Jordan Fredrick.  That meant the Badgers trailed 17-14 at halftime.  The last time a team trailed the Rose Bowl at halftime and went on to win the Rose Bowl was 2000 when the Badgers trailed Stanford 9-3 but scored 14 unanswered points on to win 17-9.

Following a scoreless third quarter, Williamson converted a 22-yard field goal to give Stanford a 20-14 lead with a little over four minutes remaining in the game.  That meant for the third consecutive Rose Bowl, Wisconsin had the ball with a chance to win the game.  The Badgers moved the ball to midfield but Stanford cornerback Usua Amanam intercepted Phillips with just over two minutes left in the game.  Stanford went on to pick up one first down to secure their first Rose Bowl victory since 1972.

The 2013 Rose Bowl will undoubtedly be remembered as a defensive struggle.  Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor rushed for 89 yards and one touchdown while quarterback Kevin Hogan threw for 123 yards and ran for 54 yards.  Ball rushed for 100 yards and one touchdown while Phillips finished 10 for 16 throwing for 83 yards and rushing for 64 yards for Wisconsin.

The numbers for Wisconsin and Stanford were roughly even, highlighted by the fact that Wisconsin gained 83 yards in the second half while Stanford gained 96 yards.  As discussed earlier, Stanford has one of the best rush defenses in the nation so I am not sure why former starting quarterback Joel Stave didn't see more action than two snaps under center (one hand-off and one incomplete pass attempt).  For those that don't know, the Badgers lost Stave midway through the season to a broken collarbone but doctors recently cleared him to play in the Rose Bowl.  Stave might have been a little rusty but almost everyone was rusty because neither team has played in a month.  It is easy to second guess Alvarez and offensive coordinator Matt Canada but in this instance it seems like justifiable criticism.

Wisconsin just lost their third consecutive Rose Bowl (21-19 to TCU in 2011, 45-38 to Oregon in 2012, and 20-14 to Stanford in 2013) much like Michigan did in the late 1970's (14-6 to USC in 1977, 27-20 to Washington in 1978, and 17-10 to USC in 1979).  Since Wisconsin won consecutive Rose Bowls in 1999 and 2000 the Big Ten has gone 1-9 in the Rose Bowl thanks in large part to Wisconsin and Michigan both losing three Rose Bowls in the last decade.  Here's hoping that new head coach Gary Andersen can help the Badgers win a Rose Bowl soon.