Thursday, July 25, 2013

Building The 53 - Ranking Former Members of The 53

You'll notice "The 53" is in the name of the title of the post instead of Quick Thoughts, Wednesday What Happened, or Sunday Funday.  This space is about to go through a number of drastic aesthetic and content changes.  I will provide more information in the coming weeks but in a "preview of coming" attractions, The 53 will be a weekly article where I rank the active 53-man roster for the Green Bay Packers.  The rankings will change each week and I will talk in-depth about a handful of the 53 players.

Before I can rank The 53, it has to be built by Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson.  I will have a series of posts over the next month with a mix of what I think Thompson should do along with commentary on what Thompson actually did.

The first place to start is to look at the players from the final 53-man roster that were walloped by the San Francisco 49ers in the playoff last season that are no longer with the team.  These rankings take into account age, productivity, potential cost, positional strength, and runs in reverse order:

#8) Ryan Grant (RB): The Packers drafted running backs Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin in the 2013 NFL Draft, which dropped Grant's chances of resigning with the Packers from .01% to 0%.  Grant had a couple productive seasons in Green Bay thanks to the pass setting up the run but was never a game-changing back that the Packers hope they have in Lacy or Franklin.

#7) Frank Zombo (OLB): In 2010 and 2011 Zombo looked like a quality rush outside linebacker despite his inability to drop into coverage.  At one point Zombo was even the starting outside linebacker opposite Claymaker but injuries always prevented Zombo from being a consistent performer.  The Kansas City Chiefs signed Zombo this off-seasons, which makes sense because John Dorsey used to be the Director of Football Operations for the Packers and now is the general manager of the Chiefs.

#6) Jeff Saturday (C): Instead of following my advice to re-sign Scott Wells last off-season, Thompson decided to sign the older and less talented Saturday.  That decision stands as one of Thompson's few gross miscalculations since taking over as general manager of the Packers in 2005.  Thompson viewed Saturday as a nice compliment to Rodgers because of Saturday's smarts and success in an up tempo offensive scheme.  Unfortunately Saturday was routinely over matched physically and ultimately was benched in favor of current starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith.  Saturday "retired" but I am not sure an NFL team even would have signed him as a backup center this off-season given how horrible he looked last year in Green Bay.  Saturday had an expensive and forgettable season in Green Bay last year after an illustrious career as Peyton Manning's center with the Indianapolis Colts.

#5) Erik Walden (OLB): I am stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one.  My favorite Green Bay Packers writer Bob McGinn has quite an affinity for Walden while one of my favorite national football writers Bill Barnwell pointed out how the Indianapolis Colts grossly overpaid Walden this off-season when they signed him to a four-year, $16 million contractMuch like Zombo, in spurts, Walden showed some promise as an edge rusher and struggled dropping into coverage.  Even leaving Walden's off-the-field issues aside (domestic assault charges that magically disappeared) I chalk Zombo's and Walden's performance up to playing opposite Claymaker as opposed to either of them being anything more than just a guy.  Sorry Bob but I agree with Bill's take on Walden.

#4) Donald Driver (WR): Lets be honest, Driver was coasting on his reputation more than his production the last three seasons in Green Bay.  After putting up at least 1,000 yards receiving from 2002 to 2009 sans 2003, Driver had three mostly forgettable seasons from 2010 to 2012.  Sure Driver would occasionally show glimpses of his former self (remember his long TD v. the 49ers at Lambeau Field) but those plays were few and far between the last few years.  Despite Driver's decline in on the field production, don't discount his impact on shaping the young stable of stud wide receivers.  It looks like Driver is going to stay retired instead of signing with another team.  That is a smart financial move since any money Driver might make playing for the veteran minimum elsewhere this year will be dwarfed by how much money he can make for the rest of his life because he is arguably the most captivating rags-to-riches stories in franchise history.

#3) Charles Woodson (CB/S): I never thought in a million years that the Packers would not only cut Woodson but that he would then sign with hist only other NFL employer, the Oakland Raiders.  Sure Reggie McKenzie was a former member of the Packer front office and is currently the general manager of the Raiders but Woodson left the Raiders on such bad terms that I was shocked to see him go back to the Raiders when other contenders like the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers showed interest.  I admittedly have a soft spot in my heart for Woodson because I wore his jersey the last two seasons but that was mostly a tip of the cap to Woodson for how well he played for the Packers from 2006 to 2010.  I get that Woodson is no longer the guy he was in 2009 when he won NFL Defensive Player of the Year but I still think his ability to play a hybrid of cornerback and safety would have made him the perfect turnover machine for the Packers.

#2) Greg Jennings (WR): Add Jennings to the long list of former Packers to sign with the Minnesota Vikings (think Favre, Sharper, Longwell, and Ferguson just to name few).  There were rumors that last off-season the Packers offered Jennings more than the five-year, $45 million contract that he ultimately signed with the Vikings.  Luckily for the Packers not only did Jennings pass but they have three stud receivers on the roster in Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Randall Cobb so despite losing Driver and Jennings the Packers still have one of the best trio of wide receivers in the NFL.

#1) Tom Crabtree (TE): With all due respect to Woodson and Jennings, this is really the only loss that will actually hurt the Packers on the field in 2013.  The Packers have younger, better versions of the previous seven guys discussed.  Unfortunately that is not the case with Crabtree.  Sure Crabtree is not the fastest guy but he is a quality blocker and good pass catcher.  Last season Crabtree was the second best tight end on the roster behind Jermichael Finley.  If Crabtree signed a big contract this off-season, I could support the Packers letting him go, but Crabtree signed a two-year deal worth $1.6 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  With Tampa Bay's offer in hand, Crabtree said he wanted to resign with the Packers but Thompson wouldn't tender a similar offer.  I know Jennings is a better player than Crabtree but I would much rather pay Crabtree less than $1 million a year than Jennings more than $9 million a year.  With Finley a free agent after this season, the Packers could lose their two best tight ends in consecutive season.

With my "In Memoriam" post in the books, I will turn my attention to the 90 players currently employed by the Packers and vying for one of the coveted 53 roster spots.  Check back tomorrow when I give my locks* to make The 53.

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