Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The 53 - Packers lose on the road to New York Giants

The Green Bay Packers went 340 games using just three starting quarterbacks: Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Flynn.  In the last three games, the Packers have started three different quarterbacks: Rodgers, Seneca Wallace, and Scott Tolzien.  This week the Packers lost on the road to the New York Giants after losing consecutive weeks at home to the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles.  I know this sounds like sour grapes but for the third week in a row the Packers lost a game they probably would have won with Rodgers under center.  Instead of being 8-2 en route to hosting a playoff game, the Packers are now 5-5 so they trail the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions by one game in the NFC North standings.  If the playoffs were to start today, the Packers would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Besides Rodgers being out with a broken collarbone, the Packers were also without the services of Don Barclay (T, knee), Chris Harper (WR, healthy scratch), Casey Haywawd (CB, hamstring), Andy Mulamba (LB, ankle), Nick Perry (LB, foot), and Sam Shields (CB, hamstring) against the Giants.  Not having Barclay and Shields was problematic as Marshall Newhouse continued to struggle at right tackle while the Giants were able to throw at will, in part, because the Packers were without their best cornerback Shields.

Instead of giving a full breakdown of the Packers/Giants loss I thought I would take a look at how general manager Ted Thompson should handle having 15 unrestricted free agents and 2 restricted free agent following this season. Given that the Packers have roughly $10 million in salary cap space for this season, they could get a number of these deals done this year.  If the Packers are unable to extend some of their potential free agents, they will carry that money over to 2014.  Here are my thoughts on how Thompson should handle all of the potential Packer free agents.

The 53
1. Aaron Rodgers (QB, LR 1)
2. Clay Matthews (OLB, LR 2) 
3. Jordy Nelson (WR, LR 3)
4. Josh Sitton (G, LR 4)
5. T.J. Lang (G, LR 5)
6. James Jones (WR, LR 6) 
7. Eddie Lacy (RB, LR 8)
8. B.J. Raji (DL, LR 9)
9. Morgan Burnett (S, LR 7)
10. Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, LR 12)
11. David Bakhtiari (T, LR 10)
12. Sam Shields (CB, LR 11)
13. Tramon Williams (CB, LR 13)
14. Brad Jones (MLB, LR 14)
15. Mike Daniels (DL, LR 15)
16. A.J. Hawk (MLB, LR 17)
17. Davon House (CB, LR 18)
18. Datone Jones (DL, LR 19)
19. Micah Hyde (CB, LR 20)
20. Casey Hayward (CB, LR 16)
21. Don Barclay (T, LR 21)
22. Nick Perry (OLB, LR 22)
23. Jamari Lattimore (LB, LR 23)
24. Jarrett Boykin (WR, LR 26)
25. Tim Masthay (P, LR 24)
26. Mike Neal (DL/OLB, LR 25)
27. Johnny Jolly (DL, LR 27) 
28. Ryan Pickett (DL, LR 28)
29. Andrew Quarless (TE, LR 29)
30. Scott Tolzien (QB, LR 38)
31. Jarrett Bush (CB, LR 30)
32. Mason Crosby (K, LR 32)
33. James Starks (RB, LR 34)
34. Brett Goode (LS, LR 33)
35. John Kuhn (FB, LR 39)
36. Derek Sherrod (T, LR 31)
37. M.D. Jennings (S, LR 35)
38. Jonathan Franklin (RB, LR 36)
39. Brandon Bostick (TE, LR 42)
40. C.J. Wilson (DL, LR 45)
41. Ryan Taylor (TE, LR 37)
42. Marshall Newhouse (T, LR 44)
43. Matt Flynn (QB, LR 40)
44. Chris Banjo (S, LR 41)
45. Andy Mulamba (LB, LR 43)
46. Jerron McMillian (S, LR 46)
47. Nate Palmer (LB, LR 47)
48. Myles White (WR, LR 48)
49. Lane Taylor (G, LR 49)
50. Jake Stoneburner (TE, LR 50)
51. Josh Boyd (DL, LR 52)
52. Chris Harper (WR, LR 51)
53. James Nixon (CB, LR 53) 
Physically Unable to Perform
1. Jerel Worthy (DE)
2. JC Tretter (T)
3. Sean Richardson (S)
IR, Designated for Return
1. Randall Cobb (WR)
Injured Reserve
1. Jermichael Finley (TE)
2. Bryan Bulaga (T)
3. DuJuan Harris (RB)
4. Robert Francois (MLB)
5. Greg Van Roten (C/G)
6. Sam Barrington (LB)
7. Seneca Wallace (QB)
7. Kevin Dorsey (WR)
8. Sederrik Cunningham (WR)
1. Jeremy Ross (WR, Lions)
2. Michael Hill (RB, Buccaneers)
The only player that I would not even tender a contract to is Seneca Wallace (QB, $408,000, UFA) because in his limited playing time he showed that he is no longer an NFL quarterback.  Plus keeping Wallace would deprive other younger quarterbacks from taking important snaps in the off-season.

There are a number of guys that I would not offer more than a non-guaranteed one-year contract for the veteran minimum:

Robert Francois (LB, $725,000, UFA): Certain injuries take more than a year to receiver, a torn Achilles tendon is one of those injuries.  Since Francois suffered a torn Achilles tendon earlier this season I would be shocked if he was healthy by the start of training camp.  If Francois is healthy, his special teams ability make him worthy of a look.

Marshall Newhouse (T, $1.4 million, UFA): The Packers have at least four other more talented offensive tackles under contract for 2014 (David Bakhtiari, Don Barclay, Bryan Bulaga, and Derek Sherrod) and that doesn't even factor in that Thompson might draft a tackle in the 2014 NFL Draft.  I flirted with not even tendering Newhouse given how horrible he has looked the last two weeks but there is no guaranteed that Bulaga and Sherrod will be healthy in 2014 so you can never have too many offensive tackles.

Matt Flynn (QB, $261,176, UFA): Tolzien threw for over 300 yards against the Giants but also had three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul.  Despite all the turnovers by Tolzien, I really don't see Flynn playing unless Tolzien gets injured.  If Rodgers is healthy soon, I could actually see the Packers cutting Flynn since spots on The 53 are very valuable.

Chris Banjo (S, $450,000, RFA): The safety play for the Packers has been so bad that Banjo has gotten some reps on defense next to Morgan Burnett instead of M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian.  Banjo is 5'10" with a slight build so he does not have the build to be an enforcer on defense, which is exactly what the Packers need at safety.  Banjo needs to continue to show promise on special teams, which would give him a slight chance to make The 53 in 2014.

C.J. Wilson (DL, $642,590, UFA): Going into the season I thought Thompson should take care of Wilson with a long-term extension before he priced himself out of Green Bay.  After being a healthy inactive three times this season, the only way Wilson is back in Green Bay next season is if all the defensive lineman I discuss become too expensive for Thompson to re-sign.

It will be virtually impossible to bring back the rest of the guys that I am about to discuss given their salary cap situation and how much the Packers like to skew young but I am still going to give my thoughts on the rest of the potential free agents from least important to most important when you factor in contract, age, and positional depth:

John Kuhn (FB, $2.5 million, UFA): With how much teams like to run the spread on offense, the fullback position is becoming the dinosaur of the NFL.  That hasn't stopped the Packers from using Kuhn extensively the last few weeks in a more traditional I-Formation with a running back and a fullback.  Add in that Kuhn is a special teams maven and the Packers will most likely keep Kuhn around in 2014.  Although it might be perceived as a slap in the face, I wouldn't offer Kuhn very much guaranteed money, if any, as a part of a two-year, $3 million deal to keep him in Green Bay through 2015.

M.D. Jennings (S, $555,833, RFA): There is no question that Jennings is the second best safety on the roster after Morgan Burnett.  The problem is that Jennings has not shown enough to merit being a legitimate NFL starter.  I like Jennings more as a rotational backup at safety.  I would tender Jennings a one-year deal at his original draft position.  Since Jennings went undrafted it will not be much more than $600,000 but those exact numbers will not be determined till the off-season.  Sure someone might tender Jennings so the Packers could lose him without any draft pick compensation, but I just don't see Jennings garnering that much interest, so the Packers could luck out and bring Jennings back on the cheap for 2014.  That is a long way of saying the Packers should not commit long-term or any guaranteed money to Jennings, instead they should add a safety early in the 2014 NFL Draft as long as it is not too much of a reach.

Jermichael Finley (TE, $8.75 million, UFA): Just a month ago I thought Finley was going to sign a long-term deal that averaged at least $6 million per year with at least $10 million in guaranteed money. Just a month later it looks like I might have seen Finley play his last snap in the NFL in-person when he suffered a bruised spinal cord when the Packers beat the Browns at Lambeau Field.  Finley's health off-the-field is the most important thing.  If Finley can show he is healthy enough to return to the field, the best he can hope for is to sign a one-year incentive laden contract.  If Finley's health checks out, I would totally support offering Finley a one-year, $2 million deal to play for the Packers in 2014.  Anything more seems too expensive even for a guy as talented as Finley given the injury risk and all the other deals the Packers need to make before the start of 2014.

Mike Neal (OLB, $920,000, UFA): When the Packers moved Neal from defensive line to outside linebacker at the start of training camp they salvaged his career because before the position switch it looked like Neal was going to get cut given all the depth the Packers had along the defensive line.  Neal has shown the ability to rush the passer in spurts but has been unable to put together full games yet.  Some are trying to make a comparison between Neal and former Packer outside linebacker Erik Walden.  Leaving aside Walden's headbutt from the weekend, I still think the Indianapolis Colts overpaid Walden giving him a four-year, $16 million last off-season.  I still don't even think Neal is at Walden's level of play so any more than a couple million dollar a year is too much for Neal given that he is not even guaranteed to start at outside linebacker with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry on The 53.  Personally I would let Neal leave via free agency but if the Packers attempt to re-sign him, the most I would offer is three-years, $6 million with $2 million guaranteed.

Jamari Lattimore (LB, $556,668, RFA): A big reason why I was against paying A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones big money is how well other guys have looked at middle linebacker in the 3-4.  Injuries hampered D.J. Smith's tenure in Green Bay but let's not forget how productive he was as a 3-4 middle linebacker for the Packers.  Lattimore performed very well at middle linebacker in the base 3-4 defense when the Packers were without middle linebacker Brad Jones due to injury. Lattimore was one of the only bright spots against the Bears a few weeks ago on Monday Night Football with a blocked punt and recovered an onside kick.  Leaving aside Lattimore's ability at middle linebacker because the Packers are financially committed to the Hawk/Jones combo, given that Lattimore has emerged as a special teams maven, the Packers should tender Lattimore at higher than his original draft position since he went undrafted.  Tendering Lattimore at a higher amount would either allow the Packers to get a draft pick if another team signs Lattimore to a bigger deal or retain Lattimore's services for 2014 for roughly $1 million.

James Starks (RB, $655,075, RFA): Evey time Starks starts to show promise he proceeds to get injured.  At one point I had Starks in the one-year veteran minimum group but he is too talented even when you account for his injury problems.  Rookie running back Eddie Lacy's physically running style makes me wonder whether he will have similar injury issues to Starks because much like Starks, Lacy was injured throughout his college career.  Although the Packers also have rookie running back Johnathan Franklin, keeping Starks around will allow the Packers to share carries amongst their running backs to keep everyone fresh.  Much like the Neal contract discussed earlier, I would not offer Starks more than three-years, $6 million with $2 million guaranteed.

Andrew Quarless (TE, $1.4 million, UFA): Much like Starks, Quarless had some injury issues couple with some of-the-field issues as well.  When the Packers lost Finley they turned to Quarless as their starting tight end.  It looks like Quarless finally put his off-the-field issues behind him and has actually been relatively healthy in 2013.  I like what I've seen out of Brandon Bostick as a hybrid tight end/wide receiver while I like Quarless as a standard tight end, especially when you factor in his blocking prowess.  I wouldn't go much higher than four-years, $10 million with $3 million guaranteed but I would actually make a push to keep Quarless long-term even though I could see the Packer using a draft pick on a tight end in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Ryan Pickett (DL, $6.7 million, UFA): The Packers a ton of depth along the defensive line so I would be shocked if Pickett played for the Packers in 2014 given that he is 34-years old and will still command an expensive salary.  Getting Pickett on a two-year, $5 million deal would be good business for the Packers but the fact that Pickett had a cap number of $6.7 million in 2013 makes me question whether Pickett would play for so much less.

James Jones (WR, $3.75 million, UFA): After the 2010 season Jones hit free agency but garnered little interest so he signed a three-year, $9.7 million deal with $2.25 million guaranteed.  This time around Jones will not be overlooked when he hits free agency.  The 10th highest paid wide receiver in the NFL averages $5 million a year, which I bet is the low-end of what Jones will be looking for this off-season.  A four-year, $20 million deal with $8 million guaranteed seems fair but that is still less than the Packers will have to pay wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in the next 12 months so it is probably more prudent to save their money instead of extending Jones.

Johnny Jolly (DL, $715,000, UFA): After being out of football for almost three years due to drug problems that landed Jolly in jail, just the fact that Jolly has been clean this year let alone a legitimate contributor along the defensive line makes him one of the feel-good stories in the NFL. I see Jolly as a cheaper version of Pickett when you factor in the chance that Jolly could relapse.  A three-year, $7.5 million deal with $2 million guaranteed seems reasonable given that Jolly will be 31 before next season.

Sam Shields (CB, $2.0 million, UFA): The Packers are going to have to decide between keeping Shields or cornerback Tramon Williams.  Next season Williams carries a price tag of $9.5 million because he will be in the last year of his five-year, $38 million with $11 million guaranteed.  There is a chance that Williams would accept a pay cut to stay with the Packers, which would allow the Packers to keep Shields and Williams, but I would be surprised given Williams's stature on defense.  The franchise tag for cornerbacks will most likely be $11 million in 2014, which is way too much for Shields especially given all the young talented the Packers have at cornerback (Casey Hayward, Davon House, and Micah Hyde).  I think Pickett is a long-shot to return to the Packers in 2014 but I would actually be more surprised to see Shields playing for the Packers in 2014 than Pickett.

B.J. Raji (DL, $6.6 million, UFA): Apparently the Packers have an $8 million a year offer on the table for Raji.  That seems a little rich to me but given how important Raji has become as a cog in the center of the defense, I no longer think the Packers have the option of letting Raji leave via free agency even when you factor in all their depth along the defensive line.  If the Packers cannot agree to a long-term deal with Raji they better use the franchise tag on Raji, which should be in the neighborhood of $9 million in 2014.

Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, $1.3 million, UFA): After the Jeff Saturday debacle at center last season, the Packers finally identified their center of the future.  The 10th highest paid center in the NFL is Kyle Cook of the Cincinnati Bengals with an average salary of $2.5 million a year.  The Packers would be lucky to get EDS for that amount.  Give that EDS will turn 28 before next season I would support the Packers offering him a four-year, $12 million deal with $4 million guaranteed.  That probably will not be enough to lock EDS down long-term but it provides a starting point.  Despite the fact that I have EDS as the most important player for the Packers to retain for 2014, given the Packers have a ton of money invested in their guards (Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang), the highest that I would for EDS is four-years, $16 million with $6 million guaranteed.

If there are any changes to The 53 before the Packers host the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday, check back for my full coverage.  I am not ready to throw in the towel on the season just yet but if the Packers do not right the ship against the Vikings then their post-season hopes are essentially done.

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