Monday, September 15, 2014

I Went There - Brewers/Reds & Packers/Jets

I scored tickets for the 2014 Green Bay Packers regular season home opener against the New York Jets.  As luck would have it, the Milwaukee Brewers had a home stand that weekend against the Cincinnati Reds too so I thought it made sense to double-dip watching the Brewers on Saturday night at Miller Park and the Packers on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field.  A Cheesehead double-dip, if you will.

Brewers tickets were actually tough to get for Saturday night not because the Brewers are fighting for a playoff spot but because it was Hank the Dog bobble-head night.  Thankfully my buddy Gaber was able to score three tickets together in the upper deck down the first base line.  We were late getting into the game so we missed the first pitch.  As we made our way to the entrance, people were already leaving the game with their Hank the Dog bobble-heads in hand.  Even though we were late, there was still a line to get into the game too because we had to go through metal detectors.  Not sure if the metal detectors were Hank the Dog related or something else but that process delayed the first pitch.

In terms of the game itself, there was really nothing of note to report other than a bungled sausage race that saw the Brewers try to get Hank the Dog a victory.  Unfortunately for the Brewers, Hank the Dog was overwhelmed so he didn't even run the race.  Instead, a Brewer intern had to pick-up Hank the Dog and run him past the line in 6th place.  Hank the Dog was about as impressive as the Brewers given that their pitching was sub-par and their offense was non-existent en route to losing 5-1 to the Reds.

After starting the season 27-15, the Brewers have been an average team, at best. Thankfully their pitching has been pretty good because their offense has really struggled following a hot start to the season.  With each day, their playoff hopes continue to fade.  I am not saying that I've turned the page on the Brewers yet but their inability to score runs is really testing my patience, which is why fans were probably more interested in the bobble head giveaway than the actual game.

After the game Gaber, Uncle Patty, and I headed back to my parent's place to catch-up and set our plan of attack for the main event of the weekend...Packers/Jets at Lambeau.  We spent the night catching up about everything from our all-time favorite Milwaukee Wave players to family updates, which meant we only got a couple hours of sleep but still woke up with a hop in our step to start the pilgrimage north.

Sug met us as we were picking up tailgate goodies at the Metro Market.  I mention that because for those that have never had the privilege (you read that right), the fun starts in the meat section of the Metro Market in downtown Milwaukee.  There are a ton of Mariano's with tasty sausages in Chicago but let's not forget that those fantastic meats got their start at the Metro Market in Milwaukee.  It is great walking around the Metro Market with everyone, including the staff, wearing Packers gear.  As I've said many times in this space, you really can't go wrong with any of the brat options besides the habanero cheddar.  My favorites are either the jalapeno cheddar or the classic beer brat.

With a full cooler of beers and brats accompanied by some other tasties, we headed north.  We made it up to Green Bay just around noon.  We decided to park south of the stadium but not too close because traffic is a nightmare following the game. We had a beautiful day to throw the football and play bags.  Thankfully Uncle Patty overcame a pulled muscle on his first throw of the day so we could whip the pigskin and bags around the parking lot as we feasted on brats.  Given the issues we had getting into the Brewers game on time, we decided to head into the Packer game a little early so we wouldn't miss kickoff.

Once we got into the stadium, Uncle Patty and I tried to hit-up the new Packer Pro Shop.  One of the new Packer Pro Shop oddities is that it is under the Lambeau Field atrium.  Unfortunately it seems like almost everyone else in the stadium had the same plan so we bagged it in hopes of getting to our seats in time for kickoff.  Our original tickets were split-up two and two, which I traded for four tickets together in the north end zone, opposite the wall of sound.

The Jets kicked off to start the game.  In their first snap from center, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and rookie center Corey Linsley didn't connect, which resulted in a fumble that the Jets recovered.  That started the wost quarter of football that I've seen the Packers play at Lambeau in my entire life as the Packers trailed the Jets 21-3 with just over 10 minutes left in the first half.

With how horribly the game started, I decided to walk around the concourse of the stadium to try to calm myself me, I know I have problems.  As I chronicled in my review of the Packers/Eagles game from last season, Eagles fans are the biggest a-holes in the NFL but Jets fans are doing their best to overtake Eagles fans based on how they carried themselves in Lambeau.  Instead of taking their good brakes in stride, Jets fans cheered with borderline vitriol, not a good look for such an underwhelming franchise.

The Packers added a pair of field goals (20-yard and 55-yard) via placekicker Mason Crosby to cut the lead to 21-9.  The Jets were driving for a touchdown at the end of the first half when Jets quarterback Geno Smith threw a pass up for grabs as he was pressured by Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels that was intercepted by Packers cornerback Tramon Williams right at the goal line.  Given their offensive struggles, I thought the Packers might sit on the ball.  Instead, the Packers put together a clinical 97-yard touchdown drive to end the half down just 21-16, which honestly felt like they were winning given how horribly the first 20 minutes of the game went.

At the start of the second half Packers head coach Mike McCarthy had possibly the biggest brain-fart of his tenure in Green Bay, which is a fairly long and illustrious list.  The Jets looked to complete a 14-yard pass on 2nd and 8 from their own seven yard line.  Somehow the Jets were unable to get organized following that play so they were forced to burn a timeout.  Coming out of a full television timeout, which is at least two minutes, McCarthy challenged the play and lost.  I get sometimes coaches are forced to throw a challenge flag in the heat of the moment but McCarthy's gaffe was the antithesis of heat of the moment.  Everyone in the stadium got a million looks and knew not to challenge the call but somehow McCarthy didn't see these same replays.

Following a couple punts, thankfully the Packers went up 24-21 when Rodgers connected with wide receiver Randall Cobb for a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the end zone right in front of us.  Following the two-point conversion, things got chippy.  Muhammad Wilkerson, arguably the Jets best defensive player, threw a punch and got ejected.  As Wilkerson walked off the field he did his best Hulk Hogan impression, apparently forgetting that he was playing on the road not at home.  Those same a-hole Jets fans somehow defended Wilkerson, which tells you all you need to know about them.

At that point I thought the Packers were going to run away with the game but credit the Jets, they tied the game on their next drive thanks to a 52-yard field goal.  The Packers responded on the next play from scrimmage with a beautiful catch and run that resulted in an 80-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to wide receiver Jordy Nelson in the end zone right in front of us to put the Packers up for good.

The rest of the game was fairly ho-hum till the Jets scored what looked to be a game-tying 37-yard touchdown pass right in front of us.  On the throw it looked like Williams went for the interception instead of knocking it down.  I say "looked to be" because Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called a timeout before the play.  By NFL rule only the head coach coach, which in this case would be Rex "Twinkle Toes" Ryan can call a timeout.  In practice it is hard for refs to decipher voices so when they hear a timeout called they always grant it.   Apparently Williams and some other Packer defenders heard the timeout as well because it looked like some of them were slow to react at the start of the play.

The Packers were able to stop the Jets following the timeout and run out the clock with their game clinching play...a 15-yard pass to Jordy Nelson on 3rd and 3.  That is the kind of aggressive play calling that I would like to see more often from McCarthy given that the Packers have (arguably) the best quarterback in the NFL.  Nelson finished the day with 209 receiving yards and a touchdown.  If I had to hand out three game balls they would go to Nelson, Rodgers (25 of 42 for 346 yards and 3 touchdowns along with six rushes for 28 yards), and Daniels (5 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 2 quarterback hits, and a sack).

There really is nothing better than a Packers win followed by a Chicago Bear loss.  The Packers/Jets game was a late afternoon kickoff and the Bears played on the road against the San Francisco on Sunday Night Football.  Given how much trouble the 49ers give the Packers and the fact that they were opening their new stadium on Sunday Night Football at The Chaps, I thought it was a slam dunk that the Bears would lose...especially after the Bears collapsed at home last week against the underwhelming Buffalo Bills.  We turned off the game at halftime because the Bears were getting beaten badly and their announcers are such homers even when the Bears are losing that we didn't want to listen them whine about losing to the 49ers for the entire 2nd half.  Somehow the 49ers imploded and the Bears pulled it out so after two weeks, every team in the NFC North is tied at 1-1.

The Packers head on the road for two big divisional games against the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears followed by a divisional game on Thursday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings.  If the Packers make any personal moves, check back for my thoughts, otherwise I will have my updated rankings to The 53 following their divisional trifecta.

More importantly, thanks to Gaber, Sug, and Uncle Patty for a great Cheesehead sports weekend, hopefully we can do it again early next fall.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The 53 - Initial Player Rankings for 2014 GBP

Welcome to the 5th and final part of my "season preview".  I put season preview in quotes because I wanted to rank The 53
Review of The 53
Initial Review of the Roster
Initial Review of the Practice Squad
Five Most Overpaid
Five Most Underpaid
Initial Rankings of the Roster
before the Green Bay Packers played the Seattle Seahawks on the road to open their 2014 season so that I was on the record with my initial  thoughts about The 53 but work got in the way. As a result, I am going to factor in how the Packers played in their loss to the Seahawks to the rankings but that barely changed my initial thoughts.

Just as a refresher, these rankings take into account age, skill, contract, and positional depth.  Going forward, I plan to post updated rankings of The 53 as often as possible.  For each iteration of this post I will not only rank the players 1 through 53 but I will write about the players whose rankings change drastically from the previous iteration of the rankings.  Without further adu, here are my thoughts on a few players from The 53:

The Initial 53
1. Aaron Rodgers (QB)
2. Clay Matthews (OLB)
3. Eddie Lacy (RB)
4. Sam Shields (CB)
5. Josh Sitton (G)
6. Jordy Nelson (WR)
7. Mike Daniels (DE)
8. T.J. Lang (G)
9. Micah Hyde (S)
10. Julius Peppers (DE/OLB) 
11. Randall Cobb (WR) 
12. David Bakhtiari (T) 
13. Casey Hayward (CB)
14. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S) 
15. Morgan Burnett (S)
16. Mike Neal (DE/OLB)
17. Bryan Bulaga (T)
18. Tramon Williams (CB)
19. Datone Jones (DE)
20. Davante Adams (WR)
21. Josh Boyd (DT)
22. Richard Rodgers (TE)
23. Tim Masthay (P)

24. Jarett Boykin (WR)
25. A.J. Hawk (MLB)
26. Corey Linsley (C)
27. Nick Perry (OLB)
28. James Starks (RB)
29. John Kuhn (FB)
30. Davon House (CB)
31. Brandon Bostick (TE)
32. Jarrett Bush (CB)
33. Andrew Quarless (TE)
34. Matt Flynn (QB)
35. Mason Crosby (K)
36. Carl Bradford (MLB)
37. Jamari Lattimore (MLB)
38. Jeff Janis (WR)
39. Scott Tolzien (QB)
40. DuJuan Harris (RB)
41. Brett Goode (LS)
42. Letroy Guion (DT)
43. Brad Jones (MLB)
44. Ryan Taylor (TE)
45. Sean Richardson (S)
46. Andy Mulumba (OLB) 
47. Mike Pennel (DT)
48. Sam Barrington (OLB)
49. Jayrone Elliott (OLB)
50. Derek Sherrod (T)
51. Lane Taylor (G)
52. Garth Gerhart (C)
53. Demetri Goodson (CB)
Injured Reserve -
Designated for Return:
J.C. Tretter 
Injured Reserve
1. Don Barclay (T/G/C)
2. B.J. Raji (DT)
3. Jared Abbrederis (WR)
4. Nate Plamer (LB)
5. Khyri Thornton (DT)
6. Aaron Adams (T)
3. Eddie Lacy (RB): I am not sure how many concussions Lacy suffered before he joined the NFL.  We know that he suffered (at least) one last year against the Cincinnati Bengals and suffered another this season against the Seahawks.  Let me be captain obvious when I say that concussions are no laughing matter.  What worries me specifically about Lacy is that his punishing running style is what made me love him so much going into the 2013 NFL Draft but at some point you have to wonder whether the concussions will lead to Lacy changing his running style to run with less authority.

7. Mike Daniels (DE): Even before the Packers lost defensive tackle B.J. Raji for the season with a torn bicep, Daniels was the leader of the defensive line.  That is quire a rise for a guy that was drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft.  Although Daniels can play both the run and the pass as a defensive end in the 3-4 despite his short stature, with how little the Packers line-up in the 3-4, I actually see Daniels having the biggest impact as an inside pass rusher in passing situations this season.

11. Randall Cobb (WR): This is a good illustration of how the rankings work.  There is no question that Cobb is one of the best players on The 53 but he is only signed through this season, which decreases his trade value.  Plus, Cobb plays wide receiver, which is a deep position on The 53.  Given Cobb's injury issues, I don't blame the Packers if they have him play out the season before signing him to a contract extension.  If the Packers do that, they need to realize if Cobb stays healthy for all of 2014 that he will sign a Jordy Nelson-eque contact (four-years, $39 million with $11.5 million guaranteed).

17. Bryan Bulaga (T): Missed all last season after he tore his ACL in the preseason.  Unfortunately Bulaga left the season opener early with another knee injury.  Don Barclay started at right tackle in place of the injured Bulaga last season but tore his ACL this preseason so the Packers were forced to turn to Derek Sherrod against the Seahawks.  As expected, Sherrod was quite underwhelming in place of Bulaga so it is going to be a daily Bulaga healthy watch leading up to the home opener this Sunday against the New York Jets.

36. Carl Bradford (MLB): Now that Bradford made The 53 by the skin of his teeth, his value shoots up mostly because he was a 4th round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, thus he has one of the most favorable contract on The 53.  Following the 2013 NFL Draft I said the Packers should give Micah Hyde a look at safety but his measurables projected him more as a safety than a cornerback.  For some reason the Packers waited a year and now they have a starter at safety in Hyde, just a year later than they should have.  The same applies to Bradford, his measurables project him more as a middle linebacker than an outside linebacker.  The Packers tried Bradford at outside linebackers all preseason where he struggled.  Thankfully the Packers gave Bradford a look at MLB instead of cutting him. Keeping in mind that Bradford is getting an earlier look at middle linebacker due to injury and ineffectiveness of middle linebacker Brad Jones.  Hopefully Bradford can show something at middle linebacker because the Packers desperately need an upgrade at that spot.

38. Jeff Janis (WR): At 6'3" and 219 lbs, the Packers look like they found their next Jordy Nelson.  No this is not based on race, it is based on body type because both Janis and Nelson are sneaky big.  What I mean by that are they are both 6'3" but are never mentioned as physically imposing wide receivers in the NFC North with the likes of Alshon Jeffrey, Calvin Johnson, or Brandon Marshall.  Sure all of those other NFC North receivers are bigger guys but the Packers usually target smaller wide receivers so I am glad they took a chance on Janis because his combine and preseason performance, I think the Packers found a gem in Janis.

53. Demetri Goodson (CB): If you applied my thought process just discussed for Bradford to Goodson, you would think that Goodson would not be the last spot on The 53 given that Goodson was a 6th round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.  The difference between Goodson and Bradford is that Goodson is more of an acclaimed basketball player than football player.  Plus, Goodson is dealing with the effects of a concussion he suffered in the preseason too so I have low expectations for the Packers getting any real production out of Goodson in 2014.

I am going to the Brewers/Reds game on Saturday night and the Packers/Jets game on Sunday afternoon with Gaber, Sug, and Uncle Patty so make sure to check back next week for my thoughts on the games.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The 53 - Five Best Contracts for 2014 GBP

In case you missed it, yesterday I looked at the five worst contracts on The 53
Review of The 53
Initial Review of the Roster
Initial Review of the Practice Squad
Five Most Overpaid
Five Most Underpaid
Initial Rankings of the Roster
In previous seasons I've had a hard time cobbling together five "bad" contracts, unfortunately there are a number of them on The 53 right now.  I hope that Thompson cleans up some of those this off-season by either cutting them or getting them to restructure their contracts to play for less money.

In this same post last year I highlighted four guys in their contract year that were finishing a non-rookie contract extension that I thought were absolute steals: Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, $1.3 million), Robert Francois (MLB, $750,000), James Jones (WR, $3.75 million), and Sam Shields (CB, $2 million).  At the end of discussing those four players, I said "if I had to make a predictions today, I think it is much more likely that Dietrich-Smith and Jones will resign with the Packers than Francois or Shields."  Well it turns out that Shields is the only guy left on The 53 and I am super salty that EDS is no longer with the team.  Sure the Packers got good value for having three of the four guys on The 53 last season but the underlying contracts were not that great since EDS is playing for the Tampa Bay Bucaneers and Jones is play for the Oakland Raiders.  Thus it looks like the expiring contracts on the cheap might not be as good as I thought so I did not include them this year.

Let's get to the five best contracts on The 53 for the Packers this season.  Keep in mind that this list doesn't even factor in rookie contracts since they are exempt given that they are so advantageous for all NFL teams.  Much like last year there are almost a dozen contracts that I could characterize as honorable mention but I am going to focus on the five best contracts on The 53:

5. Julius Peppers (DE/OLB, $3.5 million, 14th highest cap charge on The 53): I already gave the Peppers free agent deal two looks this off-season.  First, when I thought Thompson signed Peppers to a three-year, $30 million contract with $7.5 guaranteed.  I followed that up when it turns out that Thompson actually signed Peppers to a three-year, $26 million contract with $7.5 million guaranteed.  I don't want to get too excited about this contract given that Peppers is 34 years old and the contract is structured in such a way that he only has a cap charge of $3.5 million this season (tied for 23rd highest with San Diego Charger Jarret Johnson at outside linebacker in the NFL) that balloons to $12.5 million next season (would be highest at outside linebacker in the NFL if it was this season) and drops to $10.5 million in 2016.  Given how rarely Thompson breaks the bank in fre agency, I had to give Thompson positive encouragement.

4. Tim Masthay (P, $1.2 million, 24th highest cap charge on The 53): It may seem crazy to give a punter contract such praise, especially after all the bad things I said about paying place kickers yesterday but Thompson made up for losing punter Jon Ryan when he signed Masthay to a four-year, $5.5 million contract extension with $1.2 million guaranteed.  The business of professional sports continues to become more and more sophisticated so it makes it much harder for Thompson and other smart NFL general managers to sign these types of cost-effective contract extensions.  Masthay is currently in the second year of that extension and is just the 17th highest paid punter in the NFL with every punter in the Top 10 (in terms of cap hit for 2014) making more than $2 million so $1.2 million this season for Masthay almost seems cheap given the market for punters.

3. Clay Matthews (OLB, $10.9 million, 2nd highest cap charge on The 53): The upside is that it looks like Matthews finally has a legitimate pass rusher lining up opposite of him in Peppers.  The downside is that odds are low that Matthews will be healthy for the entire season given that Matthews missed just two games in his first three seasons in the NFL but missed nine games over the last two seasons.  Plus, the cap hit for Matthews jumped from $6.7 million in 2013 to $10.9 this season.  There are even bigger cap holds for Matthews over the next few seasons so the Packers need to do everything possible to keep Matthews healthy going forward.  Otherwise I could see Matthews dropping off the "best" contract list over the next few years.

2. Sam Shields (CB, $5.6 million, 6th highest cap charge on The 53): When Thompson signed cornerback Tramon Williams to a four-year, $33 million contract extension with $10.9 guaranteed, I thought it was a steal.  Sadly the last year of big extensions like that are expensive unless teams can renegotiate those deals.  Case and point, the Packers are paying Williams $9.5 million this season, which is the 3rd highest cap charge on The 53.  Going into last season I said that Williams had the worst contract on The 53.  Williams picked things up last year and is on an expiring contract, which is why he is not on either list this season.  You might be asking why I had such a lengthy discussion of Williams under what was supposed to be a discussion of Shields.  Well I hope the Williams contract is not a sign of things to come for Shields given that Thompson signed Shields to a four-year, $39 million contract extension with $12.5 guaranteed.  This is just the first year of the extension so the Packers and Shields are still in the honeymoon stage but that honeymoon will be over soon when Shields is owed $12.1 million in each of the last two years of his contract in 2016 and 2017.  One final point of comparison, Nelson and Shields are two of the five best players on The 53.  Nelson and Shields both signed very similar contract extension in the last year, which might make some ask how Nelson could have the 5th worst contract on The 53 while Shields has the second best contract on The 53.  Basically I just think wide receivers are more fungible than cornerbacks, which is even more evident when Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback.
1. Aaron Rodgers (QB, $17.5 million, highest cap charge on The 53): Last year when I discussed why Rodgers had the best contract on The 53 I gave a very detailed breakdown of the two contract extensions that Rodgers signed with the Packers.  The Packers saw how much they struggled without Rodgers under center given that they went 2-4-1 with Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien, and Seneca Wallace at quarterback in 2013.  So yes, even though the cap hit for Rodgers went from $11.6 million in 2013 to $17.5 million this season, he is still the best contract on The 53 by a mile.  Oh and if you want to know how cost-effective Rodgers is for the Packers, keep in mind that he has only the 6th highest cap hit at quarterback in the NFL this season.  You might think guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have a higher cap hit that Rodgers but that is not the case.  Here are the quarterbacks that have a higher cap hit than Rodgers this year: Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler, Drew Brees, and Sam Bradford.  That's right, Mr. IR himself Sam Brandford has a higher cap hit then Rodgers this year.

As the contracts discussed above show, the Packers are in pretty good financial shape this season save for a few slight overpays by Thompson, which is why the Packers won Super Bowl XLV and have been a perennial playoff team for the last half dozen years besides 2008.

Again a special thanks to Sportrac for their detailed NFL salary numbers, which made this post possible.  Check back tomorrow when I finally finish my five-part season preview for the 2014 Packers with my initial rankings of The 53.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The 53 - Five Worst Contracts for 2014 GBP

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson finalized the first incarnation of The 53 on Saturday.  I say first incarnation because much like last year, just a few days after finalizing The 53, Thompson shook up The 53.  Last year Thompson made a change at backup quarterback, this year injuries forced Thompson to make changes at center
Review of The 53
Initial Review of the Roster
Initial Review of the Practice Squad
Five Most Overpaid
Five Most Underpaid
Initial Rankings of the Roster
Thompson normally is very deliberate in how he Builds The 53 but injuries have forced Thompson to change his approach over the last few years. In what feels like a flurry of off-season signings, Thompson signed not one but two free agents that played for other NFC North teams last season.  Thompson favors the draft and develop method over splashing cash in free agency but with such meager returns from the draft the last few years (2011, 2012, and 2013), Thompson was basically forced to upgrade The 53 via free agency so let's not give him too much credit.

Thompson rolled over roughly $10 million in cap space from last season, which is very important given that he has just under $9 million in cap space right now.  Although it looks like the Packers have a fair amount of salary cap room, they will need to use it wisely because they have a number of quality starters* and backups** that are set to become free agents this off-season.

Two years ago I dealt with the five worst and five best contract together.  Since these posts get long, I decided to split them up last year into the five worst and the five best contracts on The 53.  I am going to follow that same approach again this year.  Today let's look at the five worst contracts on The 53:

5. Jordy Nelson (WR, $5.9 million, 5th highest cap charge on The 53): Going into this season the top three wide receivers on The 53: Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Jarrett Boykin were set to become free agents.  There is no question that Nelson is the most accomplished of the three but he is also the oldest.  Thompson signed Nelson to a four-year, $39 million extension with $11.5 million guarnateed on the eve of training camp, which is much richer than the four-year, $14 million contract with $5 million guaranteed that was set to expire at the end of the 2014 season. Nelson's cap number actually goes down next season to $4.6 but then jumps up for the following three years: $8.8 million in 2016, $11.5 million in 2017, and $12.5 million in 2018.  Sure the cap is set to go up in 2015 or 2016 but that does not justify back-loading this deal as much as Thompson did.  Given Cobb's injury issues, if he signs an extension with the Packers I would expect that it will be slightly less expensive than Nelson's recent extension but probably only a few million less.  Boykin is the tougher call given that Thompson drafted three wide receivers in the 2014 NFL Draft that are borderline locks for The 53 in 2015.  Unless Boykin takes a below market deal for a player of his caliber (e.g. only averages $2 million a year with very little guaranteed), I see him play playing elsewhere in 2015.  Nelson has just the 16th highest wide receiver salary in the NFL this season, which makes his contract look reasonable this season so I hope you realize that this is more of a commentary on the structure of the deal as well as the depth that the Packers have at wide receiver as opposed to a shot at Nelson.

4. Derek Sherrod (OT, $2.1 million salary, 16th highest cap charge on The 53): When the Packers lost backup offensive lineman Don Barclay for the season it meant that Sherrod became the backup at left and right tackle.  When right tackle Bryan Bulaga went down with a knee injury in the regular season opener on the road against the Seattle Seahawks, the Packers were forced to play Sherrod and he struggled mightily.  I know that Seattle is arguably the toughest stadium to play in and the Seahawks are the defending Super Bowl champs but Thompson certainly expected more out of Sherrod when he drafted him with the 32nd pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.  Unfortunately it looks like Sherrod is the second coming of Marshall Newhouse instead of Chad Clifton, which makes the long-term diagnosis on Bulaga's knee injury very important.  Thankfully Thompson can let Sherrod leave via free agency after this season while the rest of the guys on this list are signed past this season.

3. Morgan Burnett (S, $4.8 million salary, 9th highest cap charge on The 53):  Oh how the mighty have fallen.  I was a total Burnett supporter going into 2013.  In fact I liked Burnett so much that I actually had his four-year, $24.75 million contract extension with $8.25 million guaranteed that he signed before the 2014 season ranked as the 4th best contract on The 53 last season.  This might be a bit of an over reaction to one bad season since Burnett and the rest of the safeties on The 53 last year struggled but now the Packers have two much more cost-effective options at safety in Micah Hyde (moved from cornerback to safety this off-season) and rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (my reasonable draft crush from the 2014 NFL Draft).  Given that Burnett is just 25 years old, I don't see Thompson cutting Burnett after this season unless Ha Ha and Hyde are absolute studs while Burnett completely struggles again this year but I wonder whether it will trigger a A.J. Hawk-esque pay cut down the road for Burnett if he wants to stay in Green Bay through the end of his contract that currently expires after the 2017 season.

2. Mason Crosby (K, $3.4 million salary, 15th highest cap charge on The 53)Before the 2011 season Thompson signed Crosby to a five-years, $14.75 million contract with $3 million guaranteed.  Last season Crosby agreed to forgo guaranteed money with the option to earn the money back via performance bonuses because of how close he was to getting cut.  Crosby put together arguably his best season in Green Bay but let's not forget that there have been a number of studies that show there is no year-over-year correlation between kicker performance.  Thus a Top 5 kicker aka 2013 Crosby is just as likely to be a bottom five kicker aka 2012 Crosby.  Right now Crosby is the 4th highest paid kicker in the NFL and sadly has regression written all over him for this season.  If I were Thompson, next off-season I would draft a kicker late or sign an undrafted rookie free agent to create a kicking competition in training camp.  If Crosby is out-kicked by the other kicker, the Packers would only have $600,000 in dead money if they cut him but would be able to save over $2 million in salary at the kicker position given that Crosby is owed $3.5 million in 2015 because a rookie kicker would make around $500,000.  As you can tell, I hope 2014 is Crosby's last season kicking for the Packers.

1. Brad Jones (MLB, $3.9 million salary, 10th highest cap charge on The 53): I had Jones pegged for the worst contract on The 53 even before he was the single worst defender on the field against the Seattle Seahawks in the regular season opener.  Last year I thought Jones only had the 4th worst contract on The 53 but Jones is now clearly in a race to the bottom with each passing day the three-year, $11.75 million contract that Thompson gave Jones continues to look worse and worse.  Just to add insult to the salary cap, the Packers are paying middle linebacker Jamari Lattimore $1.4 million in 2014 to backup Jones.  This off-season Lattimore is an unrestricted free agent.  I don't see Lattimore breaking the bank this off-season but will mostly likely command enough that Thompson will have to choose whether Jones deserves a spot on The 53 or should make way for a Lattimore extension.  I clearly favor Lattimore or even rookie Carl Bradford in 2015 over Jones. If Thompson doubles down on stupid by keeping Jones around for 2015, it will most likely be at the expense of Lattimore.

A special thanks to Sportrac for their detailed NFL salary numbers, which made this post possible.  With the bad contracts out of the way, make sure to check tomorrow for my look at the five best contracts on The 53.

* = Bryan Bulaga (OT), Randall Cobb (WR), John Kuhn (FB), B.J. Raji (DT), and Tramon Williams (CB).

** = Don Barclay (OT), Jarrett Boykin (WR), Jarett Bush (CB), Matt Flynn (QB), Letroy Guion (DT), DuJuan Harris (RB), Davon House (CB), Jamari Lattimore (MLB), Sean Richardson (S), Derek Sherrod (OT), Ryan Taylor (TE), and Scott Tolzien (QB).

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Building The 53 - Changes Galore at Center

Unfortunately work got in the way of the rest of my five-part preview of the 2014 Green Bay Packers season getting posted before the Packers open the season on the road against the Seattle Seahawks this evening.  For those that are clamoring for the rest of the series (see table below), I promise to have it all posted before the regular season home opener next weekend when the Packers host the New York Jets, which I will be attending with Gaber, Sug, and UP.

Review of The 53
Initial Review of the Roster
Initial Review of the Practice Squad
Five Most Overpaid
Five Most Underpaid
Initial Rankings of the Roster
In the meantime, I had to write a quick post because Packers general manager Ted Thompson made an interesting move to The 53 yesterday. Thompson placed center JC Tretter on injured reserve - designated for return, which opened up a spot on The 53.  Thompson filled that spot on The 53 with center Garth Gerhart off the practice squad.  That move opened up a spot on the practice squad that Thompson filled with guard Josh Allen.

Since Tretter was placed on injured reserve - designated for return, he cannot practice with the team for six weeks and cannot be placed on The 53 for eight weeks.  Given that the Packers have a bye Week 9, the earliest Tretter can return is Week 10 when the Packers host the Chicago Bears.  Also NFL teams are only allowed to use the injured reserve - designated for return once per season so that ship has already sailed for 2014 before the regular season even started.

In my off-season advice for Thompson I said that he should offer center Even Dietrich-Smith a four-year, $16 million contract with $8 million guaranteed.  As the off-season progressed, I went on record again saying that Thompson was going to regret the decision not to resign EDS.  As it turns out EDS signed a four-year, $14.25 million deal with $7.25 million guaranteed with the Tampa Bay Bucaneers not the Packers.  Clearly I value EDS more than the Bucs, which value EDS more than the Packers.

That means instead of EDS or even Tretter, the Packers are now forced to start rookie center Corey Linsley for at least half the season, which I am sure is not what Thompson had in mind when he drafted Linsley in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft.  Sure you can never predict that injuries would claim backup offensive lineman Don Barclay's entire season and at least half of Tretter's season but let's not forget that Barclay was dinged up last season and that Tretter missed almost his entire rookie season due to injury so seeing them both injured again this year is by no means shocking.  If Linsley struggles this season, instead of playing Gerhart at center, my guess is that right guard T.J. Lang moves to center and the Packers insert Derek Sherrod at right guard.

This post has been a complete downer so far so let's try to find the silver lining in all of this.  The Packers used the injured reserve - designated for return last year on wide receiver Randall Cobb when Cobb was injured by Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam.  That worked out pretty well given that Cobb return for the regular season finale on the road against the Chicago Bears.  For those that forgot the outcome of the game, the Packers trailed the Bears 28 to 27 with 46 seconds to play and faced a 4th and 8 from the Bears' 48-yard line. Rodgers and Cobb connected on a 48-yard touchdown pass to seal not only a win but the NFC North crown and most importantly a spot in the playoffs.  Oh and that play also ended the season for the Bears, which is always nice.

Back to Tretter, even if he is able to return Week 10 against the Bears, I have no grand illusions that he is going to be the savior against the Bears this season the way Cobb was last season.  I just hope in EDS and Tretter's absence that the offensive line does not crumble due to their inexperience at center.

One more macro NFL injury thought.  Given the physicality of your average NFL game, the NFL should really consider changing their injury policy.  MLB has a 15-day disabled list, which provides a nice way for MLB teams to deal with in-season injuries.  I am not positive that is the solution for the NFL but there should be an interim injury designation that lets teams open roster spots for healthy players but allows them to do that without having to place players on injured reserve.  For those that do not understand the intricacies of injured reserve in the NFL, when a team places a player on injured reserve that means they lost that player's services for the rest of the season.  Sure there there is injured reserve - designated for return but that can only be used once a season per team.

In terms of my solution, I would allow unlimited two game and four game injured reserve - designated for return.  You can only use the two game or four game designation once a season for each player but can use it on every player on The 53.  The NFL claims to care about concussions so it seems like the two game injured reserve - designated for return would be a great way to encourage teams to hold out players that suffered a concussion.  The pitch for the four-game injured reserve could again be concussions or significant sprains (e.g. high ankle, hamstring, etc.) that necessitate time off but should not claim a player's entire season.  Without those interim designations available, teams are essentially encouraged to rush players at the bottom of The 53 back because they can threaten the specter of placing them on injured reserve.

One final pitch for my two game and four game injured reserve - designated for return.  For the seven games that quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed last season, it was a weekly discussion of will he play or not.  The Packers knew Rodgers wasn't going to play the first few weeks but would not come clean.  Please don't tell me the threat of the other team having to prepare for Rodgers is worth having him on The 53 because most NFL teams are over prepared.  They know the type of gum the 53rd guy on The 53 likes to chew. If the Packers could have placed Rodgers on the four game injured reserve - designated for return they could signed another veteran quarterback for those four weeks and it would have cut down on the rampant speculation on whether Rodgers was going to play.

My expectations for the NFL adopting the injury rules I just outlined are about as high as my expectations for the game tonight, which are very low (see me trying to reserve jinx a Packer win).  No matter the outcome, make sure to check back in this space over the next week as I finish my five-part preview of the 2014 Green Bay Packers with my look at the most overpaid on The 53, the most underpaid on The 53, and my first rankings (1-53) of The 53.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Man City Report - 2014 Summer Transfer Window Review

There was a ton of roster turnover for Manchester City over the 2014 summer transfer window.  Sure most of the turnover was on the younger/developmental side of the roster but the current senior roster for Man City looks slightly different than the side that won the 2013-14 Capital One Cup & more importantly the Barclay's English Premier League.  Here is a look at all the business done by Man City over the 2014 summer transfer window:

Released/Free Transfers:
Players: midfielder Thomas Agyiri (released), winger Alex Henshall (free transfer), midfielder Kieran Kennedy (released), defender Joleon Lescott (free transfer), striker Alex Nimely (released), goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon (free transfer), defender George Swan (released), and defender Reece Wabara (released).
Analysis: The fact that Nimley was released was a mild surprise given that he is only 23 years old, which is too young to give up on a striker unless there are off the pitch issues we don't know about.  Besides that, the only real notable names that made any significant appearances for the senior side are Lescott and Pantilimon.  Man City purchased Lescott in the 2009 summer transfer window from Everton for $35 million in hopes that he would be one of their two central defender for the next decade.  Unfortunately Lescott's tenure in Man City was a bit uneven given his injury issues and lack of mobility.  I am sure that Lescott would have been a great central defender in the top tier of English football in the 1980's or 1990's because of his size but size alone does NOT make a successful central defender in the current EPL.  Pantilimon was briefly the 1st string keeper last season when Joe Hart struggle but Man City are on the cusp of making a commitment to Hart so hopefully Pantilimon can get 1st team action at Sunderland.  Given that absent injury he would have seen sparse first-team action for Man City over the next few seasons.

Players: midfielder Bismark Adjei-Boateng (Stromsgodset for 2014), striker Devante Cole (Barnsley through January 5, 2015), defender Jason Denayer (Celtic for the season), winger Godsway Donyoh (Falkenbergs FF for 2014), midfielder Adam Drury (St Mirren for the season), striker John Guidetti (Celtic for season), goalkeeper Eirik Holmen Johansen (Sandefjord through 2014), defender Greg Leigh (Crewe through 2014), midfielder Marcos Lopes (Lille for the season), goalkeeper Billy O'Brien (Hyde for the season), defender Ellis Plummer (St Mirren for the season), defender Karim Rekik (PSV Eindhoven for the season), winger Albert Rusnak (SC Cambuur through 2014), and midfielder Bruno Zuculini (Valencia CF for the season).
Analysis: The most notable name on the list is Devante Cole because he is the son of Andy Cole.  It is way too early to tell whether Devante will be anywhere as good as his father Andy though.  One thing is for sure though, Devante would be the 5th or 6th option for Man City up front right now so hopefully he will get more playing time at Barnsley.  Besides Cole, keep an eye on Zuculini because although he is only 21 years old, I could see him blossom into a quality box-to-box central midfielder with regular playing time elsewhere for the next couple seasons.

Loaned with "Option" to Sell
Players: striker Alvaro Negredo (Valencia for the season with $40 million purchase option) and defender Micah Richards (Fiorentina for the season with $2 million purchase option).
Analysis: Bummed to see Richards go, unfortunately his unlimited athletic promise was rarely on display given all of his injury issues.  Although Negredo is often injured, it is not the reason he was "loaned" to Valencia. The reason Negredo was loaned was that Man City is doing everything in their power to comply with the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules.  When healthy, there is no doubt that Negrado gives Man City a different striker than anyone else currently on the roster.  In fact, there were various points through the first half of last season that without Negrado that Man City would NOT have been able to stay within reach of the first place in the EPL.  Man City purchased Negrado from Sevilla for $27.5 million before the start of last season and could sell him for upwards of $40 million in their loan-to-buy deal with Valencia, which will help balance their books.  Mark my words, if Man City lose Aguero or Dzeko to injury for an extended period of time, they will struggle to stay at the top of the EPL table and thus will surely miss Negredo.

Players: midfielder Gareth Barry (sold for $3 million to Everton), midfielder Javi Garcia (sold for $19 million to FC Zenit Saint Petersburg), midfielder Emyr Huws (sold for $4 million to Wigan), and midfielder Jack Rodwell (sold for $15 million to Sunderland).
Analysis: I was never a big Barry fan.  Sure Barry is a decent holding midfielder but he does not tackle that well and gives you very little going forward so I see him as just another guy.  Seems like Huws and Rodwell were not in Man City's long-term plans even though they are both relatively young so it is nice to see them get a chance for regular minutes elsewhere.  Given how well Garcia played in place of Fernandinho in central midfield along side Yaya Toure at the end of last season, I thought Garcia was in Man City's long-term plans but clearly I was wrong because Man City sold Garcia $19 million, which means they took a slight loss on him since they purchased him from Benfica for $24 million in the 2012 summer transfer window.  With such a strong roster, turnover is inevitable and none of the players sold would get regular first team action unless Man City suffer a number of injuries.

Players: goalkeeper Willy Caballero ($11 million from Malaga), midfielder Fernando ($20 million from Porto), midfielder Frank Lampard (on loan from MLS club NYCFC), defender Eliaquim Mangala ($50 million from Porto), defender Bacary Sagna (free transfer from Arsenal), and midfielder Bruno Zuculini ($3.5 million from Racing Club).
Analysis: Man City was only allowed to spend $82 million due to their Financial Fair Play restrictions from UEFA, which meant that every dollar that Man City spent in the summer transfer window had to be spent wisely. Time will tell how much of an impact Caballero, Fernando, and Sagna will have because there are more talented players in front of them on the current roster in Joe Hart, Fernandinho, and Pablo Zabaleta. Man City was able to take Lampard on loan from their "sister" MLS expansion franchise New York City FC because they do NOT have their first MLS match till March of 2015.  It will be odd to see Lampard in a light blue jersey as opposed to a dark blue jersey given that he played for Chelsea from 2001 to 2014. With Zuculini out on loan that leaves Mangala.  It is only fitting that Mangala joins Man City as Lescott leaves the club because Mangala looks like a much younger and athletic version of Lescott.  Given how raw Mangala is right now, it will be interesting to see how long it will take the French international to get up to speed in the EPL after playing last season in the top league in Portugal.  Long-term I would be surprised if Mangala was as much of a bust as Lescott but in the short-term I see Mangala struggling to get regular first team appearances, which is not what you would expect from a player that commanded such an expensive transfer fee.

Contract Extensions Signed
Players: striker Sergio Ag├╝ero (5 years), striker Edin Dzeko (4 years), defender Aleksandar Kolarov (3 years), defender Vincent Kompany (5 years), winger Samir Nasri (5 years), and winger David Silva (5 years).
Analysis: The players just listed are some of the most important players on the current senior roster and the core that helped Man City win two EPL titles in the last three seasons, which makes each extension look good in a vacuum but the weekly wage of each player's extension was not disclosed so I cannot comment on their dollar amounts.  I can comment on the length of their contract extensions, which is my only nitpick.  Besides Dzeko and Kolarov, the lengths of the rest of the contract extensions were five years so Man City did not stagger their lengths.  That means that the core of the roster could go through a forced turnover at the same time when those contracts are due to run out when all the players will be in their early 30's so their transfer value will be fairly low.  Given that fact, I would have signed Nasri and possibly Silva to shorter deals.

Man City's roster is now set till 2015 so it will be interesting to see how the players mesh with each other given that Man City will have a ton of matches spread over the Capital One Cup, Champions League, FA Cup, and the EPL in the last four months of 2014.  Make sure to check back during the second international break for my initial rankings of Man City's roster.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The 53 - 2014 Green Bay Packers Initial Practice Squad

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson finalized the first incarnation of The 53 for the 2014 NFL season
Review of The 53
Initial Review of the Roster
Initial Review of the Practice Squad
Five Most Overpaid
Five Most Underpaid
Initial Rankings of the Roster
As I discussed in my initial look at the practice squad last year, after Thompson picked The 53, he had to sift through all the other practice squad eligible players to put together the initial practice squad.  Those that follow the NFL closely know that the NFL increased the size of the practice squads from eight to ten this season. 
The rule change is very helpful for the Packers given that I've always thought Thompson could fill three practice squads with how well he identifies undrafted rookie free agents that could play in the NFL down the road.  As a preview of how The 53 post is going look each week, whenever I rank players, I am going to only write about the most notable from the group.  Here are my thoughts on a couple of the players on the initial 10-man practice squad for the 2014 Green Bay Packers:

1. Chris Banjo: This might feel like a slap in the face to Banjo given that he was on The 53 for the Packers all last season but in just a few months the Packers went from thin to flush at safety after they moved Micah Hyde from cornerback to safety and drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft
Practice Squad
1. Chris Banjo (S)
2. Myles White (WR)
3. Jumal Rolle (CB)
4. Michael Hill (RB)
5. Garth Gerhart (C)
6. Adrian Hubbard (LB)
7. Kevin Dorsey (WR)
8. Justin Perillo (TE)
9. Luther Robinson (DE)
10. Jeremy Vujnovich (OT)
Early this season I could see a safety needy team attempting to scoop Banjo off the practice squad, which will present a tough choice for Thompson.  Whether to add Banjo to The 53 or let him leave.

3. Jumal Rolle: What a 24 hours it has been for Rolle.  Some were surprised that cornerback rookie Demetri Goodson made The 53 over Rolle given how well Rolle played in the preseason and the fact that Goodson is dealing with a concussion.  After Rolle was cut, somehow Thompson did not sign him to the original practice squad.  Thankfully Thompson rectified that error by releasing wide receiver Alex Gillet from the practice squad after less than a day to make room for Rolle.  If Goodson is out long with a concussion, look for Thompson to place Goodson on injured reserve and promote Rolle from the practice squad.

5. Garth Gerhart (C): The Packers went into training camp with JC Tretter as their starting center and Don Barclay as their backup at all five offensive line positions.  Early in camp the Packers lost Barclay for the season with a torn ACL.  Towards the end of camp the Packers lost Tretter for up to a month.  With Tretter and Barclay out, the Packers turned to rookie center Corey Linsley.  If Linsley gets hurt, the Packers will be forced to add another center to The 53.  Since Thompson cannot travel back in time to resign center Even Dietrich-Smith, instead of letting him leave via free agency.  Gerhart is the logical choice if they are going to promote from within.  If Grehart is taking first team snaps in the regular season then the Packers in trouble.

With my initial look at The 53 and ten player practice squad out of the way, make sure to check back soon for my look at the five worst contracts on The 53.