Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Building The 53 - The Most Likelies*

Yesterday I gave you my 35 locks* to make The 53, here are the 9 guys that I think will most likely* make The 53:
Quarterback: Brett Hundley

Running BackNone
Fullback: John Kuhn and Aaron Ripkowski 
Wide Receiver: Jeff Janis
Tight End
Offensive Tackle: Don Barclay
Offensive Guard: None

Center: None
Defensive End: None
Defensive Tackle: None
Middle Linebacker: Nate Palmer and Jake Ryan

Outside Linebacker: None
Cornerback: None

Safety: Sean Richardson
Specialist: Tim Masthay

That means absent injury, there are really only 9 roster spots on The 53 up for grabs going into training camp.  Check back tomorrow for my initial thoughts on how those final 9 roster spots will shake out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Building The 53 - The Locks*

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson already made some hard decisions when he moved on from 13 guys that were either on The 53 or injured reserve at the end of last season.  As training camp opens for the 2015 Green Bay Packers, Thompson still has to make a number of tough decisions to finalize The 53.  The easy decisions to make are the locks* currently on the roster.

The reason all of the guys I am about to list are are locks* stems from one of three reasons.  One, they recently signed a huge contract extension (i.e. Randall Cobb).  Two, they were recently drafted in an early round of the NFL Draft (i.e. Damarious Randall).  Three, they are solid starters (i.e. Mike Daniels) at an important position. 

You may have noticed the asterisk following locks* because if any of the following guys suffer a season ending injury during training camp (knocking on wood as I type), the Packers will place them on injured reserve so they would not make The 53 but still would be in the team's long-term plans.  Also at least two players (defensive lineman Letroy Guion and Datone Jones) look like they will at least be suspended for the first game of the season, if NOT longer, but I still think they are both locks to The 53 once they are eligible to play. 

I did this same exercise in 2013 but skipped it last season.  In anticipation of that I gave my 31 "Locks" for The 53 in 2015 almost a month and a half before the 2015 NFL Draft.  Going into the start of training camp, here are the 35 locks* to make The 53:

QB: Aaron Rodgers and Scott Tolzien
RB: Eddie Lacy and James Starks
FB: None
WR: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, and Ty Montgomery
TE: Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless
T: Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari
G: Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang
C: Corey Linsley and JC Tretter
DT: Mike Daniels and Josh Boyd
DE: Letroy Guion, B.J. Raji, and Datone Jones
OLB: Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, and Nick Perry
MLB: Sam Barrington
CB: Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Damarious Randall, and Quinten Rollins
S: Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Micah Hyde
Specialist: Brett Goode (LS) and Mason Crosby (K) 

Those that read both of my 2015 "Locks" posts closely see that I've added some high 2015 NFL Draft picks (Randall, Rollins, and Montgomery), some veteran defensive lineman (Guion and Raji), and dropped Khyri Thornton from being a lock.  That is a pretty rapid decline for Thornton given that he was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft and spent the entire 2014 season on injured reserve.  That leaves 18 roster spots on The 53 up for grabs.  Check back tomorrow for my list of guys "most likely" to make The 53.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Building The 53 - Ranking Former Members of The 53

Before I take my annual look at how I think The 53 should shake out for the Green Bay Packers, the first place to start is to look at the players that are no longer with the team that were on the final 53-man roster or injured reserve when the Packers suffered their heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Seahawks in NFC Championship game last season.  While the Packers "lost" 13 guys, you will see that most of the players that have moved on were not top-end guys.  These rankings take into account age, productivity, potential cost, positional strength, and runs in reverse order:

Aaron Adams (T): While the Packers look to have bookend tackles in David Bakhtiari (LT) and Bryan Bulaga (RT), the Packers really have struggled to develop a quality backup tackle for the last few seasons.  Sure, Don Barclay looked like he would fit that void but let's not forget that Barlcay missed the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL so how well he will perform in 2015 is one of the big questions going into training camp big question.  Adam must be far from game form because the Packers kept him on injured reserve for the entire 2014 season but didn't have a spot on the 90-man off-season roster for him.

Jarrett Bush (CB): Tough off-season for Bush given that he was NOT only arrested for public intoxication but he was also suspended from the NFL for testing positive for the use of performance enhancing drugs.  Bush was always the first one at practice and the last one to leave.  Unfortunately because of the off-season incidents, Bush's reputation will forever be tainted and I would be shocked if another team took a chance on him, which (most likely) brings to a close one of the more interesting careers of a Packer from from the last decade given some of the high's (interception in Super Bowl XLV and consistent special teams player) and low's (inability to regularly play of defense because of his limited skill set, which made him a lightning rod with fans).

Matt Flynn (QB): By all account Flynn is a great locker room guy that parlayed one record-setting NFL start against the Detroit Lions thanks to the fact that the Packers already clinched a playoff birth into almost $20 million in career earnings.  Work ethic seems to be an issue for Flynn though so with three younger and more hungry quarterbacks in the fold in Scott Tolzien, Brett Hundley, or Matt Blanchard...Flynn is clearly expendable.  The only caveat to that is Flynn still might give the Packers a better chance to win a game or two this season if starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers gets hurt but the Packers need to develop Tolzien, Hundley, or Blanchard into a capable backup.  I would much rather suffer growing pains with one of the three young guys even if it costs the Packers a win or two in 2015 since it will help them much more in 2016 and beyond.

Brad Jones (MLB): There is no doubt that Jones will go down as one of the most disappointing Packers starters of the last decade because there were too many underwhelming plays out of Jones after he signed a three-year, $11.25 million contract with $3 million guaranteed.  While the Packers do NOT seem to have a ton of ready made candidates to replace Jones, it is almost addition by subtract at middle linebacker.

Jamari Lattimore (MLB): One of the guys that looked like a potential Jones replacement was Lattimore before his ho-hum performance in 2014 that was cut short by a season ending ankle injury.  There is no question that Lattimore showed flashes of being a disruptive force throughout his tenure of Green Bay, the problem was those flashes were few and far between so despite the fact that middle linebacker is a position of need the Packers decided NOT to pay Lattimore what amounts to the veteran minimum next year to see if he can show more flashes of being a violent presence in 2015 and beyond.

Luther Robinson (DT): I must be the last guy on Robinson Island that remembers Robinson's hit on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder on Thursday Night Football that lead to a pick-six for Julius Peppers.  While the Packers look to have a number of more effective options on the roster, I wish the Packers would have kept Robinson around given that they only owed him $510,000 for 2015 so he is a very cost-effective back-up defensive lineman option.

Brandon Bostick (TE): There is no question that Bostick's Bill Buckner-esque gaffe at the end of the NFC Championship game against the Seahawks will be what he is remember for most, which is too bad because Bostick showed flashes of being a poor man's Jermichael Finley throughout his tenure in Green Bay. Sometimes the negative baggage is just too much though so the Packers cut Bostick despite tight end being a position of need.  The Vikings claimed Bostick because they take any chance they can to get their hands on a former Packer, even if he is essentially T.J. Rubley 2.0.

DuJuan Harris (RB): Same goes for Harris given that he is currently a member of the Vikings too.  I know Harris struggled in the return game but he seemed to show enough in 2013 to merit at least a look for the 3rd running back spot behind Eddie Lacy and James Starks.

Kevin Dorsey (WR): Some might be surprised to see Dorsey this high on the list given the depth the Packers have at wide receiver (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, and Myles White) but given the fact that Thompson just drafted Dorsey in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft and that he has a slightly larger framer than some of the wide receivers just mentioned, I thought Dorsey was at least worth keeping around for training camp.  Clearly Thompson disagrees.

A.J. Hawk (MLB): After Rodgers there is a chance that Hawk is the guy that I've written about most in this space.  Some of that has to do with the amount of time that Hawk and Rodgers have been on The 53 but mostly I've written about Hawk because he never "lived up" to the lofty expectations associated with his draft status.  While the Packers will NOT miss his play on the field, they will definitely miss his locker room presence and how good of a guy he is off the field (check out Hawk's Locks for Kids).  I know those seem like no big deal but Hawk will go down as one of the best human beings to ever play for the Packers so from this point forward I will do my best to stop killing Hawk for his ho-hum performance on the field throughout his tenure in Green Bay.

Jarrett Boykin (WR): Much of what I said about Dorsey applies to Boykin but you can point to actual NFL production in 2013 (49 receptions for 681 yards and three touchdowns) followed by a down season in 2014 (three receptions for 23 yards and no touchdowns) to back up my argument that Boykin merits at least one of the 90 off-season roster spots.

Davon House (CB): We've finally gotten to the show ponies.  House is nowhere close to American Pharoh but he clearly has the most upside of 13 former Packers on this list.  Given that the Jacksonville Jaguars gave House a four-year, $24.5 million contract with $10 million guaranteed they will need him to NOT only stay healthy, which has been a problem during his tenure in Green Bay given that he appeared in 40 of a possible 64 regular season games but will also need House to blossom into a starting cornerback, again something he never really was in Green Bay.  Bottom line, the contract House signed with the Jaguars was way too rich for me.

Tramon Williams (CB): Sad to see Ole' Faithful go.  For how much House was a question mark, Williams was the exact opposite.  Despite suffering what seemed to be a debilitating shoulder injury midway though his eight year tenure in Green Bay, Williams only missed one game.  Sure Williams never had as many highlight plays as his counter-part Charles Woodson, let's not forget that he did intercept 26 passes as a Packer.  While Williams struggled in bump-in-run coverage following his shoulder injury, he adapted his game to still merit a starting spot on defense throughout his entire tenure.  Given that Thompson drafted two of the cornerbacks of the future in Randall and Rollins with his first two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, Williams would have been a perfect mentor for 2015 but the Cleveland Browns broke the bank for him when they offered him a three-year, $21 million contract with $10 million guaranteed.  Congrats to Williams and his family on such a lucrative deal, which feels about $6 million too rich.  It was so much of an overpay by the Browns that I would be shocked if Williams played through the 2017 NFL season under that contract for the Browns.

With my "In Memoriam" post in the books, I will turn my attention to the 88 players currently employed by the Packers and vying for one of the coveted 53 roster spots on The 53.  Check back tomorrow when I give my locks* to make The 53.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Building The 15 - The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly 1.0 for 2015-16 Off-Season

It has been quite a busy off-season for Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond.  Given the young, high-end talent on The 15, I actually thought Hammond would have a ho-hum off-season where he resigned restricted shoot guard/small forward Khris Middleton to a large contract, uses both of his draft picks in the 2015 NBA Draft, and chased big name free agents but only ended up with one or two lesser names.  Boy was I wrong.

All told, Hammond moved out $12.15 million in salaries for next season when he traded power forward Ersan Ilyasova ($7.9 million) to the Detroit Pistons for the non-guaranteed expiring contracts of small forward Caron Butler ($4.5 million) and small forward/power forward Shawne Williams ($1.3 million) and small forward/power forward Jared Dudley ($4.25 million) to the Washington Wizards for a future second round draft pick.  Unfortunately the Bucks added $6.6 million on the night of the 2015 NBA Draft when Hammond traded his 2015 2nd round pick (46th overall) and the L.A. Clippers lottery protected 2017 first round pick to the Toronto Raptors for point guard Greivis Vasquez.  All of that was done to give the Bucks enough salary cap space to try to chase a big-name free agent but Hammond really only saved $5.55 million in salary for next season given Vasquez's expensive salary.  Honestly, I would have just kept Dudley, Ilyasova, and the draft picks they moved for Vasquez instead of trading for Vasquez. The only draft pick the Bucks had in the 2015 NBA Draft was the 17th pick, which they used to draft freshman shooting guard Rashad Vaughn.

Although the Bucks have too many players on The 15 right now, they have six potential free agents after this season: two restricted in power forward/center John Henson and center Miles Plumlee along with four unrestricted in point guard Jared Bayless, shooting guard O.J. Mayo, center Zaza Pachulia, and point guard Greivis Vasquez.  As a result, the Bucks could really use those draft picks, especially if they used one of them on a Euro-draft-and-stash guy.  It seemed that the salary cap space created was going to be all for not given that the Bucks never lure big-name free agents so Hammond signed shooting guard/small forward Khris Middleton to a five-year, $70 million contract, which is the exact same contract that former Buck combo guard Brandon Knight signed with the Phoenix Suns.

If Hammond was being honest with himself he had to try but he always knew that he was never going to be able to lure power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, center Marc Gasol, center DeAndre Jordan, or center Brook Lopez.  With all of that long build-up out of the way, I hope that everyone is sitting down because the Bucks actually lured a big-name free agent when they signed former Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe to a three-year, $50 million contract.

You can checkout my rankings of The 15 in the sidebar below and although I've now essentially covered every transaction that Hammond made so far this off-season, I still think it makes sense to categorize each of those six moves in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  So without further adu, here are my thoughts:

The Good
The Middleton and Monroe contracts mean the Bucks potentially committed ~$21 million a year to those two players (Middleton averages $14 million and Monroe averages $16.67 million) for the next three seasons.  I say potentially as I mentioned above because the third year of Monroe's contract is a player option.  According to a's Will Law's advanced metric named "Free Agent Quotient, Monroe was the 8th most attractive free agent this off-season and projects as a "Bona fide All-Star" while Middleton was the 23rd most attractive free agent and projects to be an "Above -average starter.  While Law's metric is interesting, if that is NOT easy to wrap your mind around then may be's Kevin Pelton's three-year projections will help determine how much value the Bucks Middleton and Monroe: Monroe is "worth" $69 million and Middleton is "worth" $62 million so the Bucks extracted ~$40 million of surplus value out of those deals given they are on the hook for $91 million for both for the next three seasons.

The 15
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SF/PF)
2. Jabari Parker (SF/PF)
3. Greg Monroe (PF/C)
4. Khris Middleton (SG/SF)
5. John Henson (PF/C)
6. Michael Carter-Williams (PG)
7. O.J. Mayo (SG)
8. Rashad Vaughn (SG)
9. Greivis Vasquez (PG)
10. Damien Inglis (SF)
11. Tyler Ennis (PG)
12. Zaza Pachulia (C)
13. Jerryd Bayless (PG/SG)
14. Johnny O'Bryant III (PF)
15. Miles Plumlee (C)
16. Jorge Gutierrez (PG)
17. Shawne Williams (SF/PF)
18. Caron Butler (SF)
If Monroe struggles, I am sure that he will opt-in to the third year of his contract to get paid much like fellow former Georgetown Hoya center Roy Hibbert did this off-season.  If Monroe thrives, I could see him opting out to sign a mega-extension with the Bucks or another NBA team given that he will only be 27 years old and the salary cap is projected to be skyrocket over the next two seasons since it is projected to be $67 million this season, $90 million in 2016-17, and $108 million in 2017-18.  As crazy as it sounds, Monroe could potentially double his salary on his next contract extension.  Either way, the Bucks were deemed a more attractive option by Monroe than the L.A. Lakers and New York Knicks, which makes complete on-the-court sense.  Even more interesting than "outbidding" the Lakers and Knicks is what a perfect fit Monroe seems to be for the Bucks given his ability to score down low and grab rebounds, which are two things the Bucks desperately needed last season.  Sure Monroe is NOT a great defender but he is a long, willing defender.  With Monroe in the fold the Bucks project to have an impressive starting five of MCW at point guard, Middleton at shooting guard, The Greek Freak at small forward, Jabari Parker at power forward, and Monroe at center.  If Parker and Monroe struggle too much defensively, I could see the Bucks giving John Henson minutes alongside Monroe because both guys are quality rebounders and each guy's strength (scoring for Monroe and defense for Henson) off-sets each of their weaknesses (defense for Monroe and offense for Henson).

Assuming last season was NOT an aberration, Middleton's salary could be very palatable despite the fact that he will earn $14 million a year given that he is the prototypical 3-and-D player, which seems to be the most important NBA player type right now outside of all-around superstar.  If Middleton suffers a serious injury, the Bucks and Middleton will have a very uncomfortable five-year marriage but I would be really surprised if Middleton's contract year push last year is the ceiling of his performance so as long as he stays healthy, the Bucks will NOT regret the move.  Plus if you look around at the other 3-and-D free agents that signed deals this off-season, they signed similar contracts to Middleton: DeMarre Carroll signed a four-year, $60 million deal with the Toronto Raptors and Tobias Harris signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Orlando Magic.  If Middleton continues to shoot 40% or better from behind the three-point arc, I could actually see him averaging 20 points a game at least once over the next couple seasons if the Bucks get quality play out of The Greek Freak, Jabari Parker, and Monroe because that would make Middleton one of the most lethal fourth bananas in the NBA.  Given that the salary cap is scheduled to almost double by the 2017-18 NBA season, there is a chance that Middleton's contract looks like the Bucks got him for the mid-level exception by the third season.

Switching gears, the more I noodle on the Vaughn pick, the more I am open to the upside of the decision despite the fact that FiveThirtyEight has Vaughn ranked as the 23rd best player in the 2015 NBA Draft and Pelton has Vaughn ranked as the 48th best player in the 2015 NBA Draft based on projected wins above replacement for his first five years in the NBA.  Vaughn is a long, skilled shooter and one of the youngest players in the 2015 NBA Draft.  Worst case scenario, I see Vaughn becoming a heat-check guy off the bench for the Bucks by his second or third season in the NBA.  Best case scenario, the Bucks drafted Ray Allen 2.0.  I see Vaughn settling somewhere in between but on the off-chance he fulfills his potential upside by his second or third NBA season, he could be the 7th best player on The 15.

The Bad
The Ilyasova trade seems like the kind of deal that would be on the table at the NBA Trade Deadline, which is why I question the motives for why Hammond made the move before the NBA Draft.  What is even more puzzling to me is how Hammond was NOT even able to snag a future second round pick from the Pistons as a part of the deal.  This trade looks even worse given that the Bucks added salary just a few days later in the Vasquez trade.

The Dudley trade will be felt more off the court than on the court.  Sure Dudley is a versatile player given that he can guard essentially every position on the court beside point guard and super tall centers but Dudley's real value came via his positive locker room presence.  We are just 18 months removed from Gary Neal and Larry Sanders getting in a fight in the locker room.  That is the kind of thing that would never happen in a locker room that included Dudley.  With Dudley no longer around, the four guys set to become unrestricted free agents (Bayless, Mayo, Pachulia, and Vasquez) after this season will be expected to be the veteran voices in the locker room too, which will make for an interesting locker room dynamic.

The Ugly
I almost put the Dudley trade in this category but given that the Vasquez trade is possibly the worst trade of Hammond's tenure, I wanted to make sure that The Ugly is reserved solely for that horrible trade.  The Bucks traded away Ilyasova and Dudley in separate deals but I like both of those guys more than Vasquez.  More importantly, I hate small market teams like the Bucks giving away lottery tickets aka draft picks.  Even late first round picks are valuable commodities for NBA teams because if they can land a rotational player, it gives NBA teams a super cheap commodity.

If the Bucks kept the 46th pick, they could have landed a useful player for next season (Norman Powell, Dakari Johnson, or Tyler Harvey) or a Euro-draft-and-stash guy (Arturas Gudaitis, Marcus Eriksson, Satnam Singh Bhamara, Nikola Radicevic, Dimitrios Agravanis, or Luka Mitrovic).  If the Bucks kept the L.A. Clippers lottery protected 2017 first round pick, they again would have a chance to add another cost-effective commodity to The 15.

I continue to lobby Hammond to leave a few spots open on The 15 so that he can either sign non-guaranteed deals to undrafted free agents or bottom-feed the free agent market.  In terms of bottom feeding, if Hammond had spots on The 15, look at the some of the cost-effective player he could have added: three-year, $18 million contract the Memphis Grizzles signed with power forward Brandan Wright; two-year, $10 million contract the Toronto Raptors signed with power forward Bismack Biyombo; four-year, $16 million contract the New York Knicks signed with center Kyle O'Quinn as a part of a sign-and-trade with the Orlando Magic; or four-year, $33 million contract the Sacramento Kings signed with power forward/center Kosta Koufos.  The most earth shattering thing about two of the deals just discussed are that the Knicks and Kings actually made a prudent free agent move after questionable moves earlier in the off-season.

Finally, backup point guards are a dime a dozen.  The Bucks cut Nate Wolters last season to add power forward Kenyon Martin, I hated that move at the time and despise it now because Martin was tits on a bull for the Bucks and if Wolters was still on The 15, Hammond might NOT have traded for Vasquez.  Leaving Wolters aside, you can add guys like Vasquez via free agency for much less than $6 million a year.  Last year the Bucks did just that when they signed Jerryd Bayless to a two-year, $6 million deal.  I didn't love that signing but at least it did NOT cost the Bucks two draft picks.  This off-season, the aforementioned Gary Neal signed a one-year, $2.1 million contract with the Washington Wizards.  The Bayless and Neal deals are two of many that are much better allocation of salary cap space than Vasquez for $6 million.

Unless Hammond makes a trade, The 15 is essentially set for next season.  On paper I would say the Bucks are much better off on the top-end of The 15 now then they were at the start of the off-season but only time will tell whether that translates to on-court performance.  Our first look will be summer league.  All eyes will be on "rookie" small forward Damien Inglis (missed all of last season due to injury) and actual rookie Vaughn.