Packers GM Ted Thompson has proven his draft and develop philosphy can be a winner.
The 2010 Super Bowl Champions don't have any glaring needs on their football team heading into the 2011 season. They are well stocked with young talented players at ever position as they will get a astonishing 16 players back in 2011 that ended the 2010 season on injured reserve.
Today Green Bay released linebacker A.J. Hawk, Tight End Donald Lee, and Safety Derrick Martin, shaving over 13 million from their projected 2011 salary cap number, assuming there will be one when a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached.
Reports are Hawk and the Packers have reached an agreement on a new five year contract that he will sign before midnight eastern time today.
Only Defensive End Cullen Jenkins and Linebacker Matt Wilhelm are set to be unrestricted free agents. And, while I'm sure the Packers would love to have Jenkins back I doubt it will be finicially possiable. Wilhelm surely won't be back as he was signed mid season because of injuries and contributed mainly on special teams.
The Packers have 11 players set to become restricted free agents under the current CBA rules. Those players are fullback John Kuhn (five years of service), receiver James Jones (four years), kicker Mason Crosby (four years), halfback Brandon Jackson (four years), guard Daryn Colledge (five years), center Jason Spitz (five years), safety Charlie Peprah (five years), safety Atari Bigby (five years), fullback Korey Hall (four years), cornerback Josh Bell (three years) and safety Anthony Smith (five years).
I expect Kuhn, Jones, Crosby, Jackson, Colledge, Spitz, Peprah, and Hall to recieve tender offers by the 3 pm eastern deadline to do so.
In 2010 the low tender for players with four years of service was 1.176 million and 1.226 million for players with five years. The low tender gives the team the option to match any offer the player should recieve from another team. The high tender which allows the team to match any offer or recive firts and thrid round picks was 3.168 million for players with four years of service and 3.268 for players with five years. In between those two numbers are the numbers for the other two tender levels. The second lowest assuring the team the right to match or a pick in the round the player was selected or the second highest tender which gurantees a second round pick should the team choose not to match an offer. Jackson and Colledge were 2nd rounders, Jones and Spitz 3rd, Hall and Peprah 5th, and Crosby 6th. Making it very reasonable for the Packers to retain most or all of their restricted free agents.
Green Bay also has two players designated as exclusive rights free agents tight end Spencer Havner and wide reciever Brett Swain neither of which is likely to be back in 2011. Although Havner has a better shot considering the Packers could once again keep 4 Tight Ends on the roster.
Heading into the draft Green Bay could use a kick returner, a tackle or guard, a wide reciver, and a running back on offense.
While on defense they could use a cornerback, a linebacker, and a defensive end.
If Thompson can find a gem or two at one or more of these positions the Packers should have as good a shot as anyone to repeat. One more Greg Jennings, JerMichael Finley, Clay Matthews III, Nick Collins type player would really push the Packers over the top to where they could be expected to dominate opponents.
Making a repeat Championship highly attainablein 2011 .
The Green Bay Packers managment, coaches, players, and fans will all be elated if for the second year in a row a very good player at a position of relative need falls into their lap in the first round.
In 2010, it was the left tackle of the future Iowa offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga who turned into the right tackle of the present as Mark Tauscher went down to an injury.
In 2011, it is the pass rushing oustside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews III they have been searching for since four games into their transition to the 3-4 defense under coordinator Dom Capers when Matthews secudred the starting job when he ripped the ball out of Adrian Peterson's hands and returned it for a touchdown leaving the all-pro back with a bewildered, and hurt look on his face.
He ran a 4.68 second forty at the combine demonstraing his straight line speed. He raised the bar 30 times in the bench press demonstrating plenty of strength to take on offensive tackles on the edge. While a 36.5 inch vertical jump and 10'05 broud jump showed the freakish athletic ability and explosiveness that allowed him to rack up sacks against SEC competition.
Further evidence of his ability to play in space and pass coverage are very good short shuttle and 3 cone drill times of 4.37 and 6.95 seconds respectively. All the more impressive when you realize he is 6' 03 270 ideal size for a strong side backer in the Packers 3-4 scheme. And, those times are comparable to running backs and recivers who will go high in this draft, this kid can really move.
Playing outside linebacker in Georgia's 3-4 defense in 2010 Houston put up 56 tackles, 10 sacks, 1 interception, and 2 passes defensed. So, unlike many other 3-4 outside linebacker prospects who played exclusivly at defensive end in college Houston is a known commodity not a projection in that regard.
Houston should start from day one and provide the Packers with the book end pass rushers their defense will thrive with for years to come. If Houston can play like he did in college opposing offenses will have their hands full worrying about Matthews and Houston off the edge and Raji in the middle. The Houston, Matthews, Raji combination will make it extremely tough on the Packers 2011 opponents in obvious passing situations.
If Houston can have a rookie season similar to the one Matthews enjoyed 10 sacks, good things will be in store for the Packers once again in 2011.
Thompson trades up to grab Smith at the top of the second round sending his second (64) and third (96) round picks to Tennessee for their second rounder number 40.
Former Packers executive Mike Reinfledt is now the General Manger in Tennessee making trades between the NFC Packers and AFC Titans highly likely. In fact, if a CBA is worked out prior to the draft look for QB Matt Flynn to possibly be dealt for this pick straight up or in addition to another pick.
Although Carolina, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona, Cleveland, and San Fransisco all picking ahead of the Titans could also be options for Flynn.
Smith has very good speed running a 4.43 forty officially at the combine although most teams had him in the 4.3's. He has good size at 6' 01 204 and strength throwing up 19 reps on the bench press at the combine. He also showed good explosion and agility broad jumping 10' 06 and running 4.13 in the short shuttle and a 6.72 in the 3 cone drill.
When Donald Driver was forced out of the Super Bowl with an ankle injury the Packers were really down to three receivers.limiting there ability to line up in multiple receiver sets as 5th receiver Brett Swain offers little from scrimmage.
With James Jones set to become a restricted free agent when the CBA is worked out. The Packers fill two needs with one player, another strong receiving threat as insurance against Jones' departure, and Driver's age, as well as an upgrade from Swain at the 5 spot.
While Greg Jennings seemed like a more talented Donald Driver when Thompson selected him in the second round of the 2006 draft with the pick he received from Denver in the trade for disgruntled WR Javon Walker. Smith seems like a more talented Jennings, complete with better speed to go along with the same workman like attitude that has made Driver and Jennings consument Packers. Their not pre-madonna's and neither is Smith.
He fits another major need as well completing the Packers receiving core by giving it the only thing it was missing a true burner with the speed to stretch the field on velocity alone.
Additionally he fills possibly the most major need the Packers have and that's a kick returner on special teams.
Considering they have not had a kickoff return for a touchdown in 10 seasons. Allen Rossum was the last to do it, Smiths record 2983 return yards at Maryland will be welcomed in Green Bay and will make the Packers truly dangerous in all three phases, a scary proposition.
Compensatory pick recived due to the loss of De/Olb Aaron Kampman in free agency prior to the 2010 season while they signed no one.
The Packers best pass rushing defensivive lineman and arguably best overall is 99.9 % sure he won't be back in Green Bay.
And,I think he is right considering the Packers made no attempt to negotiate with Cullen Jenkins during the season on an extension and haven't done so since the Super Bowl.
Having allowed the deadline for designating him a franchise or transition player come and go, shows you the only way Jenkins ends up back in Green Bay is if he is willing to take a lot less money in order to repeat as Super Bowl Champions.
I don't see that happening as he is sure to recieve multiple lucarative offers from 4-3 and 3-4 teams alike on the open market. And, i for one certainly can't blame him for wanting to make as much as possible, its a dangerous game and he plays one of the most dangerous positions.
So, what does Thompson do?
Drafts another Jenkins in the third yound who has the potential to be a good pass rusher from the end position in the Packers 3-4 in his own right.
He is a good athlete for a man of his size running the forty in just 5.08 seconds and the 3 cone drill in 7.42 seconds as well as posting a 26.5 inch vertical jump.
Jarvis Jenkins has similar size and speed to Cullen Jenkins making him an ideal replacement in the D-line rotation. Jenkins should battle Mike Neal and Johnny Jolly for the starting end position opposite Ryan Pickett as a rookie in 2011.
The Packers are pretty well set at cornerback with Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams entrenched as the starters and Sam Shieds as the the nickel back as well as promissing undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan Josh Gordy whom the Packers like a lot.
But, as far as the final two roster spots are concerned some competition is certainly in order.
There the Packers have incumbents former second round pick Pat Lee who has never materilized as the player the Packers thought they were drafting. Brandon Underwood a former sixth round pick who just recnetly plead guilty to soliciting a prostitute and also hasn't gotten it done on the field. Along with special teams captain Jarret Bush who is a proven liability from scrimmage.
Brown is just the player to add that competition. At 6' 01 204 pounds he is a big corner with the size to be physical with recivers. Yet he possesses enough speed to run with them too, running the forty in 4.49 seconds.
During his senoir season he had 43 tackles the third straight year in which he had at lest 40 tackles a very good number for a college cornerback. He is aggressive in run support reminding me a little bit of Charles Woodson with the way he knifes through a defense to seek out the ball carrier.
And, he's not just a tackler he can cover too demonstrated by his 3 interceptions and 4 passes defensed in 2010.
He has the type of build, skill set that, and tenacious attitude that should allow him to really excel on special teams as a rookie.
Perhaps, he makes Bush expendable by showing the coaches he can be just as good on special teams and much better from scrimmage. Or maybe the Packers keep Bush as the sixth corner and release Lee and Underwood teaming him with Brown to form a dynamic duo of gunners on punt coverage.
Either way drafting Brown will only make the Packers stronger on defense as well as special teams.
Brandon Jackson is set to become a restricted free agent and as a Super Bowl champion will likely get a few lucrative contract offers. With Ryan Grant returning and James Starks entrenched as no worse than the number 2 back Jackson might not be resigned.
If the Packers think that Starks can replace Jackson as the third down back, Jackson could find himself on the way out.
Even if Jackson stays Locke is the perfect back to spilt the fourth halfback role with hybrid fullback John Kuhn. As both will have packages designed for them.
Locke should be dangerous on draws and zone stretch plays as well as sweeps out of shotgun and off motion, as he has the speed to go the distance on any touch and the agility to cut back and get in position to use that speed.
He is also a dangerous receiving threat on screens as well as split out wide because of that speed and quickness.
He ran 4.40 in the forty at the combine but reportedly has been timed as low as 4.21 previously at Kentucky. He has a 37.5 inch vertical leap making up for his small stature at 5' 08 188 pounds. His broad jump was 9[ 10 and he ran the short shuttle in 4.15 and the 3 cone drill in 6,98 demonstrating that great agility and explosiveness.
On top of that he also has return ability having returned two kickoffs for 100 yard touchdowns during his time at Kentucky. He will compete with Smith for the Kickoff and punt return jobs. Which will allow the Packers to avoid exposing Tramon Williams or Sam Shields to injury risk on returns. Locke will give the Packers that Percy Harvin type player that can start split out wide and motion into the backfield to take a hand of or vice versa to take a reverse or run a slip screen.
Although he has some injury concerns, only playing in 8 games missing 4 during the 2010 he put up some impressive numbers. Remember Kentucky is in the SEC so he did this against big time competition like Florida(103/10), Tennessee (97/6), Vanderbilt (145/26), Mississippi (68/108), Auburn (31/47) rushing and receiving yards respectively.
His season totals of 166 attempts for 887 yards a 5.3 average and 10 touchdowns rushing. And, 34 receptions for 318 yards a average of 9.4 yards per catch are insanely good for just 8 games against mainly SEC competition.
If Locke can stay healthy in the NFL he could develop into a star down the road.
The Packers fourth round pick is a name fans will all recognize. Thompson once again taps the Matthews well selecting Clay's younger brother Casey. An inside linebacker with good pass rushing ability and the same relentless work effort that has allowed the Matthew's family to excell in the National Football League.
Although inside linebacker isn't really a need area Thompson can't pass up another highly regarded Matthews in the sixth round.
And, with the future of Nick Barnett (lost starting job) up in the air inside backer could become a need before the 2011 season begins.
Matthews is 6' 01 231 pounds and likely not done growing at 22 considering the Matthews clan as come to be known as late bloomers physically.
Matthews was unable to work out at the combine due to an injury which is good for the Packers as it will likely scare some teams away.
During the 2010 season in which his Oregon Ducks competed in the National Championship Matthews had a stellar season really putting on display the type of well rounded backer he is. He finished the season not including the National Championship game with 73 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 passes defensed.
He saved his best play for last as he demonstrated a never say die attitude along with tremendous athletic ability and a great football IQ when he chased down Auburn quarterback Cam Newton from behind and poked the ball out giving his offense one last chance to snatch victory form the jaws of defeat.
I can see him making that type of play on special teams for the Packers as a rookie making a huge contribution to the team. As well as possibly making special teams players like fullback Korey Hall, and cornerback Jarrett Bush expendable.
The Packers recieve this selection from the Carolina Panthers as the culmination of the trade of long snapper J.J. Jansen.
I have to hand it to Ted, turning a long snapper into Tyrod Taylor is quite a magic trick.
The 6' 01 217 pound Taylor is considered too short by most to be a starting NFL quarterback. However, if you have seen the man compete on the field you know he has what it takes to get the job done and win games.
Coach McCarthy is an excellent developer at the quarterback position. Case in point Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn, the latter a former seventh round pick who McCarthy and his staff have transformed into a hot commodity on the qb market which many teams covet as their starter and could fetch a high 2nd certainly and possibly a late first round pick if a new CBA is worked out prior to the April draft.
The Virginia product has to be compared to Michael Vick on the field. He is the same type of dynamic athlete complete with rocket arm. His measurables are very impressive including a 4.51 second forty time, a 37.5 bin vertical jump, a broad jump of 10' 06, a short shuttle of 4.09 seconds, and a 3 cone drill time of 6.78 seconds.
He could likely play wide receiver in the NFL, in fact he is very comparable to Packers receiver James Jones although more athletic and could possibly make Jones' return a moot point.
He certainly would be a very valuable asset out of a wildcat package similar to what Vick ran during his first season in Philadelphia.
But, don't discount him as a quarterback he has proven to be a much better decision maker than Michael Vick was in college.
Putting up some very good numbers during his senior season. He went 188 for 315 59.7 percent completion percentage for 2743 yards while throwing 24 touchdowns against just 5 interceptions. He also rushed 146 times for 659 yards with a long of 72 and another 5 touchdowns.
Taylor could force the Packers to make a tough decision and keep three quarterbacks or possibly six receivers if he can make plays in the pre-season as a quarterback or a receiver or both assuming there is a pre-season.
Scott is another Maryland product with great speed.
He will be the 2011 Mr. Irrelevant as the last player selected in the 2011 draft. But, he could also be the steal of the draft.
Like Taylor I expect him to end up on the practice squad during his rookie season but he has the potential to develop into a very good back. If he can add ten pounds he will have the size to hold up inside to go along with the kind of speed that can get him around the edge and down the sideline or allow him to stop on a dime cut back and take it the distance.
Scott is 5' 11 211 with 4.34 speed in the forty, possessing a skill set that really reminds me of Packers all time leading rusher Ahman Green.
He was relatively productive in college at Maryland rushing for 2401 yards on 430 carries and scoring 17 touchdowns. In 2010 he carried 122 times for 708 yards a 5.8 yard average with 5 touchdowns while catching 14 passes for 170 yards a 12.1 yard average and another 3 touchdowns with a long of 71.
So he has shown the ability to develop into a very good third down back on the next level and possibly even a feature back because you can't coach the kind of speed he naturally posses, a high school state champion in the 100 meters. He also has kick return ability having returned 26 kickoffs for 566 yards with a long of 60 during his freshman year in 2007.
He really demonstrated his potential in his final collegian game, the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman against East Carolina. He carried just 13 times gaining 200 yards an average of 15.4 yards a carry with a long of 91 and 2 touchdowns. Even if you subtract the 91 yard td he went 12 for 109 and a td still very very good.
A big pre-season for Scott would spell the certain end of Brandon Jackson as a Packer.
We'll see if he can put it all together on the next level, if he can, Ted Thompson will once again have mined late round gold.