Green Bay Packers Offseason: Re-Signing A.J. Hawk and What Each Move Means

Zach KruseSenior Analyst IMarch 8, 2011

Green Bay Packers Offseason: Re-Signing A.J. Hawk and What Each Move Means

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    Green Bay Packers Re-Sign A.J. Hawk, Charlie Peprah; What Does Each Move Mean Moving Forward?

    The Green Bay Packers weren't quiet on the transaction wire last week, re-signing defensive starters A.J. Hawk and Charlie Peprah to multi-year deals and releasing two other players. 

    The Packers also signed coach Mike McCarthy to a multi-year extension over the weekend.

    With all the movement from Green Bay over the past seven days, what does it exactly mean for the rest of the Packers roster?

    Let's break down each transaction and the questions tied with each one moving forward.

Re-Signing A.J. Hawk

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    While the Hawk story certainly had some twists, the Packers were able to reach a deal with the veteran linebacker last Thursday.

    On Wednesday of last week however, the Packers made some waves when they announced they had cut Hawk. This turned out to be nothing more than a cautionary move. 

    If Hawk was still on the roster at the start of the new league year—which was uncertain with the CBA talks—the Packers would have had to guarantee his $10 million salary for that year. 

    While releasing Hawk opened him to negotiate with any team of his liking, the Packers had already been well into contract talks with the former No. 5 overall pick. 

    By Thursday morning, Hawk and the Packers had agreed on a five-year, $35 million contract that would pay him $10 million guaranteed over the life of the deal. 

    Hawk took a pay cut year-to-year, but the Packers still gave him his $10 million without the cap hit they would have endured if the new deal wasn't reached.

Question 1: What Does This Mean for Nick Barnett?

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    Naturally, the restructuring of Hawk's deal begs the question:

    What happens with Nick Barnett?

    The Packers obviously have a couple of options, some more logical than others. 

    First, Green Bay could look to trade Barnett once (or if) the new CBA is agreed upon.

    It's unclear what kind of value Barnett could fetch, but it'd be hard to envision anything more than a middle to late round draft pick. He's owed nearly $13 million over the next two seasons, and his age and injury history could scare off any mildly interested teams. 

    The Packers could also flat out release Barnett if they can't find a trade partner.

    As stated above, Barnett is owed a hefty chunk of cash over the next two years, and the Packers have a lot of money tied up between their four middle linebackers. 

    Lastly, Green Bay could keep Barnett on the roster and try their best to get him on the field in certain favorable situations. 

    The Packers have deployed defensive formations where five linebackers are on the field at one time, nicknamed the "psycho" package.

    At this point however, trading Barnett seems like the most reasonable ending to this story.

Question 2: Could Barnett Play OLB?

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    The thought of Barnett making the seamless transition to outside linebacker is another question brought up about the Packers' log jam in the middle. 

    While Barnett had 64 rushes in just four games in 2010, the chance of him playing opposite Clay Matthews are slim-to-none. 

    It's an interesting thought, but Barnett simply isn't a good enough blitzer off the edge to beat offensive tackles and double teams on a consistent basis. 

    His true value is on free blitzes up the middle and stunts where he can beat running backs to the quarterback, and that isn't something an outside linebacker does much in a 3-4.

    The Packers are better served finding a college prospect to play outside linebacker than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole—which is exactly what shifting Barnett would be.

Packers Re-Sign Charlie Peprah

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    Very few could have ever expected Charlie Peprah to be the starting safety on a Super Bowl winning defense, but that's exactly what happened this season. 

    Once promising rookie Morgan Burnett tore up his knee against the Lions in Week 4, Peprah became the de facto starter and was a solid contributor for the Packers in the remaining 16 games. 

    While Peprah has always lacked the speed and athleticism of most NFL safeties, his experience and smarts finally gave him a chance to make an impact. In 16 total games, Peprah recorded 85 tackles and two interceptions.

    Last Friday, the Packers rewarded Peprah with a two-year, $2.3 million contract—bargain money for a guy that has preserved through a lot to get where he is now. 

Question 1: Is This About Depth or Worries About Morgan Burnett?

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    Some have come to the conclusion that re-signing Peprah is a negative mark on the hopes of Morgan Burnett, but that isn't the case. 

    While Burnett is coming off an ACL injury, the Packers drafted him to be the starter opposite Nick Collins and that hasn't changed. 

    Peprah earned the chance to fight for the starting job in training camp, but it's the expectation that Burnett is the Packers' long-term option

    The re-signing of Peprah was a matter of depth at safety and rewarding a player who has progressed into a serviceable option—not a vote of confidence either way towards Burnett.

    If there is anything to take from the move, it's comfort in the fact that the Packers will have at least three starting qualities safeties heading into next season.

Question 2: What Does This Say About Atari Bigby?

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    Many probably already knew the answer to this question before the re-signing of Peprah, but Bigby is more than likely done in Green Bay. 

    With both Peprah and Burnett locked into contracts for the next couple of years, the Packers' need for Bigby just doesn't exist anymore. 

    When talking to the media on March 1, coach Mike McCarthy used a key word when discussing Bigby—"business decision."

    In Packers lingo, that's means as much to your roster status as the word "significant" means when talking about potential season-ending injuries. 

    Unless the Packers can swing a deal that somehow works both fiscally and for the roster, Bigby won't be a Green Bay Packer for 2011. 

Packers Release Derrick Martin and Donald Lee

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    In addition to re-signing two veterans last week, the Packers also gave the pink slip to two other vets. 

    Tight end Donald Lee and safety Derrick Martin were cut on the same day that the Packers initially cut A.J. Hawk.

    Lee figured to again be buried behind tight ends Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree next season, and he was due to be owed $2.2 million.  

    While Lee's release is easy to understand, letting go of Martin is a little harder to figure out.

    He signed a two-year contract last offseason that paid him over a million per season, but Martin had developed into a special teams ace and even intercepted a pass while filling in for injuries. 

    It could be a cap issue, or the Packers are unsure whether Martin can recover from his injury and stay healthy long-term.

    Either way, Martin will be generating interest once the CBA is figured out and the Packers will need to replace his effort on special teams moving forward.

Question 1: Do the Packers Now Need a Safety?

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    With both Bigby and Martin most likely gone, it's definitely possible that the Packers could be in the market for a safety either in the draft or as a low-level free agent. 

    As it stands today, Green Bay has only Nick Collins, Charlie Peprah and Morgan Burnett from the 53-man roster under contract, with Anthony Levine and Michael Grecco still on the practice squad. 

    The Packers still could potentially re-sign either Atari Bigby or Anthony Smith, and it's also possible that Green Bay likes Levine enough to have him as their fourth safety. 

    However, the Packers also have nine picks in the upcoming NFL draft, and using one of them on a safety isn't a far-fetched idea.

Question 2: Could the Packers Pick Another Tight End?

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    With GM Ted Thompson anything is possible, but it seems that releasing Donald Lee was about clearing up the packed stable of tight ends already on the Packers roster. 

    Jermichael Finley will return to the starting role next season, and both Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree looked like more than serviceable backups. 

    However, ruling out any position in a Thompson draft is always a dangerous idea.

    If the Packers found the right value in the middle rounds, there's no question that McCarthy could find a way to make him a weapon in the offense. 

    Also keep in mind that Green Bay carried four tight ends heading into the 2010 season.

Packers Extend Coach Mike McCarthy's Contract

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    For Mike McCarthy, winning the Super Bowl meant a serious pay raise was coming the way of the Packers head coach.

    McCarthy's new contract will pay him $32.25 million over five years—a significantly higher amount than the $5 million per year that was reported earlier. 

    His extension, paired with Thompson's deal, ensures that the Packers have their two most important football figures in place for the foreseeable future. 

    UPDATE: Pete Doughtery of the Green Bay Press Gazette is reporting a different figure for McCarthy's contract. The $32.25 million is the maximum amount of the contract if he hits all of his incentive markers.

Question 1: Is This a Big Deal?

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    In a word—absolutely. 

    McCarthy's new per year contract figures ($6.45 million) puts him among the NFL's top paid head coaches.

    Winning the Super Bowl will often do that for a coach, but McCarthy now ranks as the fourth-highest paid head coach in the NFL behind Bill Belichick, Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll. 

    Truth be told, that's a lot of money for a guy that many fans have been more than willing to axe over his time as the Packers head coach. 

    However, it gives the Packers a sense of stability at the top of the franchise—a necessary element for continued success in the NFL.

    UPDATE: Pete Doughtery of the Green Bay Press Gazette is reporting a different figure for McCarthy's contract. The $32.25 million is the maximum amount of the contract if he hits all of his incentive markers.

Question 2: Is McCarthy the Fourth-Best Coach in the NFL?

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    The five highest contract figures don't necessarily reflect the five best NFL coaches, but it's reasonable enough to put dollars along side coaching talent when assessing the top of the coaching hierarchy. 

    With that said, does McCarthy's performance over his career warrant the fourth-highest contract? 

    There's no doubt that McCarthy earned every dollar last season. The Packers fought through injury after injury and won six straight do-or-die games to win the Super Bowl—a feat very few coaches can say they've accomplished. 

    However, McCarthy has also been in charge during one of the messiest and ugliest divorces in NFL history, and the Packers are better now because of it all. That's a reflection on McCarthy and the job he's done during his time as Packers coach. 

    Answering the original question is hard to do, but McCarthy certainly put himself in the discussion with his performance this past season and the way he handled the Favre-to-Rodgers transition.