Green Bay Packers: Offseason Priorities

aaron-in-super-bowl-xlv

When the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was just phenomenal in the 2010 postseason run which led the hoisting of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

In that run of four games that postseason, Rodgers threw nine touchdown passes versus just two interceptions for 1,094 yards. That added up to a 109.8 passer rating, as well as No. 12 becoming the MVP in the Super Bowl.

In the 2016 postseason, Rodgers and the Packers came close to getting to another Super Bowl, but didn’t quite make it. You certainly can’t blame Rodgers for the Packers not getting to Super Bowl LI.

In fact, the stats of Rodgers this postseason are almost identical to what he did in the 2010 postseason.

In the 2016 postseason, Rodgers once again threw nine touchdown passes versus just two picks for 1,004 yards. The passer rating ended up being 103.8.

Rodgers put up those stats in three games in the 2016 postseason, as opposed to four games in the 2010 postseason.

It’s pretty easy to surmise that the play of Rodgers was not the reason why Green Bay isn’t playing in Super Bowl LI.

The reason why is pretty obvious. It’s the inconsistent and mediocre play of the defense for the Packers.

When the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, the team went into that postseason with the No. 5 rated defense in the league.

The defense played like it that postseason as well. The Packers had 11 sacks, eight interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) and four recovered fumbles in four games.

When you add that performance and that of Rodgers and the offense of the Packers, one can see why the team won Super Bowl XLV.

The 2010 season was the last time the Packers have had a top five defense. As a matter of fact, the Packers have not even had a top 10 defense since then either.

In his career, Rodgers has a 9-7 record in the postseason. Why the seven losses? Is it because of his performance in crunch time? No. In 16 playoff games, Rodgers has thrown 36 touchdown passes versus just 10 interceptions for 4,458 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 99.4.

Those numbers might get a quarterback a NFL MVP award in a particular season.

In the seven losses the Packers have had with Rodgers at quarterback in the postseason, the offense has averaged 26 points a game.  That’s not too shabby. When a team averages 26 points a game in the NFL postseason, the odds should be pretty strong that a victory should be in order.

Not so with the Packers in those seven games. Why? The defense has given up an average of 36 points per game in those losses.

Something has to change this offseason. That means either a coaching change or a concept change in getting talent for the defense. Perhaps even both.

If you saw head coach Mike McCarthy’s postgame press conference after the Packers were beaten 44-21 in the NFC title game by the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome, one could see he was not happy at all with the performance by his defense.

McCarthy has been very loyal to his assistant coaches over the 11 years he has been head coach, but he has also made some key changes to his staff as well when he deemed it necessary.

It might be a necessity to move on from defensive coordinator Dom Capers. In his first two years in Green Bay, Capers had top five defenses playing under him. In 2009, the defense was ranked No. 2, while in 2010 was ranked No. 5 in total defense.

But nothing close to that has happened in his tenure in the six years since. Starting in 2011, the defense of the Packers has ranked 32nd, 11th, 25th, 15th, 15th and 22nd.

dom-capers-in-2016

This past postseason reflects why the defense needs to get rebooted in 2017. In three games, the Packers had four sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. In the NFC title game, the Packers were shut out in all three categories.

Yes, I know there were multiple injuries this season on defense. But that is where quality depth would come in handy if a certain general manager changed his course of talent additions to the team just slightly.

Yes, I’m talking about Ted Thompson. Thompson’s draft and develop method for acquiring talent has been outstanding for the most part in the tenure in which he and McCarthy have piloted the ship of the Packers.

In 11 seasons, the Packers have had 114-61-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances, four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.

A lot of franchises would be thrilled to have a track record like that.

But when you peel back the onion and take a closer look, there are some obvious issues. McCarthy is 10-8 in the postseason as a head coach. But with just a little luck, the record of McCarthy in the postseason could be favorably compared to Bill Belichick.

McCarthy has lost four games in the postseason in overtime, plus lost another one on a last second field goal. His 10-8 record might be 13-5 or better with another Lombardi Trophy or two in the Packers Hall of Fame with some fortunate bounces.

Belichick more times than not gets those fortunate bounces in his postseason wins. In Belichick’s four Super Bowl wins, the victories have been by a combined 13 points.

Bottom line, it’s the defense which is the primary culprit as to why the Packers have had to go home early at times in the postseason in the Thompson/McCarthy era.

So to me, you have two choices. Either you make a coaching change (or at least a philosophy change) or you rectify the way you add talent to the defense. Again, maybe you do both.

Let’s say that McCarthy decides to stay with the status quo and keep Capers as his defensive coordinator. In that case, all of the burden to improve the defense will be put on Thompson, if indeed he stays on as general manager, which may not be a given.

Thompson will have some very difficult decisions to make regarding maintaining, adding and subtracting talent to the defense.

The first thing I would do if I were Thompson, is to look at the great success I have had in adding talent for the team in free agency.

In 2006, Thompson added defensive tackle Ryan Pickett via free agency and then also added cornerback Charles Woodson to the team after he became a free agent after his release by the Raiders.

Both players had excellent tenures in Green Bay, as Pickett was very solid in his run-stopping ability in eight seasons, while Woodson was just tremendous in his time in Green Bay.

In his seven-year career with the Packers, Woodson put together a brilliant resume.  Woodson picked off 38 passes, including nine for touchdowns.  Woodson also forced 15 fumbles, recovering six more.  Woodson had 11.5 sacks to boot.

Add to that: Woodson was named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  No. 21 was also named to four Pro Bowls and finally won a Super Bowl ring.

After the signings of Pickett and Woodson, Thompson basically went into the sleep mode in terms of signing free agents for a number of years. Thompson still signed “street” free agents (like Erik Walden) and undrafted rookie free agents (like Sam Shields), but rarely looked at NFL veterans who had solid careers in the league or at least showed flashes.

In 2012, Thompson signed defensive tackle Anthony Hargrave and center Jeff Saturday in free agency, but neither made big splashes in Green Bay. Hargrave didn’t even make the final roster, while Saturday ended up losing his starting job at center late in the 2012 season to Evan Dietrich-Smith.

In 2014, Thompson made another excellent free agent signing when brought in defensive end/linebacker Julius Peppers after he was cut by the Chicago Bears.

julius-peppers-in-2016-postseason

Even though he was 34 years-old at the time of his signing, Peppers put together three nice years in Titletown, as he had 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and also had two interceptions which  were both returned for touchdowns.

Peppers has also earned his money in the postseason, as he has had 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in three years.

Thompson also really helped the offense by adding tight end Jared Cook via free agency after he was released by the Rams prior to the 2016 season.

So, what should Thompson do this offseason to try and add some defensive talent to the Packers? Definitely utilize free agency, without a doubt.

The Packers are in decent shape currently regarding the salary cap, as the team is 10th in the NFL in terms of cap space available ($9.4 million). The team can add another $9 million approximately after the team releases cornerback Shields due to his concussion issues.

In terms of current players on the Packers who will be unrestricted free agents, I would bring back a number of them, both on offense and defense.

Right now there will be 11 UFAs on the Packers once free agency starts. They are Peppers, Cook, running back Eddie Lacy, running back Christine Michael, guard T. J. Lang, outside linebacker Nick Perry, outside linebacker Datone Jones, longsnapper Brett Goode, offensive lineman Don Barclay, offensive lineman JC Tretter and defensive back Micah Hyde.

On offense, I would certainly re-sign Cook, as his presence was a major reason why the offense clicked after he came back from an ankle injury starting in Week 11.

I would also bring back Lacy with a one-year deal, which will more or less be a prove it to me deal.

Lang also deserves to be rewarded for all he has done on the offensive line through the years, which not only includes great play on the field, but also playing hurt.

I would bring Barclay back, but only at the minimum salary. Mostly because of his versatility to play all the positions on the offensive line.

Goode also has proven to be one of the very best longsnappers in the NFL, so I would bring him back at a minimum salary, just like Barclay.

On defense, re-signing Perry would be my priority. No. 53 was the best player on the defense for almost all of the 2016 season.

I would also bring back Hyde because of all the versatility he can provide in the defensive backfield.

If Peppers wants to come back, I would offer a one-year deal which would amount to about half of what No. 56 currently makes, which would put him at approximately $4 million a year. That would be very fair, especially if Peppers has limited playing time.

My friend Pete Dougherty of USA Network-Wisconsin wrote a piece today about the 11 UFAs the Packers will have.

Dougherty agrees with me on a number of the players I would re-sign, but he wouldn’t bring back Peppers, plus he would re-do the contracts of both Clay Matthews ($11.1 million) and Randall Cobb ($9.5 million). Dougherty brings up an excellent point, as Matthews and Cobb will have the second-and third-highest salaries on the Green Bay roster in 2017.

Time will tell what will occur with both Matthews and Cobb, as injuries have definitely been a major reason why both have not performed up to the level of their pay-grade, but the release of Shields will definitely help to bump up the cap space for the team.

In terms of acquiring players from other NFL teams via free agency, I’m sure Thompson will first focus on players who will get released by their current NFL teams (usually due to cap reasons), looking mostly at defensive players. Again, that is route he took in acquiring Woodson, Peppers and Cook.

Those additions worked out pretty good.

If Thompson wants to look at a “pure” free agent who can help his defense, the No. 1 player I would look at is cornerback Stephon Gilmore of the Buffalo Bills, who was recently named to the AFC Pro Bowl team.

Gilmore is just 26 years-old and already has 14 interceptions on his resume in his five-year career in the NFL. The 6’0″, 190-pound Gilmore, who played his college ball at South Carolina, ran a 4.38 in the 40 at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.

I’m sure Cook, who is also a former Gamecock, would put in a good word about coming to Green Bay to Gilmore.

ted-thompson-minicamp

In the 2017 NFL draft, I would advise Thompson to use the strategy he used in the 2009 draft. That is, trading up to get a player who can definitely help his defense, especially if it’s an elite cornerback or pass-rusher.

In the 2009 draft, the Packers traded back into the first round of the draft to acquire linebacker Clay Matthews with the 26th pick of that particular draft. It cost the team a second-round pick and two third-round picks, but the trade-up tuned out to be a great move by Thompson.

Matthews has been hampered by injuries at times as I mentioned earlier, but he still has had an excellent career in Green Bay, as he has 72.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, six picks (two for touchdowns) and also has been named to six Pro Bowl teams.

Like Peppers, Matthews has also excelled in the postseason, as he has 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

Bottom line, something has to change this year with the defense. Either with the coaching philosophy or the means of adding talent to the squad.

Just look at how Albert Einstein defined insanity. It’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

That is what the Packers have been doing since 2011 trying to improve their defense.

And that’s also a major reason why the Packers have not been in another Super Bowl since the 2010 postseason.

2 thoughts on “Green Bay Packers: Offseason Priorities

  1. Bob: I liked your article but I do disagree with you on two points. First, I would not re-sign Don Barclay. There is a considerable drop-off in the adequacy of protection for A-Rod whenever Barclay enters the game. I would prefer a mid-roundl draft choice (for example, OC/OG Jon Toth of Kentucky) to fill Barclay’s roster spot. Second, there is no necessity to trade-up, and lose draft picks, to buttress the pass rush or pass coverage. This draft is so deep in edge rushers and quality CBs that the Packers, even though they are drafting 29th, can get quality players at those positions in the first two rounds. Depending upon how the draft falls, one among edge rushers Charles Harris, Taco Charlton, Tim Williams, Carl Lawson or T. J Watt, should be there in the 1st round. In the 2nd, a quality CB, like Cordrea Tankersley, Cameron Sutton, Quincy Wilson, Chidobe Awuzie, etc., is likely to be available and could fill our needs. If anything, I’d possibly trade-up in the 3rd round to make sure I would be able to select Auburn’s DT Montravius Adams to shore-up the middle of the D-line.

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