Green Bay Packers: The 2020 NFL Draft Class and Some Possible Moves in Free Agency

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My interpretation of the 2020 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers was that the team definitely enhanced the preferred offense which is run by head coach Matt LaFleur. I’m talking about the outside zone running scheme.

Five of the nine selections by the Packers were aimed at making the outside zone strategy that much more effective. Those five picks were running back AJ Dillon, tight end/H-back/fullback Josiah Deguara, guard/tackle Jon Runyan Jr., center Jake Hanson and guard Simon Stepaniak.

I had the Packers taking Runyan in my final mock draft.

The most publicized pick of the draft was definitely the first round selection of quarterback Jordan Love, who looks to be the heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers, but like No. 12, also looks to be holding the clipboard for three or so years.

The draft by the Packers did not address the wide receiver situation for the team which has only one sure option in Davante Adams, plus did not help out the run-defense issue that plagued Green Bay all season long in 2019 and became an embarrassment in the 2019 NFC title game versus the San Francisco 49ers. Nor did the team specifically add to the cornerback position, as Kevin King is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season.

I see general manager Brian Gutekunst addressing those issues via free agency. In fact, he already has at the wide receiver position, as he added Devin Funchess to the team.

Plus, Gutekunst also added Christian Kirksey in free agency to play inside linebacker and replace Blake Martinez, who also used free agency to join the New York Giants. Still, even with Martinez, who was second in the NFL in tackles in 2019, the Packers were just 23rd in the NFL in run defense in the 2019 regular season.

To be more active in free agency, the Packers can help themselves by cutting guard Lane Taylor, which will add approximately $4 million more in cap space for the team.

Green Bay might have signaled that move on Saturday, when they took three offensive linemen in Round 6.

Plus the team has to be even more creative in regards to the salary cap.

Why? The Packers are currently just over $11 million under the NFL salary cap. The 2020 draft class alone will cut into that by just over $8 million. Cutting Taylor will give the team about $7 million to use in free agency. That’s not a lot if you want to add a few more players to your roster.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

David Bakhtiari

That’s why doing a contract extension for left tackle David Bakhtiari needs to be a priority. Right now, Bakhtiari’s cap hit is $14.5 million in 2020. But by re-doing his deal and extending it and using a large signing bonus, the Packers should be able to add quite a bit more revenue to use for free agency.

There are some options as to how that added revenue could be utilized.

In terms of helping out the situation at wide receiver and specifically the slot receiver spot in free agency, the Packers may look to Taylor Gabriel, as LaFleur is familiar with him during his time in Atlanta. Gabriel is small (5’7″, 170 pounds), but he’s been effective in the NFL and he’s fast (4.40 in the 40).

The Packers also still see some real upside with Allen Lazard, plus there is also Jake Kumerow and Equanimeous St. Brown, who have also shown flashes. In addition, there is also Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who seemed an afterthought the rest of the 2019 season after breaking off on a long touchdown versus the Oakland Raiders in the seventh game of the season.

In terms of helping out the run defense, one familiar name to look for is Clay Matthews III, who would be a great partner for Kirksey at inside linebacker. When the Packers were struggling to stop the run in both 2014 and 2015, they moved Matthews inside and he made a noticeable difference. As a matter of fact, he was named to the Pro Bowl both years.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

Clay Matthews III forces a key fumble in Super Bowl XLV.

Plus, Matthews is very versatile, as he obviously can enhance the pass rush on the outside as well, as he proved last year with the Los Angeles Rams with eight sacks in just 13 games.

The Packers did draft linebacker Kamal Martin and defensive end/outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin, but I see both players as having roles on special teams initially.

That’s why also adding a defensive lineman like Damon “Snacks” Harrison in free agency would be huge. There aren’t too many players in the NFL who can stop the run better than Snacks. Pro Football Focus did a piece on Harrison less than a year ago which described Snacks as an immovable force.

Snacks Harrison

Damon “Snacks” Harrison

In terms of adding quality depth at cornerback, I believe the odds are pretty strong that the Packers will be bring back Tramon Williams, who played very well last year for Green Bay at the age of 36.

The Packers did draft safety Vernon Scott, who also played some cornerback at TCU, but he too fits in more as a special team player in 2020.

Finally, even though the Packers did select three offensive linemen in the 2020 draft, bringing back Jared Veldheer would be a very important add, as the team found out in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau last postseason, when Bryan Bulaga couldn’t play due to the flu.

Yes, the Packers did sign right tackle Rick Wagner via free agency to replace Bulaga, but the depth at offensive tackle currently is iffy at best.

Let’s take a closer look at the 2020 draft class for the Packers, which hasn’t exactly gotten too many favorable grades from many of the “experts” out there.

I recently published a piece on Love, as NFL scout Chris Landry gave his take on his abilities. The one thing that keeps popping in my head about drafting a talent like Love is perhaps due to the injury history of Rodgers. In the last seven years, No. 12 was twice lost for half the season in both 2013 and 2017 due to a broken clavicle. Rodgers missed 16 games overall.

Plus, Rodgers narrowly missed seeing his entire 2018 season wiped out when he suffered a scary knee injury in the opening game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday night. Although Rodgers was able to come back after going to the locker room (in what appeared to be an ACL tear) and lead the Packers to a stirring victory in that game, that injury seemed to plague him throughout most of the season, especially with his throwing motion.

In a perfect world, Love will do exactly what Rodgers did while backing up Brett Favre, which is holding the clipboard and learning the offense, while watching a future Hall of Famer. But if there is an injury to Rodgers, the Packers will have their possible heir apparent ready to go.

I also wrote a recent story on Dillon, as he might be the best part of this draft class, at least initially. Teaming Dillon with Aaron Jones, plus occasionally subbing in Jamaal Williams, gives the Packers a potent running game. Which is one needs to have in the outside zone running scheme for the overall offense to be effective.

AJ Dillon

AJ Dillon

The Packers were 15th in the NFL in rushing last season. Adding a talent like Dillon should put the Packers in the top 10.

Another reason the running game of the Packers should be better is because of the selection of Deguara in the third round. I believe that LaFleur sees Deguara to be similar to fullback Kyle Juszczyk of the San Francisco 49ers. Juszczyk is both a punishing blocker and a very capable pass receiver. He is a big reason why the 49ers have the best running game in the NFC due to his prolific blocking. Again, the Niners also implement a outside zone running scheme under Kyle Shanahan.

Here is part of what Landry said about Deguara:

Packers selected Cincinnati TE Josiah Deguara with the No. 94 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Cincinnati’s all-time leader in catches (92) by a tight end, Deguara (6’2/242) was actually invited to the Senior Bowl as a fullback due to his smaller stature. Good news is Bearcats OC Mike Denbrock, who simultaneously serves as the program’s tight ends coach, has a successful track record of producing NFL players at the position. Deguara has the try-hard that front offices crave, which allowed him to pry himself open for the second-highest target share (20%) in the nation at his position last year.

In terms of the rest of the draft class for the Packers, Landry will also give his assessment for each of the players.

Landry’s assessment on Kamal Martin who the Packers selected in Round 5:

Packers selected Minnesota LB Kamal Martin with the No. 175 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Martin (6’3/240) was a two-year starting weak-side linebacker at Minnesota who missed four games as a senior with a foot sprain and knee injury that also kept him out of the pre-draft process. He has the strength, size, and tenacity to play at the next level, but poor technique and vision led to below-average tackling numbers against the run. In coverage, Martin is likely too heavy-footed to reliably cover NFL players, which may force him into a strict special teams role. His aggressive playing style and ability to work through blocks are traits that should translate there.

Landry’s take on the three offensive linemen (Runyon, Hanson and Stepaniak) the Packers took in Round 6:

Packers selected Michigan OT Jon Runyan with the No. 192 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Son of Jon Runyan Sr., a 14-year pro who was once the highest-paid lineman in the NFL, the Wolverines’ left tackle was groomed in the sport and inherited his father’s trademark nastiness in bulldozing oncoming defenders in the run game. His versatility at both left and right tackle in college, as well as the few snaps he took in between at guard, should compensate for his subpar feet, length, and strength at the next level. Overall, Runyan (6’4/306) is an above-average athlete who projects best on the interior line but may be asked to compete at multiple positions in camp.

Jon Runyan

Jon Runyan Jr.

Packers selected Oregon C Jake Hanson with the No. 208 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Hanson (6’4/303) was a four-year starting center at Oregon who earned an All-Pac 12 honorable mention every season. His experience and competitiveness have him on the NFL’s radar, but he’s a well below-average athlete. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.50 seconds and lacked the strength to be put in one-on-one situations on tape. Hanson will compete for a final roster spot this offseason as a 23-year-old rookie. It’s clear the Packers made offensive line depth a priority over receiver depth in this draft.

Packers selected Indiana OT Simon Stepaniak with the No. 209 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. All 31 of Stepaniak’s (6’4/313) college starts came at guard, but the Packers announced him as a tackle. Stepaniak likely tumbled in the draft due to a Dec. 2019 torn ACL, though that was not his only injury in the Big 10. The owner of bruising size and strength, Stepaniak played with some real nastiness on the interior, but he gets tripped up by technique. 

Landry’s assessment of the selections of Scott and Garvin in Round 7:

Packers selected TCU DB Vernon Scott with the No. 236 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Scott (6’2/206) played four seasons at TCU, primarily lining up at safety, but he was well off the radar. As a senior, he mad 44 tackles across 10 games with one interception and eight pass deflections. He’ll need to show out on special teams to make the Packers final roster.

Packers selected Miami DE Jonathan Garvin with the No. 242 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Garvin (6’4/263) was a two-year starter at Miami who made 5.5 and 5.0 sacks as a sophomore and junior. Despite the average production, he declared for the NFL Draft early. He has Day 3 speed (4.82-second 40-yard dash) and will have to show more developmental traits to stick on the Packers’ roster.

To many in Packer Nation, the draft selections by the Packers in the 2020 NFL were somewhat confusing. But both LaFleur and Gutekunst have a plan and going 13-3 and advancing to the NFC title game in their first year together gives them some leeway.

Missing on certain players in the draft happens to all NFL teams. That is why utilizing free agency is so important to add to the weak areas of the team that the draft wasn’t able to address.

Gutekunst has proven over the last three offseasons that he is willing to utilize free agency quite often, which is similar to the man who hired him, Ron Wolf.

Time will tell how many more free agency moves that Gutekunst will make before the start of the 2020 NFL season. I definitely see at least a couple more though.

Green Bay Packers: Why Drafting Jonathan Taylor with Pick No. 30 is a Possibility

Jonathan Taylor Combine

There is absolutely no doubt that Jonathan Taylor of the Wisconsin Badgers was one of the greatest running backs in the history of college football. Taylor is sixth on the all-time rushing yards leaders list and would have passed everyone in front of him had he played his senior year in Madison.

No. 1 on the list is former Badger Ron Dayne, who rushed for 7,125 yards in four seasons with the Badgers. No. 33 also was able to win the Doak Walker Award and the Heisman Trophy his last season with Wisconsin in 1999.

When Taylor announced that he was moving on to play in the NFL shortly after the Rose Bowl, No. 23 had accumulated 6,174 yards rushing (and 50 touchdowns) and had averaged over 2,000 rushing yards per season.

Taylor ran for more yards in three seasons than anyone in college football  history. The former New Jersey native broke the record of Herschel Walker of the Georgia Bulldogs, who had rushed for 5,596 yards in three years.

Although Taylor never won the Heisman Trophy, he did win back-to-back Doak Walker Awards in 2018 and 2019.

Had Taylor played in 2020 with the Badgers, it was virtually certain (unless he was injured) that he would have been the all-time rushing leader in college football history and by a wide margin.

Taylor improved his pass receiving skills in his junior year, as he caught 26 passes, which was 10 more than his freshman and sophomore year combined, for 252 yards and five scores.

The big issue with Taylor at Wisconsin was with fumbling the football. No. 23 fumbled 18 times in three years, eight times as a freshman, four times as a sophomore and six times as a junior.

Ball security has to be the number one item that Taylor has to improve on. That being said, in his junior year, a number of the fumbles occurred while the Badgers were running the Wildcat offense and also when Taylor was fighting for extra yards.

Still, Taylor’s body of work was just fabulous at Wisconsin and his showing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine was off the charts in terms of showing off his speed and also impressing scouts with his improving pass receiving skills.

Taylor ran a 4.39 in the 40, which was the best mark of all the running backs at the combine, plus he also looked very natural in catching the football.

NFL scout Chris Landry noted this about Taylor’s performance at the combine:

“Taylor is in a battle for the top running back spot in this class. While D’Andre Swift did not drop the ball this evening (figuratively or literally), Taylor wowed with his performance. He was the only back to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds (4.39 — at 226 pounds). His feet were blurs when required to go over the often dreaded blue pads in drills. Taylor’s cuts were not as quick and effortless as those of Swift, Darrynton Evans or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but his speed and vision have allowed him to find and exploit holes over the past three years for the Badgers. Despite the lack of receptions early in his collegiate career, Taylor looked natural snatching passes during workouts, grabbing high throws and others that were far from his frame. Scouts will forgive him for running out of his shoe on one rep.”

Jonathan Taylor vs. Minnesota III

In terms of of the 2020 NFL draft, I believe it’s a real possibility that the Green Bay Packers might select Taylor at pick No. 30 in Round No. 1.

Why?

There are several reasons. For one, head coach Matt LaFleur runs the outside zone running scheme for his offense, which was also what the Badgers run under Paul Chryst at Wisconsin.

Taylor mentioned that when he spoke to the media at the combine.

“A lot of guys think Wisconsin football is power football and outside zone schemes, which it is, ” Taylor said. “Coach Chryst did a great job of making an emphasis point to put me in space to be able to showcase that ability.”

Being put in space is something the Packers do on third down with running back Aaron Jones, who is coming off a great 2019 season. Besides rushing for 1,084 yards and 16 touchdowns, Jones showed off his great receiving skills last season, as he had 49 catches for 474 yards and three scores.

Both Jones and fellow running back Jamaal Williams are slated to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2020 season.

That being said, there is a mutual interest in extending the contract of Jones, as the Packers were slated to meet with the agent of Jones last week to talk about getting a new deal done for No. 33 as he enters his final contract year.

So, why would the Packers draft another running back, especially in Round 1?

All one has to do is look at the running game of the San Francisco 49ers which is three-deep (and at times four-deep) in terms of quality depth. LaFleur basically learned the outside zone scheme from working with the current coach of the 49ers, Kyle Shanahan.

LaFleur and the Packers learned a painful lesson in the 2019 NFC Championship Game, as the Niners ran for a whopping 285 yards, with 220 yards coming from running back Rasheem Mostert, as the 49ers beat the Packers 37-20.

San Francisco was second in the NFL in rushing with 2,305 yards in 2019 and had three running backs who ran for at least 540 yards last season. Mostert ran for 772 yards, while Matt Breida ran for 623 yards and Tevin Coleman rushed for 544 yards.

And when there were some injury issues, a fourth running back, Jeff Wilson, ran for 125 yards. Add to that, wide receiver Deebo Samuel was also utilized on end around plays and jet sweeps, as he rushed for 159 yards.

The Packers were 15th in the NFL in rushing last year, but by adding a weapon like Taylor would surely enhance the running game.

Plus, let’s not forget that Jones was shut down in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons due to knee injuries.

Aaron Jones vs. Seahawks

Williams is a solid back, especially on third down due to his pass-blocking ability and his receiving skills, but he is not the game-breaker that Jones is or Taylor is.

Plus by adding the former Badger, both Jones and Taylor can be utilized at the same time. For instance, Jones could be utilized in the passing or running game like the Niners use Samuel in the slot, while Taylor is in the backfield.

Improving the running game will also help quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the passing game, as play-action passes have a much better rate of success, plus defenses will put more players in the box to stop the run, which opens up deep passing lanes.

Just take a look at the 2016 Atlanta Falcons when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and LaFleur was the quarterback coach.

The Dirty Birds had a great running back combination with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The two rushed for almost 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Ryan threw 38 touchdown passes versus just seven interceptions for 4,944 yards.

Ryan was named NFL MVP in 2016.

The Packers go into the 2020 NFL draft with 10 picks overall.  The Packers have a first-round pick, second-round pick, third-round pick, fourth-round pick, fifth-round pick, three sixth-round picks and two seventh-round picks.

The Packers have a number of needs going into the draft. The two most glaring needs are at wide receiver and at inside linebacker.

The Packers need to find a bookend to Davante Adams at receiver. Fortunately for the Packers, the 2020 wide receiver class in the draft is one of the deepest in several years. The Packers can select a very good receiver in Round 2 because of the depth in this class.

By the way, Adams was a second-round pick by the Packers in 2014.

The Packers are most likely moving on from Blake Martinez at inside linebacker, as he is an unrestricted free agent. No. 50 is a tackling machine no doubt, but his lack of speed hurts him when he chases down running backs on the edge, as well as in pass coverage.

Both positions can be improved before the draft because general manager Brian Gutekunst is not afraid to go after players he targets in free agency.

All one has to do is look at the haul Gutekunst made in 2019, when he signed safety Adrian Amos, linebacker Preston Smith, linebacker Za’Darius Smith and guard Billy Turner.

Brian Gutekunst at the 2020 Combine

Gutekunst is reportedly interested in a couple of players who could definitely help the Packers. One is tight end Austin Hooper of the Falcons, while the other is inside linebacker Joe Schobert of the Cleveland Browns. Schobert hails from Waukesha, Wisconsin and also played his college football for the Badgers in Madison.

If Jimmy Graham is cut by the Packers, it would free up an additional $8 million in salary cap space. That money could be utilized to help sign Hooper, who had his rookie year when LaFleur was the QB coach in Atlanta.

In the past two years with the Falcons, the 6-4, 254-pound Hooper has caught 146 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The 6-1, 245-pound Schobert made a number of big plays for the Browns defensively, as he had two sacks, four interceptions, 13 passes broken up and two forced fumbles in 2019. Schobert plays the pass much better than Martinez, plus also is a tackling machine against the run, as in 2017, Schobert tied with Martinez and Buffalo’s Preston Brown for the NFL lead in tackles with 144.

There is also speculation that the Packers might be interested in bringing back slot receiver Randall Cobb. The former Kentucky Wildcat played with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019, after spending eight years in Green Bay.

That will be an interesting dynamic regarding Cobb, if indeed the Packers are interested in bringing him back. In Dallas, he could be reunited with head coach Mike McCarthy, while if he comes back to Green Bay, he would be back with many of his closest friends, including Rodgers.

Cobb had a good year for the Cowboys in 2019 playing mostly slot receiver, as he had 55 receptions for 828 yards and three touchdowns.

Time will tell what Gutekunst will do in free agency this year, but one thing is for sure, he looks a lot more like Ron Wolf when he headed the front office of the Packers than the man who proceeded him at GM, Ted Thompson.

Wolf utilized free agency freely, while Thompson rarely dipped his toes into those types of transactions. And when he did, it was usually after a player was cut by his former team (see Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers) or by signing undrafted rookie or street free agents.

If Gutekunst can help the team via free agency before the draft, then the Packers don’t have to focus on need as much in Round 1, as opposed to selecting the best player available.

Taylor might just be the best player available at pick No. 30 on the draft board of the Packers, especially knowing what an impact he would have with the Green Bay outside zone running scheme. Not to mention adding another home run threat to the offensive backfield and adding quality depth behind Jones.

When Round 1 of the 2020 NFL draft takes place on April 23rd, don’t be shocked if the Packers select another stud running back to make their outside zone running scheme even more dangerous.

That running back could be Jonathan Taylor.

Pro Football Hall of Fame: Some Observations About Potential Green Bay Packers in the Class of 2020

hall of fame packer logo 2

The time is getting closer about finding out who will be in the Class of 2020 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 2020, the class will be much larger because of the centennial year of the NFL.

There will be the five modern-era players, plus 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches.

Last week the modern-era nominee list was pared down to 25 semifinalists from a total of 122 nominees. One of those players is LeRoy Butler. This is the third straight year that Butler had made it down to the semifinals. But No. 36 has never been a finalist, which is a big step in getting a Gold Jacket, based on what I have heard from Clark Judge, who is voter for the Hall of Fame.

Butler, along with Steve Atwater of the Denver Broncos, were named All-Decade in the 1990s at safety. Of the 22 players on that All-Decade team of the ’90s, only Butler and Atwater don’t have a bust in Canton.

The list of 25 will be pared down to 15 in January and then that group will be taken down to the final five inductees on the day before Super Bowl LIV, which would be on Saturday February 1.

Another player who is among the 25 modern-era semifinalists has a bit of a Green Bay connection. I’m talking about Clay Matthews Jr., who is the father of Clay Matthews III, who played with the Packers from 2009 through 2018 and is the all-time leader in sacks for the Packers with 83.5 and was also named to six Pro Bowl squads.

No. 52 was a big reason why the Packers won Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers when he helped to force a fumble during a key point of the game.

I’ll be writing a piece on Clay Jr. in the near future about why he deserves a place among the best of the best in Canton, which just happens to include his brother Bruce.

In terms of the seniors, the group of over 200 nominees will also be trimmed to 20 at some point in the very near future.

This group will be determined by a 25-person “blue-ribbon panel”, which consists of 13 current Hall of Fame voters, as well as some well known NFL names.

The panelists are Ernie Accorsi, Bill Belichick, Jarrett Bell, Joel Bussert, John Clayton, Frank Cooney, John Czarnecki, Rick Gosselin, Elliott Harrison, Joe Horrigan, Ira Kaufman, Dick LeBeau, Jeff Legwold, John Madden, John McClain, Gary Myers, Ozzie Newsome, Sal Paolantonio, Carl Peterson, Bill Polian, Dan Pompei, Charean Williams, Chris Willis, Barry Wilner, and Ron Wolf.

The panel will eventually name the 10 seniors, the three contributors and two coaches without needing a vote from the 48-person selection committee, which used to be the process in the past.

But because 2020 is a special centennial year for the NFL, this group of 15 will be inducted into the Hall once the list if finalized by the panel.

The Packers have a number of senior nominees who deserve a place in Canton in my opinion. And I believe that one of those seniors will be part of the Class of 2020.

The list of seniors for the Packers includes Boyd Dowler, who was an All-Decade player in the 1960s, plus was on the NFL 50th anniversary team.

Plus there is Ron Kramer, who was also on that 50th anniversary team.

Dowler and Kramer are the only two members of that 45-man team without a bust in Canton.

Jerry getting his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring at Lambeau

Jerry Kramer was another member of that 50th anniversary team and he finally got his rightful due and was inducted in 2018.

There are a few other All-Decade players who are senior nominees for the Packers. One is Lavvie Dilweg, who was All-Decade in the 1920s, while another is Cecil Isbell, who was All-Decade in the 1930s.

Dilweg is the only first-team member from that All-Decade team of the ’20s not in Canton, while Isbell is the only All-Decade quarterback not to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Another former Packer who was named All-Decade in the 1960s was Don Chandler. The former Florida Gator played most of his career with the New York Giants, both as a kicker and a punter, but also played three years with Green Bay from 1965 through 1967.

The Packers won the NFL title in each of those years, which also included the first two Super Bowls. Chandler was named as the punter on the All-Decade team of the ’60s.

Being named All-Decade is supposedly one of the key factors that the 25-person blue ribbon panel will use in their determination of the final group of 10 seniors.

That certainly helps players like Dowler, Dilweg and Isbell.

But there are a number of other former Packers were dominant players in their day and came very close to being named All-Decade.

I’m talking about Verne Lewellen in the 1920s, Bobby Dillon in the 1950s, (Ron) Kramer in the 1960s, Gale Gillingham in the 1970s and Sterling Sharpe in the 1990s.

Lewellen was considered the premiere punter of his era, when punting was truly an art form in the era of “three yards and a cloud of dust” in the NFL of the ’20s. There was no punter named on the All-Decade team of the 20s.

Plus, Lewellen was multi-talented, as he scored more touchdowns than anyone who played in the NFL while he was a player, plus once led the NFL in interceptions one season.

Dillon intercepted 52 passes in just eight seasons in the NFL. One of the people who will be on the blue ribbon panel, Ron Wolf, is a big fan of Dillon.

“He was a 9.7 sprinter coming out of the University of Texas and would be a corner in today’s game,” Wolf said. “But back then the best athletes were put inside. In order to qualify for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I believe you are talking about the best of the best. Bobby Dillon is one of those from his era. Witness the fact that (safeties) Jack Christiansen, Yale Lary and Emlen Tunnell are in the Hall. Dillon accomplished more than those particular players did in the same era. He was a rare football player, the best defensive back of his time.”

Kramer was considered among the best three tight ends in football when he played in the 1960s and the other two, Mike Ditka and John Mackey, are in Canton.

Gillingham was considered the one of the top guards in the NFL for several years and most likely would have been named All-Decade in the 1970s had not head coach Dan Devine foolishly moved No. 68 to defensive tackle for the 1972 season.

Not only was that move ridiculous, but a knee injury cost Gillingham almost the entire ’72 season.

When Sharpe played from 1988 through 1994 before a neck injury ended his career, only Jerry Rice was considered to be above No. 84 in terms of stature at the wide receiver position.

Another former Packer who deserves consideration for a place in the Hall is Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston. The first trade Vince Lombardi ever made once he became head coach and general manager of the Packers, was to acquire Thurston from the Colts.

Thurston, along with Kramer, made the power sweep the signature play of the Packers in the Lombardi era. The two guards would pull out and get to the second and third levels with their blocks, as Jimmy Taylor and Paul Hornung would continually and consistently gain large chunks of yardage.

Based on my discussions with people like Rick Gosselin and Judge, I believe the two best possibilities in terms of being named as a senior for the Packers as part of the Class of 2020, are Dowler and Dilweg.

Lavvie Dilweg(2)

Lavvie Dilweg and Boyd Dowler

But I believe only one Packer will get in as a senior in 2020.

We should know something very soon.

I also believe Jack Vainisi has a chance to be one of the three contributors for the Class of 2020. If not that class, he should be put in the Hall of Fame in the near future.

Wolf should know all about Vainisi’s prowess as a scout in the 1950s for the Packers. There are seven Packers who Vainisi drafted in the ’50s who are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I’m talking about Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Hornung, Taylor, Ray Nitschke and (Jerry) Kramer.

Plus, it was Vainisi who also drafted Dillon, (Ron) Kramer and Dowler.

Vainisi also played a pivotal role in bringing Lombardi to Green Bay in 1959.

These are my observations as the hourglass continues to run down regarding who from the Packers could be in the Class of 2020 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

We will know soon enough.

What If the Green Bay Packers Had Not Hired Vince Lombardi?

Vince meeting Dominic to become the new head coach of the Packers

Vince Lombardi is greeted by the President of the Green Bay Packers, Dominic Olejniczak.

With the somewhat abrupt firing of head coach Mike McCarthy after his Green Bay Packers suffered a bad 20-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday, I started to think about the some of the coaching hires that the Packers had made in the past, as Mark Murphy and Brian Gutekunst will now have to find another head coach.

I started specifically thinking about the coaching hires that brought NFL championships to Green Bay.

When Ron Wolf was brought in by Bob Harlan in 1991, he had total control and full authority as general manager to hire the next head coach after he had fired Lindy Infante after the ’91 season.

Initially, Wolf wanted to bring in Bill Parcells to be the head coach of the Packers, but because Parcells was going to have open-heart surgery, it was decided that the time was not right for that hire.

Wolf ended up hiring Mike Holmgren, who was definitely the hot NFL assistant coach prospect of his day because of his fine work with the San Francisco 49ers, as both quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

Holmgren had a great seven-year tenure with the Packers as head coach, which was helped by the fact that Wolf had traded away a first-round pick to get Brett Favre from the Atlanta Falcons.

In those seven years, the Packers were 75-37 in the regular season, made the playoffs six times, won three NFC Central titles, won two NFC championships and also Super Bowl XXXI.

Overall, Holmgren was 9-5 in the postseason.

Favre also won three consecutive NFL MVP awards under Holmgren from 1995 through 1997.

In 2006, after general manager Ted Thompson fired head coach Mike Sherman, he conducted several interviews with head coach candidates, including current NFL coaches Sean Payton and Ron Rivera, before finally settling on McCarthy.

Like Holmgren, McCarthy had a great run in Green Bay as head coach, both with Favre (for two years) and Aaron Rodgers as his quarterbacks.

In 12-plus seasons, McCarthy’s teams had a 125-77-2 record in the regular season. His teams made the playoff nine times, won six NFC North titles, played in four NFC title games and won Super Bowl XLV.

Overall, McCarthy was 10-8 in the postseason.

This brings me to the hiring of Vince Lombardi in 1959 by the Packers. David Maraniss wrote about the hiring process that the Packers went through that year in his fantastic book, When Pride Still Mattered.

The bottom line is that hiring Lombardi almost didn’t happen.

While the 1958 regular season was still ongoing and with Scooter McLean’s Packers having a 1-8-1 record, the first part of the 1959 NFL draft was held. In those days, the draft was staggered, with the early rounds done in late November or early December and the later rounds done in mid-to-late January.

This was done from 1956 through 1959. The draft was 30 rounds in those days.

There was speculation that the Packers were interested in bringing in Forest Evashevski, who had been very successful as the head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

From 1952 through 1958, the Hawkeyes under Evashevski were 39-22-4 and had won two Big Ten titles and two Rose Bowls. And in 1958, the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) voted Iowa as the national champion.

The quarterback for that Iowa team was Randy Duncan. And guess who the Packers selected in the first round of the 1959 NFL draft as the first overall selection? You guessed it. It was Duncan. That really stoked up the talk that “Evy” was going to be the next head coach of the Packers.

But there was another fellow who was very interested in becoming the Packers new head coach. And this fellow knew all about the Packers, as he was one of the founders of the team and was their first head coach. Yes, I’m talking about Curly Lambeau.

Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921 to 1949, as the team won 209 games (a .656 winning percentage) and six NFL championships.

Lambeau and Lombardi

Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi on the cover of the Green Packers Packers Yearbook in 1965.

The newest Packer player to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Jerry Kramer, saw Lambeau late in the 1958 season when the rumors about who might be the next coach of the Packers were really swirling.

“Before we played the Rams in Los Angeles in 1958 on the last game of the season, a bunch of us went out to dinner at the Rams Horn restaurant, which was owned by Don Paul, who used to play linebacker for the Rams,” Kramer said. “Our group included Paul [Hornung], Max [McGee] and Jimmy [Taylor].

“We noticed that Curly Lambeau was also at the restaurant. By then, the word have been circulating that Scooter McLean would soon be without a job as our head coach. So when Curly sat at our table, we asked him if he was interested in coming back to the Packers and being our next head coach. Curly said, ‘Hell yes!’ So we all figured that would end up happening.”

In fact, three days after the Packers lost to the Rams 34-20 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, McLean submitted his resignation to the Packers.

Soon after McLean’s resignation, as Maraniss noted in his book, Lambeau sent a wire to the Packers promoting himself to become general manager of the team, which would likely include also becoming head coach as well. At least based on what he told Kramer and the other Green Bay players in Los Angeles.

Lambeau even flew into Green Bay and met with Dominic Olejniczak, who was the president of the Packers board of directors.

But Lambeau had burnt too many bridges with the Packers executive committee, as I wrote about Lambeau’s time in Green Bay.

For instance, Lambeau ticked off members of the executive committee by purchasing the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949.

There were also a number of people who were not that enamored with Lambeau anyway, as he spent his offseasons in California. The word in Green Bay was that “Lambeau’s gone Hollywood”, especially among committee members.

Plus Lambeau’s teams weren’t exactly playing well either at the end of his tenure in Green Bay. The Packers went 3-9 in 1948 and then 2-10 in 1949.

Then after the Rockwood Lodge burned down on January 24, 1950, Lambeau resigned a week later to coach the Chicago Cardinals (later the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phoenix Cardinals and now the Arizona Cardinals).

The Cardinals were considered a very talented team when Lambeau arrived there. The Cardinals had won the NFL championship in 1947 and had played in the NFL title game in 1948, and next to the Chicago Bears, were clearly the next-biggest rival to the Packers at the time.

The only thing that could have made his departure worse, was if Lambeau had gone to the Bears to be their head coach.

The shining light of the Packers in the 1950s was super scout Jack Vainisi. That decade was the worst in Green Bay history, as the Packers were 32-74-2 heading into the 1959 season.

Still, Vainisi accumulated some fantastic talent for the Packers in the NFL draft, as he selected seven players who would eventually be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Vainisi also led the charge in getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay. He talked to coaches like Red Blaik, George Halas, Paul Brown and Sid Gillman, who all heartily endorsed Lombardi.

Vince and Jack

Vince Lombardi talks with Jack Vainisi.

It was Vainisi who convinced the Packers board of directors that Lombardi was the man they needed to hire.

And that’s what they did. The board named Lombardi not only head coach, but also general manager.

Lombardi had a .754 winning percentage in the regular season as head coach of the Packers, as the team had an 89-29-4 record over nine years.

But in the postseason, the Packers really shined under Lombardi, as the team went 9-1, as the team won five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Would Evashevski or Lambeau had the same success? I mean, both were very successful coaches.

The answer is highly unlikely.

There is a reason why the Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi.

He was not only a great coach, but a great teacher, a great motivator and a great man.

Kramer said it best to me once.

“Coach Lombardi had a tremendous impact on my life,” Kramer said. “The fundamentals that he taught us were fundamentals for life. They were about football, but also about business or anything else you wanted to achieve.

“You would use the Lombardi principles. He believed in paying the price. He believed in hard work and making sacrifices for the betterment of the team. His principles were preparation, commitment, consistency, discipline, character, pride, tenacity and perseverance.

“Those things are still helping me today.”

 

Green Bay Packers: Why Bobby Dillon Deserves to be Considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Bobby Dillon

Anyone who has read my work over the years, know that I  was on a crusade to get Jerry Kramer his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now that goal has been accomplished (thanks to the efforts of many), the Green Bay Packers now have 25 individuals who have busts in Canton.

That number is second to only the Chicago Bears, who have 28 individuals who were honored to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Now da Bears have a rich history no doubt, but so do the Packers. In fact, Green Bay has won 13 NFL titles (including four Super Bowls) since they have been in the NFL (1921), while Chicago has won nine NFL championships (including one Super Bowl) since they have been in the NFL (1920).

I believe there are many more deserving individuals of the Packers who merit a bust in Canton and this article is the first of a multi-part series of stories which will chronicle those people.

I told Rick Gosselin (Pro Football Hall of Fame voter and a member of the Seniors Selection Committee) that I would be writing this material yesterday. Gosselin told me to make sure that Ron Kramer, Boyd Dowler and Gale Gillingham were among the players who I would list.

I told Rick that those three will indeed be included in my list of names who deserve consideration for a place in Canton.

But today’s piece is about defensive back Bobby Dillon.

Dillon was drafted in 1952 by the Packers and their phenomenal scout Jack Vainisi. No. 44 was part of a draft class which included quarterback Babe Parilli, wide receiver Billy Howton and defensive tackle Dave “Hawg” Hanner.

Unfortunately for Dillon and his comrades on the Packers, the decade of the 1950s turned out to be the worst decade that Green Bay ever had record-wise. The Packers were 39-79-2 in that decade, which equates to a .331 winning percentage.

Dillon played from 1952 through 1959 and the only year Dillon played with a Green Bay team with a winning record was his last year with the Packers, which also was Vince Lombardi’s first season in what later became “Titletown.”

Even with all the losing going on, Dillon was one of the best players in the NFL during the eight years he played pro football. The former Texas Longhorn intercepted 52 passes in his somewhat short NFL career, which is good enough for being tied for 26th all time.

A number of current members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame also had 52 picks. That list includes Jack Butler, Mel Renfro and Larry Wilson. Those three will most likely be joined soon by another member of the 52 picks club…Champ Bailey.

Dillon made those 52 interceptions in just 94 games, plus he accomplished that with just one eye (lost in a childhood accident).

Bobby Dillon II

Three times Dillon intercepted nine passes in a season. And that was when the NFL season was 12 games.

In his eight-year career, Dillon was named first-team All-Pro four times by AP and was also named to four Pro Bowl squads. Dillon was also named second-team All-Pro by AP in 1956.

But because he played for a losing team, which needed a stock sale in 1950 to stay afloat financially, Dillon was overlooked a number of times in terms of honors.

The same goes for being named to the 1950s All-Decade team at safety. That honor went to Jack Christiansen, Yale Lary and Emlen Tunnell who were obviously great players, but Dillon deserved a spot on that team.

Dillon had more interceptions than both Lary (50) and Christiansen (46), but both played on one of the more successful teams in the NFL of the 1950s, the Detroit Lions.

In an article he wrote about Dillon for Talk of Fame Sports Network about three years ago, Gosselin quotes former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf talking about Dillon.

“He was a 9.7 sprinter coming out of the University of Texas and would be a corner in today’s game,” Wolf said. “But back then the best athletes were put inside. In order to qualify for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I believe you are talking about the best of the best. Bobby Dillon is one of those from his era. Witness the fact that (safeties) Jack Christiansen, Yale Lary and Emlen Tunnell are in the Hall. Dillon accomplished more than those particular players did in the same era. He was a rare football player, the best defensive back of his time.”

I also had the opportunity to talk with Kramer about Dillon, as they played together on the 1959 team in Green Bay under Lombardi.

“Bobby was exceptionally fast and cat-quick, ” Kramer said. “He had fantastic instincts as well. He could bait a quarterback into throwing his way because of the way he played off a receiver. But then just like that, Bobby would get to the football and either intercept it or bat it away.

Dillon is currently enshrined in the University of Texas Hall of Fame (1996) and the Packers Hall of Fame (1974).

Dillon deserves his rightful placement in one more, the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Green Bay Packers: QB DeShone Kizer Could Be a Diamond in the Rough

DeShone Kizer

QB DeShone Kizer of the Cleveland Browns looks downfield, as LB Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers applies pressure during their 2017 game, won by the Packers 27-21 in overtime.

New general manager Brian Gutekunst of the Green Bay Packers was pretty busy the past few days, as he and the team first hosted free agent defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson on Wednesday and Thursday last week.

On Friday, Gutekunst then made a trade with a former associate of his with the Packers, general manager John Dorsey of the Browns, as the Packers traded cornerback Damarious Randall for quarterback DeShone Kizer, plus a swap of picks in both the fourth and fifth rounds.

The trade means that the Packers will have the first pick in both the fourth and fifth rounds of the 2018 NFL draft and that the Packers will most likely not select a quarterback in the draft.

In terms of Wilkerson, the former New York Jet is still making a tour of other NFL teams, but has not made a decision yet on where he will play. The Packers have the advantage of having Mike Pettine as their new defensive coordinator, as it was Pettine who was Wilkerson’s first defensive coordinator with the Jets.

Pettine pushed hard for the Jets to select Wilkerson in the 2011 NFL draft, as the Jets selected him with the 30th pick of Round 1.

While Pettine was his coordinator in 2011 and 2012, the Jets were ranked fifth and eighth in total defense in the NFL, while Wilkerson put up good numbers as well, as he had 118 total tackles, eight sacks, one safety, six passes defensed and four forced fumbles.

Time will tell if Wilkerson will end up as a Packer, but according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the visit by Wilkerson to Green Bay went very well.

In terms of the trade to acquire Kizer, the Packers decided that they have seen enough of Randall’s inconsistent play and also his behavior with the coaching staff.

Case in point, in Week 4 last season versus the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field, Randall was benched because of his play and then later was told to head to the locker room because of a heated argument on the sideline with a coach.

After that game, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, a number of veteran players on the Packers told head coach Mike McCarthy to release Randall. But the coaching staff stood by Randall and kept him on the team

Randall was drafted by the Packers in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft with the 30th pick of that round. Randall had an up and down three-year career with the Packers. At times, he looked very good, but he also struggled with injuries, plus had a number of blown coverage assignments during his time in Green Bay.

Bottom line, Gutekunst and Packers saw a diamond in the rough with Kizer and shipped the enigmatic Randall to the Browns, where he gets to reunite with a couple of people in the Browns front office who were in that same capacity with the Packers when Randall was drafted by the Packers. I’m talking about Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith.

With the addition of Kizer to the Packers, the future of Brett Hundley with the Packers is now in doubt. At the NFL scouting combine, McCarthy did not mince his words when talking about the play of No. 7 in 2017 and the way he was coached.  “Brett Hundley wasn’t ready for what he needed to be ready for,” McCarthy said.  “That’s something that we have to learn from, and that stings.”

It’s also important to note that McCarthy did not keep quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt after the season.

At the time of the 2017 NFL draft, the Packers reportedly had Hundley on the trading block and nearly moved him at one point according to Demovsky. Part of the article says this:

The Packers dangled their backup quarterback on the trade market and came close to making a deal on the second day of the draft. Now it appears they’ll likely hang on to him for another year, but expect them to move him before he enters the final year of his contract in 2018. They believe they can get much more in return than the fifth-round pick they invested in him in 2015.

That might not be the case after the way Hundley struggled at times during the 2017 season in relief of an injured Aaron Rodgers. Hundley was 3-6 as a starter and he threw nine touchdown passes versus 12 interceptions for 1,853 yards. His passer rating was just 70.9.

Hundley was also sacked 29 times, as he had trouble moving around the pocket and going through his reads.

Hundley did run for 270 yards and two scores, but he just couldn’t lead the Packers down the field consistently due to his passing deficiencies.

The Packers expected much more from their third-year QB.

That is also why it has been rumored that Hundley was almost traded recently to the Tennessee Titans according SB Nation- Music City Miracles, via a tweet by my friend Jersey Al, who has some excellent sources.

My guess is the Packers will end up moving Hundley now that Kizer is aboard. The Packers have been high on Kizer since the 2017 NFL draft when the Browns selected him in the second round with the 52nd pick of the draft.

The Packers were considering selecting Kizer themselves with the 33rd pick of the draft, but instead picked cornerback Kevin King. According to Pro Football Rumors, via a tweet by Ian Rapoport, the National Insider for NFL Network and NFL.com, the Packers were definitely considering Kizer with the 33rd pick.

In college at Notre Dame for two seasons, Kizer threw 47 touchdown passes versus just 19 picks for 5,805 yards. Kizer also rushed for 997 yards and 18 more scores.

NFL scout Chris Landry liked what he saw of Kizer prior to the 2017 NFL draft. In fact, on Landry’s horizontal draft board, which ranks players regardless of their position, Landry ranked Kizer 29th on his board. He gave Kizer a mark of 6.4, which means a potential starter and an early second round grade.

at Notre Dame Stadium on September 24, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.

DeShone Kizer

This is what he said about Kizer in his scouting report:

Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer measured in at the NFL Combine at 6-foot-4 1/4-inch and 233 pounds.

His hands are 9 7/8-inchs and may have the most upside of any in the draft but perhaps also the lowest floor. He is built like Carson Palmer but in big moments has performed like Jay Cutler.

Kizer posted a passer rating of 154.7 when using play action in 2016. That play-action passer rating of 154.7 was tops in the country. However, that mark takes a terrifying drop to 85.5 — 62nd in the country, when Kizer was not involved in play action. Legitimate questions as to his pro-readiness have emerged during the draft process, including those of accuracy on the outside and mental makeup. He hasn’t played well under pressure and while the physical tools are all present, his issues are between the ears. The natural instincts for the position and pure arm talent are there if he can land in the right system with the right coach.

He has slow eyes while deciphering the defense. Kizer has all of the traits evaluators look for and played with poise and composure, but the inconsistencies stood out. He is a tick late on a number of decisions when working off his primary read. That plus inaccuracy on outside throws that should be made at the pro level should incite pause for an NFL evaluator.

Kizer is a two-year starter who had a career passer rating of 98.6. He cranks the ball through the tight windows. He’ll stand tall in the pocket. When he’s under pressure he doesn’t move in the pocket as well as you would like.

I see the athleticism and arm talent, but I wonder if he can take hard coaching. Things went downhill in a hurry at Notre Dame.

I think you have to go back and look at the 2015 tape to fully appreciate him. He can make all of the throws and he’s athletic. Plus, he has won some big games during his time there. I know it got a little sideways for him (in 2016), but he can play. I believe he is one of the top three in this class. Kizer is a big, athletic passer with arm talent and movement skills but has played a lot of bad football with the game on the line in the fourth quarter this year. Like all QB’s it is how he is trained in the league and his work ethic and coachability that will determine his success or failure.

There is no doubt that Landry saw a lot of very good attributes while scouting Kizer. Qualities like his size, his big arm and his excellent mobility.  But Landry also saw some flaws that need to be corrected.

In 2017, as rookie quarterback with the 0-16 Browns, Kizer started 15 games and threw 11 touchdown passes versus 22 picks (led the NFL) for 2,894 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of just 60.5, plus Kizer only completed 53.6 percent of his passes.

While that was a tough rookie campaign for Kizer, it’s important to note that left tackle Joe Thomas played in only seven games last season. That’s a big hole to fill from Kizer’s blindside, especially when that player has gone to 10 Pro Bowls and has been named All-Pro six times like Thomas has.

This is what Landry said about the recent trade with Randall going to the Browns and Kizer coming to the Packers:

The Packers acquired DeShone Kizer from the Browns in exchange for CB Damarious Randall.

The deal also includes a pick swap. With Tyrod Taylor coming in and an early-round rookie likely to follow, the writing was on the wall for Kizer in Cleveland. That said, this move is likely a blessing for the 2017 second-round pick, who will get a chance to develop behind one of the best quarterbacks in the game. Despite his rocky rookie season, the book is not closed on Kizer as a starting quarterback. With Kizer on board, the Packers could look to move on from Brett Hundley, who was overmatched as a starter last season.

I certainly agree with Landry on that assessment of his. The book is not closed on Kizer as a NFL quarterback and also that the Packers will indeed try to move Hundley via a trade. If that happens, I could also see the Packers bringing in an experienced free agent NFL quarterback, perhaps someone like Matt Moore of the Miami Dolphins, who played under Joe Philbin (now offensive coordinator for the Packers) for couple of years when he was head coach for Miami.

It’s important to have a steady NFL veteran in the wings if Rodgers is unfortunately hurt again. Similar to what Matt Flynn did back in 2013 when Rodgers was hurt.

Still, it’s also very important that the coaches get Kizer ready to play. That means hours of film study in the Green Bay quarterback school, which will now be led by new quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti Jr., formerly of the New York Giants coaching staff.

Cignetti not only has to teach Kizer how to prepare as a NFL quarterback, but he also has to earn the trust of Rodgers, who was not a happy camper when the Packers did not bring back Van Pelt as quarterbacks coach.

McCarthy and Philbin have to be part of this teaching process as well. Plus, Rodgers needs to lend support and also his knowledge to Kizer, which is something he has always done for his backups when he was not playing due to injury throughout his NFL career.

Bottom line, Kizer has all the tools to be a very good NFL quarterback. At first glance, looking at his stats in Cleveland, the addition of the former Fighting Irish star doesn’t look too appealing.

Nor did the acquisition of a quarterback named Brett Favre in 1992 for a first round draft pick look too promising. After all, Favre had thrown two interceptions in just four attempts as a rookie for the Atlanta Falcons back in 1991. Favre registered a passer rating of 0.0.

But then general manager Ron Wolf saw enough of Favre’s quarterback play at Southern Mississippi to make the trade.

Brian Gutekunst II

Brian Gutekunst

Apparently Gutekunst saw much of the same of Kizer with his overall play at Notre Dame and with some of the bright moments of his play with the Browns in 2017.

Now I’m not saying Kizer will have a Pro Football Hall of Fame career like Favre had, but he certainly has the attributes to be a fine NFL QB.

Based on the 2017 NFL draft scouting report of Landry, one of the best of the best in the scouting business, Kizer has all the ability in the world to be an effective quarterback in the NFL. For that to happen, as Landry also said, Kizer needs to be trained well, have a strong work ethic and be coachable.

That all should happen in Green Bay, with the coaching staff (McCarthy, Philbin & Cignetti), plus learning from and watching Rodgers.

Time will tell if Kizer is indeed a diamond in the rough for the Packers, but the athletic ability is definitely there for that possibility to occur.

Jerry Kramer Reflects on his Induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Jerry with David Baker

Well, the day that so many of us waited for finally happened. Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, February 3, 2018.

That epic honor came at last for Kramer, after 45 years of being eligible and on his 11th time as a finalist for enshrinement.

Kramer certainly had the résumé to become a member among the best of the best in pro football history.

In 1969, Jerry was named the best player ever at the guard position in the first 50 years of the NFL, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team.

Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

In addition to that, Kramer was a six-time AP All-Pro at right guard and was also named to three Pro Bowls for the Packers. Kramer would have had even more honors if not for injuries and illness. Kramer missed half of the 1961 season due to a broken ankle and almost all of the 1964 season due to an intestinal ailment which took nine operations to resolve.

Plus there was his performance when the lights were the brightest, when the Packers went 9-1 under head coach Vince Lombardi in the postseason. That led to five NFL championships in seven years, which included the first two Super Bowls.

Kramer was exceptional in three (1962, 1965 and 1967) of those championship games.

In the 1962 NFL Championship Game versus the New York Giants at very cold and windy Yankee Stadium, Kramer doubled as a right guard and as placekicker. Kramer booted three field goals on a very difficult day to kick, as some wind gusts were over 40 mph during the contest. Kramer scored 10 points in the 16-7 victory for the Packers.

In the 1965 NFL Championship Game versus the Cleveland Browns at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field, Kramer and his teammates on the offensive line had a sensational day.

Jim Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung led a rushing attack that gained 204 yards, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and fellow guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs as the Packers gained big chunks of yardage past the line of scrimmage.

Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback, as the “Golden Boy” made his way into the end zone.

In the 1967 NFL title game, better known as the “Ice Bowl”, Kramer made the most famous block in NFL history, when with help from center Ken Bowman, Kramer delivered a classic block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, as quarterback Bart Starr scored the game-winning touchdown on a QB sneak behind Kramer’s block with just 13 seconds left in the game, as the Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 21-17.

Bart's Sneak III

That play was the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy, while the power sweep was the signature play of the Lombardi era. Kramer played a large role in the success of both of those instances.

I tried getting a hold of Kramer after the word came out that he was indeed part of the Class of 2018, but it was near impossible to catch him with all the whirlwind activity Kramer took part in this past weekend in Minneapolis. That included going to the NFL Honors show on Saturday night, Super Bowl LII the next day and also being fitted and measured for a gold jacket and a ring for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Monday, not to mention getting his likeness studied for the bust which will be made of him.

I finally was able to speak with Kramer on Tuesday night, as he relaxed at his home in the Boise, Idaho area after flying back from Minneapolis.

The first words he uttered were meant for me. “Thank you, thank you and thank you,” Kramer said. “For all of your efforts and all of your time. And also your commitment which I believe worked.

“It was an amazing week. An incredible time. I thank you for all of your input and all your effort. It’s definitely appreciated.”

Yes, there is no question that I have been on a long crusade to get Jerry what he rightfully deserved. Which of course was enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But many others have also played a large part in the success of this journey. None so much as Alicia Kramer, Jerry’s daughter.

Alicia has spearheaded the efforts to get her dad a bust in Canton and has used the social media and other outlets to keep fighting the fight for her dad for several years now. Jerry’s son Dan has also played a prominent role in helping out that cause. It’s been a sincere pleasure of mine to get to know both Alicia and Dan.

Then there is Packer Nation and also Kramer Nation, as I like to call them. The letters from those fans just kept flowing non-stop to 2121 George Halas Drive NW in Canton over the past several years. That is the address for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Joe Horrigan, the Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has told me that one-quarter of his mail came from supporters of Kramer.

From my standpoint, over the past 15-plus years or so, writing for Packer Report, Wisconsin Sports Online (Packer Chatters), Bleacher Report and now on my own blog page (plus LandryFootball.com), I have written over 100 articles about Kramer.

Yes, several were about his ridiculous omission from the Hall of Fame, but many others were about his exploits in big games or seasons. In other stories, Kramer commented about his iconic head coach, Vince Lombardi, or about other teammates/opponents.

Before I became a writer and was just working in sales, I was writing letters on Kramer’s behalf for his induction into the Hall of Fame to publications like Packer Report, a place where I would later become a writer.

I showed one of those letters to Kramer at a golf outing prior to Super Bowl XXV here in the Tampa area. That was back in 1991. Kramer was touched by my letter. Little did he or I know that it would take 27 more years to see No. 64 finally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Chatting with Kramer is like talking to your favorite uncle. It’s always fun and engaging. Our call on Tuesday night was like most of our other phone conversations. It lasted over an hour.

My first question was about how it felt waiting for the knock on his hotel door by David Baker, the President and Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Yeah, that was a pretty incredible time,” Kramer said. “I was starting to go downhill. I had pretty well gotten myself in a positive frame of mind because they told us that he [Baker] was supposed to be at the door between 3:00 and 4:00.

“I had heard that Rick Gosselin had done my presentation early to the selection committee, so I figured that they were going to do the seniors [knock on the door] first. So I’m thinking it’s good if I get a knock on the door at 3:15 or so, we would have a pretty good shot. But if it’s 3:45 or so, not so much.

“So it’s just about 3:30 and we hear that they were delayed and would be a little late. So about twenty minutes to 4:00, we hear a knock at the door. And everyone there, which was my daughter Alicia, my son Matt, my grandson Charlie, my son Tony and his wife Darlene, Chris Olsen (close friend), Chuck Greenberg (former owner of the Texas Rangers) and a couple other folks there, all started cheering. So we go to the door and it’s the maid.

“So she was like a deer in the headlights. She didn’t know what was going on.  So after she left, we settled back down. Now it’s 3:45 and I’m really sliding downhill. I’m thinking that I’m not going to make it. That they would be here by now. All of a sudden there is a thunderous knock on the door. Boom, boom, boom.

“And you knew that was him [Baker]. So I said, ‘Who is it?’, being bit of a smart ass and I open the door and David is standing there with a half a dozen photographers and camera people. He gave me a big hug and I gave him a big hug. He’s 6’9” and 400 pounds. And I said, ‘You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.’

“I was so wanting to see him. We were all praying for Mr. Baker to knock at the door and he was a lovely sight.”

The day was just getting started for Kramer, as he was whisked off to the NFL Honors show. There he had some unforgettable moments. First, he was announced to the crowd by Brett Favre.

Kramer stood on stage with the rest of the Class of 2018, which included Randy Moss, Brian Urlacher, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins and Ray Lewis. Two other members of the class, Terrell Owens and Bobby Beathard, were not in attendance.

Jerry at the NFL Honors

After the class was announced, the other members of the Hall of Fame who were in the audience came on stage to welcome their new brethren.

“That was a real special moment,” Kramer said. “I think you ought to call Jerry Jones and ask him about me. I suspect there may be a story there, but I’m not sure. He gave me a big hug and I congratulated him for getting into the Hall and also apologized to him for the way I acted several years before.”

I wrote a story about that situation last year just before the Class of 2017 was named for the Hall of Fame, which included Jones.

Kramer was at a function in Dallas in the early-to-mid ’90s when the Packers were playing the Cowboys in the NFC playoffs, which the Packers did for three straight years (1993-1995) in Big D.

Jones was there and he saw Kramer and went up to him to say hello and stuck out his hand, but Kramer just kept walking. Kramer always regretted that moment, which was one of the reasons I wrote the piece about Jerry rooting for Jerry last year.

But this past Saturday, Kramer got the chance to convey his true feelings.

“I told Jerry that I rooted for him last year,” Kramer said. “I told him that he has done a hell of a job as an owner and has made this game better. I said that I didn’t have enough sense to be civil to you back when I was younger back in Dallas, but I sure as hell thought you ought to be here. And that I was glad to be associated with him now.

“Jerry got sort of teared up when I said that and it seemed like it was an emotional moment for him.”

Kramer shook hands and hugged with all of the other members of the Hall of Fame as well.

“That was a special moment,” Kramer said. “That was very, very special. When they came up hugging and saying, ‘welcome to the brotherhood’ and ‘welcome to the family’, it was just wonderful.

“It cleared everything up about how they were going to respond. And how they felt. You never know, but they were really like teammates. It was just special.”

I asked Kramer if there was anyone in particular he was anxious to meet and greet.

“Mike Singletary,” Kramer said. “I saw him and there were a couple of guys in between us, and I made a special effort to shake his hand and Mike did the same for me. It was a pleasant moment. We didn’t talk a lot, but we hugged. I thought he was just a hell of a player.”

I then mentioned to Kramer that it was apropos that one of the members of his draft class included another middle linebacker of the Chicago Bears, Urlacher.

“Yeah, while we were chatting, I said to Brian that he taught me something about the Chicago Bears,” Kramer said. And Urlacher says, ‘What the hell is that, Jerry?’ I said that I finally understood that Bears are people too.”

After the NFL Honors show, Kramer went back to his hotel room to chill out and relax after his exciting afternoon and evening thus far. But his evening wasn’t over, as he received a call from Jeremy Schaap, the son of the late, great Dick Schaap. who co-authored three books with Kramer, including the classic Instant Replay.

Jeremy invited Kramer to dinner and cocktails, so Jerry and some of his entourage met Schaap. Kramer had a great time, plus saw Mark Murphy (President and CEO of the Packers) there and had a nice chat with him.

Plus on Super Bowl Sunday at the game, Kramer went to the Green Bay suite at the stadium and had another chat with Murphy for quite a while. That got Kramer to thinking about a couple of great things coming up.

“Certainly the Hall of Fame itself in Canton in August and all of that,” Kramer said. “But another moment which will be awfully powerful for me is seeing my name on the facade at Lambeau Field and being honored there in front of those great fans.”

at Lambeau Field on October 16, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

That’s what happens to other Hall of Fame players, coaches or front office people from the Packers who are enshrined in Canton. The names currently on the facade are Earl “Curly” Lambeau, Robert “Cal” Hubbard, Don Hutson, Johnny “Blood” McNally, Clark Hinkle, Mike Michalske, Arnie Herber, Vince Lombardi, Tony Canadeo, Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Paul Hornung, Willie Wood, Henry Jordan, James Lofton, Reggie White, Dave Robinson, Ron Wolf and Brett Favre.

Speaking of Wolf, he sent a nice email to Kramer congratulating him on being inducted, as he was not in attendance at the NFL Honors show.

And like Kramer did with Robinson the night before “Robby” was inducted in 2013, the two of them went out to dinner the night before Kramer was inducted.

“That was a good luck dinner,” Kramer said. “Robby felt that it had worked for him, so he said let’s do it again so it can work for me. And it sure did. We had a nice dinner and a nice time.”

Kramer also talked to another teammate for the first time in over 45 years. That would be his old roommate, Taylor. The two of them have not talked since they had a falling out with each other back in the early ’70s.

“Yes, I talked to him,” Kramer said. “His wife is such a sweet lady and she sat down at the table with us. Someone was between Jimmy and I, but we were almost elbow to elbow. It would have been awkward and asinine to continue the boycott. I wasn’t overly friendly and didn’t slap him on the back or anything, but we did chat.”

After telling me that story, Kramer said that another discussion with Taylor probably won’t happen again.

But you never know.

While we chatted, I reminded Jerry that he was the last player on the NFL’s 50th anniversary first team to be enshrined in Canton. The other players who were on that first team and are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame are Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Lou Groza.

Now that Kramer has rightfully been inducted, there are just two players on that 50th anniversary team, one on the second team and one on the third team, who are currently not in Canton.

Kramer was shocked to hear who they were. They are Boyd Dowler (second team) and Ron Kramer (third team).

I’ll be doing a story regarding that situation in the near future.

I then asked Kramer what is was like getting fitted for a gold jacket and all the other things associated with going into the Hall of Fame.

“It was an incredible time,” Kramer said. “It kind of was the last straw in believing if you were in or not. If they are measuring you for a bust, it’s not because you are President of the United States, it’s because you are in the Hall of Fame. And if they are measuring you for a gold jacket, than you know you are one of the guys. And when they put that Hall of Fame ring on my finger, I had to get out my sunglasses to protect my eyes. So those things solidified the whole thing for me.”

Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jacket

When I heard the happiness in Kramer’s voice as he told me about the wonderful weekend that he had because of his induction into the Hall, I told him of a conversation I had with his son Dan the evening he was inducted.

Dan told me that his brother Tony, who was in the hotel room in Minneapolis with his dad, said that his father cried when he saw Baker at the door. I told Dan that I wasn’t surprised.

Jerry had always told me and many others that not being in the Hall of Fame didn’t bother him. Jerry would always say that the game of football had been very kind to him and had given him a number of gifts. If he didn’t receive the Hall of Fame gift, so be it, it still would be fine. If he got in, it would be like a cherry on a sundae.

But I never believed that. Jerry was just being stoic. He wanted this honor badly. When I mentioned that to Kramer, there was silence for a number of seconds. Then with his voice quivering slightly, Kramer replied, “No question, Bob. You are exactly right. Exactly right. All my honors came 40 years or so ago.  And I got the feeling that some people were thinking if you are so hot, how come you are not in the Hall?

“I mean the Commissioner [Roger Goodell] thought I was in the Hall. John Hannah thought I was in the Hall. I had to tell them that I wasn’t. I was thinking maybe I was overrated. So you start doubting yourself. Your emotions are up, down and around and around.

“But the ring day, the bust day and the gold jacket day put all that to rest for me”.

Yes indeed. From now on, Kramer will be forever known as a Pro Football Hall of Famer. He already was in the minds of many of us, but now it’s official.

A Scout’s Take on Who the Packers Might Name as Their New GM and New DC

Mark Murphy and Mike McCarthy

It’s been a crazy week for the Green Bay Packers after they finished their 2017 NFL season by losing 35-11 to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field. The loss put the record of the Packers at 7-9.

It wasn’t the only loss suffered by the team.

We learned on Monday that head coach Mike McCarthy fired defensive coordinator Dom Capers Sunday night. We also learned that two of the defensive assistants to Capers were also given the pink slip. They would be defensive line coach Mike Trgovac and assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley.

If that news wasn’t enough for Packer Nation to absorb, it was also learned that Executive Vice President, General Manager & Director of Football Operations Ted Thompson would transition to a new role as senior advisor to football operations.

That of course means that Mark Murphy, President & CEO of the Packers, will be hiring a new general manager.

Murphy talked to the media on Tuesday and talked about how the process will work.

“This is an attractive job and we’re going to have a lot of strong candidates across the league,” Murphy said. “I’m confident that we’ll be able to put the right person in place to help us win championships.”

The front office of the Packers has three candidates who might end up with the job. That would be V.P. of football administration/player finance Russ Ball, Director of Football Operations Eliot Wolf and Director of Player Personnel Brian Gutekunst.

In fact, the Packers have already scheduled interviews with Ball, Wolf and Gutekunst.

Brian Gutekunst

Brian Gutekunst

The Packers would have most likely interviewed another member of their front office for the GM job, but Senior Personnel Executive Alonzo Highsmith left the organization to join former Packers executive John Dorsey in Cleveland and he’s now the Browns Vice President of Football Operations.

It is also believed that the Packers will also look outside the organization as they look for a new GM. It has been reported that the Packers will also interview former Bills GM Doug Whaley.

Murphy told the media that Jed Hughes, a consultant from Korn Ferry, will assist him in the search for a new GM, although the ultimate decision will be his.

One of the other things that Murphy told the media was that the head coaching job of McCarthy’s was safe.

“You know Mike is our man,” Murphy said. “He is our coach and we have all the confidence in the world in Mike that we’re going to have great success moving forward.”

It was later learned that McCarthy was given a contract extension last season which will run through 2019.

On Wednesday, McCarthy made some more moves regarding his coaching staff, this time on offense. McCarthy removed Edgar Bennett from his role as offensive coordinator, while quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt did not have his contract renewed.

There is a slight chance Bennett might remain on the staff, after receivers coach Luke Getsy left to become offensive coordinator at Mississippi State. Bennett had been the receivers coach for the Packers from 2011 though 2014. In all, Bennett has been on the Green Bay coaching staff since 2005, when Mike Sherman was the head coach.

Two former assistant coaches for the Packers under McCarthy may be returning when it’s all said and done. One possibility might be Joe Philbin, who was Indianapolis Colts’ offensive line coach last season,  and who also worked under McCarthy from 2006 through 2011 and was offensive coordinator in five of those years.

Plus, another name to keep an eye on is former New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo, who was on McCarthy’s staff in Green Bay from 2006-13, including coaching quarterbacks for two of those years.

There is definitely a lot of moving parts going on within the Green Bay organization, as well as key additions to both the coaching staff and perhaps at general manager from the outside as well.

It’s been awhile since the Green Bay Packers had this much attention in terms of prominent hiring opportunities within their organization.

The Packers haven’t hired a new general manager since 2005, when former Packers’ President  Bob Harlan hired Thompson. Plus, McCarthy hasn’t hired a new defensive coordinator since 2009, when he hired Capers to replace Bob Sanders, who McCarthy had fired.

With all this news going on, I wanted to get the opinion of one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry. I had an opportunity to talk with Landry on Wednesday on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show about the vacancies that the Packers have both at general manager and at defensive coordinator.

Landry has an unique perspective in all of this, as he has known Thompson since both were members of the Houston Oilers’ organization back in the 1980s, when Landry was a scout with the Oilers and Thompson was backup linebacker with Houston.

Landry first talked about the job opening at general manager.

“I think they probably promote from within at GM,” Landry said. “I think there would be a consideration of looking at a guy like [Reggie] McKenzie. I don’t think [John] Schneider would come. But they probably would consider that.

“They tend to want to go in-line with their philosophy closely tied to Ron Wolf. Ted was part of that. So, I think that’s probably where they go. Probably promote from within. But we’ll see there.  [Brian] Gutekunst is probably the best guy. I’m not as big a fan as other people are on Eliot Wolf. It’s his last name.

Eliot and Ron Wolf

“I think there are some good candidates. It’s a really good job. I would look outside maybe a little bit more than they will.”

One name that Landry did not mention who is within the organization of the Packers is Ball. Yesterday, Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a piece which says that the next GM of the Packers will probably be Ball.

I talked about Ball earlier in the summer of 2017 with Landry, when we were chatting about who may be the possible successor to Thompson and this is was his response about Ball:

“He’s [Ball] an administrator, just like Andrew [Brandt],” Landry said. “Andrew was not a football guy. Russ is not a football guy. He’s an administrator.”

That sort of tells you that Landry does not believe the Packers should hire Ball as their next general manager.

After Landry talked about the GM possibilities, he turned his attention to who the next defensive coordinator might be.

“I think Vic Vangio is the type of guy that there are looking for at the defensive coordinator spot,” Landry said. “I know I talked to the Packers yesterday morning at length about Dave Aranda, who is a bright, young defensive coordinator at LSU. I think he would be a good fit.

“But I think somebody like Vic Fangio would make some sense. It’s certainly more in line with what I think Mike McCarthy will go with.”

Wisconsin fans will note that Aranda was the defensive coordinator for the Badgers from 2013 through 2015 and he helped put together one of the top defenses in college football. Aranda also interviewed with the Packers in 2015 for a coaching job under Capers.

But things come and go quickly when it comes to pursuing coaches and it was announced that Aranda has received a boost in salary ($2.5 million in each of the next four seasons) at LSU. Aranda was making $1.8 million in 2017. Besides some interest from the Packers perhaps, Texas A&M was also trying to pry Aranda away from LSU.

In terms of Fangio, he interviewed for the head coaching job of the Chicago Bears, where he has been the defensive coordinator under John Fox the past three seasons.

It is believed that the Bears will be looking for an offensive-minded head coach, but one never knows.

Vic Fangio

Vic Fangio

The 59-year old Fangio has a solid reputation as a defensive coordinator, as he did a great job in that position with the San Francisco 49ers under head coach Jim Harbaugh from 2011 through 2014. The 49ers were always in the top five in defense under Fangio.

In 2011, the Niners were fourth in total defense, in 2012, they were third, in 2013, they were fifth and in 2014, they were fifth again.

With da Bears, Fangio took the defense to the top ten this year, as Chicago finished tenth in total defense, after finishing 14th in 2015 and 15th in 2016.

Fangio runs the 3-4 defense that the Packers employ, plus has been a defensive coordinator under Capers twice, once in Carolina with the Panthers and once in Houston with the Texans.

Time will tell what the Packers will do at filling their openings at GM and defensive coordinator, but Fangio certainly appears to be a great fit for the defense and Gutekunst is probably the best choice for being the next GM, at least according to Landry.

The Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Bucs are Going Back in Time

Bucs vs. Packers

It’s been 23 years since the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced each other with both teams having a losing record. The last time this occurred was in Week 4 of the 1994 NFL season, when the 1-2 Bucs traveled to Lambeau Field to take on the also 1-2 Packers.

That was when the Packers and Bucs resided in the same division, the NFC Central. In fact, the two teams were in the same division for 25 years from 1977 through 2001. Now the Packers play in the NFC North, while the Bucs play in the NFC South.

The 2017 season has been a very disappointing one for both the 4-7 Bucs and the 5-6 Packers, who will play this Sunday at Lambeau Field. Both teams have been ravaged by injuries to their offensive lines, plus both squads have seen their talented starting quarterbacks miss time due to injuries. Those are just a couple reasons why both teams are under .500 this season.

Jameis Winston (shoulder) will return as starting quarterback for the Bucs this Sunday after missing the last three weeks, while Aaron Rodgers (broken collarbone in Week 6) might return to practice on Saturday. The earliest Rodgers can return to the lineup is December 17 (Week 15), as he is currently on injured reserve.

But looking back around 30 years or so ago, both the Bucs and the Packers were almost always under .500. As a matter of fact, when ESPN was doing their NFL Primetime show back in the late 80s, Chris Berman and the late Pete Axthelm coined the phrase “the Bay of Pigs”, talking about any matchup between the Packers and the Buccaneers.  The actual Bay of Pigs episode happened very early in the John F. Kennedy administration in April, 1961, when an attempted invasion of Cuba was woefully executed, mostly due to poor CIA planning.

Like the attempted invasion of Cuba in 1961, both the Packers and Bucs in the late 80s were also woeful.  It started for the Packers in 1986, when head coach Forrest Gregg gutted the team to try and bring some youth to the squad.  The Pack suffered losing seasons of 4-12, 5-9-1 and 4-12 from 1986-1988.  It was in 1988 Lindy Infante started his head coaching regime.

Infante, with the help of quarterback Don Majkowski, led the Packers to a 10-6 record in 1989.  However, the success was short lived as the team was 6-10 in 1990 and 4-12 in 1991.  Infante lost his job after the 1991 season when Ron Wolf arrived on the scene.

The Packers stopped their free fall in 1992, when head coach Mike Holmgren and quarterback Brett Favre both came to Green Bay via Wolf.  Since then, except for two years (2005 and 2008), the Packers have been .500 or better every year.

Of course, the team has also won two Super Bowls, one after the 1996 season, and one after the 2010 season.  The Packers have also been in 39 playoff games since 1993, winning 21 of those games.

Current head coach Mike McCarthy has a career 119-67-1 regular season record in 11-plus years in Green Bay. He also has a 10-8 record in the playoffs which includes the win in Super Bowl XLV. The Packers have also been to the postseason eight straight years under McCarthy.

The Bucs had success early in their franchise history winning the NFC Central in both 1979 and 1981 under head coach John McKay.  In fact, the 1979 team made the NFC title game.  Even with that success, people always talked about the 0-26 start when the franchise became an expansion team in 1976, when Wolf was then the general manager of the Bucs. Wolf remained in that role through the 1978 season.

But after the successes in 1979 and 1981, things got progressively worse for the Bucs beginning in 1983, when the team went 2-14.

Buc vs. Packers in 1988

The Bucs suffered 12 straight double digit losing seasons from 1983 until 1994, and didn’t have a winning record until 1997, when the team went 10-6.  The biggest reason for the turnaround was head coach Tony Dungy.

Dungy coached from 1996-2001 and led the Bucs to a 54-42 record overall, including the 1999 NFC Central crown and appearance in the NFC title game that year, but the playoffs overall were Dungy’s Achilles heel in Tampa.

The Bucs couldn’t seem to get over the hump under Dungy during the playoffs, and the Glazer family finally made a coaching change in 2002.  Former Packer assistant coach Jon Gruden took over as head coach in 2002, and sure enough, the team won it all, as the Bucs beat Gruden’s former team, the Oakland Raiders, in the Super Bowl that year.

But over the next six years, the Bucs were very inconsistent under Gruden. The team only made the postseason twice, never won a playoff game and were under .500 in three of those seasons.

That it when the Glazer family decided to make another coaching change and move on from Gruden. Since then, the Glazer family has been busy making changes at head coach.

Raheem Morris was hired to replace Gruden in 2009 and he lasted through the 2011 season before he was fired. The record of the Bucs during that time was 17-31, although the team was 10-6 in 2010 and narrowly missed the playoffs.

Greg Schiano took over for Morris in 2012 and lasted all of two seasons, as the Bucs went 11-21 during Schiano’s short regime.

In 2014, the Bucs then brought back Lovie Smith, who had been linebackers coach of the Bucs back in the Dungy era and also had experienced nice success as a head coach with the Chicago Bears (81-63 and three playoff appearances).

Like the Schiano era, the Smith era lasted only two seasons, as the Bucs went 8-24 overall in 2014 and 2015.

In 2016, the Bucs made their offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter the head coach to replace Smith. Koetter remains in that position to this day, although there has been some speculation about the Bucs possibly bringing back Gruden depending how Tampa Bay finishes the 2017 season. In the 27 games that Koetter has coached the Bucs, the team has gone 13-14.

Going into the 2017 season, both the Packers and Bucs had high expectations about how their teams would do.

The Packers won six straight games to finish the 2016 season and win the NFC North, plus won two more playoff games to advance to the NFC title game, before they were soundly beaten by the Atlanta Falcons.

The Bucs were 9-7 last season and looked to be a team on the upswing heading into the 2017 season.

A lot of the optimism for the two teams came from the play of their quarterbacks last season.

Rodgers had another fantastic season in 2016, as he threw 40 touchdown passes versus just seven picks for 4,428 yards. His passer rating was 104.2, which is almost identical to his career passer rating of 104.1, which is the best of all time.

on November 20,2011 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Winston improved on his rookie stats from 2015 in almost every category like completion percentage (60.8), touchdown passes (28) yards passing (4,090) and passer rating (86.1). That being said, Winston did throw three more interceptions than he did his rookie year, as he threw 18 last season.

Rodgers did his part while he was in the lineup this season, as the Packers went 4-1 to start the 2017 campaign. But in game 6 against the Minnesota Vikings, he broke his collarbone on a tackle by Anthony Barr. Up until that point, Rodgers was having a typical season, as he had thrown 13 touchdown passes compared to just three interceptions. No. 12’s passer rating was again close to his career average, as it was 103.2.

In the eight games that Winston started for the Bucs this year, the team went 2-6. In those eight games, Winston threw 10 touchdown passes versus six picks for 1,920 yards. No. 3’s passer rating was 87.3.

Since Rodgers has been injured, the Packers have gone 1-5. There have been some obvious growing pains with Brett Hundley playing quarterback for the team in place of Rodgers, but Hundley did have the best game of his career in last Sunday’s night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, as he threw three touchdown passes without a pick for 245 yards. Hundley’s passer rating in that game was 134.3.

Coincidentally, Hundley was part of the same draft class with Winston in 2015. While Winston (Florida State) was the first overall pick of that draft by the Bucs, Hundley (UCLA) lasted until the fifth round when the Packers traded up to select him.

In the three games that Winston has missed, the Bucs have gone 2-1 behind backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw three touchdown passes compared to just one pick in those three games.

But in the game on Sunday against the Pack, Winston will be back under center, but he’ll also be missing two of his best offensive linemen, with both center Ali Marpet and right tackle Demar Dotson being placed on injured reserve this past week.

The Packers will continue to start Hundley until at least Week 15, when Rodgers could be coming back. But that might not happen unless the Packers win the next two games against the Bucs on Sunday and then the Browns next week in Cleveland. Two wins would put Green Bay 7-6 and still alive for a spot in the playoffs. But if the Packers lose against the Bucs or Browns, or both, the team might decide to just shut Rodgers down for the season and not risk further injury.

Besides the shoulder injury Winston suffered, he is currently being investigated by the NFL regarding an accusation of sexual misconduct by an Uber driver back in March of 2016.

If all that wasn’t bad enough for the Bucs, they also play in the toughest division in the NFL right now. The New Orleans Saints are currently 8-3 and on top of the NFC South, while the Carolina Panthers are also 8-3 and the Atlanta Falcons are 7-4.

The Packers are also in a tough division, as the Vikings are 9-2, while the Detroit Lions are 6-5.

The bottom line is that the odds don’t look very good for the Packers and Bucs to reach the goals that each team set before the season. To even have a chance to make the playoffs in 2017, each team would have to win the last five games of the regular season.

That obviously won’t have a chance to happen for one of the two teams after Sunday’s game at Lambeau.

Still, even with the  disappointment so far for each team in 2017, it’s still a hell of a lot better than the “Bay of Pigs” era back in the late 1980s.

 

 

Green Bay Packers: Getting Into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Has Not Been an Easy Process for Some

hall of fame packer logo 2

With the induction of Brett Favre to the Class of 2016 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Green Bay Packers now have 24 individuals who have busts in Canton.

Those individuals are Curly Lambeau (Class of 1963), Robert “Cal” Hubbard (Class of 1963), Don Hutson (Class of 1963), Johnny “Blood” McNally (Class of 1963), Clarke Hinkle (Class of 1964), Mike Michalske (Class of 1964), Arnie Herber (Class of 1966), Vince Lombardi (Class of 1971), Tony Canadeo (Class of 1974), Jim Taylor (Class of 1976), Forrest Gregg (Class of 1977), Bart Starr (Class of 1977), Ray Nitschke (Class of 1978), Herb Adderley (Classof 1980), Willie Davis (Class of 1981), Jim Ringo (Class of 1981), Paul Hornung (Class of 1986), Willie Wood (Class of 1989), Henry Jordan (Class of 1995), James Lofton (Class of 2003), Reggie White (Class of 2006), Dave Robinson (Class of 2013), Ron Wolf (Class of 2015) and Favre.

In addition, there are five other players who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and who briefly played for the Packers for a period of time. Those players are Walt Kiesling (Class of 1966), Emlen Tunnell (Class of 1967), Len Ford (Class of 1976), Ted Hendricks (Class of 1990) and Jan Stenerud (Class of 1991).

Only the Chicago Bears have more individuals in Canton now, as da Bears have 27 enshrinees. Following the Bears and the Packers are the Pittsburgh Steelers (21), New York Giants (20), Washington Redskins (19) and Los Angeles Rams (18).

Prior to 1970, there was not a “Finalist” designation like there is now when they vote on a particular class.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame became an entity in 1963. Lambeau, Hubbard, Hutson and McNally were all part of that inaugural class.

Hinkle and Michalske followed in 1964, while Herber joined them in 1966.

Starting in 1970, the Hall started naming “Finalists” to determine the class for that given year.

Some individuals on the Packers made it into Canton on their first try. This would include Lombardi, Gregg, Starr, Nitschke, White, Robinson (senior), Wolf (contributor) and Favre.

For others, it was a little more difficult. Adderley and Lofton were both inducted on their third try. It took four times for Canadeo, Taylor and Jordan (senior) to get enshrined. It took six times for Davis to get a bust, while Ringo had to wait until his seventh attempt to get into the Hall.

Then there are the two double-digit guys. Wood didn’t get into Canton until his 10th try, while Hornung had to wait until his 12th attempt.

Which takes us to Jerry Kramer. No. 64 has been a 10-time finalist, but has never been given his rightful place among the best of the best in pro football for some unfathomable reason. Kramer was a finalist in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1987 and 1997 (senior).

Maybe the 11th time will be the charm for Kramer, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 48-person Selection Committee votes on the Class of 2018 the day before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. But before that can happen, Kramer must first be nominated by the Seniors Selection Committee around the third week in August as one of the two senior nominees.

In an upcoming story, I will put out my presentation for Kramer to that committee, just like I was there in front of them.

Kramer deserves a bust in Canton, just like the 24 other individuals who were associated with the Packers. No. 64 deserves to be No. 25.

I don’t want to give away my entire presentation, but here are just a few reasons why Kramer should be a slam-dunk for enshrinement in Canton.

In 1969, the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team. The first team consisted of Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Jerry Kramer, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Lou Groza.

Every one of the members on that legendary team are enshrined as players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All except one. That would be Jerry Kramer.

Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Looking back on the players who were named All-Decade through the year 2000, there were 145 players who were given that designation.

And up until now, 134 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.

Kramer is one of those 11 All-Decade players who have not yet received their deserved honor as being a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In addition to that, dozens and dozens of peers of Kramer, who all have busts in Canton, have endorsed Kramer for enshrinement.

No endorsement was bigger than that of Merlin Olsen, who many consider the best defensive tackle in NFL history, as he was named to 14 Pro Bowl teams and was also named All-Pro nine times.

This is what Olsen said about why Kramer deserves his place among the greats in Canton:

“There is no question in my mind that Jerry Kramer has Hall of Fame credentials. Respect is given grudgingly in the trenches of the NFL and Jerry has earned my respect as we battled eye to eye in the pits on so many long afternoons.

Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame and I hope you will put this process in motion by including his name on the ballot for this coming year.”

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

Kramer also shined big in championship games. The Packers won five NFL championships in seven years under Vince Lombardi in the 1960s, but without Kramer’s big contributions in the 1962, 1965 and 1967 NFL title games, that legacy of greatness may not have occurred.

Speaking of Lombardi, he once said this about Kramer in a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune:

“Jerry Kramer is the best guard in the league,” Lombardi said. “Some say the best in the history of the game.”

Finally, looking back on the Lombardi’s tenure in Green Bay, there are two points which certainly have to be made.

The legendary power sweep was obviously the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi.

Plus, Starr’s quarterback sneak with just seconds remaining in the “Ice Bowl”, had to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy.

Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.

Bottom line, it’s quite simple. Kramer most definitely deserves to be among the best of the best in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.