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Old 22.02.2011, 09:58 AM
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Defence/Special Teams

Free Agents

DE Cullen Jenkins
S Charlie Peprah
S Atari Bigby
ILB A.J. Hawk – not strictly a FA but treated as such here due to completely untenable 2011 salary
K Mason Crosby

Jenkinswill be given the franchise tag. Then traded, or maybe gets a deal
This is the biggest player decision the team has to make this offseason. I think it’s a really tough one. Jenkins is an elite player. A really disruptive, consistent interior pass rusher. He’s in his prime. For most teams, paying the probably $11m per season Jenkins is going to get would be a fairly easy decision. For the Packers, it’s a really difficult one. First, in Raji and Pickett the Packers already have a lot of money tied up in the D line. Howard Green is a stone cold lock to come back because of his cheap 2011 price ($725,000), level of play in 2010 and veteran leadership. Mike Neal is a lock for the roster, CJ Wilson and Jarius Wynn both have shown genuine promise and Johnny Jolly may also be reinstated. How many D linemen can you realistically keep when you play nickel/sub packages 70% of the time? Second, unless he is Harrell-esque with injuries, Mike Neal is going to be really good and needs to play. Third, Jenkins is not a supremely conditioned athlete. He’s had his struggles with availability – he played less than 50% of defensive snaps this year – and there have to be some concerns that he’ll let himself go a little after getting paid. That’s how it worked out with his brother Kris. So IMO there’s definitely some risk in giving him that kind of contract. But on the other hand, he’s the best interior pass rusher the team currently has, and that’s a precious commodity. I’ve read that the Packers may be preparing to let Jenkins walk in FA. No way IMO you can do that. I think the Packers have to use the franchise tag on him. That costs $12.5 or $12.9m for 2011. I think there’s a good chance you can trade him from under the tag. If you can’t, then I’m OK with paying him that for 2011 and trying to work out a deal beyond that. Either way he’s too good of a player to just let him walk, even if you have to make a sacrifice elsewhere.

Peprahwill resign in GB, though some risk he’ll leave in FA
The Packers should definitely try to resign Peprah to a respectable contract. Much as people cite him as ‘clearly the weak link’ in the Packers secondary… he has done a remarkable job within his athletic limitations. Whether he’s back is going to come down to whether anyone else pursues him in FA as a starter. There is a shortage of decent safeties around the league, so that cannot be ruled out. Morgan Burnett figures to be back, we may add another S in the draft. Nonetheless there should be a role for Peprah within that mix because his superior ability against the run has value. Burnett has promise, yes, and is the superior athlete and player in coverage. But he also missed a lot of tackles and that’s a concern with him moving forward.

Bigby - will leave in free agency
It’s the end of the line for Bigby in GB. Availability has never been great with Bigby and there’s a good chance it never will be. He stands to be way down the depth chart and would appear to have better opportunities awaiting him elsewhere. He did a great job coming out of nowhere to dig the team out of the hole they got into with Marquand Manuel. I will remember him fondly in green and gold but it’s time to move on.

Hawkanything could happen, but most likely will be released by the Packers
After Jenkins, the ILB decision is probably the toughest for the team. In fairness it’s a good position to be in. They have 3 players who are full time starting quality ILBs. They are all too good to sit on the bench. None of them can play outside. Bishop has signed a long term deal for not huge money and figures to be one of the starters for the next few seasons. Barnett is due $5.5m for 2011 and Hawk $10m, which is not going to happen. Something has to give. In getting Bishop resigned, the Packers have given themselves leverage with Hawk and/or a fallback plan. So it’s Hawk vs Barnett for the other spot. Hawk is less athletic, has less range and is the inferior blitzer. However he is extremely durable, is immaculately professional and assignment sure, has a calm undemonstrative demeanour in contrast to Barnett’s more emotional style, is unselfish and is also underrated in coverage. Barnett is the better player IMO, but he is also undersized for a 3-4 ILB, has had injuries and has a playing style, throwing his body around, that makes his availability a concern in the future. It’s a really hard decision. My guess is that the Packers would not be able to trade Barnett. With Hawk effectively able to force his way onto the open market, I think Barnett will figure to be the better value option for the team. But this could definitely go either way – if you can trade Barnett and resign Hawk, that makes sense. If you can sign Hawk cheap, that also makes sense. We figure to draft a MLB for depth this year.

Crosbywill resign in Green Bay
Elite leg strength, average accuracy. That’s the book so far on Mason Crosby. Based on his work ethic and the typical career trajectories of kickers, the next contract he signs is likely to be some of the best years of his career. I think we have to resign him. You live through the pains of having a young kicker... you need to reap the rewards by resigning them to another contract. Might not be the cheapest contract either… Green Bay is a difficult place to kick. Crosby is the sort of kicker we need IMO. Lock him down.

Should they stay or should they go?
2011 compensation in brackets

Matt Wilhelm ($3m)
Brandon Chillar ($2m base, not entirely sure on rest – Chillar’s contract includes about $5m in other bonuses, not sure when payable)
Brady Poppinga ($2.1m)
Nick Barnett ($5.5m)

Wilhelmgo
This was the first time Thompson claimed a veteran player on a sizeable contract (Wilhelm’s base for 2010 was $2.5m). We needed him last season with all the injuries we had. $3m is not going to happen for 2011 IMO. We need the money elsewhere, we can replace him cheaply, he doesn’t figure to be enough of a factor.

Chillarclose to 50/50, but I’m gonna say stay, if not then my guess is released on final cutdowns
This does depend on whether the Packers owe him a bonus on top of the $2m salary he’s due this year. I believe the Packers would take a ~$5.25m cap hit if they cut him. It might only cost $3.75m in cap space to keep him on the roster, though clearly the $2m in cash for his salary also needs to be considered. If he’s all the way back from injury he has value in sub packages because he’s got some range in coverage – a weakness of both Hawk and Bishop. Might need to play better on special teams to make the team next season. Broke his hand and missed a fair bit of time last year, missed most of 2010 too. Durability definitely a concern, shoulder injury possibly a long term worry for a linebacker.

Poppingago
Poppinga is now 32 and is coming off his second major knee injury. In Walden, Jones, Matthews and Zombo, the Packers have 4 cheap, young OLBs and Poppinga isn’t good enough on special teams or cheap enough to justify keeping over any of them. The Packers will hopefully add another OLB prospect who might become a second pass rush threat. Everything is working against Poppinga coming back.

Barnettmy guess is stay
As I said with Hawk, this is a close, difficult decision. If the team comes to an agreement with Hawk, it’s hard to see Barnett being kept on at $5.5m. He might have some trade value, you never know. Working against the Packers (as with Jenkins) is that there ought to be some good FAs this season because of all the RFAs from last year. If the market is flooded with these players – who are also younger than Barnett – it might be hard for the Packers to move him. And with so many teams playing 3-4 now, Barnett’s size is going to be a concern for those teams. My guess is they keep him over Hawk, but who can tell?
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