By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~The Brady Rule. You know what it is.
Well, no it’s not related to the special “Tuck Rule” that stole a playoff game from the Raiders and Charles Woodson back in the 2001 season playoffs which helped Brady win his first Super Bowl.
The Brady Rule was the NFL’s response to Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard diving into the planted knee of Brady, tearing his ACL in the opening game of the 2008 NFL season.
Coming off the 2007 undefeated regular season, this was an immediate eye-opener for the league, to see it’s #1 star, record-breaking quarterback have his season end in the first game on a dangerous hit into the knee.
The NFL, wisely, realized that this type of “tackle” was extremely dangerous and would cause severe injuries to the “defenseless” passer, so they put a new rule in that penalized this.
It had happened a few years earlier, in a playoff game, to Carson Palmer and the favored Bengals against the visiting Steelers.
That was on the first pass of the game from Palmer, and it ended his game, season, and killed the rise of the Bengal for at least a decade. They’re still looking for a legit QB.
Even though Palmer was a former #1 overall pick, he was not a big enough star, like Brady was, so the NFL didn’t enact a new rule after that hit.
Matt Hassellbeck, years earlier as a Seahawk against the Vikings, also had suffered a knee injury for a low hit into his knees.
While I admire the NFL for adapting to the evolving horrible and dangerous “heads down” tackling by the modern player, it’s a shame they cannot be proactive more instead of reactive. It took a broken foot to Terrell Owens from a Roy Williams horse-collar for them to finally suspend Williams. He had been warned and penalized many times prior to that one.
That brings us to the “defenseless receiver” and his knees.
Sure, the NFL has enacted new, strict rules to protect receivers heads. But we all know that’s not out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s a result of lawsuits. Legal action, and a threat to the shield and it’s finances, will change rules even faster than torn ACL’s.
Ask Rob Gronkowski, or Dustin Keller, Jordan Shipley, Ovie Mughelli, or Randall Cobb. These five players had their knees targeted and some blown apart because of cheap shots into the knees by new, modern, young safeties who claim they’re forced to tackle low now because of the fines for the hits higher. Whether or not all the blame should go to the league, what matters is protecting the players knees.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends (and Fullbacks in Mughelli’s case) may not be as marquee as Brady is, but they still make their livings partly due to having good wheels, which means the knees.
Gronkowski, Keller, and Cobb will never be the same. Sure, I know that Cobb did make it back by the final game of the season, and killed the Bears with the 4th down last-minute touchdown.
“I think a lot of us saw the hit on Dustin Keller,” Rodgers said after Green Bay’s 19-17 win, “I just felt like [Elam] had enough time to make a hit in the legal hitting zone. I just felt like, from my vantage point, he had plenty of time to not take out a guy’s legs in that situation,”
Rodgers specifically referenced “the hit on Dustin Keller,” which was a very similar play in the preseason. On that one, Houston Texan rookie D.J. Swearinger broke Keller’s knee on a tackle (see below), resulting in catastrophic injuries for the newly-signed Miami tight end.
Swearinger said afterwards “In this league you’ve got to go low. If you go high, you’re going to get fined.”
By being over-cautious, with many ridiculous penalties and fines, for hits even close to being up high, it’s creating more and more safeties who throw their eyes down and heads low into knees of receivers. This is the result: receivers, tight ends, running backs losing their legs/knees that made them good enough to make a living in the NFL.
I don’t like seeing fellow players blow up other players ACL’s or legs snapped in half, even if it happens to someone on the Seahawks, 49ers, Vikings or Bears.
Cobb avoided the horrific torn ACL. He just suffered a broken leg. He missed almost three months, but he came back in time to get the Packers into the playoffs. But he’ll never run that seam route and make the catch not thinking about the safety coming in to break his knee/leg in half again. It’s not even penalized. Why wouldn’t the safeties keep doing this?
“I think it (Elam’s hit into my knee) was dirty,” Cobb said on Wednesday’s edition of Pro Football Talk at the Super Bowl. “But I don’t think it was meant to be dirty. I think with the new rules in place he was doing the opposite and trying to protect himself from getting a fine and it just caused a low hit.” There it is again, about the money.
“I think we have to create some kind of hitting zone, some kind of targeting zone,” Cobb said. “We’re professional athletes, we can make that type of adjustment. We just need the repetition and practice to make the adjustment.”
TJ Ward didn’t want to get fined. He likes his money, and he respects his pocketbook more than he does fellow players.
Rob Gronkowski beat his man down the seam, and knew a safety might be lurking back there. Up until the past few years, he might take a hard shot into his ribs, chest, or even head. Nowadays, guys like Ward don’t do that. The result is the end of Gronk as we knew him.
He took out the big man Gronkowski. Gronk will never be the same either, partly because his legs, knee will never be the same. “If I would’ve hit him up high, there’s a chance I was going to get a fine,” Ward said, via the Boston Globe. “It’s kind of being caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “It’s a decision you have to make, but you have to follow the rules at the same time. When they set the rule, everyone knew what was going to happen. This can happen if you have those types of situations. It’s pretty much inevitable, and they forced our hand with this one.”
Dustin Keller’s season ended before it began as the prized free agent addition had his knee blown up in the preseason by a cheap, dirty (but legal according to the outdated NFL rulebook) hit by the young safety DJ Swearninger.
“We will certainly discuss this at length this offseason,” Giants president and CEO John Mara, a member of the league’s competition committee and the committee on health and medical issues, wrote in an email to FOX Sports last year following the hit on Cobb. “Too early to tell if there will be a rule change. We will look at all of these plays before deciding if a rule change is warranted.”
What that means is they will look at the financials, and threats to the league’s pocketbook. That’s the bottom line to the NFL, as it is most businesses. All businesses.
But the NFL is a non-profit 501c you say? Well, Goodell’s salary last year was over $44 million.
That doesn’t sound very charitable does it?
Finances aside, it’s time now for the NFLPA and NFL to immediately put some new rules against these pathetic and dangerous types of hits that more and more safeties and cornerbacks are delivering each year.
If the hitter doesn’t even have their head up, eyes on the target, if their eyes are pointing to the turf, that’s a bad hit.
It’s not that complicated. It’s far less complicated than the hits up high that are always flagged even though the hit was into the chest sometimes, or the receiver ducked his head down as the hit came in.
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~He didn’t have blazing speed.
He didn’t have a flashy touchdown celebration or tons of commercials like Greg Jennings did, nor did he go on Dancing with the Stars like Donald Driver did.
But James Jones suited up, and he played.
Over seven seasons with the Packers, he missed a total of eight games. At one per season, the Packers wish all their players could be so durable.
He never had a thousand-yard season. He never caught more than 64 passes in any season.
But he made plays. He scored 24 touchdowns over the past three seasons, including leading the NFL in 2012.
He had 135 first downs over the past four seasons.
He went up high and out-muscled defenders for balls. He got past some defenders for deep ones, although not many as speed is not his biggest asset.
He also willingly blocked. Blocking is actually how he hurt his knee this past season. But true to his tough image, he only missed two games, far fewer than most expected.
But above all, he was a great teammate, and a great role model for the community. He didn’t complain when he didn’t get a single pass in last year’s opening game, which was a loss to San Francisco.
He also didn’t complain 3 years ago when he didn’t get a super big payday like he felt, and I, that he deserved. He just came back and played solid football for the Packers, and suited up almost every game, whether he got passes thrown his way or not.
And he celebrated his touchdowns by always honoring God instead of himself or his posse, or taunting the guy he beat.
Jones is so unappreciated and underrated, ESPN.com currently doesn’t even list him among all the Joneses.
I will really miss James, but I will certainly root for him as a Raider. The Packers loss is Oakland’s gain.
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~Following the exciting weekend blockbuster “Peppers Picks Packers”, the Packers had some more player news on Monday.
And some of it was sad news for those like me who love James Jones.
Former Packer, Reggie McKenzie in Oakland has signed another former Packer. He added Jones to his rebuilding roster with a 3-year deal worth around $10 million.
Last year, you’ll remember, he signed another guy Ted Thompson felt was expendable in Charles Woodson. Woodson was on the decline, but him on the decline was still a hell of a lot better last year than Ted’s young guys at safety Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings. He was actually better than Morgan Burnett too.
The good news was that James Starks signed on again. Last year, Starks was very good as Eddie Lacy’s backup RB and the Packers like having the two power backs to keep each fresh. I felt Starks should have given Lacy even more rest down the stretch last year.
DuJuan Harris and Jonathan Franklin also will be back, giving the Packers a very deep and talented stable of runners.
And Thompson added one more surprise, somewhat, by signing former Viking DL/NT LeTroy Guion. He was not a guy who stood out, who many non-Viking fans were really aware of.
But at 315 pounds, with some athletic ability and twitch, he could give the Packers that faster interior lineman they have mentioned. He’s not as strong and big as Ryan Pickett or B.J. Raji, but he moves a lot better than either of those guys.
By Tyler Dunne, JSOnline.com
Full story here
~When the Green Bay Packers reconvene at 1265 Lombardi Ave., David Bakhtiari will have a question for Julius Peppers.
The left tackle never understood theses hot-and-cold, motor-related concerns himself.
Through his two games against the defensive end — and all that Packers-Bears footage he studied — Peppers was a brawler.
Or, in Bakhtiari’s words, this 6-foot-7, 287-pound “freak” was “geeked up” to play Green Bay.
“I don’t know what gets into him,” Bakhtiari said, “but every time he plays us, he’s getting after it. I want to ask him, ‘What is it about going against the Green Bay Packers that you just bring it all the time?’ I didn’t get the chance to see him being hot and cold.
“He was steaming hot when he played us.”
The Packers are gambling that the Peppers they’ve encountered twice a season with the Chicago Bears is the Peppers they signed in free agency. The No. 2 overall pick in 2002 is already one of the greatest athletes to play the position, a slam-dunking North Carolina power forward with 119 sacks and 39 forced fumbles in the pros. This is no Charles Woodson 2.0 signing. Peppers is 34 years old. He’s on a three-year deal, which could turn out to be a one-season experiment.
On the field, Peppers showed signs of slowing down last season. Scouts have ripped his selective effort.
So, for now, the hot-and-cold questions subside. Bakhtiari and other offensive tackles say Peppers does, indeed, have a lot to give.
“He’s a guy that comes around once every decade,” Bakhtiari said. “He’s a freak. Yeah, he’s older but he’s still a hell of a player. He still can run people down from behind. He gets after the quarterback. He has long limbs. And he’s so thick, so strong.”
In his two games against Green Bay last season, Peppers resembled a hungry 24-year-old, not a declining has-been.
At Lambeau Field, Peppers had a sack, an interception and two pass break-ups. In the winner-take-all Soldier Field finale, he drove Bakhtiari back more than once with one strip-sack that Jarrett Boykin scooped up for a touchdown.
Bakhtiari remembers that play well. Peppers raced outside, planted and cut inside to whack Aaron Rodgers.
If one Bear wakes up with the ball rolling around, there’s a good chance Chicago wins the NFC North.
“He’s got a really good hump move,” Bakhtiari said. “He’s strong and he’s got a big ‘ol foot, too. He planted his foot and had a lot of surface area. He’s really good at humping back inside. When he humped back inside and Aaron was holding onto the ball, he got that ball out.”
Bakhtiari describes Peppers as “crafty.” In their battles, Peppers didn’t rely on pure athleticism. That’s a good sign; athleticism alone doesn’t last forever.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ plan remains to be seen. Peppers could be his long-lost pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews. Bakhtiari sees that ability, sure. But he also believes Peppers can do damage inside. When Peppers slipped inside to tackle those NFC North games last season, he remembers left guard Josh Sitton yapping at him to kick back outside.
It’s a difficult, unfriendly matchup for guards conditioned to bash into 330-pounders.
“It’s going to be very, very tough for inside players to guard this guy,” Bakhtiari said. “He can definitely disrupt inside.
“In that confined space, he’s still strong as hell, strong as an ox. Usually guys on the inside are a little slower. He already has that strength. But he’s also really quick and that’s what can mess with a guard.”
With fewer snaps, a sputtering motor may be a moot point. One former NFL general manager is skeptical.
How did a player this powerful, this athletic manage only seven sacks last season? How did opposing offenses gash Chicago for an embarrassing 5.3 yards per carry, a seven-year NFL worst?
No, Charley Casserly isn’t so sure Peppers will snap back to form. Especially at 34.
“You see some inconsistency with him where he doesn’t necessarily finish plays,” said the former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans general manager. “He’s kind of a ‘flash’ guy at this point.”
How much does he really have to give? “No one can answer that.”
Detroit Lions tackle Riley Reiff chuckles when asked if Peppers’ motivation……..
Read the rest from Journal Sentinel: http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/opinions-split-on-if-julius-peppers-will-regain-dominant-form-for-packers-b99228077z1-250904041.html#ixzz2wNjtsnE3
By Ashley Fox, ESPN
ORIGINAL STORY HERE
~The trick of free agency, especially when it comes to older players who already have made their money in the National Football League, is finding the way to maximize the time and talent a veteran has left.
How do you motivate a guy who is financially secure? How do you convince him to push through the monotony of the offseason, to work on his body, to train, to sweat through training camp and to keep fighting through the grind of the regular season? How do you motivate him to push through the inevitable adversity every season brings, no matter the team?
How do you remake a player who is past his prime into a serviceable version of his younger self?
The answers to those questions are rarely clear or easy, which is why the general rule is that the smart teams build through the draft and supplement their roster through free agency. It is also why Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson so rarely spends money in free agency. Thompson doesn’t believe in bringing in other teams’ players. He wants to find, draft, cultivate and, ultimately, keep his own. That’s the Packers way.
But Julius Peppers is different. Peppers in Green Bay actually could work. It actually makes sense that the Packers signed the 34-year-old veteran defensive end who has played 12 seasons for two franchises and made, as one NFL head coach put it to me the other day, “a gazillion dollars.”
Yes, Peppers at 34 isn’t the Peppers of 24. He isn’t the player who averaged more than 10 sacks a year in his eight seasons for the Carolina Panthers, who selected him second overall out of North Carolina in 2002.
Peppers isn’t the player who notched double-digit sacks in eight of his first 11 seasons. He isn’t the player who terrorized quarterbacks off the edge, who wore them down with his relentless pursuit, a combination of size and speed that is so rare in a defensive end.
He is not that, no, but he still has talent. Peppers is sliding down the backside of his career, but he still has value. He is a veteran leader with ample experience and a wily sense of how, even at his age, to best break into the backfield and rattle a quarterback.
In Green Bay, Peppers has two things that will help in his favor. The first is that the Packers’ defensive line coach, Mike Trgovac, was the Panthers’ defensive coordinator for six of Peppers’ eight seasons there. Trgovac understands what Peppers does well and how he is most comfortable lining up.
He knows that while Peppers played in a 4-3 defense for all four years in Chicago, he has always wanted to play in a 3-4 scheme. Trgovac knows that Peppers is just as good of an athlete as DeMarcus Ware and that Peppers can still be effective standing up or rushing as a joker.
Trgovac will understand how to push Peppers’ buttons and how to get the most out of a player who didn’t always look like he wanted to be out there last season.
Most importantly, Trgovac will provide Peppers with familiarity and a trusted voice. He has a chance at being able to affect Peppers even after Peppers has made all of that money.
Nnamdi Asomugha didn’t have that in Philadelphia. He was familiar with no one. After all those years in Oakland, Asomugha was playing in a new system in 2011 for a defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo, who had spent the previous 13 seasons as the Eagles’ offensive line coach.
Asomugha had no one who really knew him in Philadelphia. He had no ally on the coaching staff. He had no one he could turn to on the team when things went sideways — and boy, did they.
Peppers will have that in Green Bay, which will give him a fighting chance to succeed.
The other thing Peppers will have is the motivation to win a championship. He played in one Super Bowl with Carolina in his second season, and that’s it. In 2010, Peppers’ first year with Chicago, the Bears lost to the Packers in the NFC Championship Game 21-14. Although the Bears had won the NFC North, Green Bay won the Super Bowl.
In the three seasons since, the Packers have finished first, first and first in the division, while the Bears were twice shut out of the playoffs and beat Green Bay only once in six attempts.
Peppers couldn’t beat the Packers, so he joined them.
“When it gets down to it, it’s normally about the money and about winning if they haven’t won here for a little bit,” one head coach said of dealing with free agents. “For that kid coming out on that second contract, there’s so much emphasis on [how] that’s where you make all of your money, that that probably drives it. When they’re in the area of 26 years old, that’s the leading motivator.
“Then, when you get to Peppers’ age or older, he’s been around a while and says, ‘I might take a little less to play here so we have a chance to win. I know the guy, whether it’s [Packers defensive coordinator] Dom [Capers] or whomever, I know somebody there, so boom, I go play there.'”
It could be that Peppers is totally done. But the more probable outcome is that the Packers will be able to find a way to motivate a gifted player who wants nothing more at this point in his career than to win.
By Ty Schalter, Bleacher Report
~Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has been trying to bolster the team’s front seven for a long, long time.
Since 2007, Thompson has drafted four first-round defensive linemen, two second-round defensive linemen and two first-round linebackers. After all of that talent reinforcement, the 2013 Packers still had the 25th-best (eighth-worst) scoring defense in the NFL.
Apparently, enough is enough.
Thompson went out and signed eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers, per ESPN.com’s Josina Anderson, to a three-year deal worth up to $30 million. Recently released by the Chicago Bears, Peppers finally gives defensive coordinator Dom Capers a big, fast, powerful option.
Now, there are no more excuses.
The Packers won the NFC North title, and for a moment all was right again in Green Bay.
Then, Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers came to a frozen Lambeau Field in the first round of the playoffs and left victorious. When the 49ers couldn’t handle the Seattle Seahawks the following week, it became clear the Packers weren’t anywhere near the top of the NFC pecking order.
The 49ers are loaded with draft picks, other contenders like the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints are aggressively making free-agent moves, and the Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings are all spending money to get better, too. If the Packers simply stood pat, they’d be falling even further behind.
Where does a 6’6″, 287-pound pass-rusher with stunning power and speed line up in a 3-4 defense? Anywhere he wants.
The Packers have re-signed B.J. Raji, Johnny Jolly and Mike Neal, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. Together with Mike Daniels and 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones, Peppers gives Capers the ability to shuffle linemen around in many different combinations and rotate them to keep them fresh for four quarters.
As Demovsky wrote, the Packers have been trying to use an “elephant” defensive end for over a season. Neal and linebacker Nick Perry are the kind of linebacker/defensive end “tweeners” who are perfectly suited to play the 7-technique pass-rusher.
It’s possible that Peppers could play this role, too, but it’s more likely that he plays end, while Neal and Perry rotate between “elephant” and outside linebacker. When stopping the run, Raji could man the middle while Daniels and Peppers play end.
The possibilities are endless and exciting.
In 2009, Capers came to Green Bay and whipped the Packers defense into shape, transforming it from a bottom-feeder to a top-10 scoring unit in both 2009 and 2010. It was the No. 2 defense in 2010, per Pro- Football-Reference.com, powering Green Bay’s run to the Super Bowl championship.
The Packers defense hasn’t been in the top 10 since. Finishing 25th in 2013 is simply not good enough.
With Peppers, there’s no reason why the Packers shouldn’t be able to dominate the line of scrimmage against the run and the pass. Though they still have to find a solution at safety, they have far too much talent to finish in the bottom third of NFL defenses.
Assuming Rodgers stays healthy this season, and Eddie Lacy and the running game continue to balance the Packers’ perennial high-scoring pass offense, it’s all on Capers and the defense to step up.
If they do, the Packers will again be strong contenders for not just the NFC North Championship but also the NFC Championship.
If not, there should be serious questions asked of Capers…and Thompson.
Original story found here over at BR
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~ Walter Cherepinsky, over at WalterFootball.com, gives grades for every free agent signing.
Being a Packer fan, this probably doesn’t reel you in often. But the Packers have, so far, re-signed four of their own guys, and of course added one UFA from another team with the big fish Peppers.
What does Walt think of the moves? I guess Andrew Quarless hasn’t done enough to earn a grade though.
What does Walt think of a few other team’s moves regarding players I would have liked to see Thompson bring in?
Here’s a look at those few, and remember, you can catch all 32 team’s grades right HERE over at WalterFootball. Walt does some great work over there, and he won’t waste your time talking about local high school basketball or his wife’s cooking, etc.
Packers sign DE Julius Peppers (3 years, $30M; $7.5M guaranteed): B- Grade
The Packers almost never sign free agents, so when they do, you know it’s going to be a headliner. This signing is quite complicated, as there are multiple positives and negatives to it.
Let’s begin by acknowledging that Peppers sucked last year. He tallied 7.5 sacks, but that’s not indicative of how poorly he played. He struggled to place pressure on the quarterback and was also poor in run support. He just turned 34 in January, so he’s probably never going to be the same player ever again. Also, the scheme fit is a strange one. Peppers has never been in a 3-4 before, so how will he adjust? He probably had the natural talent to be a 3-4 defender earlier in his career, but that may not be the case anymore.
There are some reasons why this could work, however. First, the price tag isn’t that big of a deal. The Packers had plenty of cap space for 2014. This contract doesn’t include much guaranteed money beyond this season, so $7.5 million guaranteed won’t exactly kill Green Bay.
I also like that the Packers are stealing Peppers away from their biggest rival. That also plays into another reason why this acquisition could work, which is Peppers’ motivation. Peppers has always been one to slack off at times, so that may have been the reason he stunk last year. Perhaps he’ll be fired up to prove to Chicago that he didn’t deserve to be released. There’s definitely bounce-back potential here.
All in all, I feel like this signing deserves a B- or C+ (I must have changed it four times). It probably won’t work out, but there’s plenty of upside and very little risk involved for Green Bay.
Packers re-sign NT B.J. Raji (1 year, $4 million): A- Grade
B.J. Raji had a monstrous season during Green Bay’s Super Bowl run back in 2010, but he has played sluggishly two of the past three years. He was especially awful in 2013. He also doesn’t happen to fit what Green Bay wants to do now defensively, which is to become much faster to combat the 49ers and other teams with mobile quarterbacks.
So, why are the Packers getting a good grade for this? Well, Raji is very talented, so giving him a 1-year “prove it” deal could pay off. Raji will have to try hard to get a big contract next spring, so Green Bay will be getting him at his best. Besides, the Packers have plenty of cap room, so they’re taking zero risk by bringing Raji back.
Packers re-sign DE/DT/OLB Mike Neal (2 years, $8M; $2.5M bonus): B Grade
Mike Neal showed versatility this past season, as he was asked to play outside linebacker instead of his standard five-technique position in the wake of injuries. He didn’t perform as well at his new position, but he still rushed the passer effectively. Getting Neal back is a nice move for the Packers, especially considering that he was generating interest from several other teams.
Packers re-sign CB Sam Shields (4 years, $39M; $12.5M bonus): B Grade
This is a ton of money for a cornerback who has missed eight games over the past two seasons, but Sam Shields has a ton of talent and the ability to be a No. 1 corner in the NFL. He’s also just 26, so there’s a good chance he’ll improve on his game. I don’t blame general manager Ted Thompson for overpaying just a bit to keep a key member of his defense. I can’t give the Packers a great grade for this contract, but they certainly don’t deserve a bad one.
Buccaneers sign C/G Evan Dietrich-Smith (4 years, $14.25M; $7.25M guaranteed): B+ Grade
Aaron Rodgers has to be fuming right now. He begged his front office to retain his center. Ted Thompson apparently has other plans, as Evan Dietrich-Smith signed on to play with Green Bay’s former NFC Central rival.
Dietrich-Smith will help improve a weak interior, though it’s unclear whether he’ll play center or guard. He could start at center, which would move Jeremy Zuttah to guard. The other option is keeping Zuttah at center and using Dietrich-Smith at guard. Either way, Tampa added a talented, versatile lineman at a reasonable price.
Jets sign OT Breno Giacomini (4 years, $18M; $7M guaranteed): B Grade
As a comparison, the Raiders signed former Jets’ right tackle Austin Howard for five years, $30 million overall and $15 million guaranteed. Breno Giacomini is getting about half of that, yet the difference between Howard and Giacomini isn’t that great. Both are solid, but unspectacular right tackles. With that in mind, the Jets deserve a decent grade for finding a cheaper option at the position without downgrading it very much.
Now the SAFETIES, which is the Packers biggest hole, by far, on the roster. Their starting safeties were atrocious, horrible last year. Two of them, Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings are long gone now. But the other one, Morgan Burnett, has to be back due to the large contract Thompson handed him before last season. Burnett thanked him for that by having a terrible season with zero interceptions and many big plays allowed, including the big touchdown pass to Vernon Davis in the close playoff loss to the 49ers, again.
Dolphins sign S Louis Delmas (1 year, $3.5 million): B+ Grade
Jeff Ireland often did stupid things in free agency, so it’s a relief to see Miami’s new regime off to a good start. Louis Delmas would’ve been a risky signing for a multi-year deal, given his extensive injury history. However, there’s minimal downside with this acquisition because it’s only for one year. Delmas will be highly motivated to show everyone that he’s worthy of a long contract – much like Michael Bennett, Aqib Talib, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, etc. – so Miami will be getting him at his best, all while filling a position of need.
Saints sign S Jairus Byrd (6 years, $54M; $28M guaranteed): C+ Grade
When it was announced that Jairus Byrd inked a 6-year deal, I wondered what the value of his contract would be. I thought that a pact worth $45 million with $22 million guaranteed would earn the Saints a B+ or maybe a B. I was not expecting $54 and $28 million, respectively.
Byrd is one of the top free agents on the market, but this is too much money for a non-quarterback and non-pass-rusher, especially for a team as strapped for cash as New Orleans. Having said that, Byrd is going from a reeling franchise to a perennial Super Bowl contender, so unlike the free agents who defect for inferior squads, he could be motivated, even in the wake of signing an extremely lucrative contract.
Broncos sign S T.J. Ward (4 years, $23M; $14M guaranteed): A+ Grade
Wow. How did the Broncos land T.J. Ward, one of the top free agents on the market, to a deal worth less than $6 million per year? This is an amazing signing, and it’s well worth the first A+ of the day (not counting the Jaguars actually getting something for Blaine Gabbert, because that still seems unreal).
The safety position was a big need for Denver – Broncos team needs page – and getting a major talent like Ward really improves the pass defense. The Broncos just got a lot better.
Browns sign S Donte Whitner (4 years, $28M; $11M guaranteed): B- Grade
The Browns just lost T.J. Ward, but they managed to replace him with Donte Whitner. Ward received a 4-year deal worth $23 million from Denver, while Whitner is getting $28 million over the same span. So, in typical Cleveland fashion, the team has downgraded a position with someone who has a greater contract. Oh, Browns…
This deal isn’t bad though. Whitner is a two-time Pro Bowler who has missed just one game in the past four seasons, and at 29, he still has at least two quality seasons left.
Eagles sign S Malcolm Jenkins (3 years, $16.25M; $8.5M guaranteed): C- Grade
The good news is that Malcolm Jenkins is only 26 and has flashed some of his first-round potential at times. The bad news is that he’s inconsistent, as he struggled more often than not in New Orleans.
Jenkins is an upgrade over what the Eagles had at safety, but saying that is like giving a homeless person a larger cardboard box than the one he already has. Jenkins is not an ideal NFL starter based on the way he has played over his career. He has the potential to improve though, so this isn’t a terrible signing.
Chiefs re-sign S Husain Abdullah (2 years, $2.27M; $750K bonus): A Grade
Husain Abdullah started the final two games of this past season, but he had an excellent performance in the playoff loss to the Colts. It made me wonder why Andy Reid started Kendrick Lewis over him for most of the year. Maybe Abdullah will rightfully become the starter in 2014. Regardless, a 2-year, $2.27 million contract is quite the bargain for the underrated 29-year-old safety.
Steelers sign S Michael Mitchell (5 years, $25M; $5.25M guaranteed): C- Grade
The narrative with Michael Mitchell is that Al Davis ultimately “got this one right” after everyone laughed at him once he spent a second-round pick on yet another height-weight-speed guy. However, Mitchell has enjoyed just one quality NFL season thus far. He struggled in Oakland before thriving in Carolina, but he may have just been successful in 2013 because the Panthers’ front seven was so ferocious.
With that in mind, I don’t like this signing at all for Pittsbrugh. The Steelers are often cautious in free agency, so this move surprises me. It’s not like them to throw money at a one-year wonder like Mitchell. Perhaps Mitchell will continue to have success, but there’s more of a chance that he’ll revert to pre-2013 form.
Giants sign OLB O’Brien Schofield (2 years, $8 million): D Grade
This is strange. O’Brien Schofield has never had more than 4.5 sacks in his career, thanks in part to his inability to stay healthy. I figured Schofield would be signed to a deal for about $1 million per season, but giving him $4 million per year seems egregious. Schofield is also a questionable scheme fit for the Giants.
Everson Griffen was a guy I really wanted, but that was based on the fact that I thought we might be able to get him for closer to what he had been making than….. this:
Vikings re-sign DE Everson Griffen (5 years, $42.5M; $20M guaranteed): D Grade
Wow. My jaw literally hit the floor when I saw these numbers. Then again, I shouldn’t have been so surprised, given that general manager Rick Spielman paid tons of money to backup tight end John Carlson a couple of years ago.
This signing is almost as bad. Griffen has started just ONE game in his career. One game. Sure, he has flashed some potential – he notched 5.5 sacks this past season in a reserve role – but this is way too much money to give to a player solely for the dreaded “P-word.” Griffen hasn’t proven that he can be an every-down player, so this deal has “disaster” written all over it.
I don’t get how a personnel man in the NFL, one who’s getting paid millions of dollars, can spend lots of money so carelessly. It’s baffling. The only question is whether or not Spielman will use Mike Zimmer as a scapegoat once this signing fails, just as he fired Leslie Frazier because Carlson, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman predictably didn’t live up to expectations.
This is a guy some Packer fans, especially the UW Badger fans, wanted the Packers to sign. I am not a Badger fan, and I picked up Daniels in fantasy football and he provided me with nothing, so I was not one who was clamoring to sign this guy. Walt, by the way, is very fond of Matt Millen. Not. In his opinion, Millen was the worst GM in modern history. Any mention of Millen is not good for a GM.
Texans re-sign TE Garrett Graham (3 years, $11.25M; $4.5M guaranteed): MILLEN MCKENZIE SHOULDER Grade
I can’t begin to explain this signing. Garrett Graham is a sub-par blocker and a mediocre receiver. He had a chance to shine in the wake of Owen Daniels’ injuries this past season, yet he posted just 49 catches for 545 yards and five touchdowns. The right value for him was about just $1-$1.5 million per year, if that. There’s just no reason Houston should have offered him this much money. It’s so inexplicable that I’m wondering if Graham has pictures of Bob McNair downloading kielbasa porn, or something. Hence, the Millen (F) grade.
The reason I am showing this one is because Jordy Nelson will be needing a new deal within the next 12 months, and this is a good comp to what he might command. They are very similar. Decker was never the number one guy there with Demaryius Thomas there, plus had Wes Welker and Julius Thomas. Jordy was also always one of many good options available to his QB.
Jets sign WR Eric Decker (5 years, $36.25M; $15M guaranteed): C Grade
Free agents, especially receivers, who go from great teams to mediocre or poor ones, often disappoint. Vincent Jackson has been the one exception over recent years, and Eric Decker is unlikely to be the second.
The Jets are paying Decker like a borderline No. 1 wideout, yet he’s really just an average second receiver. Decker has been a product of Peyton Manning the past couple of years. Some will point out that he caught eight scores in the Tim Tebow year, but touchdowns are fluky. Decker is bound to disappoint his new team, especially considering the colossal downgrade at quarterback. Decker has proven that he prioritizes money over his career, and his output with the Jets is sure to show that.
Broncos sign DE DeMarcus Ware (3 years, $30M; $20M guaranteed): A+ Grade
Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware on the same defense? I think every quarterback in the AFC West just crapped their pants.
Ware is coming off a down year, but if he can get healthy in 2014, he has the potential to lead the NFL in sacks, especially with Miller commanding attention on the other side. Ware has endured several injuries recently, so there’s no guarantee that he’ll be close to 100 percent, but the risk is definitely worth the reward.
It’s just unbelievable that the Broncos are getting deals like this. As a reference, Lamarr Houston, who has 16.5 career sacks, was given nearly as much guaranteed money ($15 million) from Chicago. Michael Johnson, who notched just 3.5 sacks in 2013, received more guaranteed money ($24 million) from Tampa Bay. And my personal favorite, Everson Griffen, who has just one career start, signed a larger contract with Minnesota ($42.5M overall; $20M guaranteed). John Elway is just trolling these teams at this point.
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~They tell me free agency is risky.
I wonder if taking Justin Harrell in round one was risky, or Jerel Worthy, Brian Brohm, or Pat Lee in round two were risky. Or Aaron Rouse and Alex Green in round three, or Jerron McMillian in round four, and Terrell Manning in round five.
McMillian was supposed to be the starter at safety, given to Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers to work with. He was a bust as he was released less than two years into his Packers’ tenure. Same with Manning, also from that 2012 Draft Class that started with Nick Perry and Worthy in the first two rounds.
Adding a proven, veteran like Julius Peppers is far less risky than relying on any collegiate players, despite Peppers’ age. And that includes first round picks like Tony Mandarich and Justin Harrell.
Peppers is past his prime. At age 34, that’s no shock.
But he’s a fresh 34, and hasn’t missed a game since 2007. Now being on the Packers with their injury/training/strength & conditioning problem, that is going to be a challenge.
But his health is a lot better than DeMarcus Ware, who was signed to a bigger contract by Denver earlier this week (real, guaranteed dollars). Ware might be younger, but he has questions about his elbow and neck and he’s missed more time recently than Peppers ever has.
Peppers is older than Reggie White and Charles Woodson were when they were added to the Packers. But like those two, he is a unique, special athlete. He’s a rare talent.
He’s also a high character guy, who plays nicked up, and he’s hungry. He wants a ring: “That’s the most important thing. I haven’t won a championship. That’s where my focus is. I feel like the team is set up to make a run and I feel I can help get it there,” Peppers said via the Packers.com website.
The Packers may or may not return to the Super Bowl this season. Peppers may not play all 16 games as a Packer. He may not have 10+ sacks.
But he will add more right away than DE Datone Jones did last year as a first round rookie. And Jones might yet become a great player.
Factoring in the financials, this was an “A-” grade move for Thompson.
~GREEN BAY, Wis. — Who says Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson doesn’t sign any free agents?
Yes, you’ve heard that line before, but almost every time it should have been hashtagged with this: #sarcasm. How else can you explain a signing such as Raymond Webber?
No hashtag needed this time.
This is more than a little splash. It’s cannonball-sized, especially for Thompson, who specializes in no-name signings such as Webber, a street free-agent tight end whose signing last month barely made a ripple.
Not since 2006, when Thompson signed cornerback Charles Woodson, has he made a move like this. This won’t count as a true unrestricted-free-agent signing, at least not under the terms of the NFL’s formula for awarding compensatory draft picks, because Peppers was released last week by the Chicago Bears.
Forget technicalities. This was a significant — and much-needed — move for a defense that sank to 25th in the NFL last season and needs an infusion of playmakers.
There’s plenty still to be learned about Peppers, including how much the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end still has left at age 34 and where exactly he will play in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defensive scheme.
He’s coming off his lowest sack total (7.0) since 2007, but, in his past three seasons combined with the Bears, he has 29.5 sacks. In his 12 NFL seasons, he has had fewer than 10 sacks only three times (2003, 2007 and last year), and he hasn’t missed a game since 2007.
At 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, Peppers has been an ideal 4-3 pass-rushing defensive end. But defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme don’t typically command $10 million average salaries because they’re not asked to jet up the field and pile up sacks like 4-3 ends.
Perhaps Capers will use Peppers in the elephant end position coach Mike McCarthy recently discussed as a possibility for Nick Perry and Mike Neal, both of whom can be considered hybrid defensive end/outside linebackers.
The possibilities could be endless.
Regardless of how Capers uses Peppers, it should help outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Not that teams won’t still double-team Matthews, but say Capers lines up Peppers and Matthews on the same side of the formation. What’s an offensive coordinator to do?
Peppers nearly ruined the Packers’ 2013 season. Had fullback John Kuhn not gotten the slightest of chip blocks on Peppers in the final minute of the regular-season finale at Soldier Field, Peppers would have drilled quarterback Aaron Rodgers before he could have released the 48-yard bomb to Randall Cobb for the game-winning and NFC North-winning touchdown pass.
He could be just what the Packers need in 2014.
Thompson might be done in free agency for this season. For that matter, he might be done in free agency for next season and the one after that. But don’t say he doesn’t sign free agents. Hashtag: #serious
Peppers, 34, was released Tuesday by the Chicago Bears, who saved $18.183 million against their salary cap by parting ways with the 12-year veteran.
Peppers spent the past four seasons with the Bears after being selected by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the 2002 draft. He signed a blockbuster six-year deal worth $84 million in 2010, and restructured his contract on two occasions to give the Bears more cap room.
But in doing so, each time, Peppers’ cap number grew in the later years of the deal. When Peppers last restructured his contract with the Bears in 2013, his cap numbers grew to $18.183 million in 2014 and $20.683 million in 2015.
Peppers led the Bears last season with 7.5 sacks — the fewest he’s had in a Chicago uniform. Peppers has 118.5 career sacks, which ranks second in the league since his entry (2002).
In four years playing for the Bears, Peppers started in every game (64), and racked up 37.5 sacks in addition to making the Pro Bowl in every season with the team except for 2013.
ESPN.com Bears reporter Michael C. Wright contributed to this report.