2015 March : Packers Insider

Mike McCarthy and coaches look at ways to improve Packers defensive unit in 2015

March 27, 2015 by  
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From Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

From Tom Silverstein

From Tom Silverstein

GREEN BAY — Now that he’s free from play-calling duties, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been spending more time with his defensive coaches working to develop the long-term consistency his offense has established.

On offense, it helps when you start with Aaron Rodgers at the most important position every year.

On defense, the closest thing McCarthy has to that is versatile linebacker Clay Matthews, the guy for whom general manager Ted Thompson set aside $66 million in order to keep him in a Packers uniform.

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In the middle of last season, McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers came to the conclusion that they needed Matthews to change positions in order to shore up a run defense that had allowed eight straight 100-yard games to start the season, including three of more than 190.

The impact was instant. Teams ran for 100 yards in only six of the final 10 games. Third-down efficiency improved from 47.1% to 36.5% in that span. Sacks increased from 2.2 per game to 3.2.

Two months removed from the devastating loss to Seattle, McCarthy’s challenge is to build from some of the advances the defense made on the road to the NFC Championship Game.

“He made a huge impact playing inside linebacker, bigger than I think all of us would’ve imagined,” McCarthy said of Matthews during an NFC coaches media breakfast Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. “I know his teammates in the exit interview, a number of them just brought that up outside of the conversation, what a big impact he made when he went inside and played the way he did.

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“His teammates not only respect Clay on how he plays the outside linebacker position, but the respect that they have for him as a football player grew up a lot higher.”

So what’s the next step? How does McCarthy make him better, the same way he developed Rodgers into the player he is?

“I think you move him to safety next,” McCarthy joked. “That’s what the off-season’s for. We’ve looked at all the snaps of him playing inside and outside. It’s like any great player, it’s not really where you play him, it’s really what you do with the players around him.

“So I think the impact of how our young players will have opportunities around Clay is really the answer to your question.”

Instead of being part of the problem as in previous years, McCarthy’s younger players were part of the defensive improvement last year.

Inside linebacker Sam Barrington was an upgrade over both A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was an upgrade over M.D. Jennings. Cornerback Micah Hyde made strides as a hybrid nickel back and ends Mike Daniels and Josh Boyd flashed at times.

DL Mike Daniels has blossomed into what the Packers hoped BJ Raji would be. Still, Raji is capable of being that guy again, which is the guy the Packers drafted with the #9 overall pick in 2009. I'd like to see the Packers re-sign Raji to more than a one-year prove it deal. I'd also like to see Daniels extended before the end of next year.

DL Mike Daniels has blossomed into what the Packers hoped BJ Raji would be.
Still, Raji is capable of being that guy again, which is the guy the Packers drafted with the #9 overall pick in 2009. I’d like to see the Packers re-sign Raji to more than a one-year prove it deal. I’d also like to see Daniels extended before the end of next year.

But where was their Eddie Lacy, David Bakhtiari, Corey Linsley, Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers, five offensive players who as rookies immediately helped Aaron Rodgers be a better player? No one doubts that any of those five, not to mention receivers-in-waiting Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis, are going to make the offense even better this season.

On defense, it could be argued the only impact player waiting on deck is Clinton-Dix, last year’s first-round pick. After starting 12 of 18 games, McCarthy is expecting big things from him, as he should.

“I think he’ll be one of the classic second-year players that makes a huge jump,” McCarthy said. “He looked very comfortable in the back end. The communication, pre-snap awareness and all of the things that go on at the safety position, I think he’ll be a lot more comfortable this year.”

As you look at the rest of the defense, however, you wonder who can be to Matthews what Lacy, Adams and Linsley were to Rodgers this year?

First-rounders Nick Perry and Datone Jones, along with second-rounder Casey Hayward, haven’t proved to be those players.

Each has been disappointing for being first round draft picks, but each have shown some flashes too. Imagine if both of these guys, Nick Perry (left) and Datone Jones (right) blossomed this year into what Ted Thompson envisioned when he used number one picks on them in 2011 & 2012 respectively.

Each has been disappointing for being first round draft picks, but each have shown some big time flashes too.
Imagine if both of these guys, Nick Perry (left) and Datone Jones (right) blossomed this year into what Ted Thompson envisioned when he used number one picks on them in 2011 & 2012 respectively. -Gannett photo

McCarthy’s answer is that he doesn’t need more volume from those players. He just needs them to play to their strengths.

“I think as you look at our defense and watch them play, I don’t think you’ll see a whole lot of things that will be done differently,” McCarthy said of next season. “I thought we did an excellent job of utilization of personnel, hitting the play-time reps, something that was my focus for the defense going into last year.

“That’s something we can definitely build off of.”

Thompson hasn’t done anything this off-season to build depth at inside linebacker and cornerback, positions that each lost a pair of regulars. Free agency is pretty much over and Thompson seems to have set himself up to need extra bases-type drafts like he did in 2013 and ’14.

Hyde, Boyd and linebacker Nate Palmer are in place from the ’13 draft and end Khyri Thornton, linebacker Carl Bradford and cornerback Demetri Goodson from the ’14 draft.

They would ideally be the next generation on defense, but only Hyde and Boyd have qualified for that distinction and so the ’15 rookie class might have to be early achievers.

McCarthy is convinced that 35-year-old Julius Peppers will be just as effective as he was last season when he contributed 57 tackles, 9½ sacks, two interceptions, six forced fumbles and 11 pass breakups in 18 games. Whether Peppers can remain fresh playing 74% of the snaps again is something McCarthy will have to monitor.

Peppers, Matthews and Morgan Burnett were the core of the defense. If free agent nose tackle B.J. Raji were to return and play better than he did in ’13, he also would be part of that group. Cornerback Sam Shields, Daniels, Barrington and Hyde would be next.

Two months into the off-season much is still hanging in the air as McCarthy plots out next season.

Original story here

Changes by McCarthy does Packers good

March 27, 2015 by  
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For two straight offseasons, Mike McCarthy had made significant adjustments to his program, despite a track record of success. For the Packers coach, change is constant.

Jason Wilde

Jason Wilde

By Jason Wilde ESPN Wisconsin  http://www.espnwisconsin.com/common/page.php?feed=2&id=19881&is_corp=1

PHOENIX – Marvin Lewis has been friends with Mike McCarthy for a long time. Not only do the two of them go all the way back to their days as young coaches at the University of Pittsburgh, but whenever the Cincinnati Bengals head coach and the Green Bay Packers head coach cross paths at an NFL function, a lengthy conversation is sure to commence.

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“Anytime you have an opportunity at the combine or the owners meeting, you have a chance to sit down and visit,” McCarthy said of his friendship with Lewis at the NFC coaches breakfast during the NFL Meetings. “I think the world of Marvin. He’s tough, he’s demanding, he’s intelligent, he’s innovative, he’s always on the forefront of what’s going on in our league, he’s always interesting to talk to. He’s one of the few people in this league that I share information with.”

And so, it was no surprise that Lewis was one of several coaches who praised McCarthy’s willingness to make major changes at this point in his tenure – entering his 10th season as the Packers coach, only New England’s Bill Belichick (16th season), Lewis (13th) and the New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin (12th) have coached their teams longer than McCarthy has coached in Green Bay – rather than merely sticking with the approach that led to the team’s Super Bowl XLV title after the 2010 season.

A year ago, after too many injury-ravaged seasons, McCarthy completely overhauled the team’s approach to preparation, altering the practice structure in training camp, revamping the weekly in-season schedule, instituting mandatory recovery days, hiring an expert nutritionist and applying science to compile data on everything from hydration to sleep to exertion. The result? The Packers’ healthiest season on his watch.

Now this year, McCarthy is again making wholesale changes – this time with his offense. Coming off a season in which the Packers led the NFL in scoring, McCarthy has given up play-calling duties – something he has done for every team he’s worked for since 2000, his first year as the New Orleans Saints’ offensive coordinator – and rejiggered his offensive coaching staff, turning play-calling over to newly-named associate head coach Tom Clements, promoting Edgar Bennett to offensive coordinator and putting Alex Van Pelt in charge of both quarterbacks and wide receivers.

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“I think each and every year you have to be realistic about how we can improve, how I can improve. I’ve felt that’s something that we’ve always done in our program,” McCarthy explained. “I think you have to look at each and every year – and we do. This year, I hope we’re sitting here next year at the coaches breakfast and maybe laughing about it a little bit. Saying, ‘Boy that was a heck of a change you made last year.’ You have to change or adjust if you really think you’re going to grow. I don’t think you ever really just stay the same.”

According to McCarthy’s fellow long-tenured coaches, the challenge is walking the fine line between staying committed to the core principles of your coaching philosophy while knowing when changes – and which ones – need to be made.

“I think principles are written in stone. Methods are not,” said Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, who’s entering his eighth season as the Ravens coach and led them to the Super Bowl XLVII title. “You’re always learning, you’re always growing. One method that applies one year doesn’t apply the next year.

“A great coach is going to know what is a fundamental part of what he’s doing – what’s non-negotiable, and what’s a tactic that is negotiable. So Mike McCarthy would know what those issues are, and that’s why he’s so successful.”

Added Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who’s entering his ninth season as the Steelers’ coach: “I think each year stands on its own. Some years I say similar things that I said the year before. I try to give our team what I deem appropriate, what I think they need for preparation and to ultimately play. One thing I’ve realized over the years is, you’ll probably get tired of saying it before they get tired of hearing it. So I don’t worry too much about keeping it fresh from that perspective. If it’s good, it works.

“I’m not resistant to change, by any stretch. But when I change, I like to change with a purpose. I try to have a hard-core plan but remain light on my feet in order to do appropriate things.”

Former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin hasn’t been a head coach as long – he’s entering his fourth year in Miami – and he admitted this week that he would have never expected McCarthy to give up play-calling. But after a bullying scandal involving ex-guard Ritchie Incognito two years ago, Philbin has gotten a crash course in how to adjust.

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“I think Mike’s always going to do whatever he thinks is best for the team. If he feels it’s the best thing for the football team, he’ll do it,” Philbin said. “I don’t know any of the reasons why [he gave up play-calling]. I haven’t asked, and it’s not important. But he came to the conclusion that that’s what’s best.

“I think you always have to be ready to adjust. You may have to adjust in the middle of a game. There are certain core things about the game of football that probably aren’t ever going to change. But other things, a lot of other stuff is open for debate, I think.”

What is not open for debate is McCarthy’s success. The Packers are one of only two teams to have made the playoffs each of the past six seasons – Belichick’s Patriots are the other – and McCarthy carries a career record of 101-55-1 (including 7-6 in the postseason) into 2015.

When asked about McCarthy’s openness to change, Belichick instead launched into a lengthy reply praising McCarthy, whose team beat the eventual Super Bowl champions, 26-21, on Nov. 30.

“I mean, first of all, I’d say Mike’s one of the best coaches in the league, one of the best coaches I’ve ever gone up against. I’m sure whatever he’s doing is the right thing,” Belichick said. “I have a lot of respect for him. I’m sure whatever decisions he’s making for the Green Bay Packers are good ones and ones that he thinks are right. I personally wouldn’t question anything he does.

“And I’d say since I’ve been with the Patriots, even going back to Cleveland, there’s been times where I’ve met daily with the offense, times where I’ve met daily with the defense, times that I meet with the quarterbacks, times that I meet with the special teams. It’s not the same every year, it’s not the same every week. So, I do what I feel like is best for our football team. And I’m sure that’s what Mike’s doing – whatever that is. I don’t even know.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy gave up the offensive play-calling duties entering his 10th season as coach. -Photo Getty Images

Lewis knows. He knows all about last year’s changes – he said he’s talked not only with McCarthy about them but team president Mark Murphy and ex-Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk, who joined the Bengals earlier this month – and he knows about his friend’s decision to stop calling plays. They talked about the decision in Indianapolis during the scouting combine and again at the Arizona Biltmore hotel during the NFL Meetings this week.

And knowing McCarthy as he does, Lewis is certain that McCarthy’s willingness to change will keep his team in contention in 2015 – and beyond.

“I think you have to keep changing, I think you have to keep revamping, trying to do things differently. Keeping it fresh,” Lewis said. “There are certain principles you feel good about, but you have to keep pushing to do things better.

“They went through a transition last year in Green Bay that was very positive. That’s something we’re all looking for – a way to coach the football team, handle the football team differently, train the team differently. How you practice, how you meet – we’ve been through some transitions that way at our place. So it’s been helpful. And that’s been our charge this whole offseason, not to stay status-quo.

“Now, he’s making another transition. Which he said, thus far, just in the offseason, what a difference that’s made for him. He’s looking forward to it. To have his hands maybe involved or just maybe know a little bit more about what’s going on throughout the football team.”

Original story from ESPN Wisconsin here

 

Pistol formation may be more prominent in Packers’ offense in 2015

March 27, 2015 by  
Filed under News

From Wes Hodkiewicz, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~PHOENIX – The Green Bay Packers needed something to lessen Aaron Rodgers’ burden after he first strained his calf muscle against Tampa Bay in Week 16.

So coach Mike McCarthy dialed up the pistol formation, a package the Packers have had in their basic installation for the past three seasons. It just didn’t become a fixture until an in-game adjustment was needed against the Buccaneers.

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A modified version of the shotgun, the pistol brought Rodgers closer to the line of scrimmage and in front of the running back. It enabled him to avoid going under center with a three-step drop, reducing the stress and torque he was putting on the injured calf.

Rodgers lost some of his mobility in the pocket in wake of the injury, but was lethally accurate during the team’s run to the NFC championship game. He completed 91-of-131 attempts (69.5 percent) in the Packers’ last four games, including the playoffs.

As the Packers find different ways to build around Rodgers, don’t be surprised if it makes a return next season.

“I like the pistol,” McCarthy said Wednesday morning at the NFL annual meeting’s NFC coaches breakfast. “I think there’s a lot of value regardless of the injury to Aaron. I know he likes it. There’s a place for it year-round in your offense.

“I liked it from a self-scout standpoint. It gives you another self-scout variable when you’re in the gun, but you also have the tailback behind you. A lot of benefits to it.”

The development of the pistol was a microcosm for the Packers’ offensive evolution under McCarthy and Rodgers, who won his second MVP award after throwing for 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

The last month of the season was a grind for Rodgers. He rarely was seen at practice open to the media as he rehabbed a calf injury that likely wouldn’t have been 100 percent even if the Packers advanced to the Super Bowl.

Rodgers was able to deliver the ball with plenty of zip since the injury wasn’t in his plant leg, but it took away some of his improvisational abilities to extend plays. He rushed only six times for 22 yards in his last four games after scrambling for 111 on 19 attempts in the four games prior to the injury.

Rodgers didn’t let it keep him down even after he was carted off the field in the regular-season finale against Detroit when he aggravated the calf injury shortly before halftime. He returned after the first series of the third quarter and led the Packers to a 30-20 win over the Lions to win the NFC North title.10 lacy 2

“I know there’s a big difference between playing when you’re injured or playing when you’re hurt. He was clearly injured,” McCarthy said. “To play through that injury the way he did the last four weeks I thought was remarkable. The statement that he made to our locker room I thought was enormous. Just watching him go through the rehab during the course of the week, I was never certain that he was going to make it through the game each time the game started.”

McCarthy made the decision after the season to give up play-calling, a role he’s maintained since becoming the Packers’ head coach in 2006. With associate head coach Tom Clements handling those responsibilities, Rodgers likely have even more freedom at the line of scrimmage in the team’s no-huddle offense.

McCarthy said he’s remained in communication with Rodgers, who is “in tune” with the direction the offense is taking. When players report for the offseason program on April 20, they’ll have a “clear understanding” for the team’s approach entering next season.

Unlike last year, it doesn’t sound like there will be many drastic changes to the offseason program outside of the team installing a new hydrotherapy facility in the training room. Last offseason was highlighted by the Packers incorporating GPS technology and shifting their schedules to tackle their recurring injury crisis.

“I think each and every year you have to be realistic about how we can improve, how I can improve,” McCarthy said. “I’ve felt that’s something that we’ve always done in our program. The changes this year… I think you have to look at each and every year and we do. This year, I hope we’re sitting here next year maybe laughing about it a little bit. You could say, ‘Boy that was a heck of a change you made last year.’ You have to change or adjust if you really think you’re going to grow.”

The Packers are in a unique situation. With Rodgers now 31 years old, general manager Ted Thompson invested a lot of resources this offseason into keeping his supporting cast in place for the foreseeable future. His top receiving targets, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, are now signed through 2018. His starting offensive line and starting running back Eddie Lacy are contracted for another two seasons.

Jordy Nelson gets in for a 45 yard touchdown with just 15 seconds left in the first half. Photo by Christian Peterson Getty Images

Jordy Nelson gets in for a 45 yard touchdown with just 15 seconds left in the first half. Photo by Christian Peterson Getty Images

Lacy, who turns 25 this offseason, may be Rodgers’ greatest luxury. He orchestrated a prolific passing offense in 2011 — the Packers finished third in total offense — but did it largely without the help of a consistent rushing attack, where they ranked 27th.

Since drafting Lacy in the second round two years ago, the Packers have benefited from his durable presence in the backfield. When Rodgers broke his collarbone in 2013, Lacy picked up the slack and kept the Packers in playoff contention. He also functioned well out of the pistol after Rodgers’ calf flared.

Now, the key is keeping Lacy healthy. The Packers monitored his reps early in the season before featuring him during the final stretch. His maturation as a receiver out of the backfield — 42 catches for 427 yards and four touchdowns — also helped relieve the stress on Rodgers when plays broke down.

“Being a three-down player, that was something we stressed from Day 1, and I thought he delivered,” McCarthy said. “I thought Eddie really hit the target last year.”

The 2014 season proved how important it is to adjust as a season wears on. The Packers were a three-wide, run-first team through the first month of the season. By the time it ended, Rodgers was operating out of a pistol formation that had been used sporadically until then.

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The Packers have the pieces in place to challenge last year’s team that led the NFL in scoring, though some of the philosophies will change even if many of the faces surrounding Rodgers remain the same.

At the end of the day, it comes down to optimizing the window Rodgers’ presence has provided.

“The level Aaron Rodgers has played the last five years has been very consistent but at an extremely high level,” McCarthy said. “I think we’re watching a great Hall of Fame player really at a midpoint of his career. He gives us the flexibility to be very creative offensively. He gives us the ability to be very aggressive in what we do.”

Original story here

Packers lose Tramon Williams to Cleveland

March 16, 2015 by  
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Posted by Brian E Murphy, Packers Insider senior editor

~Just a week or so after losing 5th year cornerback Davon House to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Packers today lost their best cornerback Tramon Williams.

Williams, who just turned 32, signed a 3-year, $21 million deal with the Cleveland Browns.

What was nice cornerback depth last year has now turned into an area of concern.

This from ClevelandBrowns.com:

The Browns have signed veteran defensive back Tramon (pronounced: trah-MAHN) Williams, general manager Ray Farmer announced Monday.

Williams, 32, comes to Cleveland as an unrestricted free agent after eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

“Tramon is a really good and consistent player,” Farmer said. “He has had success in this league because he’s a pro’s pro who believes great preparation leads to great performance. We are very happy to be able to sign a player of his caliber to our secondary.”

Williams joins a Browns secondary that was among the NFL’s best in 2014. The unit placed three players — Joe Haden, Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson — in the 2015 Pro Bowl, led the league in opponents’ quarterback passer rating (74.1), completion percentage (57.1) and passes defensed (99), while finishing second with 21 interceptions.

“It’s going to be awesome. I’ll be glad to join those guys and help those guys with whatever they need,” Williams said. “I see where these guys are going and I think I can help them go to where they want to go. They had a great defense last year with a lot of young guys on the team. I’m a veteran guy and I hope I can take them to another level.”

Williams (6-0, 192) has missed just one start over the past five seasons, has started 99 games over the past eight years and appeared in 127 games overall. Since Williams’ first career start in 2007, only All-Pro Darrelle Revis has more passes defensed than Williams’ 115 and only Cleveland’s Joe Haden has more passes defensed since 2010 than Williams’ 82.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” Williams said. “You never know why guys do it. I’m not a guy who does it for accolades. I can go about it and don’t care if anybody ever knows. Whatever helps the team win, that’s the only thing I really care about.”

Williams, a Houma, Louisiana, native who attended Louisiana Tech and entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans, was signed to the Packers’ practice squad for the final five weeks of the 2006 season. He landed on the active roster one year later and appeared in every 2007 regular season game. He’s been sidelined for a regular season game just once throughout his eight-year career and played in 72 consecutive games until he missed Week 2 of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury.

Williams’ breakout season came in 2008, when he intercepted five passes, notched 14 passes defensed and recorded 49 tackles. Since 2008, Williams has recorded no fewer than two interceptions in a regular season and has 28 for his career. Since he became a full-time starter in 2008, he ranks second among NFC players in interceptions, trailing only Asante Samuel.

Williams’ 2010 season was one of his most productive, as he led the Packers with 20 passes defensed and six interceptions while landing a spot on the Pro Bowl roster. He added three more interceptions during the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV run, a mark that tied Green Bay’s franchise single-postseason record, to lead the NFL with nine overall interceptions.

“Tramon is an experienced, versatile and productive corner that has played at a very high level throughout his entire career,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “He is a good fit for any defense because his impressive ball skills have made him an accomplished playmaker. He can play man, press or play off and be successful. Those are attributes that are very important for our defensive backs. Tramon is a high-quality person who comes from a winning tradition and we look forward to seeing the positive impact he will have on our team.”

Williams also served as a kickoff and punt returner during the early part of his career, returning a combined 92 and recording a punt return touchdown during his rookie season. He’s one of just three players since 1970 to post a 90-yard punt return to go along with interception and kickoff returns of 65 yards during his career.

On top of his 28 interceptions, Williams has 373 career tackles, 115 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries.

“I know this is a good spot for me,” Williams said. “It carries the same tradition Green Bay had. I’m just ready for a new chapter in my life.”

Story here

 

Vikings try to improve passing game by acquiring Dolphins’ Mike Wallace

March 14, 2015 by  
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By Doug Farrar, SI.com,

~Despite the best efforts of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Minnesota Vikings’ passing game struggled mightily in 2014. The 7-9 Vikings ranked 28th in passing yards, 29th in passing touchdowns and leading receiver Greg Jennings will be 32 years old in September. The Vikings will unquestionably ask Jennings to renegotiate his current contract, which has an $11 million cap hit in place for this season. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner is still trying to figure out how to use second-year man Cordarelle Patterson, and if this franchise is to get back to the top of a highly competitive NFC North, they’re going to have to do better at the receiver position.

They took a step toward solving that problem on Friday night.

Minnesota has acquired receiver Mike Wallace from the Miami Dolphins for a fifth-round pick, and the Dolphins will also get a seventh-round pick in the deal. The primary reason the Vikings were able to get Wallace for so little is that his current contract adds a lot to Minnesota’s cap situation for now. By trading Wallace, the Dolphins are adding $6.6 million in dead cap space to their 2015 books while freeing up $5.5 million.

WALLACE

“We thank Mike for his contributions to the team over the last two seasons,” Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey said in a statement. “We wish him the best in the Minnesota.”

Wallace is in the third year of the five-year, $60 million deal he agreed to in March, 2013, and he’s struggled to live up to that deal.

In 2014, he caught 67 passes on 115 targets for 862 yards and 10 touchdowns — not awful numbers, but not what a team wants from one of the highest-paid receivers in the league. Former general manager Jeff Ireland put a fireable chip in Wallace’s contract by guaranteeing the first two annual base salaries of Wallace’s deal and killing the team with a $17.250 million cap hit last season. Wallace has more voidable aspects to his contract through the rest of the deal, which makes the deal palatable to the Vikings.

At his best, Wallace is one of the best pure speed receivers in the league, and he did improve in some ways over his 2013 season as quarterback Ryan Tannehill continued his development. Now, he’ll be in an offense with more vertical plays, which could spark a bit more productivity.

Grade: B

Trading for Wallace doesn’t preclude the Vikings from finding help in the draft and trying to figure out the Patterson conundrum, but it does add one more weapon to Bridgewater’s arsenal. If he can live up to his two 1,000-plus-yard seasons with the Steelers in 2010 and 2011, the Vikings’ offense would become an entirely different proposition for opposing defenses. That said, it’s a problematic deal from a financial perspective, and Wallace has expressed limited interest in restructuring. This could just as easily be a rent-a-player deal and see Wallace leave Minnesota in 2016.

 

Original story here

Seahawks (Wilson), Packers winners in NFL free agency

March 14, 2015 by  
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March 11, 2015, 2:11 PM

Now that the rush and confusion of the pre-free agency period is over, we’ve asked Sportsnet’s NFL experts to weigh in on who (or what) won or lost over a week that saw the league’s landscape undergo a dramatic shift.

Winners

Russell Wilson: Wilson finally has a top-flight weapon to work with in the passing game. To this point he’s gotten by with an efficient but underwhelming receiving group. Enter new tight end Jimmy Graham, who not only gives the Seahawks a big target in the red zone but takes defenders out of the box to stop Marshawn Lynch. Think the Seahawks could’ve used Graham on their last drive of the Super Bowl?

Green Bay Packers: The Packers are doing their thing again. They rarely jump into outside free agency, and they were able to retain both receiver Randall Cobb and tackle Brian Bulaga without overpaying for either player. Cobb and Bulaga both could’ve gotten more money on the open market, but decided to stay with a Super Bowl contender. Aaron Rodgers has to be thrilled.

Mark Ingram: Trading away Graham could hurt the overall productivity of the Saints’ offence, but Ingram does benefit from the trade. By acquiring Pro Bowl centre Max Unger from Seattle to shore up their interior offensive line, the Saints are making it clear that they are moving towards a ball-control offence as Drew Brees enters the decline phase of his career. Ingram will see an increased workload—and see a rise in fantasy value—going forward.

Losers

New England Patriots: It’s early and Bill Belichick probably has at least three solutions mapped out, but it’s hard not to say the Patriots were a loser on the opening day of free agency. Not only did they lose star cornerback Darrelle Revis to a division rival—albeit for massive money—they also saw key running back Shane Vereen depart as well. Their other starting cornerback, Brandon Browner, may be the next to go after his option was declined on Wednesday. Tough day for the champs.

San Francisco 49ers: The Seahawks got better (Jimmy Graham), the St. Louis Rams potentially upgraded at quarterback, the Arizona Cardinals signed guard Mike Iupati from the 49ers while San Francisco lost staples such as Patrick WIllis, Frank Gore, and could soon lose Michael Crabtree and their two starting cornerbacks from last season. Yes, San Francisco did add Torrey Smith, and they’ve got Chris Borland and Carlos Hyde ready to replace Willis and Gore, but right now San Francisco looks like the fourth-best team in the NFC West. Not an easy gig for first-year coach Jim Tomsula.

Tennessee Titans: Are the Tennessee Titans awake yet? They have all this cap space and all they’ve done so far is lock up a long snapper, punter, and reach a deal with average slot receiver Harry Douglas. It’s hard to understand what the Titans are up to. Can you even name three quality players on their roster? Or any three at all for that matter?

Original story here

Q & A with new Packers ILB Josh Francis

March 14, 2015 by  
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Q & A with JOSH FRANCIS

March 5, 2015- GREEN BAY
The Green Bay Packers have signed LB Josh Francis. The transaction was announced Thursday by General Manager and Director of Football Operations Ted Thompson.

Francis, a 6-foot-0, 238-pound first-year player out of West Virginia University, played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League in 2014 and

the Wichita Falls Nighthawks of the Indoor Football League in 2015.

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Thompson has made a habit of finding undrafted guys (Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, John Kuhn to name a few, all became Pro Bowl players).

I’m not saying Josh is going to make it that big. But I know he can, if things go right.

Although the Draft isn’t until the end of April, the Packers have already bolstered their team by adding someone who might jump-start the anemic special teams under

new coordinator Ron Zook.

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Perhaps, he might even help fill the holes created by casting away both A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones.

He certainly can’t do worse on special teams than what the world saw from both Jones and Hawk in the NFC Championship game on that fake field goal that miraculously worked-for a

devastating touchdown for Seattle.
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He’s currently in Orlando training at Tom Shaw Sports Training Camp at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Track & Field complex in Kissimmee, Florida. His training

buddy is his former Mountaineer teammate and friend Bruce Irvin, the 2012 first round pick by the Seahawks (whom I wanted the Packers to draft that year).

Seattle beat the Packers to that punch. And Irvin is now 3-0 versus the Packers in his 3-year career.

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Like a lot of Packers, Josh is a good prson, rooted in his Christian Faith. From Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson, Tramon Williams to the recently departed Davon

House, Randall Cobb to the recently-departed AJ Hawk, to Mike Neal to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (and many others), Thompson has managed to find both good players

and good people.

It’s not a coincidence that the Packers have ha as few off-field incidents as anyone has, and that they have a strong locker room year after year.

Joshua recently took some time in between his training sessions with our Brian Murphy to allow Packer Nation to get to know a few fun facts about their newest guy.

FULL Q & A  from Packers Magazine here

Packers will miss Hawk (but perhaps he’s not done just yet…)

March 5, 2015 by  
Filed under News

From Andrew Brandt, MMQB for Sports Illustrated

~Question: You have spoken highly of A.J. Hawk, who was released last week. Can you share more?

Picked #5 overall in 2006, AJ Hawk was the highest pick that Ted Thompson has had as Packers GM.Packers.com            -Jim Bievers photo

As a front office executive, one tries to be neutral and detached, but we all have favorite players. A.J. was one of mine, and many others’. He endeared himself to everyone with the team and was a particular favorite of the backroom guys: trainers, equipment staff, strength and conditioning staff, security, etc. And he took it upon himself to pursue outside interests; even starting a podcast this year, with guests (including me) from all walks of life.

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I remember the day A.J, was drafted, fifth overall, in 2006. He flew in immediately for the press conference and, in the time between meeting the media and catching his flight back to Columbus, toured a few homes with a realtor and bought one (a few doors down from me). I also remember the morning he signed his rookie contract, arriving at my office at 7 a.m. drenched in sweat: he had to get a workout in before he signed. His work ethic has always been top-notch.

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A.J. had a nine-year run in Green Bay, and people in the organization will miss him far more than outsiders know. Whether he continues to play or not, he is someone I know who will always be successful in whatever he chooses.

Original full story here