From Ryan Wood, USA Today Network-Wisconsin
~With almost two months until the NFL draft, the league’s ballyhooed “draft season” unofficially kicks off this week when it convenes for the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
For Ted Thompson, this is Christmas morning. No general manager in the league relies so heavily on the draft to build a roster. Thompson, always a scout at heart, never has shied from showing his affection for the personnel evaluation process.
It’s impossible to unlock the secrets inside Thompson’s mind, especially during this time of year. But we can analyze the Packers’ roster and, with more than a little luck, come up with a good idea. Here’s a detailed look at the Packers’ six greatest draft needs. Keep mind the list could change if the Packers fill a need through free agency.
1. A tight end who can stretch the field.
It’s too early to discard Richard Rodgers as a player incapable of contributing on the field.
The Packers third-year tight end has soft hands and a big frame. He has been a sturdy possession target with 58 catches on 60 catchable balls last season. His 3.3 percent drop rate tied Washington’s Jordan Reed for fourth-best in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
Rodgers had a better drop rate than Greg Olsen (4.94), Rob Gronkowski (5.26), Travis Kelce (7.69), Julius Thomas (11.54) and Tyler Eifert (11.86). He also had eight touchdowns, showing he can be a reliable red-zone threat.
What Rodgers lacks is the most important trait for a true No. 1 tight end: straight-line speed and an ability to pick up yards after the catch. His 8.8 yards per catch last season were anemic. Maybe the Packers could live with a slow first-string tight end if he were an exceptional blocker, but blocking remains one of Rodgers’ weaknesses.
The Packers’ passing game needs a major boost, but their receiver position should be well stocked once Jordy Nelson returns. The group still has plenty of developmental candidates in Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis. The Packers’ tight end position is a different matter. Not only has Rodgers fallen short of being a No. 1 tight end, but the Packers’ depth at the position is nonexistent.
The Packers have no need greater than a legitimate No. 1 tight end with the speed to stretch the field and athleticism to make plays as a runner after the catch. Even if they draft one in the first round, they also could benefit from signing a tight end in free agency. And even if the Packers add multiple tight ends to their roster this offseason, Rodgers still could serve a purpose in a complementary role.
2. An inside linebacker who can drop into coverage and be on the field in the dime package.
The biggest obstacle preventing Clay Matthews from returning to outside linebacker is the lack of an inside linebacker who can drop into coverage, especially in nickel and dime packages.
It appears the Packers found a run-stuffing inside linebacker with Jake Ryan in the fourth round of last year’s draft. By the end of the season, Ryan was matched with Matthews in the Packers’ nickel defense. Sam Barrington will add depth after returning from a season-ending foot injury in last season’s opener.
The duo of Ryan and Barrington might hold up in the Packers’ 3-4 defense, but it’s hard to see them being an ideal nickel combination. And it certainly doesn’t protect the Packers’ defense in dime situations. Joe Thomas was the dime linebacker last season, but it’s unlikely he returns. Thomas was signed to play the dime linebacker spot so Matthews didn’t have to do it.
It’s not a great year for a team to have tight end and inside linebacker as its two biggest needs. Both positions have thin draft classes. Fortunately for the Packers, they could get away with drafting an inside linebacker who isn’t a complete prospect. The position needs a boost in athleticism, specifically a player capable of covering running backs and tight ends.
3. Outside linebacker.
The Packers certainly could double down on their pass rush and draft two outside linebackers, one early and one late. That’s especially true if they fail to draft an inside linebacker who could move Matthews back to the edge.
It may seem strange for the pass rush to be this high on the needs list. The Packers tied for seventh in the NFL with 43 sacks last season. Regardless, they would be wise to aggressively search for opportunities to bolster their pass rush before the 2016 season.
Much of the Packers’ pass-rush production last season could be attributed to Julius Peppers’ Pro Bowl year. Peppers had 10.5 sacks during the regular season, but he also turned 36 last month. The Packers started tapering his snaps in 2015. They likely will taper them even more in 2016.
Behind Peppers, the Packers don’t have much depth on the edge. Nick Perry and Mike Neal are free agents, and neither provided much pass-rush production. Matthews may be stuck at inside linebacker. Jayrone Elliott has potential, but he’s raw and has played mostly special teams. Even if it’s just for depth, the Packers figure to target outside linebacker in the draft.
4. A versatile defensive lineman with pass-rush ability.
Mike Pennel received a four-game suspension Friday for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. The punishment is likely to cost Pennel half the season, considering it usually takes defensive linemen a few weeks to round into optimal playing shape after returning from a long absence.
Pennel finished last season as the Packers’ starting defensive end opposite Mike Daniels, lining up across offensive tackles as a five-tech in the base 3-4 defense. It was a job he seemed to have locked up for next season before his suspension. Now, the Packers will have to come up with another solution for the early part of their schedule.
Pennel’s suspension moves defensive end higher up the list of draft needs, but it was always something the Packers could target. The Packers could use a pass-rush upgrade on their defensive line, preferably an interior rusher who can play nickel full time and line up at defensive end opposite Daniels in the base defense. It wouldn’t be a surprise for the Packers to use a first-round pick on such a player, if one is available.
5. Backup offensive tackle
The Packers are one year away from seeing their strong starting offensive line fracture. David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang become free agents in 2017. It’s unlikely all three will be re-signed.
So depth is about to become critical for a unit that was already in dire need of it late last season. Behind the Packers’ five starters, there were few capable replacements. The Packers are especially short of depth at offensive tackle, an issue that was exploited when Bakhtiari missed the final two games of the regular season.
The Packers need to bolster their depth chart at tackle, but they also need to keep an eye on the horizon. The spring of 2017 is going to present some really tough decisions. Those decisions would be made a little easier if there were capable replacements waiting in the wings.
6. A dual-threat running back
There was good reason Matt Forte became a popular rumor when the Chicago Bears decided they would release him this offseason, despite the chances of Thompson ever signing a 30-year-old free agent tailback being remote.
The Packers need an insurance policy in the backfield. Even if Eddie Lacy returns to the form he showed in his first two seasons, the backfield could use a little extra kick. James Starks is a free agent this spring and could return if the price is right, but that probably means a league-minimum deal. John Crockett is promising, but unproven.
A running back who can double as a receiver out of the backfield would be the kind of weapon this offense is looking for, as well as a nice complement — and perhaps future replacement — for Lacy.
Original story here
By Brian E Murphy, Packers Insider senior editor
~August 9th, 2012 was a bad day for the Packers.
That was the preseason opener, the Packers at San Diego on ESPN Thursday night, and Desmond Bishop was emerging as a legitimate solid inside linebacker for the Packers. But on that bad night, in a game that meant nothing, the injury meant everything to Bishop as a player, and the Packers as a defense.
Bishop was arguably the Packers’ best defensive player that season before. Despite missing three games with a calf strain suffered in Detroit on Thanksgiving, Bishop led the Packers with 142 tackles (including a team-best 109 solo) and registered five sacks, good for second-most on the team. He also forced two fumbles, tied for second on the team (behind Matthews’ three).
As a result of that catastrophic loss, and as a result of Ted Thompson ignoring the hole for too long, the Packers still have a gaping hole in the middle of their defense.
Two years of experimenting with Clay Matthews inside, taking him off the edge where he’s at his best, and where great players like he and Von Miller can have the biggest impact.
That experiment, according to head coach Mike McCarthy, is now over. He said Clay has to move back outside.
I can tell you what’s happened behind the scenes. Matthews never wanted to play inside. He made that well-known to coaches. But he did what the coaches wanted. But no more. Enough is enough. They have had three drafts since then to fill via Ted Thompson’s method, in addition to three free agency periods.
Last year, the Packers had their choice of any inside linebacker in the whole draft. The whole draft class. They could have taken Denzel Perryman from the University of Miami, where he was given Ray Lewis’ number 52.
They could have chosen UCLA’s Eric Kendricks, who instead was taken by the Minnesota Vikings a bit later, and has shown that he’s going to be a fixture for them in the middle for years to come.
The Packers also could have had, and it was a rumored strong possibility, Stephone Anthony out of Clemson. Instead, he later went to New Orleans as the first linebacker selected.
The Packers also could have, in round two or in round three at some point, grabbed TCU’s Paul Dawson, who some analysts graded as the best of them all.
Instead, Ted Thompson chose none of them, instead waiting until day three and taking the slow-footed Jake Ryan out of Michigan.
His speed was on display when he was trying to cover running backs, and we saw him just get run right by leaving the back open by ten yards. You rarely see mismatches that badly in today’s National Football League. That was proof right there that you don’t want Ryan on the field on any passing play. Unless you’re the opposing offense.
Fast forward to today.
This draft doesn’t appear to be as deep as last year’s class was at the inside linebacker position. But there are some guys who can upgrade the Packers defense.
However, someone needs to let GM Thompson know that by rule, there are other ways of adding talent to a roster.
Perhaps you’ve heard of some guy’s in Seattle the past few years when they were making back-to-back Super Bowls. Marshawn Lynch, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril were all key guys for that Super Bowl championship two years ago, as well as getting back there last year.
Those players were all acquired via free agency or low-risk, bargain trades. In fact, Buffalo had originally worked a deal to trade Lynch to the Packers six years ago, before Seattle offered slightly more. Imagine if Thompson threw in a backup player or a future 6th or 7th round pick to have gotten that deal done with the Bills. Seattle would not have made either Super Bowl, most likely.
Von Miller just got all the accolades for the Super Bowl work against Cam Newton, but until the 4th quarter, OLB DeMarcus Ware was in the running for the MVP. Ware, along with QB Peyton Manning, WR Emmanuel Sanders, DB’s Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward were all free agent signings.
New England has added all kinds of players over the years outside of the draft. From Wes Welker to Darrell Revis, Corey Dillon to Randy Moss, they have gotten important players via other methods. Many more than that.
Look for them to continue that working way over the next few months. Matt Forte and Chris Long going to New England would not surprise me at all.
What about the Packers?
You all know by now, sadly, that Thompson strongly prefers scouting young men. There’s little more in life that he enjoys more than scouting college guys. He’s the poster man for the “Draft and Develop” methodology. He’s pictured in Webster’s Dictionary for it.
True, he’s been known to make a nice signing a few times per decade. Actually, his rare signings have been grand slams. Charles Woodson took this defense to a Super Bowl. Julius Peppers has been a gift from God. He’s still fantastic, or at least he has been the past two years. Hopefully, he has more greatness left in him. Also, Ryan Pickett was a great addition, with little fan-fare at the time.
Remember, Pickett had been a former first round pick by the Rams, out of Ohio State. He didn’t meet expectations there for some reason, and they let him go. Thompson brought him in as a quiet, not in-demand marquee addition, and he helped build the defense into a good one.
Now, almost a decade later, we have the Rams again letting a former Buckeye high pick go (was the 35th pick of the 2009 Draft, out of Ohio State).
Inside Linebacker James Laurinaitis was just let go yesterday. His best days appear to be behind him.
But that was true of Peppers and Woodson, and supposedly Reggie White and Pickett too.
Laurinaitis is the guy who, last year, ended Aaron Rodgers’ NFL record streak of throwing no interceptions at home.
He’s a talented, very durable (this is important to McCarthy, so he says) leader of a defense. The Rams let him go, along with Chris Long and black supremacist tight end Jared Cook go yesterday in cost-cutting moves, saving about 24 million dollars off their cap.
“This is the time of year when all NFL teams are faced with difficult decisions regarding their veteran players,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said in a statement.
“Chris and James are the epitome of what it means to be a pro in this league and it’s been an honor to coach them both. They’ve been the pillars of our defense for many years and not enough can be said of their love for the game and for their teammates. Beyond the field, they took pride in mentoring the younger players and doing their part to make a real difference in the St. Louis community. We will always be grateful for James and Chris’ unselfish commitment to the Rams and wish them the best moving forward.”
All three players will be fine additions for other teams, at discounted rates. No, don’t go dreaming of adding Long. He’s not a fit for a 3-4 defense. And Cook, for all his physical talent that is lacking at TE for the Packers, drops way too many passes. Plus, he has the baggage I mentioned previously. He’s not what you would call “Packer quality” people. He probably wasn’t even on Thompson’s draft board when he was drafted, despite the nice package of size and speed.
Laurinaitis is a whole different paint job.
He’s a great fit. He’s a good person on and off the field. He’s not old at just 29, entering his 8th season only. He has at least three good years left, maybe many more (see how long London Fletcher lasted at a high level).
He’s been as durable as any linebacker in the NFL. He’s hungry for the playoffs, and of course then the Super Bowl. He’s like the 1990’s additions of Sean Jones, Santana Dotson, Eugene Robinson (hopefully minus the hooker during Super Bowl week), and Don Beebe who had tasted Super Bowl heartbreak in Buffalo, but got his ring with the Packers.
He’s already made his money (33 million in 7 years). His motivation is not money, but winning, getting to playoffs and Super Bowls.
He’s a good Christian, like Peppers and Rodgers, Jordy and Cobb, Davante and Abbrederis, Clinton-Dix, Lacy, Neal and Daniels, and coach McCarthy. That’s nothing to dismiss, although the media prefers to do just that, dismiss and ignore it away.
From ESPN.com last night:
Laurinaitis was caught off guard when he was called into coach Jeff Fisher’s office Friday. He was at the team facility working out at the time. He immediately knew something was up.
“I’m more just, I was surprised by it, I was shocked at first,” he said. “But I also know this is a business and when you start to move toward the front of the parking spaces and get a little older, all those people in front of you have left so you are not any different than anybody else who is getting up there. I’m going into Year 8 and I’m still 29 (won’t turn 30 until December) and I still feel like I’m playing at a productive level. I was a little shocked from that point of view but man, other than that, it’s a business.
“Once you get to Year 8, you really allow yourself to kind of sit back and be like, ‘You know what, I’m not going to be surprised by anything.’ I have seen a lot of things and seen a lot of people go. I have been grateful to have seven years with the same team. That’s rare in and of itself. I’m not bitter about that. Just a little surprised it happened this year but that’s football.”
Laurinaitis has made plenty of money in his career, but he has never been on a team that finished .500, let alone with a winning record or in the playoffs. He’s coming off a season in which he battled an elbow issue for most of the year but still played more defensive snaps than any player in the league. And he posted his seventh consecutive season of 100 or more tackles, on his way to becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in that category.
“Goodness, for me, I want to get to 10 or 11 years,” Laurinaitis said. “I think I’ve still got four years left in me, if not more. It all depends on the organization. I want to win, I want to compete, I want to get to the playoffs and experience that. I’m excited to see what other schemes are out there and what could be a good fit.”
He’s also a Minnesotan, and he grew up a Vikings fan (poor guy). Not as if this would make the move to add James any smarter, but he would get a bit of motivation, hype, to face the Vikings again. Last year was the first time in his career he faced the Vikings in Minnesota. From ESPN last November:
Laurinaitis wasn’t just a casual Vikings fan growing up, either. His childhood bedroom came complete with Vikings memorabilia, including a poster of the Vikings receiving trio of Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed. Moss was his favorite player.
“He was awesome,” Laurinaitis said. “In ’98, I had the triple threat poster of Carter, Randy Moss and Jake Reed. It was phenomenal. Buckeye Robert Smith where it seemed like every screen he caught went to the house and then they came here [to St. Louis] and got destroyed in the playoffs. It’s cool, though.”
Laurinaitis has long since moved past the childhood disappointment of watching his beloved Vikings lose to the Rams in a 1999 NFC playoff game. He’s become one of the centerpieces of the Rams and the franchise’s second-longest tenured player.
When Laurinaitis steps into his usual spot at middle linebacker on Sunday, it will be the 104th consecutive start. He’s playing with a giant brace on his injured elbow but had made it clear that it will take a serious injury to keep him from playing. It’s a streak that actually extends well before he arrived in the NFL as Laurinaitis estimates he hasn’t missed a game since he began playing the sport in fourth grade.
He’ll fit in well in the locker room. He’ll fit in the community, no worries about episodes like Guion or Jolly selling drugs as a side-job on the off-season.
James is younger than Jordy, Rodgers, and Peppers. Was in the same draft as Matthews. He’s hungry. He’s as durable as they get. You could not ask for a better fit than this, realistically.
What we have here is a gift to Ted Thompson, on a silver platter. This is who and what the Packers need right now.
Will Thompson be smart enough, un-stubborn enough, quick enough to go against his natural-college-scout mentality to bring this gift to Titletown, USA?
Remember, Thompson the GM had gift opportunities presented to him in 2007 with Randy Moss from Oakland, and 2010 with Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo.
He failed to do his job both times, and it led to other teams benefiting from those two bargain additions.
If you, or I were running the Packers, we’d do our job. We would have called James last night, had him in town today, and had him taking Andy Mulumba’s number 55 jersey already. But with this GM, it’s sad to say, but James or his agent probably will have to make the first move and call Packers’ headquarters.
With New England, and their mastermind Belichick, so much smarter and also in need of an inside linebacker, don’t expect the agent for James to have to do anything. Teams will come to him. That means Thompson is out of his league here, and another gift on a silver platter will not end up in Green Bay, but will bless another team.
It’s no wonder why the Patriots might make their seventh Super Bowl in the Tom Brady Era, next season, while the Packers still have just one Super Bowl appearance in Aaron Rodgers eight-year career.
So a plea from Packer Nation, to James and your agent Ben Dogra of CAA Sports: PLEASE CALL GREEN BAY FIRST. TODAY.
It’s your best bet to make and win playoff games and Super Bowls. Okay, New England is, but the Packers need you more, and it’s a guarantee to play at Minnesota and their gorgeous new stadium, each and every year. Please call Mark Murphy and Ted Thompson, and join Peppers and Matthews on Dom Capers’ defense.
From Brian E Murphy, Packers Insider senior editor
~Proceed with Caution
Ted Thompson is still the Packers General Manager, and as Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote last month, “Thompson is basically just a glorified head of collegiate scouting“.
You all are well aware by now that Thompson is not the type of GM who will outbid or outsell Bill Belichick, John Schneider, or the Dallas Cowboys for the services of any coveted player. That’s especially true of a player over 30 years old.
So you know not to hold your breath, even on the possibility of signing just one free agent.
That all being said, there’s some speculation that coach Mike McCarthy may be tired of his team only being replenished every April or May with a few handful of draft picks, and nothing else aside from some guys who went undrafted.
It’s true, Thompson has made some nice picks in the draft’s mid and late rounds with players like Mike Daniels, and guys who went undrafted like LaDarius Gunter and Sam Shields.
But Seattle and New England also, consistently, make great draft picks too. Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, and Kam Chancellor come to mind. But their GM, who worked under Thompson with the Packers, has also added players via free agency and trades, such as Marshawn Lynch, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Tight End Jimmy Graham.
So for Thompson lovers who say he drafts well enough to offset ignoring other methods, history shows otherwise. Seattle has drafted just as well since Schneider left, and of course they would have not been nearly as good had they not gotten Lynch back in 2010, and the other players since then, via free agency.
So now that’s all out of the way, it’s time for Thompson to either open his mind and the pocketbook, or step aside, go back to being just a scout (which is the only thing he seems to enjoy), and let Elliott Wolf become the General Manager before the Packers lose him as they lost Schneider.
Here’s what the Packers have to do.
#1- Sign Tight End LADARIUS GREEN
Ladarius Green was an unknown back in 2012 when the San Diego Chargers selected the University of Louisiana-Lafayette product in the third round.
His skills, his combine numbers, were worthy of a first round selection- if he played for Alabama, Notre Dame, USC, LSU, or Ohio State. Not Lafayette.
So, despite this speed and height (almost 6’6″), he lasted until the third round, taken by a team who knows what good tight ends look like.
Antonio Gates is a future Hall of Famer, who still knows how to get open and make plays. Green has not taken his starting position away, which is not surprising. Gates, like Green, is an unrestricted free agent, but will most likely be brought back by the Chargers.
What that means for Green remains anyone’s guess at this point. He could stay in San Diego. But I suspect that there will be a handful of teams who want Green’s service.
The good news, perhaps, for the Packers is most perennial Super Bowl contenders already have a tight end they like. New England obviously has Gronk. Seattle last year paid a huge price for Jimmy Graham. Carolina stole Greg Olsen a few years ago. Cincinnati has Tyler Eifert. No, the Bengals haven’t made the Super Bowl lately, but they keep making the playoffs.
So hopefully, should the miracle occur that Thompson decides he’s willing to pay for a great young talent like Green, despite the fact that he’s played on another team, there won’t be any other contenders pushing the price tag up too high.
I would expect him to fetch somewhere near what Miami gave Jordan Cameron last year. Ironically, Cameron might be forced to take a paycut, or be released. So he, too, might be available for cheaper and be a nice addition this Spring.
#2- Sign Running Back MATT FORTE.
Eddie Lacy has one year remaining on his original rookie contract. Lacy, as everyone knows by now, was a disappointment last year as he ate too much and worked out too little during last year’s offseason between February and August. I expect that to chance this off-season.
Whether it does or does not, James Starks is a free agent, and neither Starks nor Lacy are good receiving backs. Neither run routes much more complicated than a dump off screen pass.
Matt Forte is 30 years old, and just finished his big contract (over $30 million for four years), with the Bears, and all indications are his days in Chicago are numbered. That number, could be, one per year for a while if he chooses to follow Julius Peppers north to Green Bay.
He is an excellent receiver who can run routes as good as any back in the league. Last year (2014), he set an all-time NFL record with catches in a season with over 100.
He would make a great compliment to Lacy. They could rotate, and split about 300 carries. I would expect Forte would be able to catch between 50 and 75 passes, which is a threat that opposing defenses haven’t had to worry about lately.
They have had to worry about the running back screens as the Packers have had success running those.
Forte has nothing left to play for that he really craves, aside from a ring. And he knows, as Peppers decided two years ago, that as long as Aaron Rodgers is in Green Bay, that there aren’t many better options for obtaining that ring.
Unfortunately, New England and Seattle are also very good matches, and those two teams make the Super Bowl more often, recently, than the Packers do, and both of their GM’s are much, much, much better at building rosters than the Packers are, outside of simply drafting college kids.
All it would take is one of those teams, or even Dallas, and the Packers would be out, most likely.
Thompson will not outbid, or out-charisma anyone to come to Green Bay, if Seattle or New England are also courting the player. Peppers himself would be the best bet to lure Forte to Green Bay. Or Aaron Rodgers.
#3- Look at, and bring in one or two veteran free agent INSIDE LINEBACKERS who have the potential to significantly upgrade the talent, and depth.
In 2006, after eight seasons in Oakland, Charles Woodson had a bad reputation and had been injured as often as just about any player in the NFL had.
But he was always a talented player, which originally made him well worth a first round draft choice back in 1998.
You all know how that worked out for the Packers, thankfully.
Woodson stopped getting injured, and his talent blossomed in Green Bay.
He helped the Packers get to a Super Bowl, and he just retired finally. He’s a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Sean Weatherspoon has a similar story’ although he didn’t win a Heisman Trophy, and he was only a top-20 overall pick, not the number three pick in a great draft.
Like Woodson, “Spoon” was a former first round pick. He was in the 2010 Draft where the Packers selected OT Bryan Bulaga, and the New England Patriots took Rob Gronkowski in round two. So he’s certainly not too old.
Weatherspoon, like Woodson, has been injury-prone recently, and the Arizona Cardinals are expected to let him go as their defense did fine without him, and his replacement, Kevin Minter, is younger.
Weatherspoon got a 1-year deal with Arizona last year for $3.85 million, after spending his first five years in Atlanta. He’s not old at 28 years of age.
I do not expect him to be in hot demand at all, and his asking price certainly is going to be south of what he got last year by the Cardinals.
Is he going to be Luke Kuechly or Bobby Wagner? Nope. But he certainly will be a lot better than what we saw there last year when Matthews wasn’t manning the inside.
He might, who knows, even blossom like Woodson did after spending even more years with his original team before coming to Titletown. True, Woodson is special, and the rarest of great athletes.
But Weatherspoon has talent, and skills. Could he play at a Pro Bowl level on Dom Capers’ defense? I truly believe he could if he is able to, like Woodson, reverse his bad injury luck, and stay healthy with the Packers.
Other names to consider are:
Danny Trevathan, Denver. -He will cost too much and be in too demand. Cross him off.
Mason Foster, Washington. – Age 26 only (turns 27 in March), this former third round pick (2011 by Tampa Bay), was a solid starter from day one in Tampa Bay, but last year signed a 1-year deal with the Redskins, for less than most kickers make.
Here’s more on Foster (from last off-season):
While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers maintain exclusive negotiation rights through Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound tackling machine will be pursued by multiple teams as he tops the list of available three-down middle linebackers in free agency.
“I loved my time in Tampa and I’m excited for the next chapter in my career, whether that be here or somewhere else,” Foster told FOXSports.com. “I know my best football is in front of me, and I can’t wait to get back on the field and contribute to a winning season.”
The reality is Foster had been the quarterback of Tampa Bay’s defense for three seasons. During that span, he averaged 94 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions a season. Then, a coaching change occurred, which came with a change in defensive philosophies. The Bucs transitioned to a Tampa-2 defense, which stresses middle linebackers to drop in coverage.
Foster, known more for his instincts and physicality, wasn’t a natural fit in the scheme, but it’d be wrong to label him as a guy who lacks speed or coverage ability.
“Mason is a tough, physical, smart inside linebacker,” former Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik told FOXSports.com. “He sees plays develop. He plays downhill and he’s a very strong tackler at the point of impact.
Dominik, who drafted Foster in the third round from Washington in 2011, also works as an ESPN analyst after being fired from Tampa Bay in 2013.
Foster’s versatility can be highlighted by the way he adapted to change. In four seasons, Foster played in three different schemes. Transitioning from head coaches Raheem Morris to Greg Schiano to Lovie Smith wasn’t an easy task, but his mental aptitude allowed him to rely on his instincts and athleticism to make plays.
“I don’t think people realize how smart he is,” Dominik said. “He really does understand defenses. He can make the calls, get guys lined up. That’s a very valuable thing when you look at middle linebackers.”
Aside from the change in defensive philosophies, Foster sustained a separated shoulder and a strained Achilles last season (2014). The injuries caused him to miss six games, which naturally caused a dip in his production.
Tampa Bay’s defense was substantially better with Foster on the field in average points, total yards, pass yards and rush yards allowed, Bleacher Report’s Jason Kanno referenced last December.
“Again, you like the linebackers that, when they hit opponents, they’re not getting dragged three or four yards,” Dominik said. “They’re actually creating a play and making an impact and that’s what Mason does.”
Foster is the youngest in a healthy (last year, 2015) free-agent class at middle linebacker, which include New York’s David Harris (31), Cincinnati’s Rey Maualuga (28) and Buffalo’s Brandon Spikes (27).
Teams looking for help at inside linebacker include the Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings, Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Green Bay Packers.
How much better could the Packers defense have been last year with Mason Foster in there instead of seeing Nate Palmer, Joe Thomas, Jake Ryan alternating getting beaten by pass routes of running backs and tight ends?
How did it work out in Washington? Pretty well. He’ll probably be offered another contract that might make it hard to pry him away. Again, this is another example of why Thompson should have signed him LAST year at that price tag.
Mason Foster Repaying Team That Gave Him A Chance
Dec 30, 2015
From NFL free agent to starting and playing a key role for a division champion, Mason Foster plays with an intensity fueled by a desire to repay the Redskins for adding him to the roster.
A humble Mason Foster would tell you the he feels he’s done “alright” in recent weeks, but since being inserted into the starting lineup in early December, the veteran linebacker has been a key contributor on a defense that’s been trending up.
Foster couldn’t have imagined the position he’s in right now just a few months ago when he was waiting for a call (he was released by Chicago on Sept. 5), but he gladly wants to pay the staff back with hard work.
He’s done just that since being inserted into the starting lineup.
“I was on the street, got cut, and I just want to play as hard as I can to let Scot [McCloughan], let Gruden, everyone else know on the Redskins that they didn’t make a mistake by picking me up,” Foster said. “I was going to do whatever they wanted me to do. I’m just blessed to be a part of this team, and I’m going to do whatever they want me to do and play my role to the hardest to help this team win.”
The Bears actually signed him last off-season, and then made the mistake of cutting him during final cuts, and going young at inside linebacker. Again, Thompson then could have unquestionably improved the Packers by bringing Foster in on the cheap at that time. But his radar is on college players, as seen on TV.
Perhaps, another bargain can be had now as the Redskins have other guys they like at the position, who were originally the starters before they got hurt. But perhaps, it might be a year too late.
The bottom line is this: Thompson would be smart to take a few pages out of the Patriots and Seahawks playbook, and fill some holes and add some talent once Free Agency gets here in early March, and stop putting all of his eggs in the one basket: The Draft and undrafted rookies.
If I was running the Packers right now, I would work hard to add these three players, who won’t break the bank. If that is able to happen, the draft would truly offer an opportunity to draft the BPA (Best Player Available) and not have any glaring holes to fill.
If the BPA is an OT, take him. If he’s an ILB, or an OLB, take him. If he’s a DE or a DT, take him. If he’s a TE, that depends on how long Green is signed for, but I’ve looked at all the tight ends in this draft, and none are as good as Green is, and we have no NFL film on them as we do on Green. We already saw Green easily beat our best LB for a pitch and catch touchdown.
Now, back to the beginning of this article? Proceed with Caution. Ted Thompson is still the GM, and he’s busy scouting and measuring and observing college guys.
By Brian E Murphy, Packers Insider senior editor
~We are going to try and put out two complete Packers mock drafts each month, and one strict set of rules we have to follow is that we cannot use the same player twice! So each time, we have to completely change all picks.
As much as we think this first one makes sense, we will 100% switch it up next time. By doing this, A) We won’t fall in love with a player whom we want, and whom Ted Thompson won’t pick anyway, and B) it gives us a chance to get a pick right along the way.
Afterall, not many (make that NONE) mocksters had the Packers using a first rounder on Damarious Randall last year, or James Jones in round three in 2007, among many other surprises.
Also, we will not factor in Free Agency, as our GM is usually too busy evaluating, observing, studying, getting his hands on young men eligible for the draft. We all know by now, despite the rare big exceptions of Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers, that Thompson will not be a big spender in free agency. So consider nobody being added, until proven wrong.
With that being said, here is VERSION 1.0
Click on the prospect to see the CBS Sports Scouting report as well as their expected range to be drafted, to see that we aren’t sand-bagging everyone, giving the Packers guys who are supposed to go a round or two higher, etc.
(Two Comp picks for Tramon Williams and Davon House are noted with the C):
- 1 – HUNTER HENRY, TE, Arkansas; 6-5, 253
- 2 – KENTRELL BROTHERS, ILB, Mizzou; 6-1, 249
- 3 – SCOOBY WRIGHT, ILB, Arizona; 6-0, 246
- 4 – JAVON HARGRAVE, DT, South Carolina State; 6-1, 315
- 4C – AARON GREEN, RB, TCU; 5-11, 203
- 5 – YANNICK NGAKOUE, OLB, Maryland; 6-2, 250
- 5C – DEAN LOWRY, DE, Northwestern; 6-6, 295
- 6 – IAN SEAU, OLB, Nevada; 6-2, 255
- 7 – MARQUEZ NORTH, WR, Tennessee; 6-3, 224
VIDEO HIGHLIGHT PACKAGES