3-Step Plan to get Packers back to the top, and the Super Bowl : Packers Insider

3-Step Plan to get Packers back to the top, and the Super Bowl

February 12, 2016 by  
Filed under News

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

San Diego tight end Ladarius Green beats Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews for a touchdown last October.

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.

Can you imagine what adding a dimension like this could do for the Packers offense? When was the last time a Packers’ tight end made a play like this, with speed like this?

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.

Chicago Bears’ running back Matt Forte celebrates a touchdown against the Packers at Lambeau Field.

#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.

While this is just a quick screen, Forte is capable of running actual routes.

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.

Could Forte and Peppers reunite as teammates in 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.

Watch as Forte cuts back and causes two Buccaneers to smash into each other.

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, who was the Falcons’ first-round pick in the 2010 draft (19th overall), ruptured his Achilles tendon while running with the training staff in June 2014. Last offseason, the Falcons wanted to re-sign Weatherspoon and thought he was a key part of rebuilding the defense. However, the Falcons offered a performance-based and incentive-laden deal, while Arizona’s deal was guaranteed. Given his injury history, Weatherspoon was advised by his representatives to accept the offer with guaranteed money. Weatherspoon, 28, was slowed by a hamstring injury, but started to see more action late this season. The 6-foot-1, 241-pounder played in 14 games as a reserve.

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.

After his second season in the NFL, Weatherspoon appeared headed to Pro Bowl status. He had career-highs in tackles (127) and sacks (four) and was named second-team all-NFL by profootballfocus.com in 2011. In the 2012 season, when the Falcons reached the NFC Championship game, Weatherspoon had more than 100 tackles. But it’s been a struggle since for Weatherspoon. He played in only seven games in 2013 after hamstring and knee injuries and missed all of 2014 with a blown Achilles. Then he suffered a hamstring injury on the first day of training camp with the Cardinals and didn’t play until the final exhibition game. “I didn’t get a chance to compete, and that was tough,” Weatherspoon said. “Ultimately, I just accepted whatever role I had and just went at it the best way that I could.”

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.

“The good thing about Mason is not only can he play in the 4-3 as a Mike (middle) or a Sam (strong side), but he can play in the 3-4 at either middle linebacker spot. He has versatility to play for just about any defense in the league.”

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.

New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith, center, gets the ball knocked out of his hands by Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Mason Foster (59).

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.

From Washington:

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.

Inside linebacker Mason Foster #54 of the Washington Redskins celebrates after tackling running back James Starks #44 of the Green Bay Packers in the second quarter during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at FedExField on January 10, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Jan. 9, 2016 – Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America)

“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. 

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