Packers absolutely must upgrade Inside Linebacker, immediately; Hello James Laurinaitis
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.