The Times They Are A Changin'.

Posted March 13th, 2019 @ 05:03pm

The dust has settled on the Pack's most jarring day in free agency since they caused jaws to drop from coast to coast when they landed Reggie White, with a little help from the Big Guy upstairs.

In a dizzying day on Twitter Tuesday morning, we saw Gutey lock up four free agents who figure to step instantly into starting roles. Now, let's back up a moment. It wasn't too many years ago that the Packers rarely had more than two possible starting spots available from year to year. But a few bad drafts have caused parts of the roster to erode and the Pack had the capital and the proper mindset in the GM's office to do something about it in March, with an eye toward addressing it in a much more important way in the draft next month.

With Nick Perry and Clay Matthews no longer in the picture, the team needed to find younger versions to help make Mike Pettine's defense work. Preston Smith is a perfect replacement for Perry, built about the same and big, at 270 pounds. Smith will set the edge and add to the Pack's improved run defense, anchored by Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels. At 26 he's already considered a locker room leader and has not missed a game in four seasons. What a breath of fresh air.

You have to believe Gutey and his staff were urged to look at Smith by new inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, who comes to the Pack from Washington, where he spent 16 seasons, helping coach a defense that finished in the top teight times. He may be back in Gutey's ear, telling him to bring in inside linebacker Zach Brown, whom the Skins released on Wednesday. At 29, Brown was third rated inside linebacker by PFF last season and might be had on a one-year prove it deal, especially if he loved his coach.

Za'darius Smith was the heaviest signing, from a dollar perspective. When the numbers came out on how the two linebackers' deals were structured, they'll both count for less than ten million against the cap and won't cost much after two years, if either guy goes belly up. But, watching Smith on tape, you have to be excited about what Pettine can do with him. He's also heavier, at 270, and has done his most damage when moved inside on sub packages, which teams are in the majority of the time. And Gutey's new right hand man, Wisconsin native Milt Hendrickson, comes from the Ravens, where he watched every game Smith played.

He played about two-thirds of the snaps with the Ravens and led them with 8.5 sacks in 2018--now that came in a contract year, so you always have to consider that. But I think in a perfect scenario he plays about the same percentage with the Pack, maybe 75%, presuming they land another pass rusher in the draft.

About that: despite signing the two Smiths, I think a guy like Florida State's Brian Burns is absolutely in the mix at 12. He would be a perfect Matthews replacement: He's lighter, quicker and would give the linebacker group a complete makeover. Yes, offense could very well be in play at #12 as well, at either offensive line or tight end, but the front seven depth in the first round this year is rare--he could even trade down, now that the team's biggest needs have been addressed.

Among those needs was a complete do-over at safety. The Packers aren't done here, but got off to strong start with the signing of ex-Bears safety Adrian Amos, who comes in at a very palatable $6 million against the cap. It's always nice to weaken a rival when you add a free agent and the Amos signing does just that. Is he Earl Thomas or Landon Collins? No, but he's cheaper, just 25 and has been healthy. He's an instant upgrade in the Pack's secondary.

The fourth signing was more of a head scratcher when it was first announced. Billy Turner is a local kid, Mounds View High School and NDSU alum, who trained this offseason right next door to the Vikings shiny new home, TCO Performance Center. While the Vikings decided he wasn't in their plans, the Pack swooped in and pounced with a four year, $28 million offer that will account about $4 million against the cap this year. He has played everywhere along the line, except center, with most coming on the right side.

He figures to have the inside track on the right guard spot, with guys like Justin McCray, Nico Siragusa and Lucas Patrick hoping to bump him off. He'll also be a much more palatable backup right tackle, if and when Bryan Bulaga gets hurt again. Yes, I expect the Pack to bring him back, and with Turner in the fold we should only need Jason Spriggs in case of grave emergency.

It sounds like the Packers are still about ten million bucks under the cap, and will have enough to add a few more players on value deals. Sounds like they're close with Mo Wilkerson and could look at a RB, WR and another safety.

We all know that teams that spend in March aren't always smiling in January. But teams have shown how using free agency wisely can make an instant impact (Rams). These four deals on day two of free agency make the Pack's roster stronger in the short term and won't hurt the team financially on the back end. They've addressed their most glaring needs by bringing in young, ascending players and betting that their best football is ahead of them. In year two of Mike Pettine's system, he has a much better feel for what he's got and what he needs. The front office has listened and delivered a youth and talent infusion. And with three picks in the top 44, they're not done.

Not a bad start to the offseason.

 

 

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Packers Pounce on LaFleur.

Posted January 8th, 2019 @ 02:01pm

Like most Packer fans, I know very little about Matt LaFleur. I've never heard the guy speak. First time I ever heard his name was this time last year, when he interviewed for head coaching jobs and landed in Tennessee as the OC.

Despite this lack of knowledge about the guy, I'm intrigued by his background, who he's learned from and what he might bring to the Packers offense and more specifically, to Aaron Rodgers. And I can't wait to hear him lay out his vision for this organization.

The Packers' braintrust interviewed ten men for the head coaching job, most were former head coaches, the others were current offensive coordinators. They wrapped up their interviews on Sunday and offered LaFleur on Monday. That's not how these things typically go. Usually, a team will pare its list down to three or four and then bring them back for a second round of interviews.

Instead, the Packers pounced. Clearly, they'd heard enough and were bowled over by their meeting and interview with LaFleur. That's exactly what I'd hoped would happen. The betting money said Josh McDaniels was the favorite, pointing to his success working with Tom Brady and his long term ability to keep the Patriots offense fresh. He was the one guy I'd crossed off my list. How he handled the Colts situation last year should stain his prospects of getting another shot, in my opinion. Plus his abrasive, arrogant personality and desire to call all the shots made him the wrong fit in Titletown.

At 39, LaFleur appears ready for this opportunity. He's worked under brilliant offensive minds: Mike and Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay. He was the quarterback coach in Washington when RGIII had his best season and in Atlanta when Matty Ice won the MVP. He ran the Rams offense in 2017 when they emerged as a contender in the NFC.

And then there is this past season, when he called plays for the first time and handled everything on the offensive side of the ball for the Titans' new defensive-minded head coach Mike Vrabel. Viking fans and other Packer haters will mock his results, as his team finished near the bottom statistically in most offensive statistics.

Let's dig a little deeper: in the season opener, Marcus Mariota suffered a nerve injury to his throwing hand that would affect him all season and they lost their best pass catcher for the year in tight end Delanie Walker. Now, name a Titans wide receiver. Right, not much talent there. As the season wore on, he changed the team's look to one that featured Derrick Henry, and the former Bama back who had been mediocre for his first two and a half seasons, suddenly looked like a top five back in the last month of the season. The Titans almost made the playoffs, despite being led by Blaine Gabbert at quarterback.

Many football fans scoffed when Ted Thompson plucked the 49ers offensive coordinator, some obscure guy named Mike McCarthy, after his offense had finished 30th in the league.  That worked out okay.

There are reports surfacing that LaFleur plans to keep Mike Pettine around to run the defense--that's precisely what I had hoped would happen. The last thing this team needs right now is to completely clean house and start over. Pettine got off to a strong start in his first year on the job, getting buy-in from the players and showing improvement on the field, despite a rash of injuries that cost him his best players for a good chunk of the season. With re-enforcements coming in the offseason, primarily at outside linebacker and safety, the defense is trending in the right direction.

Then there is Rodgers, who we are told is on board with LaFleur's selection. And ultimately, the new coach will be measured by how he works with the future Hall of Famer.  There is work to be done on that side of the roster as well, on the offensive line, at tight end and maybe at wide receiver.

And LaFleur will get extra time, as all new head coaches do, to work with the players and implementing his new system, one that should get Rodgers excited and invigorated, something he desperately needs--we all witnessed his body language on the field this past season. He needs a reboot and LaFleur is charged with sparking it.

So the Pack has its man and now we'll hear him talk about the culture he's looking to build in Green Bay. The Michigan native has the backing of a lot of players who have endorsed him on Twitter--guys like Joe Thomas and yes, Kirk Cousins. Mark Murphy has put his job on the line with this hire--entrusting LaFleur with getting the most out of Rodgers' golden years.

Let's hope the results are golden.

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D Is For Doughnut.

Posted December 31st, 2018 @ 02:12pm

I've decided to put as much effort into writing this blog as the Packers put in to playing on Sunda

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