Did the Packers Come Up One Player Short in Spring Signings?

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Ricky Jean Francois

Yesterday I described how the 2015 Denver Broncos went all-in to form a roster that gave quarterback Peyton Manning one last shot at winning a Super Bowl. Aided by signing a lot of veterans from other teams during the 2015 free agency period, and having a starting unit stacked with veterans, Denver’s front office assembled a roster that led to the Super Bowl 50 win.

Like the Broncos, the Green Bay Packers have consistently fielded playoff-caliber teams for the last several years. Many fans believe that 2017 could be the year to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay.

Ted Thompson and the rest of Green Bay’s front office certainly copied the Broncos in many ways this spring. They went out and acquired a number of veteran NFL players from other teams, including Martellus Bennett, Davon House, Lance Kendricks, Jahri Evans and Ricky Jean Francois.

On the other hand, however, they also lost a (greater) wealth of talent from their 2016 roster, including Eddie Lacy, Jared Cook, T.J. Lang, Julius Peppers, Micah Hyde, Datone Jones, J.C. Tretter, and Sam Shields. It’s open to debate whether the team came out with a net gain or a net loss.

Between free agent signings and a draft that many rate as one of Green Bay’s best in a decade or more, it certainly appears that the team plugged most of the holes that existed on the depth chart. But did they get them all filled?

The Hole that Went Unplugged

Yes, the team arguably still has depth problems, such as at running back, wide receiver and edge rusher, but I’d say that for the most part the Packers will field an average or better-than-average starting player at nearly every position. The exception to this appears to be at inside linebacker.

Inside linebacker looks to be the Achilles’ heel of the 2017 Packers. We pounded the point home here about a week ago. Did the Packers squander their chances to plug this final hole?

Green Bay’s second-biggest weakness last year (to cornerback) was clearly at the two inside linebacker positions. The Packers have Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez, and Joe Thomas returning, and they’ve added fourth-year man Jordan Tripp.

Most consider third-year veteran Ryan as a capable, but average, player. Martinez, despite having a decent rookie year, is viewed by many as not having a very high ceiling. He too might never advance beyond the “average” designation. Many observers think Thomas’ only talent is in pass defense and even there he’s nothing special.

Had the Packers drafted an inside linebacker this spring, Thomas would be in danger of missing the cut. As it is, Tripp could move ahead of him on the depth chart, but Thomas will likely hang on as a third-down option.

Who would have expected the Packers to have 10 draft choices and draft no inside linebacker? I’ve yet to hear any explanation for what would have seemed a no-brainer. If the Packers flame out early, much of the blame will likely be focused on their failure to draft an inside linebacker.

Moving on to the free agency period, we’re accustomed to the Packers not competing for top talent, but there are almost always opportunities for getting a serviceable player at a fair price. Last year, many thought that player would be the Broncos’ Danny Trevathan – who coincidentally was the leading tackler in Super Bowl 50. It didn’t happen, and the Bears got him – though $24.5 million for four years was way too costly.

The One Who Got Away?

This year, the key player who the Packers missed out on signing just might be Gerald Hodges. Entering his sixth season, three with the Vikings and the last two with the 49ers, Hodges has been steady and reliable – and on the rise.

A fourth-round pick out of Penn State, Hodges broke out in 2014, with 66 tackles. Traded to the 49ers four games into the 2015 season, he still managed 70 tackles on the year. His best year was 2016, when he had 83 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions – not mind-boggling, but in each case better than the Packers’ 2016 threesome. In fact, Ryan, Martinez, and Thomas have yet to cause a fumble in their pro careers – a distinct lack of playmaking ability.

Hodges remained on the free agent market until May 25. He was finally taken by the Buffalo Bills, so you’d think that a perennial playoff team like the Packers would have held a stronger attraction. Try as I may, I’ve been unable to get the terms of this contract, but it was only a one-year deal – the type you want to make if you’re going all-in in pursuit of winning the Super Bowl.

The $3 million or so that Hodges likely got was well within the Packers’ cap space. They currently have around $19 million in cap space.

 

Going All-In

Consider two of the team’s most recent and probably final signings.

In late March, the Packers gave Ricky Jean Francois a one-year deal with a cap hit of $2 million. Then in late April, in another one-year deal, they added Jahri Evans, at a cap hit of $2.25 million. Those moves shored up the team at defensive tackle and guard with veteran players, something very unlike the Packers.

I believe this is strong evidence that the Packers – quietly but purposefully – have indeed gone all-in to produce the ultimate winner in the upcoming season.

I commend them! I only wish they would have plugged that final hole at inside linebacker. Still, and assuming good health, step-up performances by Ryan and/or Martinez could do a great deal to plug that final hole.

Then there’s newcomer Jordan Tripp, who just could prove to be the most important roster addition of them all.

Or maybe rookie safety Josh Jones will be thrust into the role and perform admirably?

The final, ultimate question is: did the Packers position themselves this spring to win the Super Bowl? I think they did.

About The Author

Rob is currently twiddling his thumbs on Whidbey Island in Washington. He likes to do research, although he has no shortage of opinions. He saw his first live Packers game in 1958, the only win of the year.

13 Comments on "Did the Packers Come Up One Player Short in Spring Signings?"

  1. I don’t know if I’d call it “All In” but because it’s Thompson and GB it’s as close to it as it’s ever been under TT. I don’t think Thompson is done adding FA yet. I believe he’ll still add on OLB once teams start to cut players.

  2. PF4L

    The Packers are in position to win the Super Bowl?

    How about we debate that question if, and when they actually get to play in one.

    Holy shit.

  3. PF4L

    I was going to elaborate on what it takes, just to get to the Super Bowl. But this article kind of heads south, so i won’t bother.

    Apparently, according to what i just read, all it takes is losing (greater) talent than gained. And banking on a rookie draft class to get in position to win a Super Bowl.

    How does a rookie draft class get rated right after a draft. Haven’t we learned anything? “……… and a draft that many rate as one of Green Bay’s best in a decade or more…”

    The simplicity of some peoples thought process is entertaining (and sad), as they try to con themselves to think their team is on the verge of winning the Super Bowl.

    This teams needs a lot more than signing two players to replace the 8 we lost. Also, signing an additional 2 aged veterans whose better days are clearly behind them, is not exactly copying the Bronco’s “all-in” blueprint.

    I’m sure Ted appreciates the fact you think it’s commendable he went “all-in.” That’s one person on Ted’s side.

    The difference between you and i is your trying to convince yourself the Packers will reach the promised land in the 7th season, post Super Bowl. I’m just waiting for the circus act to fold up the tent and leave town. Time will tell who is right, but i have history on on my side.

  4. Cheese

    “Many fans believe that 2017 could be the year to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay.”
    -People say this EVERY YEAR, even Vegas. It means absolutely nothing.

    “Ted Thompson and the rest of Green Bay’s front office certainly copied the Broncos in many ways this spring. They went out and acquired a number of veteran NFL players from other teams.”
    -You mean they finally acquired free agents like every other team in the league? Masterplan! Super Bowl Bound!

    “Inside linebacker looks to be the Achilles’ heel of the 2017 Packers.”
    -Name a season when inside linebacker wasn’t an achilles heel

    “the Packers gave Ricky Jean Francois a one-year deal with a cap hit of $2 million. Then in late April, in another one-year deal, they added Jahri Evans, at a cap hit of $2.25 million.
    I believe this is strong evidence that the Packers – quietly but purposefully – have indeed gone all-in to produce the ultimate winner in the upcoming season.”
    -Signing two middle of the road, over the hill veterans to one year deals is considered going all in to produce the ultimate winner? Drugs are bad, Mmmkay.

  5. GBORNBRED

    Vegas currently has the Packers as 10/1 odds to win the Super Bowl, which is 3rd behind New England (3/1) and Dallas (8/1). However, I have to agree with the above comments from PF4L and Cheese, who have both pretty much stolen my thunder on this topic. I will say that the one perplexing thing is the fact that Darrelle Revis is still on the market. Cornerback is still a glaring need for this team, and you cannot expect Kevin King to be the answer in his rookie campaign. Revis would provide veteran leadership to a defensive backfield that desperately needs it, but now the aforementioned Dallas Cowgirls are rumored to be recruiting him. Ole Uncle Ted also decided to pass on some decent Running Backs and Edge Rushers that were also on the free agency market. I can understand passing on some of the available Edge Rushers such as Melvin Ingram, who got some crazy a$$ money to resign with the Chargers this weekend, but Running Backs can be acquired for next to nothing. Now the Packers are going to have to go with a converted WR (still wearing #88 as a starting RB, which I’ll never get over) and a slew of unproven rookies in the backfield. Finally, the complete disregard that Ted has for the Offensive Line by letting Josh Sitton and TJ Lang walk in free agency in back-to-back years is disgraceful, especially when the protection of your future Hall of Fame QB should be a top priority.

    • Packers fan

      While I think King will be solid, the jury is still out on Randall and Rollins. We also need the 2015 version of Davon House to show up as well. Not the 2016 version. And hopefully Randall bounces back like Adams did. I would love to sign Revis or trade for Sherman but we rarely do that stuff. The pass rush is what I am more concerned about, especially the inside linebacker position that has been the achilles heal for years. Without a pass rush, it doesn’t matter who is in the secondary. The oline was fine even without Sitton and Evans should make sure Barclay doesn’t play. I mean at least Evans is a proven veteran, unlike Barclay. I expect the same this year for the o-line.

  6. GBORNBRED

    Correction to my above post: Sitton was cut by Ted last year, which is even more disgraceful, but I digress.

  7. Kato

    Well, I will start by saying if the packers don’t win the Lombardi this year, it likely won’t be because of ILB play. To me, as I watch this defense, the defensive line has been the biggest issue the past couple years (last tied with the CBs). I also think it is more likely that the offensive line could be more responsible for a playoff loss than ILBs.

    If this team had resigned Lang, I would feel a bit better about their chances, as well as another OLB to rotate in as a situational pass rusher.

    • Kato:
      Have had a hard time commenting on this subject because of service. You know what I think of the D-line play. Just an example. The Broncos had 18 sacks by their D line in 2015. The Packers in 2010 had 18+ sacks by their D-line. 2016 Packers had 6. Could be slightly higher depending on how many you give to Peppers as a D-lineman.Bottom line the Packer D is no were near the Broncos.

      The good news is Manning was on his last leg in 2015. Showing how important defense is. Rodgers is still quality. I do worry about the interior o line and running backs in pass pro.

      This Packer defense needs to improve considerable to get to were they want to be. The improvement needs to be in play and the aggressiveness of play calls. Maybe the players will improve. They need to prove it on the field before I believe. You can say Wade Phillips is not a good head coach, but he is a damn good D coordinator who allows his players to be aggressive including the D lineman.

    • Packers fan

      MMTTDCSUCK another problem is that Ted drafts players from UCLA. Thats another Ted problem. The players we drafted there were busts and currently the jury is still out on Clark.

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