It’s been a pretty surreal preseason – even by GM Ted Thompson’s standards. He waits to add depth to the defensive line by announcing the signing of defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou on August 21, and now he’s finally decided to add some depth to the outside linebacker group.
Even fairly casual fans are well aware of how thin Green Bay is at outside linebacker. They also know that starters Clay Matthews and Nick Perry have long injury histories.
Nick Perry is hardly an established quarterback sacker. Though he had 11 sacks in 2016, in his first four years in the league he averaged only 3.1 sacks per season. Same story with tackles: 152 of them in five years, just 30.4 per year.
As for Matthews, not only is he injured a lot, but the serious shoulder injury he suffered last year might never fully heal. And while Perry’s stock is going up, Matthews’ is going down. After four great years from 2009 through 2012, he has only bettered 7.5 sacks once in the past four years, and he’s averaged fewer than six sacks the past two years.
And now we get news that Matthews is nursing another injury – it’s to the groin, which is one of those ailments that is often slow to heal and easy to re-injure.
The only two backups on the roster worth mentioning are Jayrone Elliott and Kyler Fackrell. Joseph Bonham laid out their shortcomings here just days ago. His conclusion: “If and when the Matthews and Perry go down, Elliott and Fackrell are next up. And so where does that leave the Packers?”
Even if rookie Vince Biegel were healthy, one would hardly expect a guy drafted at No. 108 in the fourth round to jump in and make a difference in his first year. But he’s not healthy, as he’s slowly recovering from foot surgery in early May. The speculation now is that he’ll go on the PUP list, in which case he’ll miss at least the first six games of the year. In addition to trying to practice with an injury that has been diagnosed as a Jones fracture, you might recall that Biegel also injured his hand and finished rookie camp wearing a protective cast.
So, the Packers knew all of the above info months ago, but waited until this week to find another outside linebacker. It just took Ted Thompson a while to put on his problem-solver cap.
His inaction led to the team courting veteran 49er Ahmad Brooks this week. After the deal looked to have fallen through, we now learn that the Packers just signed him up. The whole affair smacks of desperation by Green Bay’s player personnel gurus.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy with the signing. It at least suggests that the team really is trying to make this a Super Bowl season for Green Bay.
Brooks appears to be a solid and very consistent professional. He’s probably on the downside of his career at age 33, but in the past six years he’s never had fewer than six or more than 8.5 sacks. After being named second-team All-Pro in both 2012 and 2013, his slide, given his age, has been gradual.
Packers Passed on a Better Deal
On March 24, this correspondent asked: “(W)hat about returning Erik Walden to Green Bay?” Walden, a 6’2” 250-pounder, was with the Packers from 2010 through 2012. He has a Super Bowl ring to show for it.
As I argued then, the 10-year NFL veteran is durable and dependable. He also turned in the best performance of his career playing last year for the Colts: 42 tackles, 11 sacks, three forced fumbles. In the last six years, he’s only been under 42 tackles once, so he’s not just a sack specialist.
I concluded my pitch by saying: “The window of opportunity to bring back Erik Walden is open now, but won’t last forever.”
And it didn’t. Ted Thompson must have been napping for much of the spring and summer, because Walden was available for months, but wasn’t picked up until July 28 by the Titans.
There’s really not too much to differentiate Walden from Brooks. Walden is a year younger, both are big and strong, have similar stats, and have stayed relatively healthy over the last several years.
There is at least one notable difference, however. Walden, who also signed a one-year deal, is getting about $2.75 million, while Brooks’ deal is reportedly for up to $5 million. So, add that to Clay’s $13.8 million and Perry’s $11.8 million average salaries and it starts adding up to real money.
By procrastinating for months, Thompson assures that Brooks will get little more than a week with his new teammates before the season starts. Had they signed Walden or someone else a couple months ago, he’d have a full Packers’ training camp under his belt and be ready to go. With the Packers’ most difficult games coming in the first part of the season, maybe just a tad of criticism might be in order?
But this is what Packers fans have come to expect. it’s just another chapter in the Ted Thompson version of “The Art of the Deal.”