Team: Green Bay Packers

NFC North Notes: Cutler, Bears, Packers

After inking a massive contract extension in January, Jay Cutler heads into the 2014 season having never been in a better position to succeed, according to Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times. Cutler’s deal has been described as one where the team is paying for what they expect from him in the future rather than what he’s accomplished in the past, so 2014 will be the signal-caller’s first opportunity to prove that the Bears were right to commit to him.

Let’s round up a few other Monday morning links from around the NFC North….

  • While the loss of Johnathan Franklin to a career-ending injury is an immense disappointment for both the player and team, running back is still an area of strength for the Packers, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, noting that DuJuan Harris and the re-signed James Starks provide “uncommon depth” behind Eddie Lacy.
  • Jordy Nelson is an extension candidate, but for now, his contract remains the most team-friendly on the Packers‘ books, in the estimation of Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap. Fitzgerald identifies Sam Shields‘ new four-year deal as the least team-friendly contract for Green Bay, arguing that nearly every aspect of the agreement favors the cornerback rather than the club.
  • ESPN.com’s team of beat writers has projected the 53-man rosters for each NFL squad, including the Vikings, Lions, and Bears, courtesy of Ben Goessling, Michael Rothstein, and Michael C. Wright, respectively.

Sunday Roundup: Mauga, Peppers, AFC North

More and more beat writers are providing season previews, roster breakdowns, position battles, etc. as training opens (for one team, at least) in just a few hours. So let’s have a look at some links from around the league:

NFC Mailbags: Giants, Redskins, Packers, Rams

It’s Saturday, and that means ESPN.com’s NFL writers are opening up their mailbags and answering questions from readers. Let’s check out some interesting tidbits from the NFC…

NFC North Notes: Packers, Bears, Vikings

The injury-related retirement of Packers running back Jonathan Franklin means there are third-down snaps to be had, writes ESPN Wisconsin’s Jason Wilde in a position preview. If/when Eddie Lacy is off the field, the leading candidates are DuJuan Harris — if he can show improvement in blitz pickup — and “old reliable” fullback John Kuhn.

Here’s a few more NFC North links:

  • The Packers’ run defense fell off significantly last season, and the team made a concerted effort to get younger and more athletic along the defensive line. In fact, 28-year-old B.J. Raji is now the “old man of the line.” In the spotlight, however, is 2013 first-rounder Datone Jones, whom Press-Gazette’s Pete Dougherty calls a “critical player for meaningful improvement.” Jones sustained a sprained ankle in the preseason opener and didn’t get healthy until the end of the season. The team expects Jones to step up his game this season, as he will have significantly more responsibility than his niche role as an inside, sub-package rusher last year.
  • The Bears, who were even worse than the Packers against the run last season, also expect to have a better defensive front in 2014. A healthy Jay Ratliff is one of the reasons why. The veteran defensive tackle is 33, but is 100 percent healthy now, according to ESPN’s Michael C. Wright, who shared a text message he received from a Bears employee: “It helps that we signed Rat. He’s a soldier if healthy!” If that’s the case, it will be a coup for the Bears, who scooped up Ratliff in November for a late-season look-see after he was released by the Cowboys. Encouraged by Ratliff’s health, the Bears retained him on a team-friendly, two-year deal, expecting him to provide disruption from the three-technique.
  • Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times identified the Bears’ 10 most important players, including defensive lineman Lamarr Houston, whom the Bears see as a “star in the making.”
  • Bears head coach Marc Trestman sat down with the Chicago Tribune’s Dan Wiederer for an extensive one-on-one interview in which Trestman touched on a variety of topics, including Jay Cutler, Jared Allen, locker-room culture and leadership, among other things.
  • Vikings fourth-year tight end Kyle Rudolph, who shed 15 pounds this offseason, believes he’s an improved route runner thanks to new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, writes ESPN’s Ben Goessling.

NFC Notes: 49ers, Suh, Eagles, Packers

Commissioner Roger Goodell raised the idea of the 49ers and the Raiders possibly sharing Levi’s Stadium but one reader reminded Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News that such a plan would probably be unrealistic. The personal seat licenses that 49ers fans had to pay into entitles them to first dibs on events at the stadium, which certainly wouldn’t fly with the Raiders or their fans. Here’s more out of the NFC..

  • Now that agent Jimmy Sexton has finished negotiating Jimmy Graham’s deal with the Saints, he can concentrate fully on a new deal for his other high-profile client, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press writes. Of course, that’s assuming the two sides want to hammer out a new contract. Earlier this week, Justin Rogers of MLive.com wrote that Detroit still wants to work out an extension with Suh this offseason and suggested that a five-year, $63MM deal could make sense.
  • John Clayton of ESPN.com looks at ten under-the-radar camp battles going on, including the Eagles‘ logjam at outside linebacker. Brandon Graham, a former first-round pick from the Andy Reid era, could be on the outside looking in when all is said and done.
  • Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com takes a crack at predicting the Packers‘ 53-man roster. Demovsky projects tight ends Richard Rodgers, Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, and Ryan Taylor to make the roster, but undrafted rookie Colt Lyeria is a wild card that could shake things up. McCarthy has also carried five TEs in the past.
  • Some people have questioned whether Falcons rookie Jake Matthews has the physical strength to succeed at the next level, but his father Bruce Matthews isn’t concerned in the least, writes Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “Floyd Reese, he was our GM when I was with the Tennessee Titans,” the elder Matthews explained, “and we drafted a guy — it might have been my last year — and Floyd goes, ‘This kid bench-presses like 700 pounds.’ And I go, ‘Damn, it’s a shame you can’t play with a bench on your back.’”

NFC Notes: Finley, Graham, Giants, Bucs

Free agent tight end Jermichael Finley met with Packers team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie today to go over his most recent MRI scans and to talk about where he stands medically as he continues his effort to resume his NFL career, writes ESPNWisconsin.com’s Jason Wilde. A source told Wilde that there was nothing imminent between Finley and the Packers, but the team continues to monitor his health situation. Another source said that the Packers will have interest in signing Finley if Dr. McKenzie gives it the green light. More from the NFC..

  • Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk has the full contract details on Jimmy Graham‘s new pact with the Saints. While many NFL contracts have inflated numbers, Graham really will earn $10MM per year over four years if he plays out the full deal. Graham’s signing bonus is $12 million and his total guarantee is $20.9MM. Graham would get $21MM if he only plays two years of the deal and $30MM if he plays three years of the deal.
  • The Giants doled out more than $100MM in player contracts this offseason. Owner John Mara says we shouldn’t get used to it. “It’s not going to happen every year,” Mara said, according to Ebenezer Samuel of the Daily News. “We’re not going to have that kind of cap room every year. And listen: If you’re that aggressive every year, there’s something wrong with your organization. But you have to do it every once in awhile.”
  • Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com plays fact or fiction with the Buccaneers‘ offense. First up: Is Josh McCown a good enough quarterback to take the Bucs to the playoffs? Yasinskas says yes, but not necessarily out of confidence in the veteran. The former Bears QB doesn’t have to be spectacular for the Bucs to get to the playoffs, he argues, but merely steady.

NFC North Notes: Packers, Finley, Lions

Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com runs down the Packers‘ situation at wide receiver. Sederrick Cunningham and longtime mainstay James Jones are gone and Green Bay will be turning to rookies Davante Adams (second-round pick), Jared Abbrederis (fifth-round pick), and Jeff Janis (seventh-round pick) to support Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin et al. More from the NFC North..

  • Agent Blake Baratz says client Jermichael Finley is facing a choice between a $10MM no-tax disability policy or returning to football, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk says that’s not entirely accurate. The former Packers tight end has gotten multiple offers from the Steelers but claims that the deal isn’t lucrative enough for him.
  • The Lions signed running back George Winn earlier today and cut guard D.J. Morrell, tweets Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. Morrell, a UDFA out of Old Dominion, was praised in scouting reports for his size and work ethic.
  • ESPN.com’s Michael Wright says that the Bears‘ addition of longtime Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson should add some much-needed competition at the position during training camp. Wilson is in his mid-30s and coming off a major injury, but he also isn’t far removed from his most recent Pro Bowl season (2011), so it’s reasonable to think the former third-round pick could contribute if he’s healthy.

NFC Links: White, Packers, Cowboys, Giants

After watching the division-rival Saints lock up one of their longtime pass catchers earlier today, the Falcons would be wise to do the same with one of their own veterans, according to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, who suggests the time is right for a Roddy White extension. White is coming off a down year in which he battled injuries for much of the season, but he hopes to play three or four more years and wants to retire as a Falcon, so signing him to a new deal with $8-10MM in guaranteed money seems reasonable, says McClure.

Here’s more from around the NFC:

  • Johnathan Franklin‘s unexpected retirement due to injury could open up a spot in the Packers‘ backfield for a handful of roster hopefuls, writes Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.
  • Former Cowboys second-round pick Bruce Carter isn’t necessarily viewed as the core piece he once was, but he could regain value with a big contract year, writes Todd Archer of ESPN.com.
  • In a separate ESPN.com piece, Archer examines the Cowboys‘ depth chart at safety, suggesting that adding a veteran to what appears to be a thin group is a possibility for the team.
  • Several jobs should be up for grabs for the Giants in training camp over the next few weeks, says Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News, identifying tight end, left tackle, fullback, and second receiver as some spots where competitions could play out.

Monday Roundup: Finley, Young, Big Ben

Free agent tight end Jermichael Finley, who has been medically cleared to play by his own doctor, said he will undergo another series of medical tests on Wednesday and will send the results of those tests to all 32 clubs in an effort to convince them that he is fully healthy, writes Tom Pelissero of USA Today. Finley has stated that he would like to return to the Packers, and that he certainly wants to continue playing rather than collect the $10MM insurance policy he would receive if he retired from the game.

However, he has also demonstrated that he will be patient as he waits for the right deal. The Steelers‘ team neurosurgeon, Dr. Joseph Maroon, performed Finley’s vertebrae fusion in November and declared him fit to play a few months later. Pittsburgh subsequently made several contract offers, according to Finley, but none of those offers were financially appealing enough for him. Pelissero believes that Finley ultimately will re-sign with Green Bay (Twitter link).

Now for some links from around the league to wind up this Monday evening:

  • In an increasingly sad and troubling narrative, former Lions receiver Titus Young was arrested in Los Angeles on July 9 for battery with serious bodily injury–a felony–and associated charges, writes David Leon Moore of The Detroit Free Press. The arrest took place one day before Young was to appear for a pre-trial conference in Newport Beach, California, where he faces 11 charges, four of which are felonies.
  • Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News writes that, on the heels of his strong finish to the 2013 campaign, Cowboys linebacker Kyle Wilber should find himself in a starting role and could be on the verge of a breakout season.
  • In a video clip, Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News looks at a few under-the-radar players on the Cowboys roster to keep an eye on, including undrafted finds Ben Malena and L’Damian Washington.
  • Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times writes that the Seahawks‘ backup quarterback competition is wide open, and Terrelle Pryor and Tarvaris Jackson will each get an extended opportunity to prove themselves in the preseason. However, both players could end up making the club, as Seattle carried three quarterbacks on its roster for a few weeks last season.
  • Time is running out for the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to reach an agreement on a contract extension, writes Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Roethlisberger has two years left on his current deal, but Florio believes he is underpaid by current standards. However, no progress has been reported on a possible extension–though that does not mean that progress has not been made–and the Steelers do not negotiate new contracts once the regular season begins.
  • Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson has limited leverage in trying to force a trade, as Adam Schefter, Louis Riddick, and Mark Brunell of ESPN explain (video link).
  • Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, tweets Gil Brandt of NFL.com. Scherff, a 280-pound quarterback in high school, has blossomed into a strong 6’4″, 320-pound force with Ndamukong Suh-type strength.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Offseason In Review: Green Bay Packers

Notable signings:

Notable losses:

Draft picks:

  • Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama (1.21): Signed
  • Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State (2.53): Signed
  • Khyri Thornton, DT, Southern Miss (3.85): Signed
  • Richard Rodgers, TE, California (3.98): Signed
  • Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State (4.121): Signed
  • Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State (5.161): Signed
  • Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin (5.176): Signed
  • Demetri Goodson, CB, Baylor (6.197): Signed
  • Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State (7.236): Signed

Other:

The Packers’ 2013 season was going smoothly until Week 9, when Aaron Rodgers sustained a broken collarbone. Including the ensuing loss to the Bears, the Packers proceeded to utterly collapse, going on a 2-5-1 stretch that featured a tie with a cellar-dwelling Vikings team. During the slide, Rodgers was replaced by the likes of Seneca Wallace, practice squad call-up Scott Tolzien, and Matt Flynn, whose career with the Packers had been interrupted by quick, subsequent stints with the Seahawks, Raiders, and Bills. A triumphant return from Rodgers in the team’s Week 17 matchup against the Bears culminated with the former MVP’s touchdown pass to Randall Cobb in the last minute of the game, which not only provided one of the most iconic plays of the 2013 season — it also sent the 8-7-1 Packers to the playoffs. A hard-luck Wild Card qualifier, the 12-4 49ers, traveled to Green Bay and narrowly defeated the Packers, sending them into the offseason with bright prospects for 2014.

On offense, Rodgers continued to solidify himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL while one of his receivers – Cobb – stepped into Greg Jennings‘ vacated spotlight and emerged as one of the league’s most special talents. Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and late-season revelation Jarrett Boykin rounded out one of the best receiving corps in the NFC. On the ground, rookie running back Eddie Lacy proved to be more than worth the second-round pick that the Packers spent on him last Spring. To add to the rushing attack, Lacy was effectively spelled by veteran James Starks.

Defensively, the team struggled after GM Ted Thompson had failed to address what many considered to be the team’s primary need during the 2013 offseason: a new safety. The unit performed poorly across the board, finishing 24th in pass defense and 25th in rush defense. The team’s once-feared multi-level tandem of B.J. Raji and A.J. Hawk were shadows of their former selves in Dom Capers‘ 3-4 base defense. Clearly, most of Green Bay’s needs heading into the 2014 offseason were on the defensive side of the ball.

Thompson’s defensive moves this offeason started with his decision to stand by Capers, instead making changes at the player level. Substantial help arrived for Capers’ unit via both free agency and the draft. Thompson went out and signed superstar defensive end Julius Peppers, who, despite being past his peak, still presents a significant threat along the line. As talented as he is, Peppers’ fit into the 3-4 – a formation he’s yet to encounter in the NFL – will be something to watch during the 2014 season.

In the draft, the Packers’ were delighted to have Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the consensus All-American safety from Alabama, fall to them at 21st overall in the first round. Clinton-Dix will look to step in and start immediately in a secondary that badly needed the help. The club also managed to re-sign by far the most valuable member of that secondary, cornerback Sam Shields, and added depth to the interior of the defensive line, retaining the fast-fading Raji and bringing Letroy Guion to back up Raji at nose tackle.

Offensively, the Packers made up ground in some areas and appeared to take steps backward in others. Although they lost Jones via free agency, the receiving corps was refurbished in the draft with wide receivers Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, and Jeff Janis, along with tight end Richard Rogers. This receiving-heavy rookie class has the potential to blossom into the next great generation of Packers’ pass catchers, who have benefited from the signal-calling of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Up front, Thompson raised several eyebrows by not re-signing center Evan Dietrich-Smith, who had been publicly endorsed by Rodgers heading into the offseason. Second-year center J.C. Tretter, who once played tight end at Cornell, will look to fill the void left by Dietrich-Smith. The Packers also received some big help along the o-line with the return of tackle Bryan Bulaga, who tore his ACL last August.

The Packers will head into the season as favorites to make the playoffs out of the NFC North. Any competent team led by Rodgers has the potential to win a Super Bowl. Throw in a potential juggernaut offensive cast around Rodgers and an improved, passable defense, and it’s easy to see why many consider the Packers to be one of the best teams in the NFC heading into the 2014 season. Because they must play the AFC East and NFC South, two relatively top-heavy divisions that will likely produce a few particularly tough match-ups, 12 wins and another NFC North title seems a fair prediction for the Packers.

Spotrac and Over The Cap were used in the creation of this post.