- After spending 12 years with the 49ers, including the past four as their director of college scouting, Matt Malaspina took a job as a college scout with the Packers on Friday, per Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. In doing so, Malaspina became the second front office member to leave the San Francisco organization this week. The 49ers and assistant general manager Tom Gamble parted ways Wednesday.
The NFL announced that they have awarded a total of 32 compensatory picks to 16 different teams. Compensatory draft picks are given to clubs who lose more or better compensatory free agents (CFAs) than it acquires in the previous year. Those picks are slotted within the third through seventh rounds based on the value of the free agents lost.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that there are no more than 32 compensatory picks granted each year. Due to that wrinkle, the Rams (one pick), Packers (one pick), Steelers (two picks), and Cardinals (three picks) will not receive those picks in accordance with the formula. Each of those four clubs will receive compensatory selections for other CFAs lost whose final numerical values ranked within the top 32.
This year, there is one notable change to the compensatory draft selection rules: teams can now trade those picks.
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Pending free agent Julius Peppers “appears to be done” with the Packers, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. Peppers has declined to address retirement in the past, so although Demovsky’s report likely means Peppers won’t re-sign with Green Bay, Peppers may look to continue his career elsewhere.
Peppers, 37, wrapped up another productive season with the Packers, as he appeared in all 16 games, posted 7.5 sacks, and graded as the league’s No. 35 edge defender, per Pro Football Focus. A rare external signing by Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson, Peppers has delivered on his three-year, $26MM deal by racking up 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, and 14 passes defensed during his time with the Packers. Peppers, who ranks fifth all-time with 143.5 quarterback takedowns, was coy when asked about retirement late last year.
“I’m not saying that I don’t want to play next year,” said Peppers. “I’m not saying that I do. I’m just saying that right now I don’t know.”
If he does reach the free agent market, Peppers will join a group of available edge players that includes Chandler Jones (who is likely to be franchised), Melvin Ingram, Jason Pierre-Paul, fellow Packer Nick Perry, James Harrison, Jabaal Sheard, and others.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Packers have a decision to make on pending free agent defensive back Micah Hyde, who could seek $4MM-plus per year on his next contract, writes Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. Hyde, who’s coming off an 11-start, three-interception season, has been with the Packers since they selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. If Hyde moves on, Green Bay could turn to Kentrell Brice and Marwin Evans, Demovsky suggests. Elsewhere in the secondary, the team will either extend safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or exercise his fifth-year option for 2018, as Demovsky opines that the Pro Bowler could be general manager Ted Thompson‘s best first-round pick since he chose Aaron Rodgers in 2005. Clinton-Dix made a strong case for that honor as a third-year pro in 2016, when he played every defensive snap for the Packers and picked off five passes.
The Packers could be more aggressive than usual in free agency this year, but one of their best players, guard T.J. Lang, might not be among the beneficiaries of their spending. With the market set to open in less than a month, Lang told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday that he “hasn’t heard a word” from the Packers and is preparing to explore his options around the NFL (via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com).
“If Green Bay calls and we can get something done, that would be awesome,” said Lang. “But if not, I’m sitting a good spot here, too, coming off a pretty solid year and making my first Pro Bowl, which was a great honor. It’s been so long since I was in this position to choose who I want to play for, since college when I picked Eastern Michigan.”
Lang underwent hip surgery after the Packers’ loss to the Falcons in the NFC title game – a contest in which he was carted off the field – but he classifies it as a “pretty common procedure” that shouldn’t hurt his earning power. While injuries did keep the 29-year-old out of three games in 2016, he has otherwise made no fewer than 15 regular-season appearances since 2010. Dating back to 2011, his first year as a No. 1, Lang has started in all 91 of his appearances.
Despite his track record of durability and productivity (he ranked eighth among Pro Football Focus’ 72 qualified guards last season), Lang could go the way of fellow guard and ex-teammate Josh Sitton and leave Green Bay. The Packers surprisingly released Sitton, who’s now with the NFC North rival Bears, prior to Week 1 last year, and they subsequently didn’t engage in extension talks with Lang during the season. Thus, general manager Ted Thompson could be primed to use the club’s $40MM-plus in cap space on other players.
Barring a 180 from the Packers, Lang will reach the market March 9, when he’s slated to join the Bengals’ Kevin Zeitler and the Cowboys’ Ronald Leary atop this year’s class of unsigned guards. PFR’s Zach Links placed Lang just outside the top 10 of all pending free agents in his latest rankings.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- It will be tempting for the Packers to let Eddie Lacy walk in free agency, but as Pete Dougherty of USA Today writes, one agent expects Lacy to get no more than a one-year, $2MM pact on the open market. Even if such a contract were loaded with incentives, it would still represent a small risk for Green Bay with the potential for a high reward, and Dougherty believes the team should make that gamble.
The Packers have released veteran cornerback Sam Shields with a “failed physical” designation, per a team announcement.
The release of Shields doesn’t come as a complete surprise, as the 29-year-old struggled to stay on the field during the 2016 campaign, ultimately only playing in a single game (the season opener). A concussion sidelined him for the remainder of the year, and Packers doctors never cleared him after that. Still, despite suffering two major head injuries in a nine-month span, Shields has maintained that he has no plans to retire.
Shields, who served as Green Bay’s No. 1 corner for a three-year stretch, agreed to forgo free agency in 2014 by agreeing to a four-year, $39MM deal. Although he made it through 75% of that contract, Shields won’t see the final season, as the Packers will save $9MM in salary cap space by cutting him. The club will also incur $3.125MM in dead money by parting ways with Shields.
A former undrafted free agent, Shields spent seven years with Green Bay, starting 62 games and racking up 18 interceptions during that span. The 2014 Pro Bowler will now hit the free agent market for the first time in his career, and he’ll face stiff positional competition. Other cornerbacks available on the open market this offseason include A.J. Bouye, Trumaine Johnson, Stephon Gilmore, and Dre Kirkpatrick, among others.
The Packers have now cleared roughly $12MM in the past two days by releasing Shields and running back James Starks, and could invest some of that savings in free agency, as the club is reportedly open to delving into the market for the first time in years.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk first reported Shields’ release. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Packers are expected to target cornerbacks in the draft and free agency, one source told Pauline in a separate post, adding Green Bay will look to acquire “lots” of defensive backs. After fielding an abysmal pass defense in 2016, and releasing veteran Sam Shields earlier today, the Packers could look for a new defender in the first round of the draft, or target help on the open market.
The Packers have cut running back James Starks, according to the league’s official transactions wire. Starks’ release comes under the non-football injury designation. The running back finished the season in concussion protocol following a car accident and that’s presumably the driving force behind the NFI tag.
The Packers were without starter Eddie Lacy for much of the season and a good chunk of Starks’ absence overlapped with that period. The injuries forced Green Bay to get creative in the backfield, turning to wide receiver Ty Montgomery as a ball carrier. The Packers also had former Chiefs running back Knile Davis on the roster for a cup of coffee, but he did not do much in his brief time there.
All in all, Starks finished the season with 145 yards off of 63 carries plus 19 catches for 134 yards and two scores. The 2.3 yards-per-carry average stands as the worst of his career.
Starks will turn 31 on Feb. 25 – a very advanced age for any tailback – so it remains to be seen how much interest he’ll encounter once he’s healthy. It’s also possible that he considers retirement after a productive seven-year career which includes one Super Bowl ring. If the Packers bring him back, it will almost certainly be at a lower rate than the $3MM he was slated to make in ’17.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.