Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The lone ranger of football: the draft

OK, admittedly, it's been a little while since yours truly posted. But I have been making semi-regular Tweets and re-Tweets. So if you aren't following on Twitter (@packfansunited) then you aren't up to speed. Exactly what speed that is is debatable, but I digress...

It's also obvious it's been a while by just looking at that headline; a bit of a stretch to broach the subject of the upcoming NFL Draft. That's really about all there is to talk about at the moment, as the ongoing talks between the NFL owners and players are still at a standoff. There's no signing or re-signing, no trades or OTAs.


So, where do things stand in terms of the draft as regards the Packers? Well, GM Ted Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy and other player personnel staff have been busy evaluating prospective draftees, of course. And keeping things close to the vest, which is Thompson's way. A way that has worked out pretty well for the Pack.

Of course, mock draft boards, sports writers and just average shmoes like us are all starting to get into a bit of an early lather as to what the Packers might do with the 32nd and last pick of the 1st round. It's commonly thought by some that the Packers will probably go for either defensive or offensive line help first. Others make a convincing argument that, despite a seemingly deep linebacking corps, the Packers might actually spring for a play-making outside linebacker to bookend Clay Matthews. Believe it or not, some folks even think the Pack will look for a wide receiver in the 1st round, despite arguably having the best set of receivers in the league. Oh, a running back has also been part of the predictions. Why not?

One thing is a certainty, though: Ted Thompson's modus operandi in the draft is to take the best player available regardless of need. And ya know, when that Aaron Rodgers guy fell into the Packers lap a few years back and, despite not needing a quarterback, he was the best player at that pick, Thompson grabbed him. All together now: "Thank you, Ted!!!".

Here's another certainty: none of us folks on the outside have a clue as to how Ted and his guys are setting up their draft board in terms of those player rankings. We do know that, while the exception, if Thompson wants a certain player bad enough he will make a move to get him. Whether there is any player in the 1st round that Thompson would move up to get is a whole other question. He could very well, as in years past, trade down in order to get additional picks.

But let's just assume for the sake of conversation that the Packers hold on to their 32nd pick. Who are the names that seem to be surfacing? As a service to our readers -- that's what we're all about here, folks, service -- we've compiled an early list of some of the names that keep popping up on mock drafts.
Is that enough to get your juices flowing, Packer fans? Lots of stuff to chew on there. And that's just the 1st round! We'll get into later round fun...well...later.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The no-show draft show and other bits 'n' pieces

Fans of the Green Bay Packers and the other 31 NFL teams are now in post-players association decertification mode: wondering what the heck is going on, and when pro football will next be played. It's still amazing to the average fan that adults can't figure out how to divy up $9 billion in a way that makes everyone happy.

In the meantime, the teams themselves and the players are making their own adjustments. Teams have no on-site workouts or any other contact or work with their players. Players are on their own, not only for physical conditioning but also for their own health insurance right now. Things the rest of us probably think about more than they do. Although when you have Chad Ochocinco -- and why shouldn't this surprise us? -- reportedly saying that without his $11 million he doesn't know how he's going to put food on his family's table, well, you know there are...issues with dealing with reality. But at least he's not just laying around; he's got a four-day tryout set up with the Kansas City Major League Soccer team. Good luck with that.

For the Packers, they themselves and various sports pundits say that actually this time may benefit the Pack as much as any team. Because of the extended season running through the playoffs and Super Bowl, getting this extra break, from a player's perspective, provides much needed rest before getting back into the grind of team workouts, and so on. It will also give coaches and other staff a breather to re-focus their energies on the needs for the upcoming season, which will all be keyed to repeating as Super Bowl champs.

Back to the real reality...draft dichotomy

The teams are also making whatever internal adjustments they need to make to preserve their financial resources just in case things get nuts, as George Costanza might say. Packers management is set to take reduced salaries. Layoffs, which some other teams may or will have to make, are not part of the plan for the Packers at this point.

Teams are also continuing to prepare for next month's NFL Draft. The scouting combine was held, players and colleges are holding their own "pro days" for prospective players to showcase their talents for NFL GMs and coaches, and draft boards are being prepared.

The players, now operating as a trade association instead of a union, are preparing their own version of the draft, however. As noted in this blog last week, there were rumors that the players association might try to somehow disrupt or prevent the draft from taking place. The latest news is that the association is trying to get the top draft prospects -- those who would normally be on hand to walk across the stage as their names are called, etc. during the first round -- to attend an alternate draft affair. Details on that are sketchy at this point. And it is something which some current players aren't all that enthused about, saying that college players work hard for their moment in the limelight that comes with the draft...the real draft. Plus, these college players, until they are actually signed to a contract, are not part of either a players' union or a trade association. So what's in it for them? Will be interesting to see how the players association tries to work these young prospects into picking a side before they are even on a side.

Kickoff changes discussed

According to reports today, the NFL's competition committee is discussing the idea of having kickoffs moved back to the 35-yard line (where they were until recently). In and of itself, nothing too shocking about that. It will result in more touchbacks. Which brings up the new idea: touchbacks go the 25-yard line instead of the 20. Data apparently showed, among other things, that the average starting point for most returns was just past the 26. So getting a touchback to the 25 isn't a bad option. Especially for a team like the Packers who hasn't had a solid kick return game in this century (that sounds a bit odd, but we're now 11 years in!). There are also discussions about eliminating all wedge type blocking.

Taken as a whole, the combination of these ideas and others seem to point to a rising concern by the league about player injuries. Special teams' players have always been the kamikaze units of football, and injuries are a common occurrence. By instituting these changes, perhaps players will have a chance of staying healthier longer.

Stay tuned for future developments, Packer fans. It's going to be an interesting time over the next weeks and months. We'll be offering some draft commentary as we start getting closer to that April weekend. Players are moving up and down mock draft boards at the moment. The Packers, of course, have the pick every team wants, #32, the last of the first round...because that means you are the Super Bowl Champions!

Friday, March 11, 2011

What a week!

As I write this, ESPN is announcing that the NFL Players Association has just decertified. And so, the negotiations between the NFL owners and players now goes to the courts. The NFLPA is dissolved and the union no longer exists; it is now a trade association. Players can individually file antitrust lawsuits. If the NFL locks out players, players can file lawsuits to block the lockouts. Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are expected to be among the lead plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the league. Basically, nothing can happen business-wise with players who are currently in the league once this hits the courts. The NFL Draft supposedly can take place as usual because those players are obviously not yet in the NFL, although I heard one report indicate that, depending upon how the judge rules, the Draft could be out the window, too.

So, after a week's extension of time to negotiate...nada. Now it's gonna get nasty. There's a lockout coming, Packer fans. Just a matter of how long it will last.

Hard to image that these folks can't figure out how to negotiate a win-win situation when there's $9 billion-plus to be had. Can you say "greed"? Even kids learn that it's good to share. These folks must have missed that day in kindergarten.

Other happenings

Head coach Mike McCarthy's contract extension was finalized. He and GM Ted Thompson will be leading the Green Bay Packers' field deployment through 2015 (if memory serves). Both are being rewarded well for bringing the Lombardi Trophy home to Titletown.

The Packers put some tenders on a few players: James Jones, Daryn Colledge, Atari Bigby and John Kuhn (am I missing anyone?). Basically, they are more defensive maneauvers than anything, especially since the entire collective bargaining deal with the NFL Players Association is out the one knows at this point now whether these players will be restricted or unrestricted free agents as there is now no collective bargaining agreement that defines that.

LB Nick Barnett may be the odd man out of the inside linebackers (interesting grammatical construction there but I think you get the drift). Coach McCarthy told reporters that A. J. Hawk (recently re-signed to a new big dollar deal) and Desmond Bishop (big deal signed before end of the season) are his starting inside linebackers. Barnett, coming off his second season-ending injury in the last three seasons, may or may not be back with the Pack if and when football is next played. Consensus among fans, if you can gauge such things from the comments about the various stories and scenarios related to this topic, seems to be that Barnett will be gone and the Packers will be looking to pick up new and younger and healthier linebacker help in the upcoming draft.

Natural and man-made disasters

We awoke this morning to the sad and terrible news of the earthquake (now quakes) in Japan and the ensuing tsunami which has killed hundreds of people and destroyed much property in Japan. A damaged nuclear reactor is also in the mix and is a major concern not only within Japan but from a global perspective. We need to keep the people of Japan and other affected areas in our thoughts and prayers. If you wish to support relief efforts, text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or go here to donate online.

Finally, while it's a matter that I generally try to keep out of this blog, the happenings of the last weeks and days in the state of Wisconsin regarding the collective bargaining rights of public employees and the state budget came to a head when the governor, newly-elected Republican Scott Walker, signed into law this morning the bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature. Anyone who has tuned into any of the news shows -- or even Comedy Central's Daily Show and Colbert Report for that matter -- are aware of this matter. Regardless of one's political persuasion, this event has nationwide implications either positive or negative depending upon your view. The state senate majority leader told Fox News the real reason for banning these collective bargaining rights; you can view the video and decide for yourself whether it was about the state budget or something else. Events are scheduled at the Wisconsin state capitol building in Madison for Saturday, March 12. But unscheduled events are just as likely to occur for a long time to come.

For a current list of events in Madison and around the state in support of workers' rights, see here. You can also take a stand for workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere where rights are similarly threatened by going here. And if you use Twitter -- to follow this blog at @packfasnunited no doubt! -- you can see all the various posts related to this situation by using the #wiunion hashtag.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Update: Packers to re-sign A. J. Hawk

WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee is reporting that the Green Bay Packers will re-sign LB A. J. Hawk to a new five-year deal on Thursday, Mar. 3. The report says that Hawk is flying back to Green Bay to finalize the deal, terms of which have not yet been disclosed.

Hawk was released earlier today, along with TE Donald Lee and S Derrick Martin. As reported then, it was only a matter of time before the deal would be done. There was some thought Hawk might wish to test free agency. Apparently, no need. He loves Green Bay and the Packers want him back in the fold before the current collective bargaining agreement expires.

See here for more.

Great job, Pack...and congratulations Mr. Hawk. Glad to have you back. Seemed like were gone.

Packers release Hawk, Lee and Martin

Making business moves like many other teams prior to the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association, the Green Bay Packers today released LB A. J. Hawk, TE Donald Lee and S Derrick Martin. Lee and Martin will not be back. Hawk likely will be.

It's clear the Packers want Hawk on the team going forward. He had arguably his best season this past year. After effectively being benched for the opening game against the Eagles, Hawk played an increasingly important role as the season went on. After fellow linebacker Nick Barnett was lost to season-ending injury for the second time in the last three years, Hawk became the defensive play caller, relaying the calls from defensive coordinator Dom Capers to the rest of the squad; when those calls came in late or were cut off (via a system similar to that in the quarterback's helmet), Hawk had to make the call himself. He also came up big in the playoffs and Super Bowl. Head coach Mike McCarthy has praised Hawk's consistency and calm presence both on the field and in the locker room.

So why release him when he still had a year left on his contract? There are 10 million reasons, as in dollars. Hawk was scheduled to be due $10 million this coming season. As one commentator noted, that's beginning to approach starting quarterback money. There was no way the Packers were going to pay it, and that came as no surprise to Hawk. The team and his representatives have apparently been trying to get a deal worked out ahead of the deadline but the sides were apparently too far apart. Hawk may test free agency, whenever that kicks in given the current circumstances. But he wants to be in Green Bay and the Packers want him there, too. Expect a deal to be worked out. Sometime.

You can read more about all this here.