Tag Archives: Greg Jennings

2013 NFL Draft: Vikings Try Not To Over Think It

Thursday night in New York City the Minnesota Vikings made the most noise in what was billed as a pretty vanilla first round.

The Vikings brass got an unexpected surprise with their first pick, stuck with the script on a second pick, and made a big move for a third pick.

Floyd terrorized the SEC for three years, he will look to do the same in his new home in the NFC Norse Division.

Floyd terrorized the SEC for three years, he will look to do the same in his new home in the NFC Norse Division.

Defensive tackle Shariff Floyd was the big surprise of the evening. Mr. Floyd was supposed to be a top 5 pick. Then, after he did not go in the top 5, the draftniks were certain some team would get a great value in the middle of the first round. It was such a Pipe Dream that the Vikings would land him with their 23rd pick that we did not even think to include him in the Pipe Dream Category of our NFL Draft Preview. Somehow, the breaks went our way and he dropped all the way to us with the 23rd pick. You almost wonder if, when something like this happens, where a top pick starts to drop, if other GMs start to over think it. That crowd mentality where it is like, well, if they are not taking him, maybe there is something we missed in our evaluation. Supposedly, the knock on him is that he has short arms. Seriously, kid lost $10+ million last night because he has T-Rex arms. Talk about a bummer for him.

What is truly odd is that wingspan is really not that important of a measurable for a defensive lineman, particularly an interior lineman. It is more important that you have a strong base…check…quickness…check…and have strong hands…check. If you watch the highlights, Floyd does a great job of maintaining his gap presence and eating up blockers. Coming into college, he was a defensive end and that quickness is still there even though he plays inside now. Plus, he has a little nasty to him that all great defensive linemen need to have. And, that nastiness is only going to increase after more than two-thirds of the league passed on him in last night’s draft. Even though it was a bit of a no-brainer, the Vikings did not over think it and truly nailed this pick.

The Vikings hope that Xavier Rhodes can step in and be Antoine's replacement on the edge.

The Vikings hope that Xavier Rhodes can step in and be Antoine’s replacement on the edge.

With their second pick in the first round, the Vikings stuck to their script and selected Xavier Rhodes, a defensive back from Florida State who was also supposed to have been drafted. This former wide receiver plays with a chip on his shoulder. He is very strong against the run and should be a perfect fit in the Vikings Cover 2 system. With his size and ball skills, he should be a very good Antoine replacement, if not something more.

Rhodes is still a bit slow in recognizing routes and jumping plays, though the Vikings Cover 2 should help him in that regard. Plus, he is very strong against the run, can blitz off the corner with the best of them, and should only improve his coverage skills. Following Antoine’s departure, the Vikings’ foolishly thin secondary, I think Orlando Thomas was on the depth chart somewhere, needed a boost. So, it was not a shock that the Vikings selected Rhodes. And clearly the Vikings believed that corner back was a bigger position of need than ILB. Particularly with SEC stud and BR-favorite Alec Ogletree still on the board at 25, the move to get a corner back might be a little controversial. But, shoring up the secondary was deemed the greater priority, so that makes this the right choice.

It is the Vikings third pick of the first round that caused so much stir at the draft on Thursday night. For the second consecutive year, the Vikings traded back into the first round to take a player they wanted. Last year it Vikings moving back to draft All-Dude safety, Harrison Smith. The price for that move was their second and fourth round picks. This year, the big move was trading with New England and the Hoodie to take play maker Cordarelle Patterson. The price was the Vikings’ second, third, fourth, and seventh round picks.

Now, that may seem like a lot. In fact, it probably is a lot. But, the Vikings had 11 picks in this year’s draft. Trading four picks, even second and third round picks, for a guy that graded out as one of the top receivers in this draft, is not a bad deal. At worst, Patterson is a better than average return man and a change-of-pace wide receiver who makes explosive plays at or near the line of scrimmage. Think a Diet Percy Harvin. At best, he takes the role former played by Percy and runs with it. His height and jumping ability, which are ideal, make him more of a true wide receiver than Percy was, but he also has that burstability (patent pending) in small spaces.

The Vikings are hoping Jennings can put his Yoda mask on and impart his route running skills on the rookie Patterson. Beat the jam and a score a touchdown we will.

The Vikings are hoping Jennings can put his Yoda mask on and impart his route running skills on the rookie Patterson. Beat the jam and a score a touchdown we will.

The knock on Patterson is that he is not a great route-runner. This is where having a veteran like Greg Jennings is so critical. Jennings is one of the best in league at laying down tracks. And, he has already shown he is a solid teacher of that elite skill (see Cobb, Randall and Jones, James). If Patterson can learn from Jennings like Cobb and Jones did in Green Bay, watch out, this kid could be special.

Normally, this is the spot where we would preview the Day 2 action. However, because of the Vikings big move for Patterson, the Vikings do not currently possess a pick on Day 2. Though, as they have already shown, they are not afraid to make a move. Depending on what happens, I would not be surprised to see them package up their fourth, fifth, and a seventh round picks to get back into the 2nd or 3rd round. Particularly if they are as high on a guy like Te’o or the Honey Badger as the whispers around town suggest they are. Either way, if it is even half as fun as last night was, it should be a blast.

In Case Of Emergency, Break Glass, Hire A Packer

After the controversial trade of trouble-making wideout Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seachickens, things must have been getting tense at 9520 Viking Drive. Shortly after the Harvin trade, the Vikings brain trust watched available wide receivers Danny Amendola, Wes Welker, Brandon Gibson, and Anquan Boldin sign with or get traded to other teams. Prior to Friday, the Vikings number one wide receiver was Jerome Simpson. Yes, THAT Jerome Simpson. He of 26 receptions on 52 targets fame. Yikes.

On Friday night, the Minnesota Vikings announced that they agreed to terms with former Packer wide receiver, Greg Jennings. Across Minnesota, a collective sigh of relief could be heard.

Jennings is the perfect fit for the Vikings offense. Sure, he is a little old for a wide receiver, he has knocked out 29  birthdays to date, but he still possesses the qualities, great route running and steady hands, that the Vikings receiver corps has been missing since Cris Carter hung up his cleats and started whining talking professionally for ESPN.
Jennings is great route runner with steady hands in the mold of Cris Carter.

Jennings is great route runner with steady hands in the mold of Cris Carter.

And I know what you are thinking, wait a minute, Cris Carter?!? Are you forgetting about Troy Williamso…errrrr…Randy Moss. No. Moss was a great wide receiver, but he just flew down the field and took the ball away from opposing defensive backs with his other-worldly athleticism. Jennings is precise. He uses his route running and physicality to get open 5 to 20 yards down the field. This is perfect.

If Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder showed anything last year, it was a hand cannon for an arm. Just kidding, I wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. What Ponder showed was a propensity for making the right play when the down and distance was between 8 and 10 yards. His passer rating in those instances was nearly 100. Jennings thrives on those kinds of plays.
In 2011, when he was not dealing with a hamstring injury, Jennings caught only 8 passes more than 20 yards down field. That means 59 of his 67 receptions were for less than 20 yards. And, of that 59, 41 were for 10 yards or less. Right in Ponder’s wheelhouse.
The next time Vikings fans see Cheech, he will be lining up across from Chris Cook --- in a Seachicken jersey.

The next time Vikings fans see Cheech, he will be lining up across from Chris Cook — in a Seachicken jersey.

Jennings’s deal is for 5 years and $47.5 million, with $18 million guaranteed. That is $7.5 million less than the Seachickens just guaranteed former Viking Percy Harvin. On its face, the trade of Harvin for a mess of draft picks (2013 1st and 7th – 2014 3rd) and the signing of Jennings for $1.5 million less seems like a great outcome. Was it tense there — sure. Considering the next best free agent wideout was Laurent Robinson (yikes), the stress was merited. But, in case of emergency, the Vikings went with a tried and true approach.

Signing away Packer greats has worked before — think Sharper, Longwell, and, of course, Brett Favre. Getting Jennings make the Vikings a lot better than they were 48 hours ago. However, the current outcome assumes one big thing: that the Vikings could not have found a way to keep both Harvin and Jennings.
The ticket-buying public has no idea what happens behind the scenes with Percy. Because he was traded, we can assume there were some significant issues. Percy being Percy. On the field, he is one of the most talented players in the league. A receiving corps of him, Jennings, and the emerging Kyle Rudolph would have been very hard to stop — no matter how well the quarterback played.
Unfortunately, we will never know what would have happened had the Vikings paid both guys. The cap room was there, but — at least in Harvin’s case — the attitude was not. Moving forward, with the emergency in the rear view, the Vikings need to nail this year’s draft like they did last year. Another wide receiver (please be Keenan Allen) and a some additional help in the secondary would be welcome additions to a team that is at a crossroads. Either take the next step and become a contender or take two steps back to the bottom of the division.

Border Battle: Lots of Ugliness

While enduring an ugly game, we exchanged pleasantries analyzing what was a crucial game for both teams. The 103rd installment of this rivalry proved dramatic, while ugly.

Packers Roob: 

You ready to roll!?! Packers get ball to start. They are terrible this season on their first drive. It’d be huge to get some points to start fast!

TOUCHDOWN!!! Pack march down the field. Jones posterizes Jefferson with a sick TD grab! Two notes: JMike caught the first pass his way – can’t be a good omen for Vikings fans – and the Packers had a semblance of a running game. As I said in the preview, this could get ugly!

Vikings Rube:

Well, it seems the horseshoe that was lodged firmly up Bielema’s derriere last night was airmailed to Green Bay in time for the start of today’s tilt. Finley and Jones catch balls they normally would bat down like they are in rec league volleyball game?!? Not a good sign at all for the Vikes.

Then, following a quick three and out on offense, the Vikes defense finally slows down the Rodgers train in the red zone. Only to have Crosby doink one in off the upright. I think the Vikings primary goal should be locating and destroying that horseshoe. After all, they are not spending any time scheming anything that resembles an offensive game plan.

Packers Roob:

What are you talking about?! Packers got screwed by another phantom holding call that erased another TD. Tough enough to win in this league when you are playing the team. But, it’s not fun having a twelfth man in the zebras to contend with as well! Just garbage.

Worst news is Jordy tweaked his hammy. Story of the season. Jennings returns, Jordy goes down.And here comes the Vikes’ direct-snap to AP offense

Vikings Rube:

Always right to the officials. Typical. Losing Jordy definitely helps the Vikes, but no one wants to wish for a guy to hurt. Hopefully he is okay.

In more exciting news, how about that direct-snap to AP offense!! Sprinkle in a little bootleg and an elite TE, bake at 350 for 14 minutes, and touchdown!!! All seriousness aside, that was definitely Dr. Ponder on that drive. He looked methodical, making most of the right decisions. And of course, the best RB on the planet did his thing too.

Now, following the three and out of the Packers offense, we get to see if it was all just a fluke…

Packers Roob:

Ugh. I hate the Kuhn handoff play. 2 times for 0 yards and a missed 3rd-and-1. Bag that play please!

Are the Packers cursed?!?! Lang just got his ankle rolled up on. Next man up… is there a next man left?!? Unreal.

Vikings Rube:

As I said before, no one likes to see guys get hurt. And you are right, Lang’s injury reaaaaally hurts. Hopefully he can come back later in the game.

That being said, what a brutal call on Griffen!! That was not a personal foul!!!!!! I cannot stop typing exclamation points. Takes an INT away from ole Ten Gallon. Despite the injuries, the horseshoe appears to be back.

Packers Roob:

I was right about this getting ugly. Just not what part. This O-line with Barclay will have Rodgers running for his life the entire game. I just want to thank Griffen for placing a lot of $$ on the Packers. What else would explain his three stupid penalties so far?!

I also want to thank the Vikes coaching staff for sidelining AP during their last possession of the second-half. A gift 3-and-out for the defense.

Vikings Rube:

The offsides penalties were legit, but that roughing the passer call was tewible. Not even close. And then Jared Allen takes a stupid penalty to give Crosby a chance?!?!? Thankfully there are not any uprights near the corner of the end zone. Just not a strong finish from the Vikes.

Packers Roob:

This is disgusting. Even without AP’s ridiculous run, Packers are getting manhandled right now. The quick start did not give way to a dominating effort. Instead, the injuries to the line has opened the flood-gates to Rodgers. And the run game has all but vanished. The result is an offense that can’t move the ball – even against this defense.

And, oh yeah, Crosby sucks. Time to bring in Kaeding.

2nd Half

Packers Roob:

Did I mention Crosby sucks?!?

Vikings Rube:

As if there were any lingering doubts, Mr. Ponder is back!!! Ponder loses his mind, thinks he is Joe Cool, and tries to throw across his body to THE Michael Jenkins in the back of the end zone. Tewible decision and Christmas comes early for Morgan Burnett. This could be the turning point of the game. Vikings looking to get another TD right out the gates and Mr. Ponder takes it away. Not good.

Packers Roob:

More great play-calling by the Vikes. AP is single-handedly winning this game for the Vikes. On short goal-to-go, Vikes get clever and go play-action. Mr. Ponder rewards them with a great pass to Morgan Burnett.

Rodgers is trying to take this game over. He willed them into FG range. And in a shock, Crosby split the uprights! Blind squirrel theory in play.

Cool play design on Cobb toss-back to Rodgers for deep bomb. INT is good as punt. But, if there was ever a need for further proof that the Packers play-action is non-existent, this play is Exhibit A. First time ever running a throw-back with Cobb and no one was open.

Vikings Rube:

Stop me if you heard this one, despite dominating for much of the first half, the Vikings have come out in the 2nd half with no adjustments or schemes to counter 15 guys in the box. Following the go-ahead TD by the Pack, the Vikes look primed for another 4 yards and a cloud of dust. Is Bill Cowher ready to come back to coaching??

Packers Roob:

Seriously, the Vikes should direct-snap it to AP every play!! Ponder is just awful. 5/13 for 36 yards and 2 INT’s. I’m actually worried we might see the re-start of the Joe Webb era.

Vikings Rube:

Remember in our prediction we talked about how Ponder needed to do just enough to get out of AP’s way. As it stands right now, he has been the Packers best way to stop Adrian. And if not for Ponder, Peterson might have 300 yards on the ground. Of course, that would require coaches that know when to run the ball and to pass it. Seems like asking a lot.

Packers Roob:

Like I said, Rodgers is willing this team to victory. And he did on this prolonged game-clinching drive – 11:00 minutes in fact. Multiple third-down conversions, many long distances too, and killed the clock and hopes of the Vikes. Crosby clutches up and nailed a 31-yarder – down the middle even – to apply the dagger (knock on wood)!

Vikings Rube:

There is no doubt. Rodgers was the difference. We agreed on that coming in and it could not have been more true. His ability to pick up 3rd downs against the Vikings base defense, because evidently Allan Williams thought we were not allowed to blitz, was clutch. Have to give him credit for that.

Packers Roob:

Blair Walsh evidently went to the Crosby school of kicking. And there, officially, is your dagger!

Final Score: Packers 23 Vikings 14

Closing Thoughts

Vikings Rube:

52-2. That was the record for teams who had a player run for more than 200 yards. Only the Vikes could find a way to add to that kind of record in a negative way. AP was a beast today. With even decent QB play, the Vikings win this game. Mr. Ponder throws two red zone picks killing two Vikings drive. That is at least 6 points and possible 14 points off the board. And those are just the direct examples of his tewibleness. Add in the fact that most college QBs could complete the downfield throw to AP when he had two steps on the linebacker – that is likely another 6.

Now, I know the Vikes were without Harvin. And you cannot overstate his importance to this team. But unless Mr. Ponder figures out how to limit the mistakes and make smart plays, this team will not challenge for the playoffs. They will only go as far as AP will take them. And 200+ yards is evidently not enough.

Packers Roob:

Rodgers simply willed this team to victory. The 11-minute game-clinching drive was clutch – an exhibit of elite QB play. He converted multiple third-and-longs on the way to a clinching FG.

Beyond Rodgers’ play, the running game showed up down the stretch. Packers amassed 152 yards against a decent run-stopping unit – and that’s behind an offensive line that is primarily a bunch of backups. And though the defense let AP go gangbusters – not sure any defense could contain him right now – it did what it had to do in forcing the critical turnovers. The poor tackling needs to be shored up.

As always, Packers fans will be watching injury reports closely this week. Pack can ill-afford another injury to a lineman. And Jordy’s hamstring injury basically puts the passing attack back in the same position it was in while Jennings was out. Next man up, as always, but we’re getting dangerously close to not having a next man up.

Border Battle: Fighting for the Playoffs

The intensity of the Packers-Vikings rivalry escalated to another level after Lord of the INT donned the purple.

Sunday will be the 103rd installment of what’s quickly become one of the best rivalries in football: Green Bay vs. Minnesota. Green Bay holds the series edge at 53-48-1. The Packers have won seven of the last ten, including the last four games. The current four-game streak started with the revenge game against Brent Favre in his second season donning the purple.With both teams fighting for a playoff spot, this match-up is a critical game for both teams. Out of respect to the visiting squad, we’ll let the Vikes Rube fire the first shot:

Vikes Rube:

First shot? Better be careful, after watching that vaunted Packers secondary against the G-Men last week, giving us the first shot likely means six, even if it is the spaghetti-armed Ponder going deep to one of our hands-challenged wide receivers.

The G-Men exposed a Packers secondary that is ranked 22nd overall and is considerably worse without Clay Matthews wreaking havoc up front. Now, Matthews might be back, so that means the Packers might at least generate a pass rush. But, there are still concerns, on both sides of the ball. Jennings is practicing but no one knows how he will return from injury. Bulaga is still out and the plan to replace him does not appear to be working. And that means Jared Allen might be throwing more lassos than a rodeo.

This Vikings squad, while inconsistent, is pesky. In terms of shared opponents, the Vikings actually stack up pretty well with the Packers. Both teams went 4-3 against SF, CHI, JAC, SEA (yes, we both get Ls here), NFC North Killers IND, ARI, and DET.

Packers Roob:

Please. You’re touting your cheap-shot artist as this Clay Matthews type. I’m worried about guys that actually get to the QB, not guys that have gone three games without a sack and tallied a total of 10 tackles (well 11 if you count the cheap shot that should have gotten him suspended this week). He couldn’t sniff Quitler last week, and that’s against the Bears’ high school-like offensive line. And even if he does touch Rodgers this week, that’d be one less play that doesn’t go for six. Need I remind you of last year’s 45-7 drubbing at Lambeau? I’m sure you know that score marks the biggest landslide in the 102-game-series.

And frankly, I did not even know Minnesota was starting a QB these past few games. I just thought you were direct-snapping it to AP every play. In all seriousness, what the hell has gotten into the “franchise” QB?! Even with AP going gangbusters and having the defense do everything it can to stop him, Ponder still looks worse than Mark Sanchez out there. I mean, 58 and 63 yards passing in two separate games. TOTAL! And he has (had) Randall Cobb-lite to bail him out. Question, what’s 35.5 and 37.3 mean to you?

Vikes Rube:

I dunno.

Packers Roob:

Ponder’s QB rating those two games. I’m no Mike Mayock, but I’m thinking the Christian Ponder experiment has run its course.

Vikes Rube:

Almost clever. That said, I agree that after that putrid performance versus an overrated Bears squad, there is little to be excited about in Vikings country. Without Colorado’s newest citizen, Cheech Harvin, in the line-up, the Vikings offense is  about as creative as Justin Bieber’s entire discography. Sprinkle in the return of All Day’s issues with holding the rock and now is not the greatest time to be a Vikings fans. If ever there was a team in need of a slump-buster, it is the Minnesota Vikings. Enter the Packers. Now, I know what you are thinking Packers Roob…brats with kraut…check that…I know what you will eventually be thinking…enter the Packers? Yep, that is right. Enter the Packers.

Packers Roob:

You cannot be serious? Not even PA would make such a preposterous statement. The last thing the Vikes need right now is a road game against a pissed off Packers team. Embarrassed after getting de-flowered on Sunday Night, the Packers will be looking to take out their aggression on an alleged division threat. And the Vikes have 3 combined road victories over the past two seasons. Save yourself the misery, it’s going to get ugly. Like you ain’t got no alibi ugly.

Vikes Rube:

Alright, so slump buster might be a bit of hyperbole, but only in the same way that guaranteeing it is going to be a one-sided Packers blowout. As an allegedly bright football mind (and I am beginning to have some concerns), if you actually think either team in this rivalry could ever be considered a runaway favorite, you have lost your mind. Has the game at the Dome last year already been erased from your memory? When a Ponder-led squad, with a worse defense, was a dropped TD pass away from upsetting your beloved Pack? These games are rarely blowouts. So let’s abandon the runaway favorite foolishness right now.

The current Vikings squad is clearly far from perfect. With the Mayor of Denver limping, the Viking WRs have been downright pathetic. Poor routes and dropped balls have plagued this unit. Jerius Wright’s semi-decent performances have been the lone bright spot. And even that might be best described as a flicker. However, Cheech is practicing and looks like he might give it a go this week and even at 80%, he is still better than we are trotting out there.

Perhaps a larger concern for Vikings fans is the return of AP’s recent fumblitis. After 6 lost fumbles in 2009, AP had gone 2 ½ seasons without a lost fumble. Now he has 2 in the last 4 games. Hopefully this is a blip and not a trend.

Vikings can ill-afford AP putting the ball on the turf.

Vikings can ill-afford AP putting the ball on the turf.

Lastly, there is Dr. Christian and Mr. Ponder. After a solid performance against the Lions at home, we were treated to another lambastable performance against the Bears. Now, the Bears secondary is decent. Maybe not as good as Bears’ fans think they are, but they are decent. So there is a little room for forgiveness. But Ponder’s problem might be more than just about the quality of the defense he is facing. The guy who was supposed to be a mental giant, nailed the Wonderlic and was Mr. Joe Cool, looks frantic in the pocket. Does he still exhibit flashes? Sure. Hence Dr. Christian and Mr. Ponder. But Vikings fans will need him to be consistent if they are going to win on Sunday.

Packers Roob:

Ponder is THE reason the Vikes will struggle at Lambeau. The guy has not been simply inconsistent, he has been downright terrible the last several weeks. He’s lost all confidence and the WR’s, outside of Percy, have done little to help him. Further, the Packers have feasted on less-than-elite QBs. Even with last week’s debacle, the Packers are 9th in the league in the real defensive QB rating – which measures the QB’s total play, rather than just the QB’s passing efficiency – at 72.57. On the flip side, the Vikes’ real QB rating is 23rd in the league at 74.43. Stated more plainly, outside of Brees and Eli carving us up, the Packers have handled the non-elite QBs soundly. Consider the following QBs performances: Schaub (2 INT, 0 TD, and 56.6 passer rating (the commonly known passer rating)), Cutler (4 INT and 28.2 passer rating), and Stafford (2 INT, 1 TD, 54.0 passer rating). I just don’t see Ponder doing much damage against this defense. As a result, it’s going to take a Herculean-like effort from AP to keep this game close. Working in the Vikes’ favor is the fact that C.J. Wilson, a developing 3-4 end that was stout against the run, may be out for the season. You saw how Bradshaw exploited this. I’m not looking forward to seeing AP do the same. Still, AP alone hasn’t proven enough to date, and I don’t expect that to change.

And while we’re on the topic of defensive real QB rating, the Vikes are a paltry 25th in the league at 86.58. As you might expect, Packers are high up on the real QB ratings at 6th: 92.37. And this ranking dropped a few spots because of last week’s debacle. Point being, Rodgers is performing at an elite level.

My biggest concern is Rodgers’ protection. The injury that has hurt the Packers the most this season has been the loss of Bryan Bulaga. Lang, a developing guard, had to move outside and Dietrich-Smith stepped in at guard. Like you said, this has not been pretty. Both are significant downgrades from the original starting-5. The results have been rather ugly since then, culminating in last week’s 5-sacks and Rodgers running for his life on the plays he wasn’t sacked. But that’s the Giants defensive line, which is one of the best in the league. And breaking news – the Vikings defensive line is far from what it used to be. Allen can still dominate, but he’s been slowed these last few weeks as I have already pointed out. Kevin Williams is a shell of his former self – he only has 2 sacks. As a result, the Vikings defensive line won’t (knock on wood) dictate the game the way it needs to in order to slow the Packers.

Vikings Rube:

Wow, someone figured out how to navigate the world wide interweb. Impressive.

I am not going to continue beating a dead horse in regards to Ponder’s play. He needs to be consistent (read: limit the mistakes) or the Vikings lose on Sunday. I am a little surprised by the Packers’ alleged ownership of less-than-elite QBs considering the great Alex Smith diced up the entirely healthy Packers secondary in Week 1 and then NFC North-killer Andrew Luck did the same in Week 5. I am pretty certain Alex Smith made me my McMuffin this morning. And Luck, while a promising rookie, is still just a rookie. So let’s just back off the ravenous Packers defense against less-than-elite QBs bit.

11.5 sacks in 6 games. Clearly, Jared Allen is licking his chops to get after Rodgers again.

Instead, let’s focus on that offensive line you are right to be worried about. Losing Bulaga was a huge blow. Though, despite that, you think the Packers will get by because you continue to underestimate the Vikings defensive line. Yes, Kevin Williams does not get as many sacks as he did, but that is not really his job. His job is to try and occupy two interior linemen and keep help from sliding over to Allen and Robinson. He has done a good job of that. Allen may not be the force he was last year, but he is still solid. And he always brings his A-game against the Pack – 11.5 sacks in his last 6 games – only once was he shutout. The Vikings will get pressure with four guys, the question is whether that will matter. Unfortunately, seven guys in coverage might not be enough to stop Rodgers. Because at the end of it all, your green and gold foolishness aside, Rodgers is the difference in this rivalry.

Packer Roob:

It almost pains me to say this, but you are right. The biggest reason why the Packers are Super Bowl contenders and the Vikes will have a mid-round draft pick again is because of the Packers passing game (it also does not hurt the Vikes recent drafts have been less than stellar and haven’t shored up the secondary). Though Rodgers’s numbers are down and he has not been as sharp at times this season (he’s missed on a number of longer shots that he usually connects on), Rodgers is still putting up numbers that have him in the MVP-discussion. Yes, he won’t win it. But, he is part of the discussion.

John Abraham learned the hard way in the 2010 playoffs to what happens when you piss off Rodgers. Championship Belt mode!

Rodgers has thrown for 2,838 yards and owns a 28/7 TD-to-INT split. His QB rating is 105.6, good for second-best in his career. Most impressively, he’s done this without his top WR for most of the season, Jordy for 2 games, and a TE that taught Jerome Simpson how to catch. Still, in an alarming trend, Rodgers’ has not surpassed 250-yards in any of the last four games. And these have been against the likes of Jax and Detroit – secondaries that Danny O’Brien would be able to exploit! Nonetheless, it’s the Michael Jordan-esque inability to forget his critics and haters that makes Rodgers a threat to go into full-out Championship Belt mode – just ask Houston. Based on last week’s performance – remember he apologized for the way the team played – I expect Rodgers to be on point this week against a hapless secondary.

As far as our defense, it has the potential to be a championship-winning defense. The defense has suffered an exhaustive list of injuries at various points this season: Claymaker, Raji, Wilson, Worthy, Nick Perry, Bishop, D.J. Smith, Woodson, and Shields. But through these injuries, the Packers have been forced to break in younger talent that is starting to emerge. Casey “All I Do Is Intercept” Hayward is proving to be the SOD. He’s an absolute ball-hawk that has really lifted the defense’s play. McMillian and Jennings have had their fair share of growing pains, but have also learned from the same and continue to get better – evidenced by Jennings’ game-changing pick-six at Detroit. House has returned from injury and taken over the outside CB position due to his size and physicality. And Dezman Moses, an undrafted free agent, and Erik Walden have proven that they can supply pressure opposite Clay. So when the defense gets back Claymaker, Woodson, and Shields – three of its best/better playmakers – it has the potential to really take off and lead this team.

The Packers won the 2010 Super Bowl because of Rodgers’ unbelievable play and a dominant defense. This squad could shape up similarly when healthy.

Vikings Rube:

To delve into a discussion about the Packers’ secondary would be a fruitless endeavor. You are clearly so drunk on the Kool-Aid that you might even be over the limit in Wisco. Hayward is a good little player. But the rest of those mutts are just not good. McMillian, Jennings, and House looked like they needed a map last week. It looked like they thought they were in the wrong stadium. Now, that is not to say these guys will not be serviceable NFL players at some point, but classifying it as growing pains is an insult to Kirk Cameron fans everywhere.

If the Packers fate rests with Rodgers, the Vikings fate, especially sans Harvin, clearly rests with AP. Fresh off his 2011 knee surgery, AP has come back with a vengeance, leading the league in rushing with 1,254 yards and getting them at nearly 6 yards a pop. He has been a beast. And against the squad with the fifth worst run success rate, this could mean BIG things for AP.

Alright, enough is enough. Time for our predictions.

Vikings Rube:

Rodgers tries to do his thing, but is hog-tied  so often he has flashbacks to 2009. Ponder does just enough to allow a fumble-less AP to roll over the Packers run defense. The Kid Kicker puts it away.

Vikings 24 Packers 21

Packers Roob:

Wow. Just wow. You’re either on to something or on something. With my sanity clearly intact, I foresee the Packers starting their trek through the NFC North on a high-note. A game that will be close for a majority of the game due to AP’s dominance will eventually give way to the Rodgers’ show.

Packers 31 Vikings 17

One thing we both can agree upon: get your tickets to the game from Ticket King. A local company, you won’t find a better deal for the toughest tickets in town.

2012 Border Rivals NFL Preview: Rube v. Roob

In the spirit of the Border Rivals rivalry, we decided to jointly preview the 2012 NFL season for both of the Border Rivals’ squads. To capture the essence of that rivalry, and to help out the Vikings fan (because seriously, what is there to preview), we are taking a novel approach to the typical NFL preview. Enjoy the banter and analysis.

Vikings Rube

Professor Williams’ class on cheap shots and headhunting derailed what may have been a purple dynasty these last few years.

Well Vikings fans, the 2012 season is nearly upon us. To call the last two years rough would be an understatement. Following the high that was 2009, Vikings fans have had the displeasure of watching a 6-10 squad that featured amateur photographer Brent Favre (his pen name) and a 3-13 squad that showcased Lifetime Fitness Ultimate Hoops 6th Man of the Year stud, Donovan McNabb (no seriously, I did not make that link up). Who would have thought the low would be so low following the unreal high of taking the Pack’s beloved Favre and marching to the NFC Championship game? If not for G. Williams and his implementation of a real life version of The Hunger Games on that fateful Sunday, we might be talking about whether Favre should come back for his 3rd year with the Vikes and make one more run at another Vikings Super Bowl. Now who is ready for some football? Me either. Can’t we all agree to give that lockout thing a try?

Packers Roob

I feel your pain Rube. Being Favred is not easy. I am just happy you were able to enjoy that experience as well. What has to make that “favre-ing” so much more painful is how much it set your franchise back. The 2009 Vikings were the best football team that season. And in less than two years, it’s one of the worst. To top that off, the Vikes won a meaningless game at Washington costing them the #2 pick and the ensuing RGIII bounty. And if that wasn’t enough, AP goes down in said game, jeopardizing his future to some extent and, more immediately, his success this season. At least you have the Twin… Timberwolv… Wild (oh wait, the lockout). Well, the Lynx are still good! But I digress. With the easy part of the schedule at the beginning of the season, Gerhart and Percy need to step up while AP gets his legs under him.

Vikings Rube

Enough about Brent Favre, he is hustling social studies teachers in Mississippi , let’s get to the previewing already!! The 2012 Vikings feature a stable of young, talented rookies that were drafted as part of the haul the Vikings received in the RG III trade…wait…what…we WON that game…son of a…moving on. This year’s squad features some interesting rookies: Mount Kalil and  Harrison Smith being the obvious new kids on the block. But, it is actually the sophomore seasons of a couple key Vikings players that will likely impact the team’s success on a greater scale. On the offensive side of the ball, Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph are going to be counted on to produce in a big way.

Ponder showed flashes last season of being a legitimate NFL QB, but, he combined those flashes with some less than brilliant play as well. He seems to get happy feet a little too easily. And yes, that might have something to do with the fact that the Vikings gave up 49 sacks last year. I would probably have happy feet too if Julius Peppers was chasing me like a Packers fan after a Miller Light forty and a Polish sausage. Mount Kalil should change that. And, with more time, hopefully the flashes of legitimacy become the norm. It is important to emphasize, part of Ponders’ success is directly related to the growth and development of fellow sophomore, Kyle Rudolph.

Rudolph dominated while at Notre Dame. Vikings fans have only seen glimpses of that dominance while with the Purple.

Rudolph is a freak athlete who graded out with 1st round talent, but, was derailed by injuries. Stop me if you heard this one before, but, he continued to battle health problems once he got to the league. Though, when he played, he too showed real flashes and he seemed to have that knack for making the big play. Because of the garbage bin lids he has for hands, he can flat out go and get nearly anything thrown close to him. His problem is staying on the field. If he can stay healthy, he is exactly the kind of safety valve a young QB like Ponder needs to succeed in this league.

Packers Roob

If Rudolph is this wunderkind you speak of, then why did the Vikes drop so much coin on an even more-often injured John Carlson? Is it because he’s a local kid? In any event, if that’s a key to success, you have a low bar for success. And maybe that’s appropriate because any rube not named PA or Wobschmidt can see that the Vikes are staring at a 6-win season, at best. There are just too many holes at all levels of offense and defense, with my personal favorite being that Swiss-cheese like secondary – because, you know, the NFC North isn’t loaded with stud QB’s and WR’s. Even with the addition of Kalil at LT, the OL is a huge question mark. This has to be a make-or-break season for Loadholt. And the Vikes need another WR option outside of Percy. The defense is carried by Allen. But am I the only one thinking Greenway is a better version of Mr. T-Rex, A.J. Hawk – as in makes some tackles, but little actual impact on the game?

Vikings Rube

Carlson got signed because Musgrave is running the two tight end system. Not sure I am fan, but we have seen it work in New England. Rudolph is a wunderkind. The type who could succeed in a system that showcases his skills. He just needs to put it together. The OL is not nearly as huge a question mark as you make it seem. Sullivan established himself at a top line center last year. Charles Johnson will be playing his more natural position, guard, this year. And, Brandon Fusco has come, literally, out of nowhere (Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania) to earn the other starting guard position. Loadholt is definitely in a make or break season, but he too should improve with the addition of MountKalil and another year under his belt.

Now, for the Purple’s defense. If you thought the offense had question marks, then strap in, this may take a while. The 2012 Vikings offense should be able to move the ball and score some points. Sadly enough, that is the bar that Vikings fans have set for the squad. On defense, coverage, of any kind, would be a huge improvement from last year’s squad. The release, that is right, the release of Chris Cook is a definite benefit. He actually looked the part of a first round talent last year. Though, that solid play would have been difficult to deliver from a HennepinCounty jail. Jared Allen is the man Claymaker wishes he could be. No one knows what veterans Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield have left in the tank, but it better be more than fumes, or this year’s defensive unit is not going to be much better than last year. Harrison Smith displayed a penchant for big plays, sort of a Honey Badger Light. Those big plays were lacking all of last year for the Vikes and they will need them if they are going to stop anyone. But, the NFL is a lot faster than cupcakes Notre Dame played. If Smith can make the adjustment, his playmaking ability will be another critical piece to this unit’s success. If not, expect the 28th ranked pass defense from 2011 to remain right about where it was, the bottom of the league.

Packers Roob

You just compared your starting safety to a drug rehab, former-COLLEGE player. Um, good luck with that. What’s next, Ponder is the next Russell Wilson – wait, that actually might be an upgrade. The best point you made is the question marks surrounding Williams and Winfield. Williams has certainly lost a step and Winfield finally broke down last season. If neither plays to their previous performance, the defense will be simply Jared Allen. Sadly though, this Swiss-cheese defense accurately describes my squad’s defense. There is reason for optimism in the new faces and competition. But, when Jarrett Bush wins the starting RCB spot, God help us. Only Ahmad Carroll has been a bigger sieve covering than Bush. Nick Perry has a great bull rush, but shown little else. And we still don’t know how well he will play in space and covering. One OLB to keep an eye out for is undrafted free agent, Dezman Moses. Yes, I know. I’m resorting to undrafted free agents. But, the way that kid played with heart and desire all pre-season, he deserves some chances to see if he can carry it over to the regular season or is just this year’s Vic So’oto.

Vikings fans cringe when they see No. 52 strap the helmet on.

Jerel Worthy is not worthy of the early praise. He hasn’t shown much more than an early burst that opposing QB’s will surely exploit with hard counts. He needs to develop more hand action in the trenches and not simply rely on his speed/burst. And the safeties in the nickel and dime will be Morgan Burnett – who needs to take that next step – and M.D. Jennings or Jerron McMillian. The importance of losing Nick Collins cannot be overstated. On the bright side, at least Tramon and the Claymaker look like their old playmaking selves and will raise hell all season. And yes, I forwarded your earlier comment about Julius Peppers to Claymaker, indicating that Vikings fans do not fear him. Thanks for the bulletin-board material.

Vikings Rube

No, but seriously, did someone hack your computer? Are you feeling okay? Have you been spending too much time west of the Mississippi? That kind of negativity is not befitting a Packers roob. Smug superiority and being a Packer fan go hand in hand. Like Jared Allen and sacks or B.J. Rajii and…well…food. That being said, you are correct, the Packers defense is not that good. In fact, it might actually be worse than the Vikings (which is saying something). At the very least, both teams have a lot of unknowns. Despite your knock on Worthy, the talent is there. And, in Dom Caper’s system, he possesses the athleticism to be a force on the inside. Losing Collins certainly hurt, though, the bigger unknown might be Woodson’s official transition to safety. Even though he was basically playing there last season, now that it is official, I wonder if it will impact how he plays coverage. Will he still gamble? He is used to covering a specific receiver and now he will be responsible for an area. Will those gambles that miss result in even bigger plays for opposing offenses? How that transition unfolds is going to be play a big role in the effectiveness of the defense.

Packers Roob

You’re right, I’m not sure what the hell just got into me. All that negativity talk about your squad somehow seeped into my analysis for the 2012 Super Bowl Champs. I’m not as concerned about Woodson’s transition to safety. He’ll be there in the base set, but the Packers play base in less than 1/3 of the time. In the nickel and dime, Woodson will be back in his normal slot position, going pick-six all year long. The saving grace, in my opinion, for the defense is that it doesn’t need to be top-10 in order for the Packers to win the Super Bowl. As I’ve detailed previously, the defense just needs to be average. Remember, last year’s Super Bowl defenses were statistically terrible during the season – though the NYG defense stepped up in the playoffs. And with our offense, an average defense will get the job done.

Using that seemless transition, hey, let’s talk about that offense. It’s the best offense ever. A-Rodg is the best QB ever. We will score when we want and how we want, and A-Rodg may only get hurt this season from throwing down so many Championship Belts.

Vikings Rube

From one extreme, the Packers secondary could not stop a good high school squad, to the other, Rodgers is the best QB ever. The latter statement is utterly preposterous. The best QB ever does not get trounced at home in the first round of the playoffs. Nor does he suffer game losing fumbles to tewible linebackers who may or may not have sold me a double cheeseburger yesterday. Rodgers might not even be the best QB in the league yet. He is certainly in the conversation, but, if Super Bowls is the measure by which everything is judged (as Packer fans love to remind Vikings fans), then Tom Brady is the best QB in the league.

Packers Roob

Maybe not the kid that Brent Favre was, Rodgers is definitely a leader and the Packers will only go as far as he can take them.

Don’t pretend I know what you’re doing right now. Just looking to get a reaction. I am not taking the bait….*Blood pressure rising, face getting flush*….Brady used to be the best QB in the league. But that position has been usurped. There is no debating. A-Rodg is the best player in the league. Heck, even the reliable and indisputable NFL Players rankings had him 1st (because when John Kuhn makes that list, it has to be reliable). Cheering for Randy Moss all of those years must have convinced you that it’s not a team sport. But it is. And the Packers, not A-Rodg, lost that game because of a comedy of errors – a list too long and too painful to go over at this juncture. Ok, blood pressure dropping. On to the offense. To state the obvious, the Packers success hinges on A-Rodg & Co. With the best QB and WR corps in the league, the Pack will not be stopped on offense – often. Some keys for improvement on offense, if that’s even possible, are JMike reverting back to his 2010 self (pre-injury), a running game that is at least respectable, and improved play from Newhouse. JMike is too talented to put up such average numbers. Outside of the first Bears game last season, JMike was more decoy than the stud he should be. With two years removed from his knee injury, I expect this to be a break-out year. And man-crush aside, his YOTTO TD celebration is getting old – fast – when he drops more balls than Troy Williamson. Old Cedric had some giddy-up to him in pre-season, but I’m not counting on him to be the savior many are hoping. He’s a career volume runner. That is not going to magically change. The Pack just need him for short yardage down-and-distance and to potentially ice out games pounding the rock. One thing to watch for is if Benson continues to put the ball on the turf. And for Newhouse, he needs to perform. With no backup on the roster, his development is crucial. Will the offense continue to dominate like Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl, most likely not. But I don’t anticipate much of a drop-off. I expect A-Rodg to be a leading candidate for another MVP and if the defense bounces back, we should get one for the thumb!

Vikings Rube

Not be stopped on offense. That is too rich. I bet you thought that same thing rolling into that first round playoff game against Da G-Men last season. That worked out well. Have you heard of hubris? And no, it is not something you eat with a pita chip. Also, Finley too talented to put up average numbers?  And you come after me for jumping…okay…driving, the Rudolph bandwagon? Let’s set the bar a little lower for ole Jermichael, shall we? Say, hope he plays in more than 12 games? That feels about right.

SEASON PREDICTIONS

Classy like that??? Says the guy with a foam piece of cheese on his head.

Packers Roob

JMike will only need 12 games to surpass Rudolph’s production me boy! And how many times are you going to go to the well with the Giants jokes? Did you notice I refrained from bringing up Gary Anderson’s name, the infamous NOOOO, NOOOO game, or your own disaster against the G-Men in the playoffs. I stay classy like that. On to our picks.

I’ve got the Pack going 13-3, losing at Houston, at NYG, and at Chicago. As for the Vikes, I’m predicting 5-11, beating the Jags, Titans, Cardinals, Bucs, and St. Louis.

Vikes Roob

Negative. The Vikes will surprise some people this year, going 7-9 or 8-8, beating the Jags, Colts, Titans, Cardinals, Bucs, Kitties, Rams, and maybe Houston (because it will be Week 16 and it will not matter for the top seeded Texans).

I have the Packers at 12-4 or 11-5. I think they get beat by New Orleans, @Houston, @Detroit, and @Chicago. Throw in a loss to the 49ers or Giants to make it 11-5.

WEEK ONE PICK    

Packers Roob

Packers score late to pull away for the victory. Alex Smith reverts back to the Alex Smith we know and love. As much as A-Rodg doesn’t want to call him a game manager, Alex Smith is this era’s Trent Dilfer, but not as savvy. I don’t buy into the revamped WR core for the Niners. What part of a 35-year-old, out of retirement and dropped by three teams in the last year he played, Randy Moss am I supposed to worry about? And Manningham is the next David Tyree. VD concerns me over the middle, especially when Mr. T-Rex is on the field. But, our defense is good enough to slow this squad and the offense will score enough against the vaunted Niners defense. Pack 27 Niners 17

Vikings Rube

Vikings come out strong at home and beat an equally young Jaguars team. The defense is the key as MJD and Jennings are shut down by Greenway & Co., so Gabbert is forced to the air where he is unable to capitalize on the inexperienced Vikings secondary. Ponder, Harvin, and Rudolph tear up one of the worst secondaries in the league and All Day shows a few bursts in his return. Toby brings his hard hat and lunch pail, eventually grinding out a 27 to 13 Vikings win.

Looks to be a good start to the year for the Border Rivals’ squads. Enjoy week 1 and thank god football is back!

The Value of Donald Driver

It’s this passion and smile that has endeared Packers fans to DD over the years.

By now you’ve heard that Donald Driver is returning to the Packers on a restructured deal, one more commensurate with what he brings to the table as a 37 y.o. WR. DD is a beloved, life-long Packer that has endeared himself to the fans and community as he has risen from a thought-after 7th rd. selection in 1999 to become the all-time leading receiver in Packers history. He brings a passion, energy, and smile to the game that fans love. And, he’s the ultimate team player. Needless to say, DD is a player any organization would be lucky to have. Yet, all off-season, it was assumed that he had played his last game with the Packers.

There is little debate that DD’s production has fallen off these last few years. After rattling off six-straight 1,000+ yards receiving from 2004 to 2009, his receiving yards dropped to the pedestrian levels of 565 and 445 yards these last two years. As you would guess, his receptions have taken a similar dive over this time frame. Despite this severe drop in production, DD still had a way to make his presence felt at crucial points in the season – most notably in last year’s playoff debacle and this play.

The most pressing reason why many assumed his time in a Packers uniform was coming to an end, though, was because of the plethora of intriguing and young talent on the roster. The hierarchy at WR heading into the 2012 season should be: Jennings, Jordy, Jones, and Cobb. (Even though he is only in his second season, the Packers need to give Cobb more playing time ahead of DD. He’s electric, uber-talented, and the future slot WR. Assuming he progresses, he is the better player at this point.) After Cobb, many thought the 5th WR spot would go to the likes of Tori Gurley, Diondre Borel, or even some undrafted free agents from this years crop. After all, TT devoted extra cash to Gurley and Borel on the practice squad to ensure they wouldn’t leave for other teams last season. It’s TT’s mantra to promote from within.

This last reason why DD was supposed to be cut is why DD is still a Packer. If you’ve read the quotes from these young players, you can tell that DD brings a lot to the table that cannot be measured by statistics. He is quite simply the leader of the WR core and a great teammate – the opposite of Brett Favre (sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Having veteran leadership on a roster – particularly one as young as the Packers roster – is invaluable. And DD knows, or at least should know, his role on the team. He has never, and likely will never, complain about his playing time or individual stats. He’s a professional in the truest sense of the word and will likely be an important mentor for these young and intriguing prospects. And, frankly, I do not believe DD’s presence on the roster will prevent the Packers from keeping Gurley or Borel as a 6th WR, so long as they prove their worth on special teams – both of which showed some ability in that department last preseason.

As a 5th WR, you really couldn’t ask for more if you are a Packers fan. DD is the consummate pro and leader. TT is not keen on keeping players one year too long; but in this instance, TT made the right decision. DD’s value is far beyond his pure statistics and he will be a crucial member of the Packers as they hope to return to the Super Bowl.

Why the Packers Aren’t Active in Free Agency

There will not be any Reggie White type signings for the Pack in the foreseeable future.

The Packers just completed one of its best regular seasons in franchise history. But, a 15-1 record guaranteed nothing, as the team fell in the first playoff game in miserable fashion. It’s clear the Packers are just a few difference-makers on defense from claiming its 5th Super Bowl title. So, TT should be active in getting those difference-makers in free agency, right? Wrong. Although it would be nice, the Packers simply cannot be active in free agency.

We all know TT has done a helluva job building this team through the draft. Undoubtedly, TT is one of the best in the league in mining the middle- to late-rounds for talented players that can contribute and develop into key members for the squad: JMike (3rd Rd.), James Jones (3rd), Sitton (4th), T.J. Lang (4th), Newhouse (5th), Starks (6th), Bishop (6th), Crosby (6th), and D.J. Smith (6th). The list only grows longer when you consider the undrafted free agents he has hit on. But, as with all things in life, this success comes with a cost.

Of the players identified above, most have received a healthy new contract to keep them around for the foreseeable future. And, that is the reason why the Packers simply cannot participate in free agency. To keep the core that won Super Bowl XLV together, TT must have enough money to pay them. And coming down the pipeline are not simply core players needing new deals. Instead, TT has the daunting task of figuring out cap-friendly deals to keep Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, and Aaron Rodgers.

First up is Greg Jennings. The star receiver is in his last year of a 4-year extension he signed in 2009. Jennings will hit free agency at the ripe age of 29 and is one of the best WR’s in the business. If you’ve been paying attention at all to the free agency frenzy this past week, you know that WR’s have been getting absurd contracts. Consider, Josh Morgan – all 9 career TD’s in 4 seasons – is getting $12M over two years, $7.3M of which is fully guaranteed. Or, Pierre Garcon – he whose single-season career bests are 6 TDs and 947 yards – signed a 5-year, $42.5M contract, $20.5M guaranteed. (Sidenote – do you think other franchises have asterisks next to Redskins-signed players when agents use said contracts for favorable comparisons in negotiations? I’ve gotta think anytime an agent cites to a Dan Snyder contract, TT and Russ Ball smirk and say try again.) Needless to say, Jennings is in line for a substantial deal; one that is going to require TT and Russ Ball to get as creative as ever to not cripple the Pack’s salary cap for the future.

Next, we have the Claymaker. Matthews is still only 25, but has already established himself as one of the best defensive players in the game. He was second for Defensive MVP in 2010 and is the best defensive player that has donned the Green-and-Gold since Reggie White. If you thought last season’s defensive efforts were meager, just imagine if the offense didn’t have to devote two players to Clay every snap. It’s not a pretty thought. Matthews’ rookie contract expires in 2014. He’s in line for a massive contract extension. Super Mario Williams just got a 6-year, $100M contract, and this, off a season he finished with a knee injury. Last season, Da Bears (still suck) signed a 30-year-old Julius Peppers to a 6-year, $84M deal, with $42M guaranteed. When Matthews hits free agency, he will only be 27 and hardly have had a poor season (assuming he’s healthy (knock on wood!!!)). This contract might be particularly difficult. I would not be shocked if the Pack slap the franchise tag on Clay to give them extra time to figure out a deal.

Free agency is a no-go when you need to resign this Orca in the next year or two.

Finally, and probably the reason why Claymaker’s contract may be on the back-burner for a while, Rodgers is in line for a new contract. Savvy as always, TT signed Rodgers to a healthy extension back in 2008 when Rodgers had yet to even complete his first season starting. Obviously, the contract extension was a shrewd move. And, Rodgers still has 3 years before he reaches free agency. But, to say Rodgers has outperformed his contract would be the understatement of the year – remember, if the Pack had franchised Flynn, the franchise number for Flynn would have been more than Rodgers’ 2012 salary. TT will look to sign Rodgers to a deal to keep him in Green-and-Gold for the rest of his career (or at least until his good years are past and the Vikes will overpay out of desperation). Drew Brees’ contract (whenever he signs it) will set a new benchmark for elite QBs. Right now, Mr. Bundchen is playing on a 5-year, $78.5M deal, of which $48.5M is guaranteed. Whenever Rodgers reaches a new deal, I imagine it will reach 9-figures.

Long story longer, if you weren’t keeping track (and I’m not sure I even did), keeping those three players alone will likely cost the Packers upwards of $200M+. And that doesn’t even account for B.J. Raji, Sam Shields (assuming he doesn’t regress like last season), Bryan Bulaga, JMike (again), and Mike Neal (kidding) to name a few others that will also likely need to be resigned.

TT’s drafting prowess is the reason the Packers are set to become the team of the decade. To do so, though, TT must forego free agency in order to ensure he can resign the best players. So, those hoping the Packers will make a run at Kamerion Wimbley, consider: do you want Wimbley or the cap room to ensure the core of our team is together? I think it’s a no-brainer when you look at the big picture.

An Exercise in Futility

TT is averse to free agency, but this could be the year he breaks that trend.

Let’s be honest, talking free agency strategy with Ted Thompson running our squad has been mostly an exercise in futility. The way TT pinches pennies, you’d think he was Mitt Romney’s financial advisor. But, the few times he has dipped his toes in the free agency waters, he’s hit it big by plucking Woodson and Pickett. The Packers have few needs, and free agency might be a good route for TT to fill a need or two.

For starters, the Packers have approximately $6.9 million in cap space presently, which includes an added bonus of $1.6M thanks to Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder. That’s not a lot to wheel and deal, and I expect TT to create more cap space in the coming days. The two obvious candidates are DD and Clifton. Both players have been great players and representative for the Packers throughout their careers. But, it’s a cut-throat business and the Pack have younger and better players that need to see the playing field in their place – Cobb/Gurley and Newhouse. TT has always been one to cut a player one season too soon than too late (see Cullen Jenkins), and I expect this will be no different. Frankly, I’d love to see TT cut Mr. T-Rex arms (Hawk). I have no clue what the cap repercussions may be in doing so (if you can find this information out, please comment and I will update accordingly), but he’s a dud and replaceable. Regardless, if the Packers handle DD and Clifton, they would be sitting with approximately $12M – more than enough ammunition for TT to get to work in free agency.

Even though our defense is in desperate need of some upgrades, the biggest priority in free agency needs to be retaining or replacing Scott Wells. Numerous reports indicate Wells harbors vitriol towards the Packers because they attempted to replace him in years past and refuse to pay him top-5 money for his position. Wells may be in for a rude awakening, though, once he gets to free agency. After all, the same reasons the Packers have continually tried replacing him – short, stocky, and not a road grader – still exist. In fact, his value is probably the greatest with the Packers than any other team because of his familiarity with the system and it being a pass-oriented attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up resigning with the Packers once he sees his market is not nearly as big as he anticipates. This situation reminds me James Jones from last year in that respect.

In the event Wells signs elsewhere, there are a number of available centers in free agency. Chris Myers from Houston is regarded as the best available center. He comes from a zone-blocking scheme and led their top-ranked rushing attack. He’s also over-30, though. An interesting prospect is Samson Satele from Oakland. He’s younger at 27 and anchored the 2nd and 7th ranked rushing offenses the past two seasons. Otherwise, the Pack will have to look to the draft to replace Wells. A pair of Sconnie’s are regarded as two of the best available centers in the draft – Peter Konz (1st round grade) and Kevin Zeitler (guard, but might be better suited for C).

After Wells, then it’s a matter of finding the right fit for the right price on defense. Obviously, the Packers could use upgrades or depth at every position on defense. And, to beat you to the punch, Mario Williams is out of the question. He’s going to demand the biggest contract in NFL history for a defensive player, and the Packers have too many players to resign in future years – Matthews, Rodgers, Jennings, and Raji to name a few. So who, exactly, could the Packers target? Well, who the hell knows, but here’s a few names to keep in mind as the free agency madness gets into full-swing:

Mark Anderson – OLB for the Pats. He resurrected his career with the Pats this past season, recording 10 sacks. At 29, he’s still relatively young and would be an instant upgrade opposite Matthews. He won’t demand top-dollar, either, and would be the savvy, under-the-radar type move that may appeal to TT.

Kamerion Wimbley – OLB for Oakland. He’s under contract with Oakland, but his contract will require the Raiders to cut him soon. He’s 28 and is very athletic and talented at 6′-4″ and 255 lbs. He had 7 sacks this past season, and 9 the year before. In six full seasons, he has 42.5 sacks. Needless to say, he’d be a great compliment to Matthews. Unfortunately, his price tag will probably be too steep for TT.

Adam Carriker – DE for the Skins. He’s a former high draft pick that hasn’t panned out. But, he’s still only 28, and at 6′-6″ and 315 lbs., he could play at NT or DE in the 3-4. Starting in 15 games last season at the nose tackle position for the Skins’ 3-4 defense, he notched 5.5 sacks. Like Anderson, he’s not going to garner much immediate attention and should come on the cheap.

Tracy Porter – CB for the ‘Aints. Tracy Porter happens to be one of my favorite non-Packers player because of this play. Don’t forget, Porter is the player that iced the Super Bowl win with the late pick-six on Manning. He clearly does not shy from the big-moment and, at 26, he’s a player with a lot of potential still in him. Porter’s problem, though, has been staying healthy, having never survived a full season. And because of this, he might come cheaper than a young cornerback with his potential might otherwise.

Reggie Nelson – S for the Bungals. Nelson was another former high-draft pick that never made it with his original squad. He’s a safety the Packers may want to target for insurance in case Mr. Pick-Six cannot return. Nelson had a solid season last year with 85 tackles, 4 picks, and 2 sacks and fumbles apiece.

Do you sense a theme in the players listed above? It was intentional. Outside of Wimbley, they are players under-the-radar and not splashy. That’s how TT operates, and if he decides to dabble in the free agency pool, expect him to target these types of players – good fits at the right price. But, considering his last foray into free agency was the huge signing of Duke Preston, well, I’m tempering my expectations.