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Tuesday Cheese Curds: Logistics is the name of the game for the 2020 NFL Draftby Evan "Tex" Western on March 31, 2020 at 1:15 pm
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports How teams actually set up war rooms — whether in person or virtually — will be one of the most interesting things to monitor when the draft arrives. When the 2020 NFL Draft does officially kick off on April 23rd — and the NFL has made it clear that it will go on as scheduled amid the coronavirus pandemic — teams will be left in odd setups. Normally, a team’s war room would consist of most of the personnel executives and scouts all together in close proximity, making phone calls about trades and sorting through the draft board as picks come down. Now, the mechanics of each team’s decision-making will be stretched thinner, with gatherings kept to a minimum and team facilities still not guaranteed to be open. Trades will be particularly interesting to follow this year. Teams on both sides of a draft pick trade must agree first, then call the trade in to the league office before it can be processed, all before the clock runs out on the pick. With execs no longer being in the same room — or at least fewer of them being physically present, that could complicate that process a bit and affect the flow of information between individuals on the same team’s staff. All told, the draft is really a remote event anyway, at least for the people making the decisions. The public-facing events and the introduction of the draft picks — the events that have been canceled — are all for the fans anyway, who now are best suited to simply watch the draft from home. There is a bit of a silver lining here, however. Due to the coronavirus situation, teams are now allowed to hold video calls with as many prospects as they’d like. So while top-30 visits, with private workouts and physical exams, are no longer possible, at least teams can get that one-on-one interview time that they do crave. All told, the draft should take place in April with minimal issues. But that will require additional planning on the part of each team to determine just how they will adjust their draft-day mechanics. Keeping NFL draft train on schedule creates significant logistical hurdles | Packersnews.comPete Dougherty sees a lot of major challenges with holding the draft at the end of April, namely the coordination between GMs and scouts on draft day, but he does acknowledge that all teams face the same issues. Perhaps the biggest news here is that teams are allowed to hold video calls with any draft prospect, as often as three times per week per player, so the current situation could actually lead to a more complete picture of players' off-the-field personalities. It is logistically feasible to move forward with the NFL Draft – The Athletic (subscription required)Meanwhile, Amy Trask - a former Raiders executive - looks back at her time in the NFL and believes that there are no logistical reasons to avoid holding the draft on schedule. Whether the league should do so for other reasons is a different discussion, however. Weather, location helped drive WR Emmanuel Sanders to pick Saints over Packers | Packers WireThe Packers apparently made a run at veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders, as he was down to Green Bay and New Orleans as his final two options this spring. The Packers reportedly offered Sanders a three-year contract, but the Houston native wanted to stay closer to home -- but also wanted to avoid the cold and play in a dome as much as possible. Packers, Bucks donate $37,500 to hunger relief efforts | Packers.comThis is great timing for the two teams to donate the proceeds from recent t-shirt sales to food banks in Green Bay and Milwaukee. 2nd Round Fits: Chase Claypool | Packer ReportIs Claypool the guy at 62? He certainly fits the size/speed mold that the Packers seem to love at reeciver, particularly under Brian Gutekunst. Finally, take a look at this fun little story that we found on Twitter last night: In other news... the cat over the road is called Walter pic.twitter.com/loIHA2J4mH— Sian Cosgrove (@sian_cosgrove) March 29, 2020
Blake Martinez was unhappy with his role in Packers’ defense under Mike Pettineby Evan "Tex" Western on March 30, 2020 at 7:15 pm
Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images In his intro press conference to New York media, Martinez expressed displeasure with his recent usage in Green Bay as he was allegedly told to be the “clean-up crew” behind the Smith Bros. The Green Bay Packers let linebacker Blake Martinez walk in free agency this year, as the former fourth-round draft pick signed a contract with the New York Giants early on in the process. Martinez received a three-year, $30 million deal from the Giants, who have him tabbed as one of their starting inside linebackers moving forward. However, the fallout between Martinez and the Packers seems clear, as the two sides seemingly talked only briefly and did not negotiate with any significance. Martinez weighed in on his role on a conference call with Giants media on Monday, and it is obvious from his comments that he was unhappy with how the Packers used and valued him over the past few years. According to Martinez, who was quoted by several Giants reporters, he and the Packers did speak, but that the value the Packers placed on him was not in line with what he felt his value should have been. Furthermore, Martinez said that the Packers do not value the inside linebacker position as a whole the way other teams do, a sentiment that jibes with the lack of resources the Packers have devoted to the spot under general managers Ted Thompson and Brian Gutekunst. That may explain why the Packers were willing to take a chance on a lower-priced player in Christian Kirksey — whose deal was for $6.5 million per year over two years — rather than pony up $10 million annually to re-sign Martinez. However, the role that Martinez said he was asked to play, particularly in 2019, also led to his departure. Martinez told the media that he was “taught and told to be the clean-up guy” on defense. This suggests that he was limited in his capacity to make plays himself, perhaps being told instead to lay back and let the play come to him rather than being an attacking player. He further suggested that this caused misconceptions about his skill set, perhaps alluding to the perception that he has not been an effective player in pass coverage. Further underscoring that Martinez perceived his role under Mike Pettine as a passive one is this comment: Martinez says he had no gap responsibilities in GB this past season and was basically told by DC Mike Pettine to play off whatever Za’Darius and Preston Smith did up front and “make them right.” Hmmm... #Packers #Giants— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) March 30, 2020 This is another way of saying that Martinez was only an afterthought on defense, suggesting that his marching orders were simply to get the team lined up correctly and clean up any mistakes that the star edge rushers made. He seems to think that this role, particularly in 2019, resulted in his statistics and the optics of his game going downhill. As The Athletic’s Dan Duggan notes, the complaint was that Martinez ended up making fewer big plays and tackling ball-carriers farther down field, a trend that was indeed borne out in the numbers. Whether this is the right approach by coordinator Mike Pettine can be up for debate, and this could be a case of exaggeration by a disgruntled former player. Without hearing from Pettine — something that is effectively impossible while team facilities are shut down amid coronavirus concerns — there would be little opportunity to confirm whether Martinez’s description is even accurate. What is clear is that it is Martinez’s read on the Packers’ 2019 scheme, and that it bothered him to not receive more opportunities to make plays of his own. One number that may underscore this difference is the fact that Martinez rushed the passer far less often last season than he did in 2018. Pro Football Reference logged him as having 61 blitz attempts in 2018, when he set a career high with five sacks. That number plummeted to just 24 attempts last fall, though he still sacked the quarterback three times. Although a reduction in pass-rushing productivity can be explained by fewer opportunities, Martinez still took a step backwards in a few other areas that are less clearly explained. Last season, Martinez missed 17 tackles according to Sports Info Solutions, setting a new career-high after missing 12 in 2018 and 16 in 2017. He also performed more poorly in allowing completions into his coverage as well in 2019, giving up a completion rate of 84% compared to 74% in 2018 per Pro Football Reference. He lowered his passer rating against from 118.9 to 102.1, due in large part to reducing his touchdowns allowed from five to two and intercepting his first pass in several years, but his yards per target rose a full yard, almost entirely due to the increase in completion percentage. In addition, Martinez sounds like a man who is excited to have a former Packers teammate joining him in the Meadowlands. That once and future teammate is Kyler Fackrell, whom Martinez praised for his abilities in zone coverage. He also said that Fackrell was in a similar position to him, and that there are “a lot of things he hasn’t been able to show” in Green Bay. Perhaps a big reason for Martinez deciding to sign with the Giants was Patrick Graham’s arrival as defensive coordinator. Graham coached the Packers’ inside linebackers in 2018, Martinez said that the two became “super close” in that season. With Graham also helping on the defense while Fackrell had his 10.5-sack season that year, it’s possible that there may be bigger things ahead for these two former Packers in 2020 and beyond. Still, even if all of Martinez’s comments are entirely accurate, the question remains whether Pettine was right to approach the defense in that way for the good of the team. Although the Packers were run out of Levi’s Stadium twice by the San Francisco 49ers, the unit improved from a 22nd-place ranking in points per game in 2018 to 9th in 2019, and the success of the unit came in large part from its new arrivals on the edge. The Smiths combined for 25.5 sacks and 84 total quarterback pressures, becoming a driving force for the unit. Martinez may indeed have a chance to shine as an individual in New York. But with a rookie head coach and coordinator and a second-year quarterback, it looks unlikely that his new team is set up to compete for a title the way the Packers did a year ago.
2020 NFL Draft: Don’t be surprised if the Packers take a nickel cover defender earlyby Peter_Bukowski on March 30, 2020 at 5:00 pm
Antoine Winfield Jr. may be small, but he was one of the best playmakers in college football last year. | Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images Tramon Williams hasn’t been re-signed, and the rest of the nickel defenders, be it corners or safeties, are street free agents and UDFA’s. Mike Pettine prizes coverage and there are some intriguing players who could bolster this defense. Not another defensive back. Frustration over the development of Kevin King, Josh Jackson, even going back to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix clouds the truth about the current Green Bay Packers roster: they could use some more players who can cover. It’s what we hear so often about linebacker and few players generates more ire among Cheesehead Nation than not T.J. Watt, King, yet the consensus around Green Bay heading into the draft is defensive back won’t, and more to the point shouldn’t be, a focus for the team. Don’t be so sure that Brian Gutekunst, Mike Pettine and the franchise agree on that. We don’t need to solve the coverage vs. pass rush debate to understand how critical speed, versatility, and cover ability are to Pettine’s defense. His desire to be multiple informs every decision the team makes building the roster. It’s foundational to his philosophy. Sub-package is base for the Packers and most teams in the NFL. That part is settled. The formation the Packers played above all others last year involved just one down lineman. Nickel corner/nickel safety, these are starting positions for Pettine, and impactful ones at that. Raven Greene, Ibraheim Campbell, and Will Redmond combined to played 50.4% of snaps as that third safety. Campbell and Greene looked more like hybrid linebackers, while Redmond played more deep safety, allowing Adrian Amos to slide into the box where he’s better suited to thump in the run game. Even Chandon Sullivan, ostensibly a deep backup safety and cornerback on the depth chart, played nearly 34% of snaps because of his versatility to play corner and safety, combined with Pettine’s affinity toward ultra-small sub-package personnel. To wit, nickel corner Tramon Williams played nearly 3⁄4 of defensive snaps and played brilliantly much of the season. If he wants to keep playing, his performance in 2019 offers more than enough incentive for Gutekunst to bring him back, but considering the unique skills of some of these prospects, Green Bay could decide the prudent track is to get younger and more versatile. There’s also a pedigree conversation to have with these positions. Could a healthy Greene or Campbell handle the job? Probably. Is Williams ageless enough to produce at a solid level in 2020? He’s meticulous about taking care of his bodthy, so it seems likely. But Greene is a former UDFA and the Packers signed Campbell as a street free agent. Chandon Sullivan is both of those things and even Redmond, a former top-100 pick, signed off the street. A recent Pro Football Focus data study found it’s the weak points on defense, how few you have, that decide success, not how many stars you have. In other words, is “good enough” really good enough when it comes to players who have to be on the field so often? An infusion of talent could buoy a unit that relied heavily on its pass rush last year to get off the field. The Packers met with at least eight safeties at the combine in Indianapolis, including likely top-100 selections Antoine Winfield Jr, K’Von Wallace, Ashtyn Davis, and Jeremy Chinn. Excellent testing sent teams and evaluators back to the tape on players like Chinn and Wallace, who weren’t necessarily top-100 guys coming into Indy. Add options like Grant Delpit, Xavier McKinney, Kyle Dugger, and Terrell Burgess to this list and suddenly there are myriad options for the Packers to find a do-it-all nickel defender. There are two possible fields of thought on how the Packers could attack a talent acquisition. The first is finding a safety capable of either allowing Darnell Savage to play some slot cornerback or doing so himself. Winfield, Wallace, Davis and Burgess all offer such versatility, with Davis likely being more a back-end safety allowing Savage to cover in the slot. Instead of going to a true nickel formation with an extra cornerback, the Packers could add a third safety, play with that single inside linebacker, and be able to cover with the extra overhang defender while playing bigger upfront. In essence, it’s replacing Tramon Williams with someone who plays safety as well, killing two birds with one stone to a certain degree. On the other side—and in some ways that’s a false choice as the Packers could theoretically do both— Gutekunst could choose to upgrade that nickel linebacker spot. Turn Ibraheim Campbell into Delpit, Chinn, Dugger, or McKinney. Those guys can play deep as well, cover some, and blitz. With the exception of McKinney, they’re bigger bodies than someone like Sullivan or Redmond, giving them a better chance when they have to stick their nose in with pulling guards to defend the run. Going this route also subverts the needs at linebacker. Christian Kirksey will be the main guy inside and he’ll likely be next to a hybrid player most of the time. Receiver will be the sexy pick at 30, while offensive tackle looks the most pragmatic. Linebacker isn’t out of the question early, and Green Bay put in considerable effort at the combine on Day 2 defensive linemen. But with all the focus on these positions in the draft, and those three offer premier talent in this class, Gutey could find value with one of these extremely versatile young talents.
Packers have $13 million in salary cap space before Funchess, Ervin, Redmond signingsby Evan "Tex" Western on March 30, 2020 at 4:30 pm
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images A little bit more cap space will be taken up by the recent contract agreements, leaving the team with just over $11M once the deals are processed. At this time of year, one of the most important numbers for any NFL team is how much salary cap space they have. The Green Bay Packers currently are among bottom ten teams in terms of space, and that number is probably going to shrink a bit more when some recent signings are made official. According to Field Yates of ESPN, the Packers sit a bit less than $13 million under the $198.2 million salary cap, with the exact number coming in at $12,966,433. However, that number does not account for a few recent contract agreements: notably Devin Funchess, Will Redmond, and Tyler Ervin, whose contracts are not yet official. However, we do have details on two of those three and can assume a value on the third. But the net effect that each player’s contract has on the current cap space number must take into account the Top 51 rule, which specifies that only the 51 highest cap hits on a roster are counted during the offseason. Funchess’ deal will pay him $2.5 million this year, but based on his per-game active roster bonuses, his actual cap value for the time being is lower than that. At a cap value of $2,265,625, Funchess takes a spot on the Top 51 contracts list away from a player set to make $675,000, making his current net effect $1,590,625. Tyler Ervin’s deal likewise has a small effect on the cap for now. Due to a veteran exception, his deal counts for just $887,500 on the cap and like Funchess, he pushes another $675,000 player out of the top 51. That reduces the current cap by another $212,500. Finally, that brings us to Redmond. Assuming that he signed a deal for the league minimum at his experience level, $750,000, that cuts down the cap by another $75,000. All told, these three signings would cut another $1,878,125 off the cap value reported above, bringing the team’s current cap space to $11,088,308. The Packers current set of draft picks should account for another $2 million or so in net cap space during the offseason, leaving the team in the $9 million range. It looks unlikely that Green Bay will make any additional major moves this offseason, but there is still flexibility to add a player or two on low-dollar deals if the right fit emerges.
Packers 2020 Mock Draft: Shawn’s first mock keeps Green Bay away from WRs in round 1by Shawn Wagner on March 30, 2020 at 4:00 pm
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images There are talented receiving prospects in this year’s class, but how many will be available when Green Bay is on the clock? Although it will be without an in-person audience, the 2020 NFL Draft continues on this April and promises to be as entertaining as ever. Several teams hold multiple picks in the first round, including Miami (3), Jacksonville (2), Minnesota (2) Las Vegas (2) and San Francisco (2), who will help determine the way the talent will fall in the first 32 picks. Equally entertaining will be how the Packers’ board shapes up, picking near the end of round one at 30th overall, and the directions their rivals choose. Detroit is in a unique position with the third overall pick and quarterbacks on the board. Likewise, Minnesota will own two choices within the eight picks before Green Bay. As the countdown to the draft ticks down, here is Shawn’s first stab at how the draft will unfold without projected draft-day trades and some reasoning behind those picks. Quick-hitters Ross Blacklock is a name surging toward the end of round one in recent mocks and he makes sense for Green Bay despite not being a personal favorite. The Packers’ defense really struggled against the run last season, counting on young players like Tyler Lancaster and Montravius Adams to develop alongside Kenny Clark. Neither made their expected impacts, nor did rookie Kingsley Keke or Dean Lowry, who both failed to register a sack in 2019.Blacklock has a good blend of size and athleticism on the line and the Packers’ brass has never shied away from those type of players in round one, citing the difficulty of finding big men who can move. Blacklock is praised for his high motor and pass-rushing qualities for the five-technique, but may have the versatility to move inside when needed and eventually grow into a stronger run defender. Several receiving and offensive tackle targets of value are off the board at this point and there is no true first-round tight end. The Packers certainly could trade down here, but if not, the Packers elect to take Blacklock. While Denzel Mims is not a personal favorite of this author either, his role and fit in Minnesota without Stefon Diggs could be terrifying if the whole package comes together. Pair the freaky athletic Mims with Yetur Gross-Matos, who replaces Everson Griffen, in round one and the Vikings have a high-upside start to the draft. Another player to watch for Minnesota late in round one? Safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., a former Golden Gopher and son of a former Viking Pro Bowler. The Lions have one of the more intriguing selections in the first round this year. With one route, they could go with Jeff Okudah as an immediate replacement for Darius Slay. On another, they could trade the selection to a quarterback-needy team and get a handsome return to re-build the roster. Yet another route would be to take a quarterback themselves. Detroit has a few years left on the extension it signed with Matthew Stafford, but does have a potential out in 2021. Could the Lions take a chance on a potential All-Pro in Tua Tagovailoa and allow him the opportunity to fully recover from injury while Stafford starts the 2020 season? Speaking of quarterbacks, a bit of an unknown in terms of where he will ultimately go in the draft is Jordan Love. In this version, he falls to pick 24 where New Orleans jumps at the option to groom Love as Drew Brees’s replacement. The size, arm, and mobility of Love is tantalizing for Sean Payton’s offense and there is not a need to rush Love’s development. He makes more sense for New Orleans than he does for New England the pick before. But could a desperate team take the plunge and trade up much higher into the first round to secure Love after the first three signal callers are off the board?