One of the early headlines coming out of Packers training camp involves a tight end who fans did not get to see much of in 2010.
But it isn’t Jermichael Finley.
Instead, fifth round draft choice D.J. Williams has been showing off his impressive ball skills in seven-on-seven segments and individual drills, making fans believe that general manager Ted Thompson has once again struck gold in the middle rounds of the draft.
There’s no denying that Finley is a lock to start as long as he is healthy, but the departure of free agent Donald Lee and no apparent back-up could mean that Williams, a junior from Arkansas, could contribute in 2011.
Wondering if Williams defines Ted Thompson’s mantra of “Packer people”? ESPN’s E:60 ran a segment on Williams portraying his extremely difficult childhood. Growing up, Williams dealt with a drug-inflicted, abusive father and eventually escaped with his mother and sister to Arkansas, where the family of three began a new life.
Two years ago, Packers’ Aaron Rodgers was being booed by Packers’ fans as he stepped on to the team’s practice facility in training camp. Yet he accomplished what many believed to be an impossible feat: stepping out of Brett Favre’s shadows establishing himself as a premier NFL quarterback, passing for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns.
And it was a mere six months ago that Rodgers shed the label of failing to win in the clutch, reeling off six straight win-or-go-home contests on his way to a Super Bowl XLV championship, a game in which he was awarded the MVP (and a shiny, new car).
So with the city of Green Bay backing his every move and a world championship under his belt (pun intended), Rodgers will now try attempt to accomplish the next feat in his already-stellar career: the title of league’s best quarterback.
Since New England’s Tom Brady and Peyton Manning entered the league in 1998 and 2000, respectively, they have been at the head of their classes, combining for 660 touchdowns, four Super Bowl rings and two future busts in Canton whenever they decide to walk away from the game.
But with Manning dealing with a neck injury that could force him to miss time in 2011, and Brady having just celebrated his 34th birthday, the window of opportunity for Rodgers to surpass both just opened, and there’s an excellent chance for him to do it.
The Packers added valuable prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft and re-signed wide receiver James Jones and fullback John Kuhn, but there were a handful of players the team lost last week. Here’s a look at where those players wound up, what it means for those teams and how it will affect the Packers in 2011.
Daryn Colledge: Arizona Cardinals — 5 years, $27.5 million
Why he left the Packers: A common theme with all the Packers who left via free agency is that the Packers simply could not afford them. This is certainly the case with Colledge, who leaves Green Bay after five successful seasons. The money was not there, as seen by the contract Arizona gave him, and the Packers had viable (and cheaper) replacements in Derek Sherrod, T.J. Lang, Nick McDonald and Marshall Newhouse.
Why he joined the Cardinals: Colledge received a big payday as an injury-free starting left guard on a Super Bowl team, replacing long-time veteran Alan Faneca, who retired at season’s end. He will start from day one, protecting new quarterback Kevin Kolb and blocking for Beanie Wells. The Cardinals are starting fresh, in a sense, with Kolb and Colledge is now a piece of that.
What it means for the Packers: Ted Thompson clearly believes in the candidates at left guard, as the money was there for the Packers to bring back Colledge. The rookie Sherrod has seen first team reps during the first week of practice, and Lang, McDonald and Newhouse should make for healthy competition.
Brandon Jackson: Cleveland Browns — 2 years, $4.5 million
The Green Bay Packers announced Wednesday that the team will make its long awaited trip to the White House on Friday, Aug. 12, just one day before they open their preseason schedule at Cleveland.
The visit to meet with the President, a tradition for all major sport champions, had been delayed due to the NFL’s lockout, which forbade coaches and players from contacting each other.
Cornerback Charles Woodson created playful controversy in a post-game address to the team after the Packers defeated the Bears 21-14 in the NFC Championship Game.
He told the team, in regards to Obama, a Chicago native and Bears fan, not traveling to Dallas to watch the team in Super Bowl XLV: “If the President don’t wanna come see us play, we’ll go see him.”
Woodson will now get that chance to go see the President, but his former teammates will not.
The Packers certainly were not the only NFC North team who made big splashes in free agency, both gaining and losing valuable pieces. Here’s a list of notable free agent signings and departure and how it will affect the Packers’ chances at winning the NFC North.
Please let me know if I missed any:
Additions: DT Stephen Paea (R), OL Gabe Carimi (R), CB Corey Graham, WR Roy Williams, WR Sam Hurd, RB Marion Barber, DE Vernon Gholston, DT Amobi Okoye, P Adam Podlesh, C Chris Spencer
Subtractions: LB Hunter Hillenmeyer, DT Tommie Harris, WR Rashied Davis, S Danieal Manning, LB Pisa Tinoisamoa, C Olin Kreutz, P Brad Maynard, TE Brandon Manumaleuna
The Bears improved in a number of areas in the 2011 offseason, but at the same time will be relying on a handful of veterans to make immediate impacts. Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi was a steal at No. 28 in the first round of the draft and will start at right tackle from day one, while former Seahawk Chris Spencer will replace veteran Olin Kreutz, who left on bad terms after the Bears low-balled him on a one-year deal. Regardless of Kreutz’s struggles in 2010, Spencer is a downgrade and will need to prove his worth (and health) if the Bears are to compete.
The Cowboys will have a head start on their offensive scouting report for the Bears if the two meet in the playoffs, as Marion Barber, Roy Williams, and Sam Hurd all join Chicago in 2011. Barber, who rushed for a career-low 374 yards (3.3 YPC), will replace Chester Taylor and act as a third down/goal line back to complement Matt Forte.
Williams, 30, re-joins offensive coordinator Mike Martz, where he enjoyed his best seasons as a pro in Detroit. He hasn’t topped 40 catches in any of the last four seasons but the Bears got him cheap and are hoping an increased role in the offense turns his career around.
Bringing back Corey Graham will help depth in the secondary and Podlesh, who punted in Jacksonville the last four years, ranked 15th in punting average a year ago. Maynard was a fan favorite but had run his course in Chicago, finishing last in the NFL with a 40.1 average in 2010.
The Bears still have major concerns on their offensive line, specifically left tackle J’Marcus Webb, but Carimi will help. Harris is the only major contributor to leave an already impressive Chicago defense, and second round pick Stephen Paea will impress in his rookie campaign.
The date was October 5, 2009.
Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre’s first game against his former team, the Green Bay Packers, had been overshadowed by the five turnstiles in front of Aaron Rodgers. The Packers allowed eight sacks after left tackle Chad Clifton left with an ankle injury. Daryn Colledge and T.J. Lang unsuccessfully attempted to stop defensive end Jared Allen, who finished with 4.5 sacks, and three other defenders recorded sacks in the 30-23 loss.
Fast forward 22 months, to 2011 Packers training camp, and the Packers can actually say their offensive line is a strong suit on their already high-powered offense.
Mainstays left tackle Chad Clifton, center Scott Wells, and right guard Josh Sitton have proved their worth and are locked into starting roles entering the season. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who took over for Mark Tauscher midway through last season, seems to be locked into his position as well.
The Packers’ offense got a major boost Sunday when the team announced they had to come to terms with free agents wide receiver James Jones and fullback John Kuhn.
The announcements came two days after the Packers released seven players, including veterans Mark Tauscher, Nick Barnett and Brady Poppinga, which John Clayton reported saved the team $17.1 million in cap space.
The team wasted no time in bringing back two key cogs to the offense, giving both Jones and Kuhn three-year deals. Terms of the contract were not available as of Sunday afternoon.
The moves will make life on Aaron Rodgers easier and it’s apparent he knew that as the quarterback lobbied in the media to bring back both free agents. He had this to say to Don Banks of SportsIllustrated.com:
“I’m a leader on this team and my voice carries a little bit of weight in the locker room. You don’t get better by taking from the whole. You need a guy like [James] Jones back. You need a guy like John Kuhn back. We need guys like that to win.”
Four down, six to go.
The Packers agreed to terms on a contract with four of their rookies from the 2010 NFL Draft Thursday. Fifth round tight end D.J. Williams, sixth rounders offensive guard Caleb Schlauderaff and Ricky Elmore, and seventh round tight end Ryan Taylor all signed their first NFL contracts, which will be four-year deals, due to theNFL’s new collective bargaining agreement.
Full contract details were unavailable as of Thursday night.
Williams, whose contract involved a $198,000 signing bonus, was selected with the 141st overall pick and will join a deep and talented tight end group consisting of Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree. The recipient of the 2010 John Mackey Award, given to college football’s top tight end, Williams caught 54 passes for 627 yards and four touchdowns. Undersized at 6-feet, 2-inches, 245 pounds, Williams posted a 4.59 forty-yard dash at the NFL Combine and was labeled the top H-back in his draft class by ESPN’s Mel Kiper.
The newest addition to Aaron Rodgers’ arsenal was also rewarded with the 2010 Disney Spirit Award, given to college football’s most inspirational figure, after he, his mother and siblings moved from Texas to Arkansas to escape an abusive father. Williams fits the bill of “Packer people” and will be a threat down the middle of the field. He must add size and, as will be with all rookies, will need to work on his timing in the offense.
Rejoice, members of the anti-Justin Harrell fan club.
The defensive lineman’s era in Green Bay is finally over.
The Packers announced two roster moves Thursday afternoon, releasing veteran linebacker Brady Poppinga and the oft-injured defensive lineman Justin Harrell. The moves will save the Packers around $3 million in cap space, just one day after parting ways with inside linebacker Nick Barnett.
Harrell was plagued by injuries in each of his four years in Green Bay, limiting him to just 14 of a possible 64 games in which he totaled just 27 tackles. General manager Ted Thompson drafted the defensive tackle out of Tennessee in 2007, yet his stock had been dropping on many team’s draft boards due to a torn bicep muscle. Many questioned Thompson reaching on an injury-prone player who did not fill a need, but the defensive tackle showed signs of progress in the seven games he played in his rookie year.
That offseason the injuries began to rack up, as a back injury forced Harrell to the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, and he appeared in just one game before being sent to injured reserve. In 2009, another back injury forced him to miss the entire 2009 season, and after a promising preseason in 2010, the injury bug struck again as Harrell tore his ACL in Week 1 in Philadelphia.
Many NFL teams were busy agreeing to free agent deals and dealing players, but (surprise, surprise) it was the Packers who stayed put on the second day of free agency. While teams are not allowed to officially sign free agents until Friday, left guard Daryn Colledge, offensive lineman Jason Spitz and running back Brandon Jackson all agreed to deals that will end their tenures in Green Bay. Here’s how it will affect the team in 2011:
Colledge signs with Cardinals
There will be a new starting left guard for the Packers when they take the field for the first time in August after Daryn Colledge agreed to terms with the Arizona Cardinals. The deal is worth a reported $29.5 million over five years, with $10 million of the that money guaranteed. A five year veteran in Green Bay, Colledge started 76 of 80 games after being drafted in the second round out of Boise State in 2006. It would have been virtually impossible for the Packers to match that contract, so instead they will look elsewhere at left guard.
Early candidates for the starting gig, assuming the Packers do not address it in free agency, are T.J. Lang and Nick McDonald. Lang, a fourth round pick in 2009, has been on the cusp of making the jump to a starter’s role and will now get his first real chance. McDonald hung on as an undrafted rookie in 2010, and it should make for a healthy competition in August. Marshall Newhouse, a fourth round draft pick a year ago, is a darkhorse candidate.
Spitz signs with Jacksonville
Right. Through. His hands.
Chances are if you are a Packers fan and were watching Super Bowl XLV this past February, you uttered those exact words (or something like it) when wide receiver James Jones dropped what would have been a 75-yard touchdown to put Green Bay up 28-10 early in the third quarter.
That phrase may have been a repeat (potentially with added expletives) of what you said when Jones, now a free agent, dropped another would-be touchdown in the Wildcard game against the Eagles. Or his fumble against the Bears in Week 3 that cost the Packers a chance at completing a fourth quarter comeback.
It’s true. Jones has provided more than his fair share of, “What?!” moments in his four seasons with Green Bay, and many would have no problem to see him join another franchise. But are we selling No. 89 short? Will the Packers miss him more than fans think if ultimately he decides to leave Green Bay?
Aaron Rodgers thinks so.
Inside linebacker Nick Barnett was the first salary cap casualty of 2010 for the Packers, as he indicated Tuesday afternoon on his Twitter account that his days in Green Bay were over.
“Just met with Ted [Thompson],” Barnett tweeted. “Thanks for the great 8 years. Very blessed 2 be apart of such a great tradition and great fans. Happy I was able to be here for the great [Super Bowl] XLV run…I will always keep a special place in my heart for this team and city.”
Later he tweeted, “I look forward to the next jungle Mufasa will roam… 🙂 let’s get it.”
According to ESPN’s Andrew Brandt, the Packers first will attempt to trade the veteran linebacker and, if that fails, will release him.
Thompson’s decision to release the eight-year veteran should come as no surprise, given Barnett’s hefty contract and the team’s current situation at inside linebacker.
Set to make $5.5 million and a $400,000 roster bonus, trading or releasing Barnett will save the team $4 million in 2011. Season-ending injuries in two of the past three seasons and age (30) made justifying Barnett’s roster spot difficult, especially considering he would have returned in a back-up role.
The Packers have broke the bank to shore up their inside linebackers, extending Desmond Bishop to a four-year, $19 million contract in January and then signing A.J. Hawk, a day after they released him, to a 5-year, $37.5 million contract.
The Green Bay Packers wasted no time getting busy on the first day of free agency Monday, agreeing to terms with eight undrafted free agents. Here is a list of the eight players, who can officially sign Tuesday morning, and their chances of making the team’s final roster.
Shaky Smithson, WR/KR, Utah: We profiled Smithson on his own tonight, and you can read all about the return specialist right here.
Tori Gurley, WR, South Carolina: At 6-feet, 5-inches, Gurley brings a dimension that no other Packers receiver can: size. His 4.56 forty-yard dash is quite impressive given that size, and the possession receiver could stick if James Jones leaves for greener pastures. Randall Cobb is a lock and free agent Brett Swain should get the first look in training camp, but Gurley has the size and speed to groom into a solid fourth receiver.
Sampson Genus, C, South Florida: Aside from having one of the cooler names of all undrafted free agents, Genus has produced in the Big East. A team captain and first team All-Big East selection, Genus started all 13 games his senior season and was a Wuerffel Trophy candidate, given to the best college football player who “best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.” The offensive line surprisingly has become a log jam, so Genus will have his hands full trying to make the roster. Aside from Scott Wells, the Packers do not have a true center (Even Deitrich-Smith and 2010 UDFA Nick McDonald both have the ability to play the position, while free agent Jason Spitz does as well).
Anthony Bratton, SS, Delaware:
Have the Packers found their answer at punt returner?
It sure looks that way after they reportedly agreed to terms with undrafted free agent Antoine “Shaky” Smithson, a wide receiver from Utah, on the first official night of free agency.
While Smithson will not be able to sign with the team until tomorrow morning, Smithson indicated on his Twitter account that he indeed would sign on with the World Champions.
There was no one better in college football at returning punts in 2010, as Smithson averaged 19.1 yards per return (572 yards) and scored twice. He was named a Walter Camp first team All-American punt returner for his record-breaking season, while also starting four games at wide receiver for the Utes.
He ended the season with 25 catches for 383 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver, but Smithson is going to make his living as a punt returner, if anything.
It’s that time of the year again.
Howard Eskin of 610 WIP in Philadelphia has reported that the Philadelphia Eagles will have interest in signing quarterback Brett Favre (yes, that Brett Favre) once the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is agreed upon.
Eskin reports that the team could pursue the 41-year-old quarterback after they trade backup Kevin Kolb, who Adam Schefter suggests will be traded to the Arizona Cardinals shortly after the season begins. As funny as it is to joke about another offseason Favre saga, this move actually would make a lot of sense for both parties.