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By CHRIS HAVEL
Packers’ best moves include actually making a fair number of them so far
What a great day in the world of sports.
The Brewers and Rockies tangled on opening day at Miller Park, while North Carolina and Gonzaga awaited Monday night’s much-anticipated NCAA men’s basketball championship game.
Furthermore, the Packers continued to rely on patience, practicality and due diligence to navigate free agency.
Seldom, it seems, are the Packers’ offseason escapades included in any positive assessment this time of year. In fact, their lack of heavy-duty spending on “big name” players has been an annual source of mostly misguided criticism.
Today, I’m here to tell Packers fans that their team has positioned itself to do great things this season.
Packers GM Ted Thompson did enough thus far to lay the foundation for what should be an even more potent offense to go with a greatly improved (nowhere to go but up) defense.
Here is a blow-by-blow assessment:
The signing of tight end Martellus Bennett, coupled with the addition of Lance Kendricks, brings several key elements to the offense. They add considerable mental and physical toughness as rugged, proven veterans.
Bennett’s ability to get open in the middle of the field, in addition to Kendricks’ experience lining up all over the place, gives Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy many more options.
Furthermore, the one-two punch decreases the chance that any one injury could severely limit the tight end position. Bennett also should be an ideal lifeline for Aaron Rodgers on crucial third down plays and in the red zone.
Most necessary move:
Nick Perry’s re-signing was a no-brainer. The Packers’ defense couldn’t afford to backslide and Perry’s departure would’ve made that a grave concern. The reality is that Perry is the Packers’ top pass-rushing threat depending on two variables.
The first is that he remains healthy. The second is that his teammates find a way to generate enough pass rush to allow Perry to win one-on-one matchups when presented with the opportunity.
In other words, Clay Matthews, Kyler Fackrell, Jayrone Elliott and the rest need to stay healthy and up their games. If not, two things are likely to happen: Perry’s sack total will decline and the defense’s rush will continue to be impotent.
Least risky move:
Davon House’s return is a good thing. Some suggest that House is merely a slot cornerback, at best, and that he doesn’t enhance the position’s chances to succeed. I couldn’t disagree more.
House is a pro. Whether he is a top 64 cornerback may be debatable, but there’s no doubt he’s one of the Packers’ top three cornerbacks the day he arrives in the locker room. In fact, it’s unclear which two players would be better at this point.
Best under-the-radar move:
Signing Ricky Jean-Francois gives the defense a fighting chance to deploy a respectable “three” in its 3-4 alignment.
Jean-Francois, 30, is a rugged, battle-tested veteran who can be effective against the run or the pass. He plugs a gaping hole left by the four-game suspension of Letroy Guion.
Quiet difficult loss:
Micah Hyde will be missed. He was a key factor, and at times the glue, in an often besieged secondary. He’s one of those ex-Packers that you wish nothing but the best, except when they play Green Bay.
Most important moves still to come:
The first five rounds of the draft will be critical. The Packers must select at least four players on the defensive side of the ball. That includes a pass rusher, at least two cornerbacks, and a “five technique” (Datone Jones’ alleged position).
In addition, they need to add a running back either in the draft or in free agency. Unless a back falls to them on draft day, I suspect Thompson may go the second-tier free agent route at running back.
Frankly, if Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon is available beyond the second round (and that’s unlikely), he might be the only exception I’d make to the “draft defense” mandate. Mixon appears to be rehabilitated in the wake of a three-year old heinous domestic abuse charge.
The Packers had him in for a visit, and I doubt Thompson merely did it to give other GMs something else to consider.
The prospect of Adrian Peterson signing with Green Bay still has some life, although I can’t see it happening. Peterson visited – where else? – New England today.
I’d be more interested in taking a look at Jamaal Charles, or going the third or fourth round route in the draft.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.