As several media members have reported, and we here at CheeseheadTV later passed on, the Green Bay Packers are planning to host free agent Dave Tollefson on Thursday and Friday of this week.
The reasons for Tollefson’s visit are fairly obvious.
A former seventh-round pick of Ted Thompson and the Packers back in 2006, Tollefson is likely viewed as a low-priced option that could potentially help bolster Green Bay’s pass-rush starved defense. Thompson has always valued players he is familiar with over relative unknowns, and you could make the argument that the Packers should be doing everything they can—whether it be through free agency or the draft—to fix a pass-rush that collapsed the team’s defense in 2011.
Call me the Devil’s advocate, but I struggle to find the fit for Tollefson.
While he has put up numbers in a rotational role with the Giants, including five sacks in 2011, Tollefson is far from the pure pass-rusher that some have made him out to be. Let our good friends over at Pro Football Focus help highlight that truth.
According to PFF, Tollefson has played on 758 pass-rushing snaps for the Giants since 2008. Over those 758 snaps, Tollefson has registered 10 sacks, 12 quarterback hits and 26 pressures, for a grand total of 48 total “pressure plays.”
Let’s compare that with what the Packers received from incumbent Packers’ starter and fellow free agent Erik Walden during 2010 and 2011.
Over 574 pass-rushing snaps the last two seasons—which, mind you, includes just the tail end of 2010, the ensuing playoff run and 2011—Walden tallied five sacks, 15 quarterback hits and 29 pressures. In total, that’s 49 “pressure plays.” Less snaps rushing the passer for Walden but more overall production.
Even Brad Jones from 2009 to 2011 had a higher pressure-to-snap ratio than Tollefson has during his NFL career.
But even if you think Tollefson is a better overall pass-rusher than what the Packers’ currently have the roster, there’s still a position change that he would likely have to undergo to make an impact in Green Bay.
Playing with his hand in the dirt exclusively in New York, the 266-pound Tollefson would almost certainly have to transition into a standup 3-4 outside linebacker for the Packers. He’s simply too small to play defensive end in a Dom Capers’ front.
After the Packers’ first expressed interest in Tollefson last week, I took the opportunity to glance over a few of the Giants’ games from last season to help me get a gauge on how the 29-year-old may hold up as a 3-4 outside linebacker. I saw a limited athlete that relied heavily on hustle and favorable matchups to make a mark rushing the passer. A transition to the 3-4 didn’t look like it should even be on Tollefson’s radar, and maybe it’s telling that the three other teams reportedly pursuing him are the Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who each run 4-3 fronts.
Given the current circumstances, however, I believe the Packers will eventually end up signing Tollefson.
Thompson knows him, he should come relatively cheap and the Packers need to look down any avenue to upgrade their ability to reach the quarterback next season. In addition, the Raiders are currently cash-strapped and the Seahawks already had Tollefson in for a visit late last week.
But that doesn’t mean signing Tollefson would be a fix, or even an upgrade over what the Packers’ currently have on the roster. If the team truly wants to fix their pass-rush opposite Clay Matthews, they’ll likely have to do it with a top pick in this year’s draft.
Second-tier free agents, especially ones who will be making a position change and lack tremendous athleticism, aren’t likely to be the answer.