The excitement is completely understandable.
For the first time in a long time, the Green Bay Packers have been somewhat aggressive during the free agency period. With needs at center, defensive line and outside linebacker, GM Ted Thompson has done an admirable job of finding low-priced, low-risk players to add competition to the roster. In Jeff Saturday’s case, Thompson found an affordable answer to the departure of Pro Bowl center Scott Wells to St. Louis.
But let’s be perfectly honest about what Thompson has done on the defensive side of the ball: The work is still very far from being done.
The additions of Daniel Muir and Anthony Hargrove—plus the potential signing of Dave Tollefson, who is visiting Green Bay Thursday and Friday—may foster the feeling that the Packers have “solved” what ailed them in 2011. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
While Muir is a young (28), active defensive tackle that can play the run, we can’t lose context of his signing. Remember, the Indianapolis Colts—a team that couldn’t stop a nose bleed and struggled to get to two wins last season—were fine with flat out releasing Muir mid way through 2011. Thinking he will come in and be the next Cullen Jenkins just isn’t being objective. He may struggle to even make the 53-man roster.
The same logic goes with Hargrove.
He’ll be just 29 by the time the season starts and has shown some flashes of pass-rush, but Green Bay will represent the fourth NFL city Hargrove has called home over the last 24 months. If you think three teams would just wave goodbye to a dominant pass-rushing defensive lineman without a good reason, you’re crazy. Whatever that reason is, chances are it will be the same one that explains why he won’t be the Packers’ answer along the defensive line.
Hargrove’s best case scenario? Makes it through camp and becomes a useful nickel rusher who plays a situational role.
Worst case? Hargrove doesn’t have anything left in the tank and the Packers let him walk just the Saints, Eagles and Seahawks have done the last two seasons.
Either way, the Packers still won’t have their answer at defensive end. In fact, you could argue the roster simply doesn’t have a true five-technique right now, regardless of whether or not Muir or Hargrove make the roster. When push comes to shove, Thompson still has a gaping hole up front he needs to fill with the draft.
If the Packers eventually sign Tollefson, which I think is a very realistic assumption, that acquisition must be kept in the same context. Anyone who has followed me since I came to CheeseheadTV knows I struggle to see the fit for Tollefson in Green Bay. It is striking to me that for all the talk about Tollefson being an intriguing pass-rusher in free agency, only the Packers, Seahawks, Raiders and, to a lesser extent, Buccaneers have expressed an interest in Tollefson on the open market.
For starters, only the Packers play a 3-4 defense, and secondly, each team but Tampa Bay has a history with Tollefson. Both Seahawks GM John Schneider and Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie were a part of the Packers’ front office when Thompson took Tollefson in the seventh round of the 2006 draft. The rest of the NFL seems oblivious to the availability of Tollefson, including the New York Giants. Could the interest he’s received be little more than a history with the personnel men?
Even if there is some pass-rush left to get out of Tollefson, he isn’t going to be the Packers’ fix opposite Clay Matthews. Like Hargrove, Tollefson’s best case scenario lies as a situational pass-rusher. Could a 30-year-old, with no previous experience in the 3-4 defense and limited athleticism, even make the final 53-man roster? It’s not a stretch to think he could bust in his second trip to Green Bay.
Overall, the point here isn’t to bash the three players, as each could bring competition to positions where the Packers desperately need it.
But to consider these players “answers” or say the Packers have “upgraded” on defense may be pushing the bounds of these signings and potential signings.
If the Packers are going to find a game-changer opposite Matthews, or a pass-rushing five-technique like Jenkins, it’s going to come through next month’s draft. Second-tier free agents like Muir, Hargrove and Tollefson will add competition, but the answers will lie in the players Thompson picks.
The real work for fixing the Packers’ defense begins April, 26.