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Packers' Free Agent Finds Shouldn't Be Expected to Answer Question Marks on Defense

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Packers' Free Agent Finds Shouldn't Be Expected to Answer Question Marks on Defense

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.

Comments (24)

pkrNboro's picture

"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."

May foster a feeling?
No.
Nope.
Not at all.
Don't feel anything is "solved."

I'm EXCITED that he's not standing pat!

jmac34's picture

ugh Dave Tollefson would not be a good pick up in my opinion

packeraaron's picture

I keep seeing this sentiment. Why? He played very well last year, esp against the Pack, both times. Say what you want about the schematic fit - I'm pretty sure Ted and the guys have something specific in mind for Tollefson.

philip's picture

the same could be said about the draft. you can do all the pre-draft homework you want, but sometimes guys just bust.

that being said, i trust TT and i trust (most of) our coaches to develop any player that is brought in in the offseason, whether FA, drafted player, or UDFA.

PackersRS's picture

I don't see how that applies to the draft. His logic is that there's a good reason these guys weren't re-signed, by more than one team. Particularly in a high demand position such as pass rusher.

chris k's picture

Great Article man! I think Muir is the exact same thing as CJ Wilson... Only difference is got plenty more playing time b/c he was on a lesser team(Colts) and lets not forget he played next to dominant guys in Mathis and Dwight Freeney.

I could see Hargove & Tollefson-moreso helping if what Ted & Mike are thinking is to piece responsibility out on certain downs.

QOTSA1's picture

I don't think anyone thinks the Packers defensive problems are solved, but I do think you may be underestimating Hargrove a bit.

While I agree Tollefson is a bad fit for the Packers defense, I think Hargrove offers more of a pass rush than any of the other defensive lineman currently on the Packers roster, with Raji possibly being the exception.

I still see the Packers drafting a 5-technique early in the draft, but the signing of Hargrove seems like a good start to making over the d line.

Ankit's picture

Great. Is there any other fun you'd like to ruin?

Kidding of course, wholeheartedly agree.

Chris's picture

Don't agree with you there. Are they the second coming of Peppers? Clearly not. But no one has said they were. Are they an upgrade over CJ Wilson and J Wynn? Now that's a different proposition. Bringing them in and creating some competition during off season workouts and training camp should help in the end. They should be able to give our other DEs a bit of a breather during games, and if we find a good rushing OLB in the draft and other players like our CBs pick up their game, I think we stand a good chance to get back to the post season and perhaps make a little more noise this time.

jrunde10's picture

Worst case scenario: these F/As (1) will make camp more competitive and (2) are insurance if this draft class is mostly one of the future at these positions. Definitely agree-- not sure either of these three defenders will be on the final roster.

I think McCarthy was right to an extent when he said the defense's problems weren't personnel issues and that players just didn't execute. Existing defensive players can definitely play better. The losses of Jenkins and Collins hurt, but there were just too many break-downs last year that resulted in big plays. Defenses have been better with less.

PackersRS's picture

Goddamnit.

Screw you and your reasoning and your fancy words, March is finally fun!2!!!

Bearmeat's picture

If Hargrove or Muir work out, that's a win for GB. If not, TT 'only' wasted a combined million on them.

IMO depth and competition are increased, and that is already a good thing. Plus, these vets have shown 'flashes' in the past.

If I'm remember correctly, Cullen Jenkins was either a UDFA, or a 7th round pick. You never know who's going to blow up. And these two guys have the measurables.

dr.aw (38 special)'s picture

I agree especially with Hargrove. The guy has had a rough beginning to his career, but who wouldn't want to come play for the Packers. We will continue to be contenders while this team is intact, and adding some new faces could really spark things up. We need depth, and hopefully this draft will add a lot of really strong players.

aussiepacker's picture

I was wondering if this year TT went into free agency becouse last years draft class had little impact? But if you look at last years draft class they where mostly offensive players so maybe it was becouse of the D's poor play who knows?

wgbeethree's picture

I think free agency itself changed this offseason more than TT's philosophy on free agency or his view on the teams make up changed this offseason if that makes sense. As we all can pretty much agree, TT is largely about "value". We haven't done much in free agency since 2008. In 2009 with the uncertainty of the CBA it was next to impossible to find value because you didn't know what the future was going to be in regards to so many things especially including free agency rights and the cap. Things could have changed so much that if you made moves you were risking too much IMO with so many unknowns about the future. In 2010 the CBA made it so that only players with 6 years of experience were unrestricted lessening the supply of players on the market while the demand remained the same. Basic economics says less supply and an equal demand means less value. Add in the lack of a salary cap that year and it's even easier to see why it was next to impossible to find value. Last season with the shortened free agency period many of the same factors played into it. A smaller time frame meant that if you wanted a player you had to get him right away and couldn't really wait to see how the market played out and find the value signings. This season with things back to normal TT seems to be back to normal. For the first time in 3 years he was able to let the market play itself out for awhile and sign players to contracts for what he felt were good values.

snackpack's picture

Hey, remember when nobody else wanted Charles Woodson and we picked him up?
Not that any of these guys are expected to rise to that level, but just because there wasn't a huge demand for these guys doesn't mean they're garbage.

Rocky70's picture

Draft 2012 is still the key but if Muir, Hargrove & Tollefson can bump some of the dead-weight on the roster (off the roster), I'm all for it.

Your roster needs to change when your "D" gives up a record number of yards. "3 and out" is good so, please, no comments about how 'yards allowed' doesn't matter. Playing with fire is when you (as a defense) have to rely on picks to stop your opponent.

PackersRS's picture

Yet in the same game, the offense scored 1 TD and coughed up the ball 4 times. It's pratically impossible to win in the NFL if you give up 4 turnovers. But go ahead, ignore that fact and blame it all on the defense...

Rocky70's picture

LOL ---- "Same game ????"

I wasn't referring to any specific game. I was talking about an entire season. GB led the NFL with 31 picks in 2011. To go into another season relying on picks to bail out your "D" is a losing proposition. Three factors create picks. Good "D", bad "O" and 'luck'. You can only control one of those three.

Give me '3 & out' anyday.

pooch's picture

No shit Zach,we have crap now for d-line,we shore up to average and draft a stud linebacker and back to superbowl,dont need 100 miliion M.Williams..ask Houson

ebongreen's picture

So, in short, the defensive FAs are depth and competition for the bottom of the roster?

No counter-argument from me. :-)

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

Yessir.

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

I'm in no way 'over the moon' about these signings. I do however feel a bit more comfortable knowing there are more bodies with NFL experience to come in and compete on the D-line. I don't think anybody thinks the D is fixed... That 'tune up' will be complete April 28th!

I am pretty stoked with the Saturday signing though. If wells wasn't going to return, I'm not sure we could have found a more accomplished/trustworthy stop-gap for a year or two. If our offense for some reason misses a beat, I doubt it will be because of Jeff Saturday.

GBP 4 LIFE

DanTX's picture

Agreed with the comments consensus. no pity parties for the free agency lack of big names, but let's be realistic, we do see a push to improve the reserves on the d-line, which accounts for progress.

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