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Packers Should Heed the Lesson Learned from Jerron McMillian as a Cautionary Tale

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Packers Should Heed the Lesson Learned from Jerron McMillian as a Cautionary Tale

When general manager Ted Thompson has a moment to step back and consider the organization's plan of attack at the center position this offseason, he and the rest of the personnel department would be well-served to remember the unfortunate lesson learned from ex-Packers safety Jerron McMillian.

On the surface, it may not seem like much can be learned along the offensive line from a defensive back, but there's more parallels between the two than you'd assume at first blush.

Evan Dietrich-Smith is set to become a free agent when the NFL's new league year begins in early March, but simply letting him walk away and replacing him with J.C. Tretter––as some in the media are already suggesting is a possibility––is an extremely risky proposition.

The Packers found themselves in a similar situation a year ago at safety after releasing long-time veteran Charles Woodson, who was scheduled to count nearly $10 million against the team's salary cap.

Instead of signing a safety in free agency or selecting one in the NFL draft, either of which seem very foolish in hindsight, the Packers stood pat.

Even though M.D. Jennings was the starter opposite Morgan Burnett for the majority of this past season, make no bones about it, the Packers banked on McMillian to win that job––and he did start temporarily.

In 2011, McMillian turned in a largely nondescript rookie season, making 27 tackles, one interception and five passes defensed, but there weren't many hints that he'd be in for a major regression in Year 2.

Jennings and McMillian were locked in a battle throughout the offseason, starting as early as OTAs in the month of May and continuing all the way through training camp. Neither pulled away, and both actually ended up starting the first two games of the season when Morgan Burnett was sidelined by a hamstring injury.

McMillian turned in such poor performances particularly against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 and the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6, allowing several touchdown passes, that he was released later in the season, less than two years after being a fourth round draft choice.

While he was a willing hitter, McMillian was clearly lost in coverage and didn't have the speed to make up for any mistakes.

Now the Packers enter an offseason deciding which direction to go at another position on the roster where they don't have a clear answer.

Dietrich-Smith enters free agency following a season in which he provided consistently solid play and was an upgrade over Jeff Saturday the previous season, but the Packers have yet to offer him a contract extension.

Without hearing the conversations that have taken place between the Packers and Dietrich-Smith's representatives, it's impossible to tell what's going on behind closed doors.

Perhaps the Packers think they can do better. Or maybe it's that Dietrich-Smith is dead set on finding out exactly how much money he can command on the open market as one of the top centers available.

Whatever the case, the Packers would taking a gamble if they were to allow Dietrich-Smith to walk away without replacing him with either another free agent or a high-round draft choice.

While Tretter might get first crack at the job should Dietrich-Smith leave, he's even more of an unknown quantity than McMillian was after his rookie season.

After breaking his ankle in a spring practice, Tretter spent the first three-quarters of the season on the team's Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list before being elevated to the 53-man roster for roughly the final month of the season but was never active for a game.

Head coach Mike McCarthy might be noncommittal to naming Tretter strictly a center, but it appears that's his most-likely landing spot after becoming a fourth round draft choice this past April.

Tretter originally played tight end and then left tackle for Cornell. Like most of Green Bay's interior offensive linemen, Thompson likes to target athletic college tackles and shift them inside when they reach the pro game.

The risk the Packers would be taking by not re-signing Dietrich-Smith or adding a center, however, is that Tretter has not so much as played a singe Division 1-A (FBS) football game, let alone an NFL one.

No doubt, the Packers wouldn't hand the job to Tretter by any means. He'd likely be in some sort of competition with Greg Van Roten and Garth Gerhart, but that isn't much of a competition. Just like McMillian and Jennings wasn't much of a competition at safety.

The moral of the story is that the Packers either have to pony up for Dietrich-Smith or another free agent or a draft choice probably no later than Day 2. As they learned with McMillian, they can't afford to count upon an unproven quantity.

Packers offensive lineman J.C. Tretter. Photo by Brian Carriveau of CheeseheadTV.com.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

Comments (52)

Barutan seijin's picture

Hmm, so EDS was an improvement over Saturday.

Is that what you call "damning with faint praise"?

Walty's picture

EDS graded out as a top 10 C by profootballfocus. He's a very solid center by any measurement.

Point Packer's picture

Agreed. And I thought he brought a good attitude to this past year's O-line. Hoping the Pack re-sign him. Always boggled by the EDS haters. Guy did a better than average job this year. Stability at Center is very important to a consistent offense.

Bert's picture

Correct Brian!! We cannot keep "hoping" that guys like McMillan. Jennings, Tretter, House, etc, etc, etc develop. We need some real players on this team not just "hopes". Time to get real and base our hopes on some real players not just guys we hope develop into players. If EDS is the real deal then pay him, keep him and get on with it.

QOTSA1's picture

I really hope they try to re-sign Dietrich-Smith. Do the Packers really want to go into the season with their 4th center in 4 years?

Tretter has absolutely no experience playing center at any level, so I have my doubts about him being ready to step right in and start.

Globalpack's picture

I think they should make an effort to get EDS back. But if they didn't, I thougt a possibility would be lang to center and then Barclay to right guard. Just one mans opinion.

L's picture

My thought too.

Bibbon Hazel's picture

Agreed. LT:D-Bak, LG: Sitton, C: Lang, RG: Barclay, RT: Bulaga/Sherrod. Bench Van Rotten, Tretter, Draft Pick. Not that doom and gloom if EDS leaves. But still should sign him if the price is right.

WKUPackFan's picture

I'd rather have someone other than Barclay at RG, but otherwise I agree.

ben's picture

The Green and Gold Blue Print
2014 53 man depth chart (w/ 4-3 D)
QB: Rodgers, Tolzien, 6throunder
RB: Lacey, DuJuan, Franklin, 5throunder
FB: Kuhn(2year), 7throunder
WR: Cobb, Jordy, Boykin, 5throunder, Harper
TE: 1strounder, Quarless(2year),Stoneburner, Bostick,
OL: Bakhtiari, Sitton, EDS(2year), Lang, Bulaga, Barclay, Tretter, Sharrod
DL: Neal(3year), Daniels, Datone, Perry, Boyd, Jolly(2year), Mulumba, Worthy
LB: Matthews(MLB), Lattimore, Hawk, 3rdrounder, 4throunder, Chase Thomas
CB: Shields(franchised), House, Heyward, Hyde, Nixon, undraftedFA
S: Burnett, 2ndrounder, Richardson, Banjo
ST: Goode, Crosby, Masthay
Let go: Capers,Finley,Raji,Tramon,JJones,Bjones,Starks,Bush,Pickett,md,newhouse,&wilson.

ArodMoney's picture

Can people stop the CM3 to 4-3 LB stuff? No team would ever take an elite pass rusher and have him rush the passer <10 times a game. NONE.

I can agree that their current personnel certainly looks more suited for a 4-3(especially if Raji or Neal are resigned), but CM3 is playing DE or hybrid Von Miller position if they make the change.

cLowNEY42's picture

Yes - because we should make sure that Matthews gets to keep his stats. Defense be damned.

Hey - I'm not sure that he could play ILB.
I'm not sure it would be a good idea to move him.
I'm not sure switching to a 4-3 would make one bit of difference.

But I AM sure that the current defense is awful. And I AM sure that I hate when people say "can't change the scheme because the new one wouldn't fit Matthews' skill set" (not that you are).

All decisions should be about improving the defense AS A WHOLE.

ArodMoney's picture

I agree that changes need to be made and nothing should be off the table, but having a stronger dline would make the ILBs/Safeties/Corners look much better. Both 49ers games came down simply to a difference in defensive lines. The 49ers don't have to blitz on 3rd and 7 to get pressure while the Packers almost always do. They for sure need help(a lot) at Safety and ILB. But robbing the Dline isn't going to fix the problem.

Hank Scorpio's picture

Matthews is the best the Packers have rushing the passer but I wouldn't call him an elite pass rusher. He gets a fair number of his sacks because he never gives up on a play. Defensively, that characteristic translates to doing just about anything well, including rushing the QB.

More practically speaking, he's a 255 lb guy that is knocking heads with guys that go 310 or more every play. That has to take a toll. The last two years he's missed 9 games and been banged up for more. Maybe that's a bad run. But maybe it is the constant pounding catching up to him.

Of course, the Packers could be locked into rigid thinking that doesn't stray from the accepted norms. Lately, that has bought them a pretty piss poor defense so they might want to change things up a bit. Especially with a guy that does so many things besides rushing the passer so well. Things they've been sorely missing from their defense.

ArodMoney's picture

I'm not saying he's the best pass rusher, but I'd put him in the top 10. He certainly gets paid like he's in the top 10. If he moved to ILB, he'd immediately be the highest paid ILB BY FAR.
Much of what you're saying in the last 2 paragraphs seems like pure speculation. All his injuries the last two seasons came on plays where he was tackling a QB and you want to put him in a situation to tackle more? He might do other things well, but none of them quite as well as rushing the passer. It's not outside the box thinking, it's just common sense.

Phatgzus's picture

Why would they move him to MLB? He'd be a Sam not a Mike in the 4-3.

Hank Scorpio's picture

I think Matthews is at least as good at traditional LB play as he is at rushing the passer. He's got everything you want from a traditional LB. He can move sideline to sideline. He's a good tackler. He can force fumbles. He can cover. He can diagnose. He's relentless.

The Packers could use a LB like that doing those things on the inside of their 3-4, IMO.

Stroh's picture

I think Matthews could play any LB position in either a 34 or 43 D. But he is perfectly suited for 34 OLB IMO. However, pass rushing trumps all other skills on D for a LB. And Matthews is an elite pass rusher! In any other capacity he's good to very good, but not elite.

Mark's picture

Ben,

We have greater needs than taking a TE in the 1st round! sign quarless; we still have nelson, cobb, boykin. DEF needs to be addressed either DL or Linebacker 1st pick.

Stroh's picture

Only LB I would take is Mosley. He's a perfect fit, but probably won't last till #21. DL either Hageman or Tuitt would be excellent picks. I would say Safety is a definite possibility as well. Clinton-Dix or Pryor would be good picks. Used to like Clinton-Dix but now I'm kinda leaning toward Pryor.

Turophile's picture

Ted will take the time to evaluate Tretter before he jumps early at a C.

There is no real difference between getting a center this year and going with a guy who appears to be projected as a center from last year. In fact the extra year Tretter has had, injured or not, puts him in a stronger position than a rookie. It was not his brain, eyes and ears that were injured.

Ted will not use a 2nd or 3rd round pick there, until it is clear he needs to, which is far from clear at present.

Another thing that still has to play out is whether Lang becomes an option at center. Then Tretter, Barclay, maybe one of Bakhtiari and Sherrod become options for guard.

Much has still to be played out here. The Packers are always pretty tight about what they will be doing. Even if they have a plan (and they probably do) us fans are unlikely to hear about it until after the draft. I don't think the Pack will grab any OL prospect on day one or two. They may get a late rounder, nothing more.

Hank Scorpio's picture

I don't accept the premise that JC Tretter is the one and only plan at Center in the event EDS leaves via free agency. Barclay struggled at Center but he could play RG with Lang sliding over to Center. I'm comfortable with Lang-Barclay at OC-RG. Or Tretter-Lang. Or EDS-Lang.

Heck, maybe Lane Taylor develops into a player. Stranger things have happened. It took Marco Rivera 3 years to start and he developed into an outstanding interior OL. Scott Wells and Mike Flanagan also took a while after being drafted to make their way into the lineup. Once they did, they were fine.

They would still have Bakhtiari, Sherrod and Bulaga for OT if they move Barclay inside, where his limited athleticism and bulldog attitude seem like a more natural fit.

I wouldn't object to drafting another OL in the event EDS walks. Or if he stays for that matter. Protecting Rodgers is too important to neglect in even the slightest way. If there is an OL that qualifies as BPA, go for it. But I don't think they need to particularly worry about finding a starting OC this offseason-- with or without EDS re-signed.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I think EDS is a must re-sign, unless his demands are exorbitant. Moving Lang, who other than not fumbling the snap has not shown the ability to play center at a mediocre or better level, merely weakens GB at the guard position and at center. Of course, someone on the team might blossom at center, or the draft choice, if one is made, might be a gem. I am already crossing my fingers hoping that GB can find 2 decent tackles out of Bulaga, Bakhtiari, and Sherrod. Having a probable weakness at center too leaves way too much to chance, and makes having those receivers, Rodgers, and Lacey less efficient. And in 2015, it leaves GB with Buklaga as a FA, Sherrod with a very expensive team option, and only Bakhtiari and Barclay as possible NFL tackles. And I am assuming that Bulaga is making a full recovery, something GB is known to not always be forthcoming about.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I hope we resign EDS. I thought he played well. I know his rating wasn't high according to pro football focus. But from what I have seen and what I heard from others, he played well.

I think the combination of Sitton, EDS, Lang gives us our best interior OL since Wahle, Flanigan, Rivera.

Evan's picture

Didn't PFF have him as the 8th best center this season? That's pretty high, if you ask me.

packeraaron's picture

PFF also had Jeff Saturday rated as their #5 center before the Packers signed him in free agency...

Evan's picture

haha...what's your point? Saturday was a Pro Bowler with the Packers.

JK

Stroh's picture

Was that the 5th best Center in FA? Cuz I doubt it was 5th best in the NFL. I always thought Saturday was a good sign cuz it gave them a vet to make the OL calls and he was great leading the OL and snapping. His blocking wasn't very good but I could live w/ that since he was great at the other things. He also was someone who would mentor EDS and turn him into a good player. All of which was true. EDS is now a good Center and IMO a player worth keeping around for a few years. However, w/ Lang and Sitton locked up thru '16 starting Tretter wouldn't be the worst thing either. He would have 2 strong veteran players to help him.

Either way I think the OL is in good hands for a couple years. No worries on the OL to speak of.

Nopainnogain's picture

Their #5 grade was based off his PREVIOUS season (last yr w/ colts). not a prediction of how he would perform in the future.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I don't remember exactly. But I was thinking they had EDS with a minus rating on the year. I think they had him rated the lowest on the line? I could be wrong about that.
I remember it was on Railbird one morning. I don't remember the actual numbers they had for him.

While I like PFF and they do a good job, I think their ratings and grade's can be a bit deceiving. It doesn't always tell the whole picture.

Evan's picture

I'd be pretty surprised if EDS really graded out lower than Barclay.

But, either way, yeah, PFF ratings aren't gospel.

WKUPackFan's picture

Right there with you PFF not being the gospel.

Nopainnogain's picture

PFF has it's flaws, but it is a better metric than most, especially for OL play. EDS graded as the second-best Packer OL for the season behind Sitton and finished with +12.1 grade (#8 center in league). Lang, Barclay & Baktiari finished at +11.0,-4.7, and -6.9, respectively.

mark's picture

I suspect EDS is not back and the Packers will draft a late-round guy to compete with Tretter. You can't keep everyone. Shields and Raji more important. And looming extensions to Nelson, Cobb, etc also have to be considered.

Evan's picture

I'd keep EDS over Raji.

Bert's picture

Totally agree with that one Evan. At least EDS can and will play.

Nick Perry's picture

Hell yes! The way Raji has played the last few seasons especially 2013, I think he'll be kicking himself for turning down $8 million. Then again there's always some team that will throw "Stupid Money" at a guy like Raji.

ben's picture

My dream roster after dream draft: (4-3D)

{Tolzien, Brad Jones($,ILB), & Jonathan Franklin} traded for {LaMichael James, 5th round pick & Craig Dahl($,S)}

QB: Rodgers, Flynn(2year), UndraftedFA
RB: Lacey, DuJuan, LaMichael James(KR), Dri Archer(7thRound)
FB: Kuhn(2year), Jay Prosch(6thRound)
WR: Cobb, Jordy, Boykin, Jeff Janis(4thRound), Harper
TE: Jace Amaro(1stRound), Colt Lyerla(5thRound), Stoneburner, Bostick
OL: Bakhtiari, Sitton, EDS(2year), Lang, Bulaga, Barclay, Tretter, Sharrod
DL: Neal(3year), Daniels, Datone, Perry, Boyd, Jolly(2year), Mulumba, Worthy
LB: Matthews(MLB), Hawk, Kyle Van Noy(2ndRound), Telvin Smith (3rdRound), Lattimore(tendered), UndraftedFA
CB: Shields(franchised), House, Heyward, Hyde, Nixon, UndraftedFA
S: Burnett, Tre Boston(5thRound), Richardson, Banjo
ST: Goode, Crosby, Masthay
Let go: Capers,Finley,Raji,Tramon,JJones,Quarless,Starks,Bush,Pickett,md,newhouse,&wilson.

Bert's picture

Tolzien, Brad Jones and $? I know N. Bowman got hurt but Brad Jones?? Surely they have somebody on their roster better than B. Jones? I doubt if Jones and Tolzien and maybe Franklin could even make their 53 man roster. Doesn't hurt to dream though.

al fresca's picture

Love you let go list other than Starks. I really liked his play, what little he got this year. With Dujan coming back and Lacy, the three of them would be formidable, especially when Starks has a different run style.
I would add Sherod, he just is not NFL material and James Worthless Worthy, you will never get any play out of this guy.

ben's picture

I'm not a huge fan of starks, but he did play well this year and I can see his value as a another bruiser, especially in the 2nd half of games. But I got a thing for LaMicheal, & I think he's going to blow it up when given the chance.

Sharrod and worthy are under contract, & worth a roster spot and the chance for the money. I'd agree with you that sharrod didn't look like NFL material, with zero chance at guard. Worthy hasn't impressed either but does have that 1st step but would be better suited in a 4-3 (like perry, daniels, neal, jolly, mulumba, datone, boyd, hawk.....)

ben's picture

I also see the 49ers putting some value in tolzein with his apparent talent, cap friendly contract, the time they've already put into him, his new found knowledge of the rival packers, and their not so good current backup. While the packers should be able to leverage a favorable deal with Matt Flynn. I also see brad jones, a starting MLB for a playoff caliber team w/ similar scheme, having some value for the 49ers. If we're willing to eat one of their smaller bad contracts, they may be perfectly willing to eat Brad's unnecessary $8million.

Sharrod and worthy are under contract, & worth a roster spot and a chance for the money. I'd agree with you that sharrod didn't look like NFL material, & has zero chance at guard. Worthy hasn't impressed either but does have that 1st step. He would be better suited in a 4-3 (like perry, daniels, neal, jolly, mulumba, datone, boyd, and especially HAWK.....) Sharrod and probably worthy won't be with the packers after the year.

Bert's picture

I sure wish you guys were running the 49ers front office. We got lots of guys besides Tolzien and B. Jones that we would be more than happy to trade for draft picks or even gift certificates.

Nick Perry's picture

Worthy was a rookie 2nd round pick in 2012 and was hurt in week 17. Kinda quick to give up on him isn't it? Datone Jones didn't tear it up either, are you ready to tank on him too? I wish TT would have taken Devin Still instead, but lets see what he does next year before we call him worthless.

al fresca's picture

I can't comment on any of this other than Ted Thompson and the upcoming draft scare the hell out of me.
Here's one problem Ted carries with him to Senior Bowls, et al: The players are agented up and know fully well he is a tight ass. Many top recruits do not want to have anything to do with him. Its all about da mooney.

Bert's picture

Sorry al fresca but I have to laugh. You are kidding right? If you aren't kidding it's still pretty funny.

Stroh's picture

Your SO full of Shit... Thompson is known as a straight shooter. No BS... Agents like working w/ him. And every player that has ever played in GB says its a terrific place to play and great organization to play for!

ben's picture

He didn't say Ted wasn't a straight shooter. He said he is a tight ass. You want to argue with that? And I'm pretty sure agents and players are aware this. Ted doesn't sign or resign many free agents, except for rookies, not even his own. And Greenbay may be your and my kind of town, but there are a lot of players, probably a majority, who would rather play a city less frozen, more culturally diverse, that's closer to friends and family, that possibly has no income tax, with a GM more likely to show them the money.

I'm so full Of shit!

Nopainnogain's picture

why does it matter if they think TT will pay enough to retain them? they can easily move on to another team after. all these guys want is a shot to play in the league and put their skills on tape. the Packers have given meaningful playing time to tons of UDFA's over the years. as for the guys that are drafted, they don't get to pick where they play so it's a moot point.

Greenville h's picture

Thompson needs to stop drafting lower level talent and undrafted free agents and think there just gonna come in and do good it dosent allways work like that. Judging from the past couple years it hasn't been good doing it that way.
This guy Has to stop doing that.

Nopainnogain's picture

what is the alternative? plenty of high draft picks are busts too and there isn't much money to spend in FA. Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, and EDS were all UDFA's and have done well in the league.

you are basically saying to be the atlanta falcons. throw all your money at a couple has-been FA's and trade all your draft picks to move up and grab a stud. how has all that worked out for them?

fish and crane's picture

"the army that lost a shoe".... Tretter's injury in that odd fumble drill way back resonates into the now creating a tricky situation with EDS. So many unknowns again. Nice comparison to last year and the safeties, BC. What a job TT has with all these experts waiting to pounce.

And when they do...I'd like to take them back to Christmas's past 1973-1991

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