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Point of Veau: Packers Handcuffed at Inside Linebacker

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Point of Veau: Packers Handcuffed at Inside Linebacker

Time for clichéd exercise: Quick, name the best inside linebacker on the Packers... I'll wait.

There's no shortage of candidates with seven of them on the roster.

I'm assuming you and I had the same player in mind. Desmond Bishop. When healthy, he brings a physical presence not exhibited by the other linebackers on the team and might have had the best performance of any defensive player in Super Bowl XLV when he had eight tackles, including three for a loss and a fumble recovery.

The only problem with Bishop is the "when healthy" caveat. After tearing a hamstring in the first preseason game last season, he was lost for the year and placed on injured reserve.

For those looking at the glass half full, Bishop will have more than a year to recover by the time the 2013 regular season opens in September. That gives him a good chance to get back to full strength and up to speed.

But there are no guarantees. However unfortunate it would be, there's always the possibility that Bishop won't be the same player he once was. That's part of the reason the Packers have made sure they have other options at the position, an insurance policy in case Bishop doesn't return to form.

The same goes for D.J. Smith. Seeing as his knee injury occurred at midseason, his timeframe for recovery is even smaller, perhaps making him a candidate to open the season on the PUP list.

While the Packers did little in the way of courting other teams' free agents this offseason, they did make three transactions ensuring that their depth at inside linebacker was not compromised.

First they re-signed Rob Francois, an unremarkable move that maintained said depth. Then they came to an agreement with A.J. Hawk's camp that made sure the former first-round pick's job was secure in Green Bay.

Finally, they re-signed Brad Jones, the player who exceeded expectations while filling in for Bishop and Smith in 2012. Jones received starter's money from the Packers, and it's hard to believe he will be relegated to the sidelines while pulling that kind of paycheck.

Add in Terrell Manning and Jamari Lattimore at the position, and the Packers have more inside linebackers than they know what to do with.

None of the aforementioned inside 'backers inspire boatloads of optimism, or at least they have yet to do so: Bishop and Smith are injury question marks. Hawk can't make impact plays. Francois and Lattimore are special teams players.

There's a glimmer of hope with players like Jones and Manning that they'll develop into something more, but they haven't done anything special thus far in their careers.

The worst part of the situation is that the Packers have invested so much into a mediocre group of inside linebackers, they've essentially prevented themselves from potentially improving the position outside of the late rounds of the NFL Draft.

The combined salary cap figures for the seven inside linebackers currently on the roster is nearly $15 million for 2013, and the only ones whose contracts expire in 2013 are Francois and Lattimore.

Ted Thompson might subscribe to a "Best Player Available" mantra in public during his press conferences, but it's very difficult to see the Packers selecting an inside linebacker, no matter how good, during the first round or two of April's Draft simply because of the numbers game at the position.

The first few rounds represent the best opportunity to improve the caliber of player at inside linebacker, and the chances of the Packers doing so is slim.

Adding another inside linebacker in the first round, for example, would challenge the Packers to effectively manage their salary cap while still saving money for other positions on their roster.

The Packers figure to trim the fat eventually. Maybe a year from now Hawk becomes expendable. And maybe they let Francois and Manning walk away in free agency.

But that does little in the way of improving the inside linebacking corps in 2013.

Brian Carriveau is the author of "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.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (40) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Denver's picture

Still not very happy about the re-signing of Jones, but hopefully I'm way wrong.
And still would love to see them draft Alonso if he's there in the 3rd. Possibly even 4th??

Mike's picture

He won't be there in the fourth. And safety is coming in the third. Sorry. No Alonso

Denver's picture

Yeah, 4th Rd. is probably a pipe dream. I'm hoping S in the 2nd Rd.

Satori's picture

"...The first few rounds represent the best opportunity to improve the caliber of player at inside linebacker, and the chances of the Packers doing so is slim"

Well, they spent the 5th overall pick of the draft on one ILB, how did that work out ? And the one ILB we do like (Bishop) was a 6th rounder

The Packers can still draft an ILB high if they so desire, there were allegedly 7-9 teams interested in Brad Jones.
So if they do draft an ILB, Jones would be pretty easy to trade.
And by re-doing AJ's contract, they lessen the blow if they need to release or trade him too.
Packers aren't hand-cuffed, but they are in a position to take the BPA instead of being forced to pick a position of need. TT fills up the holes as best he can in March/April- allowing him the benefit of staying true to his board.

Go to packers.com and look at the transactions for every March / April - Packers fill holes in prep for the draft.

Brian Carriveau's picture

The problem with those guys is that they take years to develop, such as the cases for both Bishop and Jones. Granted, so do some of the first rounders, but the chances are greater that the first rounders will be able to contribute in Year One.

Stroh's picture

I don't think the Packers consider ILB a priority or playmaking position. OLB is which id why they used 1st rd picks on Matthews and Perry. They're happy w role players starting at ILB. I can see releasing Hawk after this yr.

I worry about Bishop. Surgery on a torn hammy is rare ans cause for concern. It can be career ending, hence the re-sign of Jones. There's a chance 3 or 4 of the ILB won't be in GB next year.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I agree with all that was said. I'm concerned with Bishop coming off a torn hamstring, DJ Smith coming off a torn acl. I would be very hesitant to think they will be starters opening day and be really good players right away.
I am just really interested to know if the Packers took Ogletree off their board due to his off field issues.
I would love to see them draft Ogletree in the first round but I can see him off their boards and I can see him not making it to them too... I think he is a Patrick Willis/Navarro Bowman type of player.
Another name i would watch for is Arthur Brown. He can play OLB and ILB, and I think he could be the Packers first round pick. He could add some versatility to the Packers defense.

Stroh's picture

Brown would play the same position as Ogletree. He might be an option too, but more in the 2nd. Like I said, I don't think the Packers consider ILB to be a playmaking position and are just using role players, while using premium resources on OLB.

I really like Ogletree's game and think he would be a great fit. I actually think he'll be available at #26, but his off-field issues will drop him out of 1st round consideration for the Pack. Maybe if they can trade down 10 spots and get him in the top 2nd they would take a chance on him. He's still one of my favorite players in the draft and I would love to see GB draft him. Unfortunately I don't think it'll happen.

Lou's picture

You are right in your analysis, they do not view it as a key position in the 3-4 as they do the outside LB position, no question about it. Bishop's injury ended the career of O-Line coach James Campen and one of Ron Wolf's most highly regarded LB's drafted #2, Mark Donofrio of Penn State (never got on the field). When one leg is shortened after that type of surgery balance is a problem. The real key is Perry, the only reason he will not become a force based on his almost unequaled talent level (record setting combine results) is attitude and "want", Greene needs to boot him in the butt once or twice a week to get it out of him.

MarkinMadison's picture

They spent the #5 pick on Hawk; not sure why they would do that if the position is not a priority. And even if you are right based upon what they have done in the past, that may have changed. They were gashed so badly up the middle by the 49ers that the issue has to be addressed somehow.

Stroh's picture

Hawk was an OLB in a 43 D before we switched to the 34. I hope your more aware of the Packers than that. Hawk was drafted as an OLB and playmaker, when he failed to be a difference maker they moved him inside, that along w/ the change to a 34 D is why Hawk is an ILB.

And don't get me wrong I would love a playmaker at ILB. My favorite player for the Packers to draft at #26 is Alec Ogletree, the ILB from U Ga, who looks like a big time playmaker.

Bearmeat's picture

I couldn't disagree more with this article more Brian.

Assuming Hawk is gone after this year, the only difference between ILB and OLB is that TT has hedged his (money) bet with 5 different players. (Bishop, Smith, Jones, Manning and maybe Francois).

While it's not likely that even 2 of them will end up being great players (or recovering form in Bishop's case), it IS likely that 2 of them at least become solid players. That's all you can ask for. It's not possible to have superstars at every position in today's NFL. Look at the 2010 squad. Or really, any of the SB champs since 2000, for that matter.

15 million for 6 players in a single year is more than you wish it'd be, but it's not ridiculous. 2 starters out of 22 should probably make more than 7 million a year anyway. So really, you're talking about 8 million in extra money this year to hedge the bet.

With the cap figure the way it is this year, GB is probably not going to make any moves of consequence in Free Agency anyway. (No Bradshaw, No Huff IMO). That means, after the draft, there will be about 15 million in free space this year. I'd bet ARod, CM3 and maybe Raji make up that 15 mil. It's next year that the money really gets tight.

And in the meantime, TT has purchased lots of insurance at ILB. No one knows who is is going to step up, but since the money is there for now, ILB is a good position to gamble on.

Chuck's picture

Lattimore and francois could be cut for upgrade and dj could start on pup. If a stud ilb is found in draft they will make room. If not we're fine.

GBPDAN's picture

Thanks Ted for blowing money on our slacker ILBs and oover paying Finley. Im glad we have no quality RB and that we need better Olinemen and a more physical D. Your doing great

Evan's picture

:Ted points to his Super Bowl ring:

cow42's picture

so - the ring absolves the fact that the CURRENT team has no quality...
ILB
DE
S
RB
TE
LT
C
... got it.

silly me. i though his job was to try to win MULTIPLE rings while having a future hall of fame qb.

Stroh's picture

Theres clearly alot more talent on the team than you think. They aren't far off and if one or 2 players step up they have legit SB aspirations. You don't think so, cuz your in love w/ the 9ers even tho they don't have a SB in 20 yrs!

Shawn's picture

The 49ers only have one more year to get that Supper Bowl ring and then they will go down hill. Kaepernicks contract ends in 2014. They will need to resign him before then to some huge contract and will be forced to make roooooooom. They will be forced to let go of some of their all star cast that also have contract years coming up.

Zub's picture

IMO the inside LB position is all about chemistry between both inside LBs at that position. The 2 players that compliment each other and gives Dom Capers the most options in his defensive are Jones and Bishop, these two are the most athletic and can cover the average tight end.

Bishop can make impact plays and can be strong against the run and Jones can cover a tight end, both can rush the QB

Someone explain to me the Packers love affair with Hawk? If the Packers cut Hawk tomorrow only a handfull of teams would be interested at veteran minimum salary.

Jamie's picture

You left out one very important factor...

Other than Ogletree, who has non-football related issues, there are no glaring impact ILB worthy of a 1st or 2nd rd pick in this draft.

That, IMO, is as big a factor as our current depth.

hump's picture

well brian, gonna go out on a limb and say they plan to use jones on the outside some,or else ted has totally lost it! i like brad but you nailed it, how can you spend 4 mil a yr on back up linebackers when you have md jennings as a bottom of the barrel starting safety, and then let 4 or 5 reasonable priced safetys sign elsewhere. ted please!!! sign michael huff so we at least infuse pro talent at the position!!! and oh yeah ted, 2.8 for jenkins, canty or spears wouldnt have hurt either!!

redlights's picture

GB fills out its roster with ST'ers, so they can fit there.

I think that their also hedging for injuries.

Lastly, could we be talking about 5 LBer set to stop mobile QB's?

hump's picture

well brian, u nailed it. i like brad but how can u pay back up lbackers 4 mil yr when you have GLARING weakness at safety!! md jennings or mcmillian are special teamers if they're lucky. a boatload of safety talent available in free agency and ted refuses to put pro level talent back there.Instead we again will watch jennings chase capernick from 10 yards behind in playoffs next year! ted please!!! michael huff at least! kenny phillips 2mil yr is gone and oh yeah d liners jenkins canty and spears for approx 2.8 mil yr are all gone too!! throw us a bone ted, we got 5 prime yrs of arod left. dont choke this thing like we did with favre! win now and we will rebuild in 5 years!!! p.s... morgan burnett ... pretty solid but thats all we got

Stroh's picture

I know fans like you. Piss and moan he won't sign an overpaid oft injured FA. Then if be signs one like Phillips and he get hurt and you bitch at him for paying for a FA thats always hurt.

Classic.

KennyPayne's picture

All that $ being paid to mediocre or injured ILBs (or in Smith's case both) is at best perplexing and at worst an indictment of TT's overeliance on the draft and develop approach.

MarkinMadison's picture

I wouldn't mention Smith there. He's making less than $600K this year. You pay Smith no matter what else is going on here because he is dirt cheap. Bishop, Hawk, Jones. That is where you money is at this position.

hump's picture

you got that straight kenny payne #85

MarkinMadison's picture

I don't see the position getting better this year either, unless Bishop is back 100%. Pray Bishop and Smith get better, keep Hawk and Jones in case they don't. I think that is the strategy here.

Derek in CO's picture

Uh Oh. Teo got his 40 time down to 4.75 today. Does GB consider him? He had a terrible title game, but had to be the thoughts of make believe dead girlfriend weighing heavily on his mind.

Bibbon Hazel's picture

Cow, Bibbon say if Perry plays all year the Packers play the Ravens in the Superbowl, not your 9ers. ILB has depth. If the BPA is an ILB Tinkering Ted scoops him!

Lars's picture

"Handcuffed at ILB? That's one way to say you had Ogletree or Minter pencilled in in R1.

Could it be Thompson looked at the ILB talent pool in the draft and said 'no thanks'? Seriously, would Te'o and his 4.83 speed or Minter at 4.81 be better than Hawk and Jones who have played in the system for years? Ogletree is a player that many fans covet. he's also way overrated. His position was OLB at Georgia and his numbers, including his unimpressive 4.71 40, were similar to those of Manning a year earlier at NC. Ogletree was also described as "a complete idiot" by one NFL personnel man. He's certainly a character risk. Thompson was never going to take him in R1.

Now, instead of over drafting an ILB in one, GB can focus on more pressing needs like DLine, S and RB.

(It's also interesting how many fans have a problem with Brad Jones' salary, but nary a whimper about their man AJ Hawk STILL on the roster at $3.5 million per mediocre year. Jones saved the Packers at ILB last year and deserves the payday.)

2 share owner's picture

I actually find the comments about Jones and Hawk to be quite the opposite of what you are stating. Not saying you are wrong, just my perception.

THEMichaelRose's picture

I'm giving Jamari Lattimore a 12% chance of making the team this year.
Somebody's gotta get cut to make room for cheap draft picks and cheaper UDFAs, why not a former UDFA who has done absolutely nothing?

Brian Carriveau's picture

Except gain the respect of the entire team to be named a postseason captain.

jmac34's picture

Jones' signing seems to be a sign that Ted Thompson does not have total confidence that Bishop will be ready for the season or that he will be the same player. Lets not forget that Brad Jones was the tenth rated ILB by PFF for the year and was considered good against the run

https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2013/03/21/2013-free-agency-live-b...

Stroh's picture

Good reason to be concerned. A torn hammy is one thing but his reattached to the bone. That has ended careers. No matter how optimistic anyone is. And if he does play he is very susceptible to it happening again. This is a career threatening injury.

Ma Linger's picture

I see a big problemo. Your dead right about too many people and thus no improvement. However, don't we have the same issue at running back: starks, Grant, Beson, Seine, Kuhn, Green, Harris.

Don't we have the same thing at left defensive end: Neal, Perry, Raji, and whomever else is too slow and lacking the physical traits to be a pass rusher.

How about O line: Sherrod? Newhouse? EDS? and these are the ones we are depending on to protect Rogers and run block.

This team i

Evan's picture

Benson and Grant aren't on the roster. Perry isn't a DE.

DHoward's picture

I think most of you understate what Jones did last year and his value going forward. He is the needed insurance policy for Bishop and D.J. Smith. If Bishop or Smith come back strong then you'll see Jones taking snaps away from Hawk and replacing Hawk in 2014 and beyond.

Did he over-pay for Jones? Maybe, but you couldn't leave the spot next to Hawk to Francois or Lattimore if Bishop/Smith can't get back to form. Paying Jones was about keeping a solid player and possible preventing a worse case scenario at ILB that could scuttle a defense.

DrewTheDraftGuru's picture

I disagree with this article:
1) I really disagree with the comment that if the Packers draft a 1st round ILB it will cut their ability to effectively manage the salary cap. Please explain to me why the Packers couldn't draft an Alec Ogletree, Manti Te'o, or even Kevin Minter in the 1st round (roughly paying them about $1.5 million per year) and then cut AJ Hawk next year. How is that pick going to hamstring the Packers from a cap perspective? It just makes no sense.

2) Just because a player doesn't get drafted or brought in from FA doesn't mean that the team can't improve at the position. The Packers traded up for Manning and picked him in the 5th round. He's been developing and the Packers have shown signs of liking him. He should only get better.

3) You make kind of a novice mistake of talking about LB's as starters and backups. LB's are the TE's of the defense IMO. There isn't necessarily a specific starter. Hawk, Bishop, Jones, Manning, and the many other ILB's can be used in different packages to play to their strengths.

4) As for the sheer number of LB's, there are currently 12 on the roster. If I remember right, we kept 10 on the roster last year. 1 of the 12 is Micah Johnson, who I believe is a PS guy. 1 of the 12 is DJ Smith, who could very well be on an injury list next year. That gets us to 10 LB's right there. If we draft someone that will create competition. The contract we signed Francois to is not a contract that even forces us to keep him. We gave him $50,000 as a signing bonus, and he's apparently getting $45,000 in bonuses. (I'm not sure exactly what those bonuses are for exactly, though.) Lattimore and Zombo are also not guaranteed to make the team, but I think everybody else is pretty safe.

So from a numbers and a cap perspective, I think I've effectively shown that you are completely off base.

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