In the quest for the Superbowl, one of the hardest facts to overcome is that a Superbowl team cannot afford to pay all their players, all that they deserve. It makes sense; the salary cap (assuming it comes back) requires teams to create separation while expending equal resources. A team will not create separation if they disproportionally spend resources on a player or position that is not schemed to be a playmaker.
Mike Neal appears to be the most controversial pick of the Packers’ 2010 draft class (for example, running polls asking “what rookie will make the biggest impact” and “who is your favorite rookie” on Tuesdays episode of Packer Transplants at www.cheeseheadtv.com each had Neal garnering less than 1% of the vote). The most consistent criticism of the pick is that DE is not a current need on the Packers’ roster. This post will defend the selection. As I’ve stated previously, I don’t break down film, and I am certainly not a student of the young man from Purdue. However, a case can be made for selecting a DE in the second round after evaluating the business considerations of the 3-4 defense and the impending free agency of Jolly and Jenkins.
By its very definition the 3-4 defense utilizes less down linemen than the traditional 4-3 defense. This is especially pronounced in the sub packages (nickel and dime). Unlike the 4-3 defenses, which always utilize four down linemen during nickel and dime packages, the 3-4 only utilizes two down linemen in these packages. Further, the Packers utilized a sub package titled “Psycho” in which the Packers only utilize one down linemen. So, accordingly, it would seem illogical to dedicate a lot of resources to a position group that isn’t on the field that often. Further, The 3-4 defense is designed to cause quarterback pressure through complex series of blitzes rather than defensive line pressure. While having a 3-4 NT that can hold the double team is crucial (hence the reason guys like Pickett, Hampton and Wilfork get paid), the 3-4 DE is only expected to hold the line and let the OLB make the play. Compare that to the 4-3 defense which requires its linemen to be responsible for creating the lions share of quarterback pressures and backfield penetration.
These considerations are especially relevant to the Packers. The Packers have just given Pickett a four year 25 million dollar contract and Raji currently has a five year 23 million dollar contract. These facts bring me to the conclusion that the Packers cannot justify expending the necessary resources to retain both Jolly and Jenkins given the underutilization of the 3-4 DE and the financial commitment made to the defensive line.
The Packers will have a near impossible task of keeping both Jolly and Jenkins once they hit free agency next year (Jolly’s free agency assumes a new CBA deal). That is because 3-4 defensive linemen can make a lot more money by becoming 4-3 defensive linemen. Case in point, Colin Cole, the former Packer who was a questionable roster spot, was able to earn a five year 21.4 million dollar contract from 4-3 Seattle. Chris Canty, the former Dallas 3-4 DE was able to secure a six year 42 million dollar contract from the 4-3 Giants. Compare this to Igor Olshanksy, who remained relegated 3-4 DE status and was only able to receive a four year 18 million dollar deal.
The decision to not allocate significant resources to the 3-4 DE position is not unique to the Packers and when Jenkins and Jolly both aren’t retained by the Packers it won’t simply be a product of the Packers’ reputation for fiscal conservatism. In the past two seasons Dallas for has seen Canty and Ellis migrate to greener 4-3 pastures. The Cowboys will probably repeat the same outcome when Spears becomes a free agent after this season. Pittsburg’s 3-4 DE Aaron Smith may be 9th overall on the Steelers sack list, but his contract is only three million richer than Cole’s. Arizona has made no substantive progress in extending 3-4 DE Darnell Docket despite the fact he constantly threatens to hold out. Along the same lines, Haynesworth was given a 100 million dollar contract last offseason. This offseason, Washington began implementing the 3-4 defense and immediately began looking to move Big Albert. In short, I cannot recall one 3-4 DE getting paid big money.
In conclusion, the Packers not only had to plan for Jolly’s possible suspension, but also the probability that they will be unable to retain both of their starting DE’s past this season. With that reality in mind, the decision to take a defensive lineman in the second round that was highly rated (assumingly so) on the Packers’ board was not an unreasonable decision.
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