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Green and Bold: Pursue Free Agents, but Draft an ILB

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Green and Bold: Pursue Free Agents, but Draft an ILB

Instead of pursuing one of the free-agent veteran inside linebackers on the market, the Packers should invest for the future at the position via the draft.

Instead of pursuing one of the free-agent veteran inside linebackers on the market, the Packers should invest for the future at the position via the draft.

While I continue to maintain, as I have all offseason, that the Packers should and likely will make a splash in free agency this year, there are certain positions that make the most sense for such a rare signing. 

Inside linebacker is not one of them. 

The Packers have been linked to veteran running back Matt Forte, per ESPN's Rob Demovsky, and that move would make a ton of sense for the team.

Ted Thompson doesn't often jump on the free agency carousel, but when he does, it's usually been to add a high-impact veteran who can make an immediate difference that a rookie may not be able to effect—see Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers.

Forte wants to sign with a contender, and the Packers can offer him that—which may mean they don't have to offer him a bank-breaking amount of money. 

But on Tuesday, the Packers were also mentioned in the same sentence as another veteran's name: Broncos inside linebacker Brandon Marshall, per ESPN's Ed Werder. 

As much as I like the idea of Forte coming in to push Eddie Lacy and make the offense more dynamic, giving Aaron Rodgers a legitimate pass-catching threat out of the backfield and a target on screens, I don't see the value in the Packers bringing in a veteran free-agent inside 'backer. 

Would it immediately improve the defense? Perhaps.

Marshall had 77 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, four passes defensed, an interception, and two forced fumbles with Denver in 2015.

That's not much of an improvement on the season that Clay Matthews had playing primarily inside in 2015—49 total tackles, 6.5 sacks (some of which came from the outside), three passes defensed, and an interception—and presumably someone like Marshall would be signed to replace Matthews inside and free him up to rush off the edge. 

But, firstly, it's unclear whether Werder is speculating or sharing inside information from the Packers' camp.

And secondly, this season is the perfect year for the Packers to use a high draft pick on their future starting inside linebacker—finally. 

Sure, Jake Ryan was a great investment in the fourth round in 2015, and I expect to see him get more snaps on defense, not just special teams, and make a jump in his sophomore season.

But Ryan is not comparable to some of the prospects with instant starting potential the Packers could land in the first couple rounds of this year's draft—players such as Alabama's Reggie Ragland, who would, frankly, be a hell of a lot cheaper and a better future investment than Marshall or any other veteran inside linebacker. 

Forget about money for a second; it's hard to imagine a universe in which Thompson is willing to give up a second-round pick for a 26-year-old street free agent, as he would have to with Marshall. 

In a perfect world, the Packers would plug their last remaining holes on offense in free agency with an instant contributor—Forte or, perhaps, tight end Scott Chandler—and invest in their future on defense with a young, moldable star such as Ragland.

Pursuing one of the veteran inside 'backers expected to be on the open market when free agency opens on March 9, on the other hand, seems like a waste of resources.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (60) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Garrett Bassler's picture

This is so backwards. One bad season and people think our offense is broken. It is a well-oiled, humming machine when everyone is healthy. The defense however, especially ILB, has relied on young talent too long. ILB is our weakest position on D year in and year out, and we keep trying to plug in practice squad hold-overs or rookies. And what if any of the first round backers doesnt fall to us? In my opinion, inside linebacker is the position with the biggest and most urgent need of an upgrade, and has been for years.

RCPackerFan's picture

Yeah, I agree..

ILB is the biggest need. How much better would our defense be if we added a really good ILB? Go back and watch the Packers Super Bowl run. We had an underrated stud at ILB in Bishop. If we can find another guy like Bishop, that would greatly improve our D.

Also on offense, like you said we are really good when healthy. That is the key though to be healthy.
In 2014 our OL was healthy and was considered one of the top 2-3 OL's in the league. Last year they were hurt. We could use an upgrade in the backups, but the starters are good.
WR's we have a very good group, when healthy. Nelson is arguably a top 5 WR in the league. Unfortunately he was hurt last year. Then Cobb got hurt, Adams got hurt and Montgomery got hurt. Our top 4 WR's on the team were all injured last year.

We need an upgrade at TE, backup OL and could use more help at RB. other then that our offense is fine.

L's picture

I have to agree with the article written by Michelle. I'd rather see the Packers go after M.Forte (who it appears has signed with the Jets) and L.Green (who it sounds like is signing with the Steelers) in Free Agency, but look at what the top couple of rounds in the draft have to offer for OLB, ILB or big safeties who can be converted to play ILB verses signing someone at the cost of a upper round draft pick. The main reason is I still like CMIII playing inside primarily and I believe that J.Ryan is capable of showing some growth; plus, I'm hoping Barrington's recovery will be successful. I just don't believe signing a big ticket Free Agent for ILB (at a cost of a 1st or 2nd round pick) is the answer for the Packers because I believe CMIII should still be "the Guy" for that position.

KenEllis's picture

Agree with you Garrett the focus needs to be on ILB and has been an urgent need for years. However, got to disagree that we have "relied on young talent too long."

We had Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk as TT's hand-picked big 2nd contract veterans patrolling the middle for several years. They weren't young, they just sucked.

The idea of starting Barrington & Ryan starting together is just plain scary. Got to get some legitimate talent at ILB and get it now, not for 3 years down the road.

sheppercheeser's picture

Sorry Garrett, but I didn't see SB caliber play anytime during the season. I never had any indication they'd play deep into the playoffs.

Evan's picture

"I never had any indication they'd play deep into the playoffs."

Until they did, I guess?

dobber's picture

I'm not a scout, but I'm not so high on Ragland. He looks more like a run-down thumper (which you can get later on) than an athletic 3-down backer. If he slides to the Packers in the first, he carries a high enough grade that he would be hard to pass on...I'm just not sure he's what the defense really needs.

RobinsonDavis's picture

Agree Dobber, I would not look down on Ragland, but we need a recognition guy with quick feet. I cringe when I see our LBs trying to cover a wheel route, or even a simple flat. Also.....a stud defensive line can make a LB look pretty good!

Handsback's picture

I also question if Ragland would be better than Barrington. He wasn't a third down backer at Bama so why would he be one at Green Bay?

holmesmd's picture

Dobber,
Right again! Why does everyone not seem to understand this? It's not 1970. We don't need some Levond Kirkland sized behemoth as an ILB who can't cover or run! He's a good player but will struggle in coverage at the NFL level. I wish fans would stop fawning over this guy. He's not the type of ILB this team currently needs. Hell I would rather convert a safety to play there from the draft than Ragland.

Evan's picture

Su'a Cravens.

RCPackerFan's picture

A little later guy. Jatavis Brown.
Similar size. More of an actual ILB.

Evan's picture

Speaking of converted safeties, what about Mark Barron as a FA?

Tommy's picture

Everything you wrote hinges on the fact that Ragland is available at 27. What is your back up plan if Ragland is gone?

egbertsouse's picture

I don't care whether TT gets an ILB in the draft or signs one as a FA as long as he gets a quality player. Jake "Just call me A.J." Ryan is not the answer.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Pass on Marshall due to the 2nd round pick.
Pass on Chandler unless he plays practically for free.

There is a difference of opinion on Ragland as to whether he is a 3 down guy or a 2 down thumper. I subscribe to the 3 down, but I am not completely sure. Only Ragland of the rookie prospects looks like he could help early. Couple of more prospects in the 2nd/3rd rd. who probably could help during the 2nd half of the season - maybe.

Forte might provide immediate help and he makes some sense if he is cheap enough (say $3 million per year for not more than 3 years). There are a couple of FA TEs who might help, though each of them comes with a question mark. Bennett = head case. Cook = head case, desire and blocking questions. We do have difference makers on O - AR, Jordy, Cobb, Lacy.

Defense is pretty decent, but lacks difference makers. Only Daniels qualifies. A FA ILB who can start would move CM3 from ILB where he is mediocre back to OLB, where he can make a difference, and hopefully the ILB also makes a difference. I expect to find DL and OLB help in the draft.

Evan's picture

"A FA ILB who can start would move CM3 from ILB where he is mediocre back to OLB, where he can make a difference..."

I don't know about that...I saw time and time and time again CM3 get stonewalled by OTs when he blitzed off the edge.

I think the best use of CM3 is how he was used last year - all over the field.

I'm not thrilled with the plan to move him back to OLB exclusively.

(I've seen it argued that an OLB blitzing an OT is a game of chess and doing it just here and there is far less effective then going every play for the entire game, where the OLB can use a variety of moves and set up tendencies and strategies.)

RCPackerFan's picture

I agree with you. I am not completely thrilled with Clay moving completely back to OLB. I think he is at his best when he is moving around. And to be honest I don't think they moved him around enough last year.

I still go back to that Chicago game last year the first time he played ILB. He was moved every where. Blitzed from everywhere. I would love to see more of that then to have him play the traditional ILB/OLB.

Also is it a coincidence that last year was one of Mathews healthiest years? Does taking on an OT down after down wear Mathews down over the course of a season?

Tarynfor12's picture

This is why I pound the table for a true outside linebacker this draft. Matthews needs to move around as his success against left tackles isn't what some believe and who has the pass rush repertoire on the team to rotate with him to move him....nobody.
The success at inside with Matthews or whichever FA will depend on having a pass rusher other than Matthews as rotation guy or at left outside linebacker. ..grab Kyler Fackrell...has all the moves and can be better in cover than anyone we have now with a little coahing.

RCPackerFan's picture

I think OLB could be a bigger need then most think. But it does also depend on what happens with Perry and Neal, but also Peppers is entering his final year. Looking ahead they are going to be needing to restock the position.

I really like Elliott and I think he needs to play more. That being said adding another OLB would be a good thing.

Tarynfor12's picture

" I think OLB could be a bigger need then most think. But it does also depend on what happens with Perry and Neal,..."

Outside linebacker is a need now no matter what is done with Perry and Neal and putting too much into Peppers is also a mistake that will have some again scratching their heads why we didn't fix it as we get bounced from the playoffs yet again if make them at all.

Bearmeat's picture

".... if we make them at all."

There are no words. Overkill Taryn. Not happening.

holmesmd's picture

JuliusPeppers is a "mistake"?! Are you kidding? The guy lead the Packers in sacks. In 2014 he had 2 pick sixes. He's a shoe in for the HOF and can still play at a very high level. He also is a mature presence in the locker room. JP has been a very welcome player for the Packers. Also, when was the last time we didn't make the playoffs? Huh, really!? Lol:/

holmesmd's picture

Evan,
I agree with you about CMIII playing outside. He frequently over runs plays when rushing OT's as the merely use his momentum to ride him beyond the pocket. It seems to happen fairly frequently. I think he can rush just as effectively from the inside. He should be moved around a lot more. They seemed to get stale with him last season. Heck, they should even move JP inside sometimes!

Tundraboy's picture

I agree. Matthew's had more of an impact lining up anywhere, chasing down people as well.
May be better replacing him at OLB

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I agree with these replies. I do not think CM3 is elite as an OLB anymore, but I do think he is still a red chipper there. I am really hoping to draft an OLB or a DE, but would settle for a DT in the 1st round (always dependent on who is there at #27 - it would be hard to pass on Ragland, maybe Conklin, but my draft crushes so far are Calhoun and Dodd).

carusotrap's picture

Why? Why? Why? Why is everyone so determined to move Clay back to OLB? And don't tell me "that's his natural position." His numbers were better and the defense stronger when he played inside, or at least was moving around. We don't need a high priced ILB. We already have one.

Evan's picture

It's not us, it's Mike McCarthy.

"Frankly, my goal with Clay is for him to play outside linebacker."

Tundraboy's picture

Hopefully he's just paying lip service to Clay. He's got to see that until we get a better ILB and another OLB to rotate, we are far better with Clay moving around. Hoping that Eliot gets more playing time as well.

J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

I'd rather have Perry and Peppers play the edge than "taken out of the play, Clay."

Since '61's picture

I don't see any reason why the Packers can't sign a veteran ILB and draft a future ILB as well. Bring in a veteran play maker on day one and let the draft pick learn the position. Even if we're able to draft an ILB with a 1st or 2nd round pick, it doesn't mean they will be ready to start from day one. The same is true for TE, sign Antonio Gates for a reasonable price and wait for a better crop of TEs to draft in the next year or two. It's increasingly frustrating to come so close to the SB each season and then lose in the playoffs due to a mistake by a younger player. Get the one or two veterans that we need to finally get over the hump. We can sign the one or two FAs we need without breaking the bank. Thanks, Since '61

RCPackerFan's picture

Yeah, I really agree.

I think they could get Gates for a good price, and either draft his replacement this year in the 2nd-4th round or wait till next year when the class will be a lot better.
What I like about going with a player like Gates is it would be similar to signing Forte. He is going to be a rotational guy. Your not asking him to come in and play 60+ snaps a game. But the snaps they do get could really make an impact.

If they are looking for an early impact player at TE, going the veteran route would be the best way to go.

Since '61's picture

RC - we agree as usual. Unfortunately I just learned that Gates has signed with SD. I was hoping we could sign Gates because we give him a legit shot at an SB before he retires. Same with Forte. At least we still have a shot for Forte. We'll see. Thanks, Since '61

RCPackerFan's picture

Thanks for the update. I didn't see that.

That is why I thought we would appeal to Gates. A chance to the Super Bowl.

holmesmd's picture

Forte' to sign with the Jets?! Huh? Must be a cash grab. 4 years at 7 million a year?! Wow! Good luck Matt!

Tundraboy's picture

For us it's the only way to go. Even if we drafted someone at TE that is capable from day one, MM will make him sit to learn the playbook anyway. Not even sure he would play a FA as much as we would like for the same reasons.

Bearmeat's picture

61 -

Gates has said repeatedly that he wants to finish his career in SD. The franchise agrees - and with L. Green about to get the Brinks truck backed up to his house from someone, I seriously doubt the Chargers let Gates walk. Plus, Gates can't run anymore. We don't need another RRod - we need someone who scares defenses in the middle of the field - not just 3rd down and in the red zone. For these reasons, I'm all aboard the Bennett bandwagon.

Regarding ILB, there are not too many names out there that could really help that won't cost a fortune. Trevathan isn't going to happen. When has TT EVER grabbed the top name in any position available in free agency? Never. It's just not happening. I'd bet he goes to the Bears.

I'm much more prone to hope he grabs an ILB in the 1st 2 days of the draft. Front 7 on D is the strength of this class.

Evan's picture

Gates just resigned with SD.

Since '61's picture

Evan - thanks for the update. Time for plan B for the TE position. Thanks, Since '61

Evan's picture

Green signing with Pitt - which makes it far more likely that Henry will be there at 27 for the Packers, if they are so inclined.

J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

God, I pray that's not our #1 pick.

L's picture

Damn. It's disappointing that GB wasn't able to add this kid to the team; I feel he would have been an excellent signing.

Nick Perry's picture

They were NEVER in the mix. 2 or 3 weeks from today check and see who's left and maybe we'll hear about a possible visit. I still have hope bur Free Agency has become absolutely disheartening to me.

RCPackerFan's picture

I saw that. The TE market is dwindling fast.

Evan's picture

Bennett and Cameron still haven't been cut. Maybe all the other teams with TE needs will fill them before that happens.

RCPackerFan's picture

I heard/saw somewhere that Cameron restructured his contract. My guess is Bennett gets cut. Which would be a very possible option for GB.

Tundraboy's picture

And the day is not even over.

RCPackerFan's picture

Rumors are swirling that Forte has been spotted at Green Bay's airport. Don't know if its true, but interesting.

RCPackerFan's picture

never mind to that. Jets are signing Forte. Wasn't him at the airport.

Evan's picture

So much for that whole "wanting to play for a contender" thing...

RCPackerFan's picture

Yeah, exactly my thoughts.

I do think he would have been a good fit in Green Bays offense.

dobber's picture

I'll be honest: I'm glad to see this come to an end.

Evan's picture

Texans doing work - Brock and Lamar Miller.

Broncos are looking at RGIII? Eesh. Though he probably wouldn't be much worse than 2015 Peyton.

RCPackerFan's picture

It will be interesting to see how Brock does. Texans are a talented team. Have one of the top WR's in the league, and now add a bit of an underrated RB.

Texans will be an interesting team.

holmesmd's picture

If Forte' wants to play for a contender, why the heck would he play for the Jets?! That makes no sense to me. It's hard to believe that JP would reach out to Forte' and his response was, "no thanks, I'm going to sell my mansion in downtown Chicago to chase the dream with the Jets. Lol, are you kidding me? That's very difficult for me to believe, sorry. If Bennett gets cut its a no brainier if he doesn't hate the Packers...which he very well might? We shall see. If they don't get Forte', Starks is our guy. They can't pass on both. Lacy, Crockett, and some inexperienced hump in the draft? Bravo Ted, bravo! Subtraction by subtraction. Eye roll

Tundraboy's picture

Shocked by decision to go to Jets. Party line is they are on verge of making playoffs! Still a quarterback away from being serious. Guess his wife made decision on where he wants to live.

holmesmd's picture

I didn't know he was married. Lol. Still... the Jets?! Lol. Great defense but Fitzpatrick ain't taking those guys to the SB IMO. GB would have made so much more sense. I'm sure they were not willing to pay the man 7 mil/ year on a 4 year deal like he got with NY? What I do know is that it's Starks & Eddie & Crocket apparently. They better get Starks done or they will fudge that up too! Free Agency...the stake burning period for all of Packer Nation:(

Irish_Cheesehead's picture

"They can't pass on both."

Ummm.. remember, this is Ted. I'll be surprised if he signs anyone.

stormin's picture

Any of you could do as well or better than Thompson, again he is failing to help this team. He lives off the luck of getting Rodgers and has done nothing else. As he did with Favre, now he is letting Rodgers best years slip away. What a loser !

mrtundra's picture

ILB is the defensive hole we need to fill. I think if Ragland is there when the Packers get to make their selection, we had better grab him. I don't see TT going after an ILB in Free agency, so Ragland, if available, makes the most sense if TT thinks ILB is a priority position to fill.

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