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Green and Bold: Two Fullbacks is Too Luxurious

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Green and Bold: Two Fullbacks is Too Luxurious

John Kuhn and the Packers have interest in a return...but is it too much of a luxury?

John Kuhn and the Packers have interest in a return...but is it too much of a luxury?

Veteran fullback John Kuhn has been in his "final year" in Green Bay for three seasons now, and many assumed that the 33-year-old played his final game with the Packers in January. 

Not so fast. 

Speaking to the media about second-year fullback Aaron Ripkowski at the NFL combine, head coach Mike McCarthy made a surprising comment that seemed to indicate Kuhn might have yet another one-year contract on the horizon:

"I’d like to see Rip take a big step with the offense. He needs to get the details down. I thought he was a good special-teams player for us and he definitely can be one of our core players. For a fullback with his size and the way he’s built, he did a really good job with open-field tackling. I was impressed with a number of things that he did. The ability to be on the punt team and just become that core guy on special teams, but also compete with John Kuhn to play more on offense."

Kuhn's role as a mentor to Ripkowski in the latter's rookie season cannot be understated, and it was a luxury to be able to keep two fullbacks on the roster so that Ripkowski could develop on special teams while Kuhn continued to be involved with the offense.

Many NFL teams did not carry even one natural fullback on their regular-season rosters; Green Bay had two. 

As much as Ripkowski made a special teams impact (he tied for fourth with nine coverage tackles, via, he didn't have the opportunity to do much on offense. He had zero carries and one reception for 18 yards.

Kuhn, on the other hand, saw his role on offense increase throughout the season; it was not a coincidence that such increase coincided with McCarthy's return to play-calling.

McCarthy has long enjoyed using Kuhn in his offensive game plan, and Kuhn's 222 snaps in the final six games of the season were evidence of that fact. With McCarthy calling plays to start the 2016 season, Kuhn might have a persuasive advocate as general manager Ted Thompson and vice president of player finance Russ Ball figure out whether the fullback warrants a one-year contract for the veteran minimum. 

However, are two roster spots too many to devote to the fullback position? While there's no arguing the Packers still have a legitimate need for the position, especially in their zone-blocking run scheme, it's a luxury to devote two out of 53 roster spots to it in 2016. 

How would the Packers even get to that point? Sure, they could let impending free agent Scott Tolzien walk and keep just two quarterbacks on the roster, but with Aaron Rodgers coming off offseason knee surgery and becoming injured at an increasing frequency at this point in his career, that could be a risk.

The Packers could also keep just five wide receivers on the roster, but then they had better strengthen the tight end position to provide Rodgers with another legitimate pass-catching weapon. 

As for the halfbacks, Eddie Lacy's strides in conditioning won't be known until he reports to training camp, and the Packers need to pair him with a complementary back to lessen the workload and also catch passes out of the backfield and strengthen the screen game. But shouldn't they also keep a third halfback on the roster? Certainly, if the choice comes down to three halfbacks and one fullback or two halfbacks and two fullbacks.

The question of whether or not to re-sign Kuhn seems easy enough to answer when considering, in a vacuum, his minimal cap hit and role in the offense last season. The veteran minimum of $870,000 doesn't make a large dent in the Packers' some $20 million in cap space.

But hold Kuhn's potential roster spot up against the other position groups for which it could be used and it becomes an indulgence. 

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (26) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Horse's picture

Because you know exactly how they'll use two fullbacks in 2016 because they have Fullback next to their names?
Kuhn is a solid gold resource on the field and in the locker room. According to his teammates, anyway.
The combined cap hit is somewhere around $1.2M. That's a pretty good use of resources.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

He's also the best pass protector on the team.

MissKathy's picture

While I see your point, I'll raise you one & say ....keeping Kuhn is also like adding an extra coach. His mentorship, leadership, knowledge, and great willingness to share that knowledge, is invaluable. Even Aaron Rodgers himself has stated numerous times that Kuhn knows more about the offense than he does. So if keeping a productive player who has the most stellar locker room presence and experience, one who is willing to do all he can to bring Rip (and any other FBs) up to pro bowl caliber, one who helps direct (here's that coaching thingy again) the RBs & the O-Line line is a luxury? I say bask in the luxuriousness of it all. As the saying's cheaper to keep her (him).

Brewcity's picture

If they were deeper at TE I might agree but as long as they carry guys like Perillo on the roster, they can't afford to drop Kuhn.

dobber's picture

I think you're right: TE and WR are two positions where they need to improve, but cannot devote extra roster spots. Given that they're going to have to find and develop depth and replacements on both lines and at OLB/ILB, they're going to have to devote extra roster spots to those positions in 2016.

RCPackerFan's picture

It is a luxury to have 2 FB's. Can the Packers afford that luxury? Possibly. But I don't think they can afford to have 2 FB's and 3 QB's again.

If they only have 2 QB's I think they can have 2 FB's. But if they have 3 QB's I think they can only go with 1 FB this year. They really could use that extra roster spot on another position.

The hard part about letting Kuhn go is the knowledge he has in the offense and his leadership. Leadership is hard to replace.

The hard part about keeping him is they drafted his replacement already in Ripkowski. And the fact that they really can get by with just 1 FB.

Ibleedgreenmore's picture

To me unless something happens Tolzein is going to be odd man out. Hundley has to be protected and will be on the roster. We can never go into a season where the back ups were horrid.

RCPackerFan's picture

I guess that could be the question. Who do you want back more. Tolzein or Kuhn? If it came down to keeping a 3rd QB vs a 2nd FB.

I completely agree that QB is the most important position on the roster and we can't go into another season like we had a few years ago. I really like Hundley, but you still need a 3rd QB if they don't keep Tolzein. But that 3rd QB could be on the PS.

Bearmeat's picture

I'm in agreement with the posters above. I know Kuhn brings very little physically to the offense anymore, let alone STs. That said, if Hundley is ready to be the backup, I don't see a problem in keeping Kuhn's intangibles around for another offseason. It takes TIME to build a good FB in this offense - and Rip hasn't had enough yet to be "that guy." Remember how long it took William Henderson? He was at his best in his 30's, not his early 20's. The knowledge of the offense/blocking schemes/players around you makes up for a great deal of brute strength and speed.

Packer_Pete's picture

I don't know. It was never a problem to have 5 guys in the backfield - 3 RBs and 2 FBs. If there are TEs who can also play FB then a 2nd FB is a luxury. Otherwise, I think it very well depends on ST play.

On the 53 roster, you'll probably have 3 specialists (K, P, LS), so that leaves 50 for D and O, probably 25 each. If one wants to zone in on O, there'll probably be 8 OL, 2-3 QBs, 3 TEs. That leaves 11 players for WR and RB/FB combined. What's the problem with keeping 3 RB/2 FB. Then there's still space for 6 WRs on the roster, one of which will be the KR or PR or both...
In fact, if one keeps just 5 WRs or 2 QBs, then there is space for 26 players on D, meaning an additional LB for ST, and have 10 DBs, 10 LBs, and 6 DLs...

To me the question is not whether one keeps 2 FBs if both are good enough. It is who will be active on game day. I think the 2nd FB has to be a special teams ace, if one is keeping 2 FBs...

dobber's picture

"If there are TEs who can also play FB then a 2nd FB is a luxury"

Good point: the Packers line up TEs in the backfield often enough that they are de facto FBs.

Tundraboy's picture

It is a great idea but unfortunately for now we are short on TEs.

Tundraboy's picture

Truly a tough call. I love Kuhn as much as the next guy and his pass blocking has been critical to the Offense as last season proved, but we can not tie up roster space with 2 FBs, unless we go with one less TE or one QB backup. (Signing a solid FA TE takes care of that) WR is not where we can trim as it's too vital. I think it's time for Ripkowski, have to break him in sometime. Baptism by fire is OK,and I think he can handle that.

egbertsouse's picture

No need for 2 FB's in today's NFL. Waste of resources.

Razer's picture

It is unfortunate that Kuhn needs to be discussed in conjunction with Ripkowski. I don't really know what Ripkowski brings or will bring to the team but I do know what Kuhn brings. Just when I want to see us get bigger, faster or better tight-ender on offense, Kuhn makes the right play. We have RBs eating and fumbling their way through the season and then we have Kuhn picking up the blitz or punching the ball in on short yardage. He is not flashy, fast or young but he is one of our most consistent producers in the crunch. Can we afford to get rid of that? Ripkowski is the question.

dobber's picture

You hit on the greatest argument in Kuhn's favor: a team without leadership is not going to go very far.

Tarynfor12's picture

As like the leadership of a head coach that of a player (s) can grow stagnate and be denied acceptance. The Packers failures haven't been largely via leadership but play on field. Besides, with the effort of remaining one of the youngest teams yearly, leadership will need constant grooming to co - inside with that effort not withstanding those false leadership bestowed on those who simply aren't to Matthews was so long thought until his move to Inside yet still needs more to be desired.

Tarynfor12's picture

This reeks of Donald Driver complex and the wrong choice of keeping him another year hurt in every aspect. The special teams play will not suffer via the loss of Kuhn and his snaps on offense will not be so sorely missed that it will be game deciders. Time to move on is hard but a necessary evil....learn from similar mistakes.

RCPackerFan's picture

Honestly in the back of my mind I have been comparing the 2 situations a bit.
I think Kuhn's situation is a bit different just based on the position he plays and what his biggest attribute to the team is. His best attribute is as a blocking FB. Both in the run game and pass game he is still really good at it.

The question for me is, how much better is he then Ripkowski in run blocking? And in the passing game is it going to be better to have him as a safety net to make those 1-2 key blocks a game to save Rodgers or to replace him with a 3rd down RB that can make plays out of the backfield?

Ibleedgreenmore's picture

Yeah just a few years later, to me Kuhn brings a bit more at his age. Driver might have been able to play another year but the Packers did him a favor that last year.

Packer_Pete's picture

That is actually a great point. The Patriots are one organization that cuts a guy 1 year too early rather than 1 year too late, and maybe the Packers should adapt that approach. So while I really like Kuhn and what he brings in terms of leadership, he certainly also is on the wrong side of 30 and will not improve. All that one can hope for is that he keeps his level of play. So the question is, why keep him around.

At the same time, I don't have an issue with 2 FBs if both can play ST and both are good ST players.

Since '61's picture

I think that you keep/play your best 53 players. If Kuhn decides to return for the vet minimum let him. If Rip beats him out of the job flat out then let Kuhn go, but if Kuhn beats Rip out of the job keep Kuhn as FB and RIP on the ST. Or If we want to keep another WR, OL or TE who is better at their position then either RIP or Kuhn are at FB release one of the FBs, probably Kuhn. If our best 53 includes 2 FBs then we keep 2 FBs. I think the offense played better in some late season games when Kuhn was in there. It's not a big money issue so let it play out during camp and on the field. Thanks, Since '61

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

^This. Our current discussion is about whether to sign Kuhn. That should be a no-brainer. Of course. Kuhn signed a qualified contract last year, and can be had for another qualified contract, which means that he signs for the vet min., but counts less than that on the cap, and his guaranteed money is limited to $65K. The only risk is $65K and one spot on the 90 (not the 53) man roster.

We can talk about whether Kuhn should be on the 53 man roster in August after we see Ripkowski after a full off-season and some preseason games. At that time we will also have a better idea of what the other offensive positions look like, particularly the WRs, TEs, and OL, and what numbers look like for each position.

Mags's picture

Time to give Rip a chance. No need to give up a roster spot for what Kuhn contributed this past year. Time to see Ted's draft and develop approach in action.

al bundy's picture

Ted seems to navigate towards guys too stupid to learn the game: ripowski janis. Maybe the reason they were together

AgrippaLII's picture

I think full backs still have a role in today's game. The problem is no one has quite figured it out yet. MM is one of the few still finding roles for them. To me it seems he likes their versatility. He can use them as running backs or tight ends in his offense...and on special teams too. Why not carry Kuhn as depth at TE ? He just flat out gets the job done !

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