Letting Players Walk: Packers' Track Record is Pretty Good

The most difficult decisions for NFL general managers and coaches have to be whether to cut or let established players walk. This offseason, Green Bay Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst made what must have been the gut-wrenching call to wave good bye to starting players Brian Bulaga, Blake Martinez and Jimmy Graham.  All three immediately signed lucrative contracts with other teams.

As frustrating as this may be for us Packer fans, we can take consolation in the fact that the Packers track record in this area has been pretty good in recent years. The old adage is "better a year too early than a year too late".  Here is a cross section of decisions that proved to be wise, followed by a few which did not:
 
THE GOOD DECISIONS
 
Josh Sitton:  After eight stellar years with the Packers, Sitton was judged to be a complainer and bad locker room influence and was a surprise cut in 2016.  The three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman immediately signed with the Bears and went on to a fourth Pro Bowl season.  But plagued by injuries, his play went rapidly downhill in 2017.  After suffering a season ending torn rotator cuff in September of 2018, Sitton was let go by Chicago in March of 2019.  He retired as a Packer this past December.
 
T. J. Lang:  Similar to Sitton, Lang was allowed to leave in 2016 after seven seasons and a Pro Bowl in Green Bay.  The veteran guard signed with Detroit and made another Pro Bowl in 2017.  But his 2018 season was limited to 6 games with a bevy of injuries and the Lions released him.  Lang retired in March of 2019.
 
Jordy Nelson:  One of the best receivers in team history, Jordy was allowed to walk after the 2018 campaign.  He signed with Oakland but despite a fair year of 739 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns, the Raiders judged him over the hill and let him go.  He retired as a Packer in August of 2019.
 
Eddie Lacy:  After four years in green and gold which included Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl honors, the bruising running back was shown the door after the 2016 season.  He joined the Seattle Seahawks but got lost in a crowded backfield and rushed for just 179 yards in 2017.  The Seahawks did not resign him.
 
Randall Cobb:  One of the most popular and productive receivers in recent years, Cobb was allowed to walk after 2018 when it was decided his production and availability was not worth his considerable salary.  Some may argue with my decision to put Cobb in the Good Decision category after a decent season with the Dallas Cowboys where he amassed 828 receiving yards and three touchdowns.  But Dallas did not think enough of him to keep him around despite the possibility of a reunion with Coach Mike McCarthy.  Cobb signed with Houston for good money but it remains to be seen if there is gas left in the tank.
 
Clay Matthews:  The legendary linebacker with the long blonde hair reached the end of the line in Green Bay after eleven seasons in 2018.  He signed with the Rams and went on to register eight sacks.  But the salary cap strapped Rams let him go this off season, judging his play did not justify his pay.
 
Nick Perry:  The Packers gave up on the first round linebacker in March of 2019 after seven inconsistent and injury plagued seasons.  He has not been resigned by any other team.
 
THE BAD DECISIONS
 
Micah Hyde:  After four solid years as a safety and kick returner with the Pack, Hyde became a free agent in 2017.  He signed with the Buffalo Bills and went on to a Pro Bowl year, setting career highs in all defensive categories.  He has been a steady, quality player for the Bills ever since and could have been a stable influence in Green Bay's defensive backfield.
 
Casey Hayward:  The Packers thought the oft injured Hayward was expendable after drafting two defensive backs at the top of the 2015 draft.  Hayward signed with the (at that time) San Diego Chargers and went on to lead the league in interceptions on the way to being named second team all pro.  He has played so well that in 2018 the Chargers resigned him to a deal averaging 11 million dollars per year.  Meanwhile the Packers had to redraft defensive backs at the top of the 2018 draft.
 
Jared Cook:  After coming back from injury during the 2016 season, it was obvious Cook was becoming one of  Aaron Rodgers' favorite receivers in clutch situations.  But Ted Thompson felt his asking price was too high and Cook went to Oakland.  He caught six touchdown passes for the Raiders in 2018, and 9 TD's for the New Orleans Saints in 2019.  Meanwhile the Packers have failed to find an answer at the tight end position ever since.
 
There are many other examples of course.  As you see, the personnel game is one of hits and misses.  But if you add them all up, the Packers have been right more often than wrong in recent years.  It should give Packer fans hope that Brian Gutekunst will push the right buttons this year and beyond.
 
 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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Comments (53)

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Leatherhead's picture

March 22, 2020 at 08:27 pm

Thompson’s stated strategy was draft and develop, resign your own FAs, and be careful about bringing in outside free agents because it’s easy to make big mistakes. Gutekunst has been more aggressive in that regard but we will absolutely be unable to retain some of our own good players. Already, it’s cost us Cobb and Martinez and Bulaga. Next year, it’ll be a combination of Clark or Bakhtiari or Jones or King.

You cannot pay your QB $25 million AND sign outside FAs AND retain your own good, young starters. You can’t.

As regards Jared Cook, he’s been released by Tennessee, St. Louis, GB, and Oakland. Do you ever wonder why nobody re-signs this obviously talented guy? Or do you think it’s just an accident?

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13TimeChamps's picture

March 22, 2020 at 08:41 pm

Since leaving (forced) GB he has:
2017 54rec/688yds/13.2av/2tds
2018 68/896/13.2/6
2019 43/705/16.4/9
I guess that pales in comparison to his replacements Bennett/Kendricks/Graham

I agree with the article, but they should have retained Cook in my opinion.

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zoellner25's picture

March 22, 2020 at 08:40 pm

So all teams will fail because ALL QBs are now making $25 mil plus? Ok

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Leatherhead's picture

March 22, 2020 at 09:28 pm

Even a minuscule amount of fact checking before you posted would have prevented such a stupid statement. MOST starting QBs make Less than $22 million/year. Four of the twelve playoff teams did it with a QB making less than $6 million, including the Super Bowl champions. Only three of the eight QBs making more than 23.75 million made the playoffs.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that the more you spend on your QB, the less you have tp spend on everybody else. I’m sorry you can’t grasp that.

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Demon's picture

March 23, 2020 at 02:55 pm

You just cant post on here without insulting someone , can you? It's really a shame that you have such a piss poor attitude and feel you need to force it upon everyone else.

At a time when the world should do our best to pull together and for maybe the first time in history, love one another, we can count on you to to once again come on here and spew your venom.

Thanks OldSchool for showing us all once again, what an ass you truly are!

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Minniman's picture

March 23, 2020 at 03:00 am

The main point of the argument is proven though - it's extraordinarily rare that a team that pays the big $$$ for their QB wins the big game..... only the Broncos come to mind, and that was due to an extraordinary defense and a ready made skill position group (due to great drafting) with the only missing piece being a QB.

FYI, Tom Brady last year earned $23M - but previously was about $15M a season for the 3 seasons before that. Aaron Rodgers during that period was $29M $66M, $13M, $12M.

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jannes bjornson's picture

March 23, 2020 at 05:22 pm

KC has a generational guy on his first deal, but that blip on the accounts ledger will be a fantasy after his Contract is re-negotiated into the 40M range in the next couple of weeks. Dak is on a 33M franchise tag. The new blood QBs that got their teams to Win the big game are few and far between. The other low-dollar, young guy, to pull it off was Brady in 2002. The run/throw QBs got some movement up the ladder, but could not deliver the big play when needed to advance their teams. Tannehill was still living off his Miami , bonus money.

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Minniman's picture

March 23, 2020 at 10:19 pm

Jannes, there was a really good article done a while ago by James Reynolds on here about the maximum percentage salary cap share that a QB can earn before it affects the performance of the team - that was the point that I was trying to make - not necessarily that the QB had to be cheap.

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hobowilly's picture

March 22, 2020 at 09:19 pm

IMHO, letting JG go was a no-doubter and everyone who knows the NFL and trends must have enjoyed a good gut bust laugh when da bears signed him for way too much mula. Martinez is a better than avg ILB if you don't count on him to cover or plug gaps, reminds me of being an overachiever when you compare him to his predecessor, whom the Packers kept way too long and paid dearly for (OHIO St hype) If the Whale can stay on the field he may have one more season left, but i don't see him making another pro bowl--he is the epitome of a competitor! Loved the article, the subject matter very timely!

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

March 22, 2020 at 10:42 pm

Letting Taysom Hill go who was a fan favorite in Green Bay was just given a 1st round tender by the Saints. Instead of keeping Hill who had the highest QB rating during the preseason along with a wealth of measurables and keep Hendley still disappoints me and likely many GB fans. Payton has turned Hill into a Mr. do everything for the Saints. In retrospect, hiring McCarthy over Sean Payton may be considered another bad decision. I realize I drifted to the outer limits of the topic, if not off the topic, but the Taysom Hill decision was just wrong.

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13TimeChamps's picture

March 22, 2020 at 10:26 pm

For someone who is so passionate about said player, at least get his name correct. It's Taysom Hill, not Tysom Hill.
Personally, my favorite GB QB has always been Brett Starr. Or Bart Farve. Can't make up my mind

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

March 22, 2020 at 10:40 pm

Sorry about the spelling. Most all that I post is from memory and spelling has never been a strong point. I live in California, but went to school at Madison and engineers are notoriously bad at things like grammar and of course spelling. I'll try to do a spell check more often; you make a valid point.

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wildbill's picture

March 22, 2020 at 10:33 pm

There is no way McCarthy has the vision to utilize Hill like Payton has. I wish we had kept him but we would not have witnessed any of what he has done with the Saints, as he would have just held a clipboard

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dobber's picture

March 22, 2020 at 10:54 pm

Just let the Taysom Hill fantasy die. He would never play in GB and he won't get a shot in New Orleans until Brees hangs it up.

Yes, HIll got a high tender from the Saints, but what exactly has he done except become a gadget player without a real position? Call him a QB if you like, but the guy hasn't thrown more than 7 passes in any NFL season. Even when Brees got hurt, Teddy B was the guy, not Hill. In college he was a relatively inefficient passer with a propensity for throwing picks who kept getting beat up running the ball and missed a fair number of games.

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Point-Packer's picture

March 22, 2020 at 11:10 pm

The Taysom hill situation is so classic late era senile Ted. Every fan in the building saw the skill in Hill during that pre-season. He was a no brainer on the roster as a special teams / gadget guy. But Ted tied so stash him on the practice squad and of course he gets snatched up - who knew?

Another one of these that oft flies under the radar is the Julian Edelman situation. Some one in the GB scouting system saw the potential and they had all but worked out a UDFA contract with his agent when who comes along, the New England Patriots sweep in during the 7th round and grab him at 232. Who did Green Bay draft in front of Edelman in late rounds?

Brad Jones (7th)
Brandon Underwood (who?) (6th)
Jarius Wynn (6th)
Jamon Meredith (who?) (5th)
Quinn Johnson (5th)

IE - a load of crap. Scouting folks do enough to identify talent and then senile Ted let them go.

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IrishBoy23's picture

March 23, 2020 at 12:57 pm

..thanks4 scoop..however please stop insulting REAL Packer Fans...UB da SENILE 1
just another queenie troll..URmama :0)

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NickPerry's picture

March 23, 2020 at 04:39 am

I would have loved it if Hill was kept too...BUT...Didn't Brett Hundley have the highest preseason QB rating his rookie season?

www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?tabSeq=0&statisticCategory=PASSING&confe...

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PeteK's picture

March 23, 2020 at 08:56 am

I believe Joe Callahan played better than him in the preseason(499-3-0). He has a brutal injury history .

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The_Justicar's picture

March 23, 2020 at 11:52 am

Yeah, at the time if they had cut Callahan and kept Hill the same fans would’ve been whining “can’t believe they cut Callahan!”.

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jannes bjornson's picture

March 23, 2020 at 02:45 pm

Mc Carthy pushed for his guy, Callahan. The control panel was all hay-wired in the last years of Ted's command. Low,Ball didn't help either with the dale carnegie approach to negotiations. They never even Offered a deal to Hyde.
Low-balled Cook and then came running like fools when NOLA counter-offered at the going rate. Hayward just a meltdown. If you want to let guys fly at least try to trade them when the iron is hot.( ie. See Spielman fleecing Buffalo).
We knowin the case with both players , it was the System, not the guys on the field.

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Fredrik87's picture

March 23, 2020 at 07:52 pm

I couldn't believe it when I heard we let Hyde walk without even making a offer especially when I found out we were giving Perry who I wasn't a fan of big money.

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Fredrik87's picture

March 22, 2020 at 10:53 pm

Letting Jordy walk belongs in the bad category.
He was a top ten WR when with Rodgers.
And 739 yards is more than any non Davante GB receiver had last year and is not bad when you consider the fact he was constantly under thrown by Derek Carr.
He was also rumored to have been willing to take a pay cut at the time and Cobb was kept despite being a much inferior player.

Also in the bad category I would add Charles Wooodson, and I'd add Greg Jennings to the list of good moves.

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Pack103172's picture

March 24, 2020 at 01:21 am

Most of Jordys stats came in 2-3 games with the Raider. I believe he almost had a 200 yard game and a 3 TD game.

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Pack103172's picture

March 24, 2020 at 01:29 am

Looked it up and he had a three game stretch of 275 total yards and three TDs( 1 in each of those 3 games,which was his total. I loved Jordy as much as anyone but he clearly was done after that heart-wrenching, season ending injury. Just my 2 cents.

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Fredrik87's picture

March 24, 2020 at 10:14 am

The season after his injury he had 1200+ yards, 14 TD's and was comeback player of the year.

Year after that in the five full games he played with Rodgers he had 6 TD's!

Year after that 2018 with the raiders his stats were much worse than his norm.
But I attribute it to to primary reasons.
1: Derek Carr wildly over or underthrowing him.

And 2 : Carr just not throwing him the ball enough.

In 2018 Jordy had 6 games with 8 or more targets (for context the same year Davante only had 2 with less than 8 and he had 7 in both).
Heres the game logs from those 6 games.

Week | opp | tgts | rec | yards | TD's | catch percentage.
3 | MIA | 8 | 6 | 173 | 1 | 75%
4 | CLE | 8 | 5 | 48 | 1 | 62.5%
13 | KC | 11 | 10 | 97 | 0 | 90.9%
15 | CIN | 8 | 6 | 88 | 0 | 75%
16 | DEN| 10 | 7 | 75 | 0 | 70%
17 | KC | 12 | 9 | 78 | 0 | 75%
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Over those games Jordy had 559 yards! 2 TD's and a catch% of 74.7%

Jordy was far from done his QB was just bad.

Just my 2 cents.

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Tarynfor12's picture

March 22, 2020 at 11:00 pm

There wasn't a chance in hell that Rodgers would have ever come off the field for plays like Brees is willing to do. His ego is too big, and he'll never willingly relinquish the chance to be the play maker.

If Rodgers ever felt there was a possibility of another QB sharing the role, Rodgers demands a trade ASAP.

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Minniman's picture

March 23, 2020 at 03:07 am

Sadly I fear that you are correct here Taryn - doubly sadly, unless the salary cap raises markedly in 2021 (which it's whispered to do) his cap hits over the next 2 years (of $39M and $31M) may be too steep - the Buffalo Bills (who with a good draft this year could be on the cusp of where the Broncos were in early 20-teens) would be the only logical trade partner willing to take that salary on board.

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Tarynfor12's picture

March 23, 2020 at 02:02 pm

The salary cap in 2021 is being sent down the drain with this virus. I wouldn't be betting on any significant increase for two years and if so, Rodgers becomes the albatross that hinders everything and anything the teams can't do or achieve.

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packerbackerjim's picture

March 23, 2020 at 07:13 am

As evidenced by what exactly?

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Tarynfor12's picture

March 23, 2020 at 01:56 pm

Just a feeling. Rodgers ignores called plays, why would you think he'd come off the field to allow a play he isn't part of?
Yes, all QB's change a play call, but Rodgers does it with intent directed at the HC.

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justjan's picture

March 23, 2020 at 02:25 pm

so sad to be you

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packerbackerjim's picture

March 23, 2020 at 03:31 pm

I hope you begin to feel better.

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stockholder's picture

March 22, 2020 at 11:14 pm

Josh Sitton was the most absurd decision I've ever seen. Surprise was putting it mildly. I'm not going to judge these guys listed. They came here to win. They all contributed one way or another. I don't agree with Patting management on the back and twisting a knife into a fan favorite. Brett Favre comes to mind as an example. Winning isn't about screwing a guy, and boasting it was good business. Other players have paid the price for those decisions.

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Stroh's picture

March 23, 2020 at 12:27 am

Good Lord. Favre f'in RETIRED! Wanted to come back and the Packers let him. He then proceeded to change is mind again and again, before McCarthy and Thompson had had enough! Farve then did everything to force his way to Minn. This has got to be the absolute least informed opion EVER!

Its abour winning games, not appeasing emotional fans who just can't let it go... LIKE YOU! If Favre comes back for another season and the Packers pulled the rug out from Rodgers, he would have walked in a heartbeat at the earliest opportunity!

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CoachDino's picture

March 23, 2020 at 02:01 am

Stock - I feel ya...It's the Culture of the team, any team.Be it neighborhood to college games through to adult professional and recreational. It comes down to deciding if its about friends or winning. Each tier of competition has a somewhat unique level of that mix. It really can be applied to any type of competition just like a business. It's what it is - a business. The Salary Cap left no wiggle room for "loyalty".
I judge how they value these guys by how they treat guys after they retire and down the road. Should the Packers fold as a team, because imho, if NFL and the teams treated the players right - defined by loyalty, generosity, Moral, Ethical, they would all go under.
I could be dead wrong but in only takes 1 team to cross the line, and when nothing is done? The rest will be required to follow suit or drop out.
In the end I defer to those in the know and how they explained it... Metallica "Sad but true"

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Point-Packer's picture

March 23, 2020 at 09:19 am

Josh Sitton was an excellent decision.

And I love the revisionist history that has become part of the Favre departure from GB lore. First, it was either Favre was gone or Aaron Rodgers was gone. No-brainer at that stage of career for both. Secondly, Favre ping ponged back and forth for multiple years regarding retirement. Maybe it could have been a softer release, but Brett was by no means free of guilt.

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stockholder's picture

March 23, 2020 at 12:13 pm

They were favored to go to the super-bowl. TT released Sitton with No answer. He also screwed up the punting game and the holder for Crosby. Can't fix Stupid moves. #2. TT was lucky with Arron Rodgers and the new punter. Brohm was drafted with another QB late. Thats the kicker. As Arron Rodgers grows in age ,there is No quality back-up. TT wasn't as sure as you may think. Favre made waves. He got after TT when the defense needed a cb. Also the trading of his favorite Wr. Harlan left and TT won. TT had 8 years to put this team on top after 2010. TT wasn't free of Guilt either.

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jannes bjornson's picture

March 23, 2020 at 05:31 pm

They received Nothing in compensation for letting an All Pro guard walk. Saved some cash. It was a moved brought on by a green-fingered accountant and a coach with thin skin when his play calls and "strategy" was questioned by Sitton in his free-wheeling Radio show. Epic fail.

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jannes bjornson's picture

March 23, 2020 at 02:53 pm

It was a McCarthy move. It was no coincidence that with SItton out of the lineup and then Lang, the Packers stopped running a lot of screen plays. The other two fill-ins were not as mobile. Taylor will be gone by the draft.

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Dansavii's picture

March 23, 2020 at 02:08 am

To say it was smart to cut Jordy Nelson is idiotic, we all know he had at the very least 3 more productive seasons if he were to stay with us and Aaron. Take him off this list, because you are just wrong.

Also, cutting jimmy graham was the best thing we ever did, he was practically the reason we cut Jordy and he has done nothing but drop passes ever since he signed with us (and don’t bring up this years Divisional round game, I was there and although he made some nice catches, they do not outweigh he consistent drops and lack of offensive efficiency).

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Coldworld's picture

March 23, 2020 at 09:14 am

No, we don’t know that Jordy had 3 productive seasons and his new team seemed to agree.

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Fredrik87's picture

March 23, 2020 at 03:54 pm

In 2016 his last full season with Rodgers he had over 1200 yards and 14 TD's.

In 6 full games with Rodgers in 2017 he had 6 TD's!
And he only played 7 snaps in the week 2 game against the Falcons.

In 2018 with the Raiders he had a catch percentage over 70%, 3 TD's and over 700 yards.
His 739 yards was more than any packers receiver not named Davante AND Davante received 169 targets 81 more than Jordy in 2018, not to mention they were coming from Rodgers not Carr.

I don't know that he would have been a WR1 anymore but he could have easily been a above average WR2 for another 2-3 years.

Also here's his highlights from 2018 with Oakland you can see he still gets separation and if not for some crummy passes would have had a lot more yards and TD's
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uccfbuOowOo

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Bure9620's picture

March 23, 2020 at 02:42 am

I agree with letting all these players walk. IMO, most Tackles seem to fall off a ledge after 10 years and with Bulaga's availability history there is no way he is worth the money the Chargers paid. His body is breaking down quickly. Blake Martinez cannot cover.....at all. Kirksey is a serviceable vet that can cover. Jimmy Graham is done. He is slower than molasses in January. So is Lewis but he will be almost exclusively a blocker. Agreed with letting all these FAs walk. In addition, Allison, Fackrell, Goodson, Grant and Spriggs.

I was hoping Gute would resign Tyler Ervin, he is a dynamic ST player. I am also bummed we let Danny Vitale walk. He was not utilized enough particularly in the passing game, Belichick will use him well.

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Coldworld's picture

March 23, 2020 at 09:19 am

If I were Ervin, I would not be signing till after the draft absent a blockbuster offer. He has proved himself in his niche. A team may yet over pay him. If not, I’m hopeful we do bring him back.

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Curt's picture

March 23, 2020 at 08:12 am

Pretty simple really, philosophy is to allow good players to leave one year too early than one year too late.

That is why Jordy, Lang, and Sitton are all on the "good" side despite one quality season after being let go....Cobb maybe in the same boat unless he stays healthy again all year in 2020.

Its also why Clay won't be back unless for a cap friendly one year swan song.

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Coldworld's picture

March 23, 2020 at 09:17 am

Cobb’s new contract is a head scratcher. Happy for him but I just don’t see any way it makes sense given the market and his recent production. Those are the contracts that kill teams if they prove to be based only on history.

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Lphill's picture

March 23, 2020 at 08:36 am

Charles Woodson. Biggest mistake.

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PeteK's picture

March 23, 2020 at 02:09 pm

Now you're just trolling for down thumbs . Hahahaha

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jannes bjornson's picture

March 23, 2020 at 03:03 pm

If you mean to say, he should have been re-signed with a restructured contract and spread out his bonus while he played three more years at a pro bowl level as a Safety, then I agree with you. Making believe Dix and Brice are your answers along with the dubious selections of Damarious and the basketball player sealed the lid on that year's coffin. Guys like LaDarious Gunther on the turf, Goodson and Hawkins just pathetic.

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PatrickGB's picture

March 23, 2020 at 09:17 am

Who says that there is no gambling in NFL football? Every time a player gets drafted or resigned it’s a gamble. You pay your money (or not) and you take your chances. Sure, there are metrics and scouting but it’s still a gamble.

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Lare's picture

March 23, 2020 at 03:47 pm

If it were up to fans, popular players would never be let go, regardless their cost & production.

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canadapacker's picture

March 23, 2020 at 08:28 pm

TT made a few good decisions earlier with the O line - when he first became GM - letting Rivera and Wahle walk. They had only 1 good season between them after and would have garnered big salaries. However TT's problem was that he did not see the big picture later on and let too many others go as well - and sometimes it is the second string guys that are cut in favor of draft picks and these guys end up playing - Giacomini etc.

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canadapacker's picture

March 23, 2020 at 08:28 pm

TT made a few good decisions earlier with the O line - when he first became GM - letting Rivera and Wahle walk. They had only 1 good season between them after and would have garnered big salaries. However TT's problem was that he did not see the big picture later on and let too many others go as well - and sometimes it is the second string guys that are cut in favor of draft picks and these guys end up playing - Giacomini etc.

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