The free-agent, what’s-Ted-gonna-do blues

The Packerscreed, by David Benjamin
The free-agent, what’s-Ted-gonna-do blues

MADISON, Wis. — Two hundred sixty-seven.

That’s the number Packer fans have to remember as they lament the departure of running back Eddie Lacy to the hated Seahawks. When he visited Seattle, Lacy weighed in at 267 pounds. And they signed him anyway. They think they’re getting the second coming of Marshawn Lynch.

More likely, it’s the first coming of the fourth Teletubby.

Lacy’s “playing weight” has always been listed around 230 pounds. But he hasn’t been that svelte since he was under Nick Saban’s thumb at Alabama, where Coach took away all his Snickers bars and checked under his bed every night for care packages from Eddie’s momma.

If Seattle coach Pete Carroll can trim Lacy to a stated goal of 240 pounds, he’ll be the second coming of Jenny Craig. He’ll also be stuck with a roly-poly running back ten pounds overweight, slow on his feet and prone to sprain his ankles the way most of us crack our knuckles. But Pete’s biggest chore will be getting Lacy to care more about the game. The intensity (and danger) in pro football requires more than just size, strength and talent. It demands the sort of passion that Packer fans attach to players like Nitschke, Butler, Favre and Driver. This never showed in Eddie Lacy, a kid who admitted that he pays little attention to the game — other players, other teams, other eras — when he’s not on the field.

He’s more interested in dinner.

On the other hand, the loss of guard T.J. Lang hurts. He’s a tough-as-nails team leader who’s likely, next year in Detroit, to suffer another nagging injury or two — or three — and keep on playing, as one of the best in the NFL.

Losing Lang is one of those classic Ted Thompson roster moves that defies explanation. But here’s a try.

The Packers enter 2017 with three second-year candidates for Lang’s spot. Jason Spriggs, a high draft choice, seems too tall to play guard. Kyle Murphy, at 6-8, is even taller. Lucas Patrick, 6-3, 313, is just the right size and he’s smart. O-line coach James Campen also has veteran Don Barclay to compete for the job, a guy whom every fan hates but who doggedly plays every position on the line.

Beyond these guys, I looked a little deeper into the NFL Draft pool. Only one guard is consistently listed as a first-round possibility, a brute named Forrest Lamp from Western Kentucky. But don’t hope for Lamp. Ted Thompson doesn’t draft guards in Round One.

Sportswriter Ryan Wood has noted Thompson’s knack for finding good O-linemen in the middle rounds. Following Wood’s lead, I found a wealth of solid guard types who’ll be available in Rounds 2-6. These include Dorian Johnson (Pitt), Dion Dawkins (Temple), Ethan Pocic (LSU) and Taylor Moton (Western Michigan). But the two guys Thompson might covet most are the sort of slobbering trench-warfare grunts (with brains) whom Ted loves. Isaac Asiata is a 15-round boxer, at 6-3, 323, from Utah. Pat Elflein, 6-3, 303, from Ohio State, has the versatility to play guard or challenge fellow Buckeye, Corey Linsley, for his job at center.

Don’t be surprised if one or more of these names pops up on Draft Day.

Overall, despite our lingering affection for Fat Eddie and our lamentations over Lang, this has been one of Ted’s busiest free-agent years. By losing Micah Hyde — but replacing him with Davon House — and Datone Jones, Thompson picked up two compensatory draft choices in 2018. Ted loves those picks. He’ll also get compensation for Lacy and center J.C. Tretter.

Thompson’s bombshell, of course, was the signing of Martellus Bennett, a notorious Packer-killer when he was with the Bears and one of the NFL’s most dangerous tight ends. When Thompson followed by adding former Badger Lance Kendricks, he — literally overnight — assembled the best tight-end quartet in the league, including second-year sleeper Beau Sandland and Richard “Hail Mary” Rodgers.

If anyone doubts the potential impact of two new field-stretching tight ends in Mike McCarthy’s offense, remember what happened to Aaron Rodgers’ passing game after Jared Cook got healthy last season.

Areas TT couldn’t address in free agency, causing panic among the vast army of Packer fatalists, are the linebacker conundrum and the cheesecloth secondary. However, as the Journal-Sentinel’s Bob McGinn wrote recently, this year’s draft is set up perfectly to fill the holes in the Packer roster.

I’ve already noted, for example, how Ted will probably attack Lang’s absence.

As for linebackers, especially in the newly designated category of “edge rusher,” Thompson’s re-signing of Nick Perry — who finally seems to be finding his rhythm — was a bigger deal than most fans think. Draftniks — there are thousands of these geeks! (including me) — are predicting that Ted will add an edge rusher in Round One. The current favorite is Takkarist McKinley from UCLA.

Other “experts: believe TT will spend Round One on a replacement for Lacy, namely Stanford golden boy Christian McCaffrey. Please don’t bet the mortgage on Hornung Redux. Ted Thompson would draft a punter in the first round before going that high for a mere ballcarrier.

The Big Need, by broad consensus, is, of course, cornerback, an area that fits McGinn’s analysis. This draft is loaded with promising corners. At least eleven of them, from Gareon Conley (Ohio State) to Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson), have been tagged in various mock drafts as first-round worthy.

My personal favorite is Washington CB Sidney Jones (6-0, 186), a gifted speedster who will probably be on the board at 29th, the Packers’ pick in Round One. But I’m not forecasting Jones, or any cornerback. This is a crazy draft. Any one of the supposedly big names could slide down the board to No. 29, the way Aaron Rodgers fell into Thompson’s lap in 2005.

Thompson will find his cornerback. He’ll have a lot of edge rushers to choose from and he’ll shore up the O-line. But who knows how and when? The Draft is always a crap shoot, this year more than most.

But that’s weeks away, man. Meanwhile, we get to watch Ted pick through the NFL Bargain Bin of “street” free agents.

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