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Inbox: It's about getting the most out of your players

If both sides want to stay together, they will

Defensive huddle
Defensive huddle

Michael from Baraboo, WI

What is most likely to happen in the first round for the Packers: They trade up, they trade back, or they stay with their pick and draft the best player available on their draft board?


Roger from Lakewood Ranch, FL

Good morning, Mike. Are the two of you back to your regular schedule now? Or are you still using up personal time off? With "only" five Insider Inboxes a week, how are you divvying up the Friday II? From the last question in Friday's II, seems like lots of us are missing our Saturday fix.

Wes and I are splitting the month of March in half as far as time off. He's gone these first two weeks, so it's all me for a while here. Then I'm out the last two weeks of the month and he'll take the reins.

Larry from Carney, MI

Good morning. I would rather have more younger players on offense and veterans on defense. If a young offensive player screws up it hopefully only costs a play. If a young defender screws up it's more than likely giving points. What's your opinion?

I see the perspective, but I think you're minimizing the risk of having young players on offense. Wrong/poor routes, missed blocks or other youthful miscues can lead to turnovers, or worse. The Packers dealt with some of that early on (Vikings INT vs. Reed, Wicks' by-himself fumble vs. Rams, Watson's bad route leading to Steelers INT are a few that come to mind). It's impressive the Packers brought their season back from the brink, but that doesn't change the fact it was on the brink in the first place, mostly due to the youth on offense.

Bryan from Madison, WI

ATMR (WCBW), four out of the top five defenses in 2023 and six out of the top 10 ran 4-3 as their base. Pretty much same story in 2022 (except all top five ran a 4-3). I know the base alignment isn't that big of a deal given all the sub-packages, but this still surprised me. I've always associated a 3-4 as being more rangy, which should be helpful in a pass-centric league. Is it possible that a well-executed 4-3 is actually a better counterpunch right now? Or is this just good teams playing good football?

I'd say primarily the latter. Your numbers themselves say four of the top 10 defenses played base 3-4. So it's not grossly out of balance. It's about getting the most out of your players more than anything else.

Bill from Clive, IA

Friday's question about the Packers' strength of schedule for the upcoming season made me wonder how good a predictor last season's record is of the toughness of your opponents this year. Each year we read about playoff teams not making it back into the playoffs the next year. With parity being what it is in the NFL, and the churn that comes with coaching changes, free agency and the draft, maybe SOS is only really useful in hindsight. What was GB's SOS in 2023 by season's end vs. preseason?

This past year, there wasn't much change statistically. The Packers' 2023 opponents had a collective winning percentage of .476 the prior year, and then posted a .474 winning percentage during the new season. The year before was very different, though. In 2022, Green Bay's opponents had a .478 winning percentage in '21 but then played to a .524 number in '22.

Al from Green Bay, WI

Every year there are players who impress at the combine with outstanding scores on physical testing, but whose game film is less impressive. Instinct (or football IQ if you prefer) is important in football, and perhaps the gap is explained, in part, by these players being less instinctual. Can traits such as instinct and anticipation be taught and developed via coaching? Do any player examples come to mind?

Instincts for the game in general are inherent and can't really be taught or coached, in my opinion. But instincts for what might happen in a given moment in the game can be honed by extensive film study and experience. Charles Woodson won DPOY in 2009 at age 33 not because he was the same athlete from when he won the Heisman, but because he had so much experience and had studied so much film he could anticipate what was coming. As it relates to college prospects and how they prepare and process film, "play speed" is what the scouts try to decipher in their evaluations. If "raw speed" doesn't equate to "play speed," the next question is why? Environment? Habits? Knowledge? Can a change in those factors help a player with coveted athletic ability that hasn't quite translated yet? It goes back to scouting being a crystal-ball business.

Corey from Albuquerque, NM

I am now getting the "The Packers have met with So-and-So at the Combine" popups on my screen. My question is this: Is there any correlation between these meetings and actually drafting said player?

Well, it's rare for the Packers to draft a player without having met with him. But they have 60 formal meetings with prospects in Indy, countless other informal ones, and they're heading into the draft with probably 11 picks. So …

George from Kennebunkport, ME

A follow-up to Jim from De Pere's Feb. 28 question on cognitive testing: It seems that pattern recognition is an important aptitude, especially for certain positions (QB, WR, RB, DB). For example QBs reading coverages, WRs determining which branch to take on a route tree, etc. Do you know if any of the testing the league or team does emphasizes this?

Not specifically, to my knowledge, but when teams get sit-down interviews with players (at the combine or on pre-draft visits), they'll often conduct a mini X's and O's film session to dive into some of that stuff.

Dan from Cross Plains, WI

Would college draftees that are on the fringe prefer to choose their own team as an UDFA? Or is the allure of getting drafted into the NFL, even in the seventh round, more of a draw? I'm sure it's different for each player. What would be your choice?

The signing bonus is substantially larger for a seventh-round pick compared to going undrafted, so that certainly matters. But there's also something to be said for having an agent scour the league for what would appear to be the best opportunity at his client's position.

Eric from Kenosha, WI

Good morning, I really enjoyed Cliff's history article, and now I wanna say, "Thank you Sam Seale." I'm sure there have been other success stories, but just the four players mentioned in the piece seem to make a Hall of Fame scouting career.

I met Sam my first year here in 2006 and he's always been one of my favorites. I bumped into him in an elevator in Indy last week, the first time I'd seen him in a long while. After the usual how-ya-doin' he looks at me with a straight face and says, "So, who we gonna draft?" I'm like, "I was hoping you could tell me!" He just laughed. He's a treat. Great dude.

Dan from Richmond, VA

While I was grateful to see that Preston Smith agreed to a pay cut (not merely a restructuring), I can't help but wonder why. With his production as a Packer combined with his durability, I would have guessed he'd rather test free agency one last time than take less money. I mean, I realize GB is a great franchise and everything, but money always rules – and understandably so given the short shelf life of NFL players. Can you shed any light on why PS made the decision he did?

I would surmise his agent had a good handle on the free-agent landscape and figured a soon-to-be 32-year-old edge rusher wasn't going to get much more, if any, than what the Packers were offering. So it made sense to take the pay cut with additional incentives and stay. Aaron Jones made the same decision last year, which was prudent on his part given the look of the running back market, and he may be in a similar spot again.

Joe from Bozeman, MT

I can imagine the comments you will receive if Aaron Jones becomes a salary cap casualty.

I sincerely doubt that's going to happen. While I understand the angst the weekend story created regarding the potential pay cut/restructure/release, there's time to figure this out. If both sides want to stay together, they will.

Mike from New Orleans, LA

Does re-signing your own free agents factor into the compensatory formula?


Garrett from Lake Elmo, MN

RE: Brock Purdy's contract situation … Last offseason, I heard that there is a pool of money that is facilitated by the players' union that can be doled out to rookies who exceed expectations, but aren't compensated "fairly" for their performance. From what I gathered, the PU pays players who outperform their contract value, in an attempt to offset the rinse and repeat method of drafting a RB vs. paying a big contract. Can you speak to this?

I believe you're referring to the performance-based pay program in the CBA. It isn't just for rookies, but anyone who outperforms his contract (mostly players on their rookie deals) based on snaps taken. On top of that, there's also the proven performance escalator, which boosts the Year 4 salaries of players drafted in the second through seventh rounds who have played a certain percentage of their team's snaps, or been named to the Pro Bowl. Jon Runyan is the most recent Packers player who benefited greatly from these CBA provisions. Based on his 2022 season (1,051 snaps, 96%), Runyan received an extra $790K in performance-based pay (fifth-highest total in the league), and his '23 salary rose from around $1.2M to $2.7M. The performance-based pay does not count against the cap, but the salary escalator does.

Jacob from Holmen, WI

Jeff has to be watching tape of Quay Walker cutting around blockers on his way to the QB like Aaron Jones does to would-be tacklers thinking … this young man is special, I have never deployed a talent in my system like this before. Is it preposterous to think 10 sacks is within reach?

I'm not going to put any stats on it, but I get the same sense you do, which is why I asked Gutey specifically about Walker last week and wrote this follow-up piece from Indy. I mentioned before the final decision was made at defensive coordinator that a new approach ought to be able to get more out of an athlete like Walker.

Johnny from Nasawaupee, WI

Hi, II: Besides the O-line guys mentioned in Friday’s story, what other younger players might be in the mix…thinking Luke Tenuta and Caleb Jones?

I would think so, yes.

William from Chamberlain, SD

If there was one objective statistic that would best measure improvement for the Packers YOY in 2024, what would it be? Considering W's and L's to be subjective.

That's a new one, wins and losses as subjective. "Well, the Packers lost, but subjectively, not really." Ha. OK, I'll play along and say touchdowns. Score more than last year's 44 (regular season), allow fewer than 37. And turnover margin. The Packers broke even last year but aim to be well on the plus side. Do that and I would expect the record to be better than 9-8.

Josh from Newhall, CA

That was an interesting point about Trey Lance. I didn't realize how small his opportunity was. If it weren't for Purdy's success, he probably gets more time to develop. Interesting how the NFL works. If Jordan Love gets hurt back around Week 8, and Sean Clifford produces Purdy-like results the rest of the year, Love is probably traveling the same road as Lance right now. Goes to show a player can control his preparation and ability, but opportunity can sure be fleeting.

Indeed. Happy Monday.

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