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Last year's rookies are this year's free agents


Tom from Pittsburgh, PA

Are the Packers missing the boat by not diving into the defensive end free agency pool? Can they solve their defensive end problems solely through using the draft and current roster?

I believe they can. Defensive end is not a premium position in a 3-4 scheme. You're looking for a 4-3 defensive tackle that likes to two-gap, and there's usually an ample supply of those guys in the draft. Why? Because most defensive tackles are better run stuffers than they are pass rushers, and the 4-3 teams will always go for the defensive tackles that can rush before they start picking the defensive tackles that are primarily run stuffers. As I've said, that's the charm of the 3-4 defense. The talent pool from which 3-4 teams draft is much larger because players at one position translate to other positions, whereas 4-3 teams are looking for specific fits.

Jay from Hermanville, MS

What's up with signing a good running back out of free agency?

Running backs aren't exactly falling off the free-agent board, are they? That says it all about where today's game is. This is, without a doubt, a passing league. The feature running back, sadly, has become an afterthought.

Eric from San Bernardino, CA

Vic, do you see the Packers making any key additions this offseason or sticking with the main core as last season?

I think the Packers will make several key additions in the draft and in undrafted free agency, just as they did last season. I think we should be expecting the bulk of the key additions to come from last year's rookies. That's the way draft-and-develop works. It's not draft and play, it's draft and develop. The expectation should be for Alex Green to become the back that satisfies that need, for Davon House to be the defensive back that satisfies that need, etc. From this year's rookie class, a few will likely make an immediate impact, and I think this year's draft class has enough tweener types in it for the Packers to find one or two that address the pass-rush need. So, to answer your question, I see the Packers making several key additions as they stick with and continue to develop their young core. Here's what I don't see them doing: signing Mario Williams. I think we can put that to rest now.

Johnny from Newcastle, England

Did you see anything last season from Alex Green, Davon House or Lawrence Guy that makes you think they could be productive next season?

I saw Green make a dazzling, long run in a preseason game. As an offensive coordinator I know is fond of saying, if you can do it once, you can do it every time. That becomes the challenge for Green, in addition to making a comeback from ACL surgery. I saw a smooth backpedal by House in training camp. In Guy, I saw a big guy who came out of Arizona State a year early, and the jump he made at a young age and in a lockout year clearly made him a developmental candidate. These are your free-agent signings for 2012.

Mark from Proctorville, OH

Vic, Vinny Curry had his pro day at Marshall and ran a 4.64 40, much better than his combine speed of 4.9. How much attention do scouts pay to pro-day performances as opposed to combine performances? Can it really help a player's draft stock overall?

There are no official 40 times from pro-day workouts. Every team has its own watch and they're not telling what's on it. The reported pro-day 40 times are almost always faster than the official combine times; the colleges make sure of that by using a "fast" watch and leaking those "fast" times to the media. They become part of the PR machine for helping the players' cause, which ultimately helps the college's cause because players tend to give back to the programs that launched them and the higher the player is picked, the more he's likely to give back. In other words, pro days are important, but you have to know what the real times are. If he truly ran in the 4.6 range, then he's back in the discussion at linebacker.

Allen from Omro, WI

The compensatory picks should come out soon. Based on your experience, what's your take on how many the Packers will receive or in what rounds they would be in? Take a guess.

My guess would be that they'll receive either one high one pick or two low picks. I expect the compensatory pick awards to be announced the last week of March.

Shari from Panora, IA

When did the Packers pay for a free agent that didn't turn out? Reggie White is an excellent example of a really good, high-priced free agent we went after and it worked out rather well, I think.

How about Joe Johnson? I've been told that fans were deliriously happy with that signing. Johnson got a six-year, $33 million contract. That's a lot of money for two sacks.

Rusty from Hickory, NC

All these crazy contracts being handed out during this free agency will have ripple effects. I mean, what's Greg Jennings going to want after seeing Calvin Johnson's massive contract with $60 million guaranteed? I know there's a new TV deal coming up in a few years but, at this pace, how will teams even be able to afford to field a team in 10 years or so?

You think as a connoisseur of pro football should think. Unfettered free agency is clearly the best thing to ever happen to the players. It has driven salaries to previously unimaginable levels. What amazes me the most is how many owners, brilliant business men and captains of industry, are willing to keep driving their costs higher. You fear for teams being able to field a team in 10 years or so. I fear for the plight of the small-market, low-revenue franchise because it is being squeezed to death. On the one end, the salaries it has to pay are being driven to levels its limited local revenues might not be able to cover. On the other end, the big-market franchises are driving their local revenues upward at breakneck pace and, of course, that drives the cap higher and higher, which is a means for the big-market franchises to pass their player costs onto small-market teams. Eventually, revenue sharing won't be able to make up the difference and, as it stands right now, some of these small-market franchises aren't even able to qualify for a full revenue-sharing share. The new CBA was immediately seen as advantageous for the small-market teams, but this CBA is very aggressive in promoting growth and my concern is that the big-market teams will leave the small-market teams in the dust.

Darrell from Bishop, CA

Looking at only impact, do you think the signing of Mario Williams will have the same or similar impact on Buffalo that Reggie White had on Green Bay?

It might, but White is an example of free agency success at its extreme. How many teams have had that kind of success signing a premier defensive lineman? Ask the Redskins about Dana Stubblefield and Albert Haynesworth? When you sign a guy to the kind of contract to which the Packers signed White and the Bills have signed Williams, you have to be absolutely sure of success. If you don't get it right, people get fired. The Packers got it right.

Gabe from Jacksonville, FL

In your list of the 10 who shaped the NFL, you forgot to name Madden/EA Sports and whoever invented Fantasy Football and the NFL package on satellite TV. If not for these pioneers, the NFL's popularity would not be what it is today.

Yeah, I totally forgot.

Jordan from Riverside, CA

While I wouldn't argue with any of the people on your top 10 list of those that helped develop the game, I would give honorable mention to Mel Blount.

Blount is one of the players that changed the game. The five-yard chuck rule, which eliminated bump-and-run defense, is the "Mel Blount Rule." Imagine how good you have to be that the league has to change its rules so you can't do what you do. In time, it's possible the "Mel Blount Rule" will be viewed as the turning point in professional football.

Bob from Hilton Head Island, SC

The big rush on free agents has blown by. My question is has anybody any info on Mike Tolbert?

He's still available. I think he's absolutely one of the best players in the free-agent class, yet, there hasn't been a rush to sign him. Such is the plight of the running back. He's yesterday's league. It's a shame. I hope somebody finds a way to run the ball; find a way to pound defenses into the ground. I so miss that.

Jeff from Champlin, MN

If Collins retires, what will be the impact to the Packers' 2012 salary cap?

The impact on a team's salary cap of a player retiring or having been released is determined by when the player retired or was released. If it's prior to June 1, then all of his remaining amortization accelerates into that year. If it's after June 1, the rule is that what's in the year stays in the year and everything else goes into the next year. In either case, his salary is extinguished, of course, from the team's cap. A team may apply the post-June 1 rule to two players who were either released or retired prior to June 1.

Pedro from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Vic, you once said the Eagles are a team that can control the cap very well and still can get many players in free agency. Despite that working out or not, the players they get are good ones and many other teams would like to have them as well. How do they do that?

The Eagles spent a lot of years pre-paying on their salary cap by effective use of roster bonus. The Eagles are outstanding cappers. What they did to bring all of that talent on board last year was an example of disciplined genius. It was something they had begun doing years in advance. So why didn't it produce wins? I think two things hurt the Eagles: the lateness of free agency and the length of the lockout. Everything happened too quickly. They didn't have time to assimilate new players into a new environment and marry them with the team's core players; they didn't have time to effectively fit their new players into their scheme. Clearly, the Eagles were playing their best football late in the season, but by then it was too late.

Steve from Ilkley, UK

With all of the big contracts getting signed, free agents doing deals and Peyton Place going on, the Packers seem to be invisible now. I think that is a good thing. What do you think?

I do, too. The Packers are quietly but diligently at work preparing for the draft. That's where they get their players.

Danny from San Francisco, CA

Vic, you've said that other teams' draft boards are tightly-guarded secrets. Given that, how does a general manager predict where a player will get drafted and trade draft picks accordingly?

A team's value board is how it believes each player SHOULD be picked. It won't, however, happen that way, so in the week leading up to the draft, personnel departments conduct mock drafts according to information the team has gathered on how the other teams might pick. Each scout will be assigned a few teams for whom he will pick in the mock drafts. The scouts read on the teams they've been assigned. Maybe they'll talk to a reporter friend they know that covers that team. They get information on who it's thought the teams they've been assigned might draft, and they pick accordingly in the mocks. On draft day, the team has its board and the mocks it's conducted and it marries the two in maneuvering up and down.

Don from Tomah, WI

Did the 2010 NY Giants win the Super Bowl? No. Did they go to it? No. Did they win a playoff game? No. Did they even go to the playoffs? No. Did they sign any splashy free agents? No. All they did was sit and do nothing while the Eagles went and got the guys they needed to get stronger. What a waste of an offseason. Then they went out with the same guys that failed them in 2010 and won the Super Bowl.

That's beautiful. That is absolutely beautiful.

Richard from Lake Geneva, WI

I know the Packers aren't into free agency, but a lot of teams, like the Bears, are slowly signing players to get better while we're waiting for the draft. How should I react to this?

You have two options. You may engage in a display of great wailing and gnashing of teeth, or you may remain composed and dignified. Let me know what you decide.

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