Green Bay Packers: Jarrett Bush

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers' heavy lifting in free agency is over.

Now that defensive tackles Letroy Guion and B.J. Raji have officially re-signed, moves that were agreed to on Monday and announced by the team on Tuesday, the Packers have only a few other free agents they might bring back.

Here's the list of their remaining unsigned free agents:

Bush and Kuhn are probably the only two on this list likely to be re-signed. Kuhn’s agent, Kevin Gold, said he has been in contact with the Packers and hopes to have a deal done soon.

It appears that the Packers have decided to move on from Flynn, and Lattimore’s only interest has been from the New York Jets, who had him in for a visit.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Here's an update on where the Green Bay Packers stand with their free agents as we head into the second week of free agency.

(Note: This will be updated on a weekly basis throughout free agency.)

Re-signed
Signed elsewhere
Unsigned
  • Tramon Williams, CB: Made his second free-agent visit on Sunday, when he spent the day with the Cleveland Browns. He had visited the New Orleans Saints last week. The Packers remain interested in re-signing him but are likely only offering him a short-term deal. Williams turns 32 today.
  • John Kuhn, FB: His agent, Kevin Gold, has said that there is "mutual interest" between Kuhn and the Packers, but he expected a deal to get done a little later in free agency.
  • B.J. Raji, DT: There's not expected to be major interest in a player who missed all of last season because of a torn biceps tendon. There have been no known visits to other teams.
  • Letroy Guion, DT: A deferred prosecution agreement, which will result only in probation stemming from his arrest last month on felony marijuana and firearm possession, is expected to be finalized soon. Once the agreement is formally signed and approved, Guion is expected to resume negotiations with the Packers.
  • Matt Flynn, QB: The Packers appear likely to move on from Flynn, who was the No. 2 quarterback all of last season ahead of Tolzien, but they know there's always a chance he'll be available down the road given that he's flamed out with three other teams (Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo).
  • Jamari Lattimore, LB: If the Packers bring back the backup inside linebacker, it likely would be for a minimum-type contract. There has been no known interest from other teams.
  • Jarrett Bush, CB: If the Packers bring back the veteran backup, it likely would be for less than the $1.75 million per year that his last deal averaged. There has been no known interest from other teams.

The Packers also had three restricted free agents (tackle Don Barclay, safety Sean Richardson and receiver Jarrett Boykin) plus two exclusive-rights free agents (safety Chris Banjo and running back DuJuan Harris). They offered Barclay and Richardson the low RFA tender, which is $1.542 million, but did not tender Boykin. He became a free agent and visited the Carolina Panthers last week. The Packers gave Chris Banjo an exclusive rights tender for $585,000 but did not offer Harris a contract.

Tracking Packers' free agents

March, 9, 2015
Mar 9
12:30
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – With nearly two full days of legal free-agent tampering in the books, let's review where things stand with each of the Green Bay Packers' unrestricted free agents one day before they are allowed to sign with other teams:

(Note: We will update this list on a weekly basis throughout free agency.)
  • Randall Cobb, WR: Agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract on Saturday night to return to the Packers.
  • Bryan Bulaga, T: With Doug Free (Cowboys) and Derek Newton (Texans) returning to their old teams, Bulaga is perhaps the top free-agent tackle still available and could price himself out of Green Bay.
  • Scott Tolzien, QB: Agreed to a one-year contract on Sunday reportedly worth as much as $1.35 million and is expected to make a strong push to be the top backup behind starter Aaron Rodgers.
  • Matt Flynn, QB: The Packers appear likely to move on from Flynn, who was the No. 2 quarterback all of last season ahead of Tolzien, but they know there's always a chance he'll be available down the road given that he's flamed out with three other teams (Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo).
  • John Kuhn, FB: His agent, Kevin Gold, said last week that there is "mutual interest" between Kuhn and the Packers, but he expected a deal to get done a little later in free agency.
  • B.J. Raji, DT: There's not expected to be major interest in a player who missed all of last season because of a torn biceps tendon. Look for Raji to return on another one-year deal for even less than the $4 million he got last season.
  • Letroy Guion, DT: Last week, Guion accepted a deferred prosecution agreement, which will result only in probation stemming from his arrest last month on felony marijuana and firearm possession. Once the agreement is formally signed and approved, Guion is expected to resume negotiations with the Packers.
  • Davon House, CB: On the eve of the tampering period, House's agent, Kenny Zuckerman, said he expected his client to hit the open market on Tuesday.
  • Tramon Williams, CB: Reports have linked Williams to several teams, including the Seahawks and Eagles. The Packers might be willing to let the 32-year-old go even though he has been one of their most reliable plyaers, playing in 140 of the last 141 games.
  • Jamari Lattimore, LB: If the Packers bring back the backup inside linebacker, it likely would be for a minimum-type contract. There has been no known interest from other teams.
  • Jarrett Bush, CB: If the Packers bring back the veteran backup, it likely would be for less than the $1.75 million per year that his last deal averaged. There has been no known interest from other teams.

The Packers also have three restricted free agents (tackle Don Barclay, receiver Jarrett Boykin and safety Sean Richardson) plus two exclusive-rights free agents (safety Chris Banjo and running back DuJuan Harris). The Packers have until 4 p.m. ET Tuesday to tender offers to them. Otherwise they are free to sign elsewhere.
With free agency set to begin Tuesday, we've spent the past two weeks counting down the top-10 Green Bay Packers' players scheduled to hit the open market.

We went in reverse order (see below).

Cobb
Here's No. 1: Randall Cobb

2014 pay: $812,648 (final year of rookie contract).

By the numbers: Set career highs with 91 catches, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns last year in the regular season and was the team's leading receiver in the postseason with 15 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown. Also rushed 13 times for 42 yards (including playoffs) and averaged 8.0 yards per punt return while sharing the duties with Micah Hyde.

The case for keeping him: Cobb established himself as perhaps the NFL's premier slot receiver last season and in the process should have answered any doubts about his durability. He played in all 18 games (including playoffs) and was on the field for 88.4 percent of the offensive snaps a year after he missed 10 games because of a fractured lower leg. At age 24 (he won't turn 25 until Aug. 22), he should have plenty of productive years in front of him. With Cobb operating from the slot, it allowed Jordy Nelson (98 catches, 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns) to work the perimeter. Together, they formed one of the most productive combinations in recent NFL history. Last season, they became just the third set of teammates with at least 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns in the same season in NFL history.

The case for letting him walk: There really isn't one, even if Cobb's asking price is as high as $11 million-$12 million per year, as some reports have suggested. The Packers have plenty of salary-cap space (more than $33 million), and it would be foolish to let a young, homegrown player who was drafted in the second round leave this early in his career. Without Cobb, the only proven veteran receiver the Packers would have on the roster is Nelson. Davante Adams showed signs during his rookie season last year that he could be the next highly productive receiver in the Packers' offense, but he may not be ready to make that jump right away and there's no guarantee he will have two 80-plus-catch seasons like Cobb did in his first four years.

Prediction: The Packers won't let Cobb go even though it could cost them more than $10 million per season to keep him. They will get a deal done shortly before free agency opens.

Previous installments
No. 10: Linebacker Jamari Lattimore
No. 9: Cornerback Jarrett Bush
No. 8: Fullback John Kuhn
No. 7 (and 7a): Quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien
No. 6: Defensive tackle Letroy Guion
No. 5: Cornerback Tramon Williams
No. 4: Defensive tackle B.J. Raji
No. 3: Cornerback Davon House
No. 2: Tackle Bryan Bulaga
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With free agency just a week away, we are counting down the top 10 players the Green Bay Packers have who are scheduled to hit the open market on March 10.

We're going in reverse order.

Here's No. 4: B.J. Raji, defensive tackle

Raji
2014 pay: $3.7 million ($3.1 million base salary, $500,000 signing bonus, $100,000 workout bonus. Lost out on $300,000 in per-game roster bonuses).

By the numbers: Did not play a single snap in 2014 after he sustained a torn biceps tendon in the Aug. 22 preseason game against the Oakland Raiders and spent the entire season on injured reserve.

The case for keeping him: Raji did not disappear like some players who sustain season-ending injuries. He stayed in Green Bay to undergo his treatment following surgery and work on his rehab while still trying to help out the team when he could. Raji regularly attended practices and could be seen offering advice to the younger defensive linemen. He also traveled with the team to road games and helped out on the sideline during games. Coaches and players alike said Raji also attended team and position meetings all season. At the NFL scouting combine last month, coach Mike McCarthy said: "I thought it was good having him around. It was good for the young guys. So [we] hope to get him back."

The case for letting him walk: Raji did not have a great season in 2013, which was why he drew little interest on the free-agent market last March. He had to come back to the Packers on a one-year deal after he failed to find a team willing to give him a long-term contract. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers was able to plug in Letroy Guion at nose tackle, where the Packers intended to play Raji last season after using him at defensive end the previous three seasons, and Guion played well against the run and offered more pass rush than Raji has in recent seasons.

Prediction: Raji will be back under another one-year contract that likely will be for less money than the last one.

Previous installments
No. 10: Linebacker Jamari Lattimore
No. 9: Cornerback Jarrett Bush
No. 8: Fullback John Kuhn
No. 7 (and 7a): Quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien
No. 6: Defensive tackle Letroy Guion
No. 5: Cornerback Tramon Williams
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With free agency a little more than a week away, we are counting down the top 10 players the Green Bay Packers have who are scheduled to hit the open market on March 10.

We're going in reverse order.

Here's No. 5: Tramon Williams, cornerback.

Williams
2014 pay: $7.5 million ($6.9 million base salary, $300,000 roster bonus, $300,000 workout bonus).

By the numbers: Played in every game for the seventh time in his eight NFL seasons. He led all Packers defensive players by logging 1,134 snaps (or 93.1 percent of this past season's defensive plays) and tied for the team lead with three regular-season interceptions.

The case for keeping him: He's the very definition of dependable. Since he first made the Packers' roster in 2007 (after spending 2006 on the practice squad), Williams has appeared in 140 out of a possible 141 games (including playoffs). He's a highly respected figure in the locker room and although he hasn't matched his big-play production from 2010, when he posted a career-best six interceptions (plus another three in that postseason), his 22 interceptions since 2010 (including playoffs) ranks second in that span among active players behind only Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

The case for letting him walk: Williams will turn 32 in two weeks. Last year, he was the 12th highest-paid cornerback in the NFL but was rated as just the 41st-best player at his position by ProFootballFocus.com, which charged him with allowing 10 touchdowns in 18 games (including playoffs). Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 106.5 when targeting him, according to PFF. That number had never been higher than 85 in Williams' first seven seasons. He also allowed completions on 63.6 percent of the passes thrown his way, which also was the highest percentage of his career.

Prediction: The Packers will move on from Williams and go with a younger player, perhaps Davon House or Casey Hayward, at his spot.

Previous installments
No. 10: Linebacker Jamari Lattimore
No. 9: Cornerback Jarrett Bush
No. 8: Fullback John Kuhn
No. 7 (and 7a): Quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien
No. 6: Defensive tackle Letroy Guion
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With free agency set to begin in a little more than two weeks, we will count down the top 10 Green Bay Packers' players scheduled to hit the open market on March 10.

We will go in reverse order.

Here's No. 9:

Bush
Jarrett Bush, cornerback

2014 pay: $1.7 million ($1.6 million base salary, $100,000 workout bonus).

By the numbers: Played just 44 defensive snaps but only one player (Sean Richardson) was on the field for more special-teams plays than Bush, who appeared in 69.8 percent of the special teams plays despite missing one game.

The case for keeping him: Few players have a better work ethic or are more popular in the locker room than Bush. He sets the perfect example for young players to follow when it comes to taking the job seriously and putting in the time necessary to be a successful pro. He has been elected a special-teams playoff captain each of the last four years as voted on by his teammates. He tied for third on the team with 11 special-teams tackles last season. He also can play cornerback or safety in a pinch, making him perhaps the most versatile backup the Packers have in the secondary.

The case for letting him walk: Even at the veteran's minimum for a 10th-year pro, he's an expensive player to keep around as a backup who rarely plays on defense. And if the Packers are going to overhaul their special teams, which began with the firing of coordinator Shawn Slocum last month and included cutting special-teams contributors such as Brad Jones and Brandon Bostick last week, then maybe they're looking for a fresh group of core players. Also, coach Mike McCarthy has said he wants to use more starters on special teams. That, plus the fact that Bush will turn 31 on May 21, works against him.

Prediction: The Packers will re-sign him to a low-priced contract with little or no guaranteed money similar to the deal they did with fullback John Kuhn last season. They'll make him earn a roster spot in training camp this summer.

Previous installments

No. 10: Linebacker Jamari Lattimore
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Earlier, we looked at the Green Bay Packers' free-agents-to-be on the offensive side of the ball. Now, let's look at the defensive players with expiring contracts.

Among the Packers' seven defensive free agents, six are unrestricted.

Here's a player-by-player breakdown:

Unrestricted

Bush
Jarrett Bush, CB: It's hard to believe that nine years after the Packers claimed him off waivers from the Carolina Panthers that Bush is still around. But it's a testament to hard work and the importance of special teams. Bush has never been a full-time positional player. In fact, he played only 42 snaps on defense all season, but he played more snaps on special teams than all but one player (Sean Richardson) on the roster. 2014 base salary: $1.6 million

Letroy Guion, DT: Perhaps the biggest bargain the Packers had all season, they signed him to a one-year, $1 million contract as a street free agent, and he ended up playing a major role after B.J. Raji was lost for the year in the preseason. He started all 16 regular-season games and posted career highs in sacks (3.5) and tackles. The Packers already have told his agent that they would like him back next season. 2014 base salary: $730,000.

Davon House, CB: Injuries have plagued this former fourth-round pick. He was having one of his best seasons until he fractured his scapula on Dec. 8 and didn't return until the playoffs. He also had a shoulder injury in the 2012 preseason, when it looked like he might win a starting job. 2014 base salary: $645,000.

Jamari Lattimore, LB: Re-signed to the minimum restricted free-agent tender last offseason, Lattimore finished the season on injured reserve because of an ankle injury he sustained on Nov. 30. Even before that, he failed to hold onto a spot as the lone inside linebacker in the dime defense. Saw his playing time reduced when Sam Barrington's increased. 2014 base salary: $1.431 million.

Raji
B.J. Raji, DT: It's hard to imagine there will be much of a market for Raji after missing the entire season because of a torn biceps tendon. When healthy last year, he failed to land a long-term deal on the free-agent market and returned to the Packers for a one-year, $4 million deal. Could the Packers get him back even cheaper this year? It's possible: 2014 base salary: $3.1 million.

Tramon Williams, CB: This might be the toughest call they have. Williams started every game for the fourth time in the last five years. Since the start of the 2007 season, he has missed only one game. He tied for the team lead in interceptions (three) and led the team in pass breakups. However, at age 31 (he will be 32 in March), the Packers might want to get younger (and cheaper) at this spot. 2014 base salary: $6.9 million.

Restricted

Sean Richardson, S: Played in every game this season. Most of it was on special teams, where he played a team-high 371 plays. Late in the season, he was added to a defensive package called "Big Okie," which is a variation of the 3-4 base defense that featured three safeties and one cornerback instead of two and two. 2014 base salary: $570,000.

Packers Mailbag: Underdog mentality

January, 17, 2015
Jan 17
8:00
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Each week, readers are invited to submit questions about the Green Bay Packers via Twitter using the hashtag #PackersMail. Here are some of the hot topics as we get closer to this Sunday's NFC Championship Game at the Seattle Seahawks:

Demovsky: It's not just the media -- although just about everyone on the ESPN panel (except for Mike Ditka and Seth Wickersham) and the NFL Nation panel (except for Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas) picked against them. The oddsmakers have established the Seahawks as an overwhelming favorite. With a line between a touchdown and 7.5 points, the Packers have not been this big of an underdog with Aaron Rodgers as their starting quarterback, dating to 2008. They were a six-point underdog in Seattle in Week 1 and lost by 20. To be sure, Rodgers relishes the underdog role. He still carries a chip on his shoulder because not one single Division I team recruited him out of high school and because 23 teams passed on him in the 2005 draft before the Packers took him. But that's not what wins games. I can guarantee you this: the Packers don't look at themselves as an underdog. Several players said coach Mike McCarthy did not bring it up once before the team left for Seattle on Friday.

Demovsky: You're right, that was my pick. And for the game to be that close, they had better not miss 18 tackles. But you're right in the sense that this is a different team, especially a different defense, than the Packers had in Week 1. That 4-3 defense you mentioned was something the Packers had worked on privately all offseason, and they wanted to throw it at the unsuspecting Seahawks. Even the surprise factor didn't help. It was so ineffective that defensive coordinator Dom Capers junked it after a couple of weeks. Also, they won't have Derek Sherrod playing half the game at right tackle in place of Bryan Bulaga, who left with a knee injury. Sherrod was so bad that the former first-round pick didn't make it out of the first week of November. I expect the Packers to play a competitive game. They might even win. But the smart money says it's a long shot.

Demovsky: We actually saw a hint of something different from their dime package Sunday against the Cowboys. They used cornerback Jarrett Bush in place of Brad Jones, who had been the lone inside linebacker in the dime package. We could see more of that against the Seahawks. They wouldn't want to use Clay Matthews in that role because those are the situations in which they want him rushing off the edge. When the Packers go to their dime package, they're expecting a pass, so they want Matthews getting after the quarterback. As for Sean Richardson, there is a package that gets him on the field, but it's a base 3-4 alignment in which he replaces one of the cornerbacks, giving the Packers three safeties and one corner on the field. They call it "Big Okie" -- "Okie" is what they call their 3-4 -- and it's designed to give them a little bigger presence against the run.

Demovsky: I don't think they would have kept Scott Tolzien on the roster all year if they didn't think he had a chance to be the long-term No. 2 quarterback. Here's the problem, the No. 3 quarterback doesn't get many reps in practice, so the Packers aren't going to have much better of a feel for what Tolzien can do now than they did at the end of training camp. But what they do know is that Tolzien will have another year in the system, another year watching and learning from Aaron Rodgers. As for the draft, history tells us that they're not likely to select a quarterback and especially unlikely to take one in the early rounds. They have drafted exactly one quarterback (B.J. Coleman in the seventh round in 2012) in the past six drafts.

Don't forget about Packers' defense

January, 12, 2015
Jan 12
10:15
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With all the focus on quarterback Aaron Rodgers' remarkable performance despite his strained left calf and Dez Bryant's catch that wasn't a catch, it's easy to overlook the role the Green Bay Packers' defense played in Sunday's 26-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field in the NFC divisional playoff round.

"Very pleased with the way the defense played," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

Here are a few things from the defense that should not be forgotten as the Packers prepare for the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at the Seattle Seahawks:

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJulius Peppers and the Packers defense did a formidable job Sunday against the Cowboys' top offensive weapons.
Welcome back, Julius: Other than his two-sack game against the woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 16, it had been a while since Julius Peppers had a major impact on a game. But he did against the Cowboys, with a sack and two forced fumbles. His strip-sack of Tony Romo on the game's opening series ended that drive and helped set up the Packers' first touchdown. In the third quarter, he stripped the ball from running back DeMarco Murray, and Datone Jones recovered. That led to a field goal that got the Packers within one, at 14-13. "Pep really had a great game, especially in limited reps rushing the passer," Clay Matthews said. Peppers had gone without a sack in six of his past seven regular-season games.

Pressure on Romo: In addition to four sacks, the Packers were credited for eight quarterback hits on Romo. Nick Perry, who had just three sacks all season, had 1.5 on Sunday. And they came on consecutive plays -- the last of the third quarter and the first of the fourth. He shared the second one with Mike Daniels. Seven players recorded quarterback hits. Said Matthews: "You look at the guys when they're moving around, you have me moving inside, outside, playing coverage as well as Nick Perry, Mike Neal and Julius being able to rush from the inside as well as drop into coverage. It definitely shows the versatility of the 3-4 defense."

Solid coverage: Yes, Tramon Williams missed a tackle that led to Terrance Williams’ 38-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the second quarter and was called for two pass-interference penalties, but the Packers' secondary held up well against Romo's top weapons. The Packers held Bryant to just three catches for 38 yards. Terrance Williams didn't have another catch, other than his touchdown. Tight end Jason Witten was the Cowboys' leading receiver, with six catches for 71 yards. "When I looked at the scoreboard, I didn't see any receivers [with big numbers]," cornerback Jarrett Bush said.

Run defense: This remains an area of concern, after Murray rushed for 123 yards on 25 carries (a 4.9-yard average). He was the best running back the Packers faced since Marshawn Lynch in Week 1. Now, they have to go back to Seattle and deal with Lynch in Sunday's NFC Championship Game. Lynch ran for 110 yards on 20 carries and scored two touchdowns in the Seahawks' 36-16 win over the Packers in the opener. "As long as we're all on the same page, we'll be able to handle anybody," Perry said of stopping the run.
The Green Bay Packers will have some difficult decisions to make this offseason with 14 players headed toward free agency. The new league year begins on March 10 at 4 p.m. ET, when unrestricted free agents can sign with any team.

Between now and then, general manager Ted Thompson surely will strike new deals with some of them. Last March, he signed cornerback Sam Shields to a four-year, $39 million contract only hours before free agency opened.

The Packers already have begun negotiations with defensive tackle Letroy Guion, and it is widely believed there's no way they will let receiver Randall Cobb hit the open market.

Here’s a list of the Packers' unrestricted and restricted free agents to be:

Unrestricted:
Restricted:
GREEN BAY, Wis. – From the sound of things on Monday, Mike McCarthy would have rather his Green Bay Packers' players not brought up the meeting that occurred Saturday night at the hotel on the eve of the game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Team meetings are kind of like Las Vegas, what's said in there should stay in there," McCarthy said Monday. "But that's fine, they shared it with you. That's their prerogative."

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson
AP Photo/Mike RoemerJordy Nelson was one of six Packers chosen to be playoff captains by their teammates.
Several players described it as a players-only session in which the six playoff captains, who were elected last week even before the Packers had clinched a playoff spot, spoke to the rest of the team. It occurred a few minutes into the meeting after McCarthy dismissed everyone but the players.

"I thought it was very important to give those six men the platform to speak to their teammates," McCarthy said. "And obviously when coaches and other people are not in the room, the conversations are different. It's not the first time we've done it, but that was really what happened."

Each of the six captains -- quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receiver Jordy Nelson, receiver Randall Cobb, safety Morgan Burnett, linebacker Julius Peppers and cornerback Jarrett Bush -- took a turn.

"He gave us an opportunity to talk in front of the team and speak what we thought," Nelson said after the game. "It wasn't anything mind-blowing or anything, but just making sure guys understand the opportunity that's ahead of us. Some of us have been there. Some have been there and came up short. Some have been there and won it all, and some haven't experienced any of it. You just try to educate other guys on what this opportunity means and what it can do, how hard it is to get there, and how hard it is to win."

When those six were named last week, Clay Matthews was perhaps the most noticeable name left off the list as voted on by the players. Matthews had perhaps his best game of the season on Sunday, when he recorded two sacks to reach double digits for the fourth time in his six seasons, but McCarthy didn't think it was because his star linebacker was motivated by a captaincy snubbing.

"I don’t think so," McCarthy said. "I don't know that for a fact. Frankly, I was in a conversation with Clay a few days before I decided to make that decision, and it was something that Clay brought up. So this was something that was being kicked around. I think Clay sees the big picture.

"I think it's important to understand the dynamics of every locker room. Morgan Burnett is a young guy that’s ascending and the way the votes panned out, it reflected that. So you could see by the way the voting goes, just based off the numbers, just kind of the way the locker room looks at their leadership, and I think it's great the way it panned out, and I don't think Clay is taken aback. It's not a contest. Clay Matthews is a leader. We have more than six leaders on our team, but you can only vote for six, but that's really the way it is."

McCarthy went on to say that Matthews has "probably had his best year in my opinion" and that Matthews' move to inside linebacker on a part-time basis has been a major factor in the improved run defense.

"Our run defense has taken a huge step the last eight weeks, and he's definitely part of that," McCarthy said.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The voting is done. No matter what happens in this weekend's game, it can't impact anyone's Pro Bowl selections.

Fan voting was completed Monday. Players and coaches must turn in their ballots by the end of this week, although the Packers have already voted.

The Pro Bowl selections will be announced on Tuesday based on a consensus of the fan voting plus players and coaches selections. Each group's vote counts one-third.

And now we know how the fan voting went.

The NFL released the leading vote-getters at each position, and five Packers made the list. In fact, quarterback Aaron Rodgers topped the voting regardless of position. He received 1,015,004 votes, edging Denver's Peyton Manning (1,013,739). They were the only two players to top one million votes.

Receiver Jordy Nelson was ninth overall and second among receivers behind Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown. Guard Josh Sitton was second at his position behind Cleveland's Joel Bitonio, while Jarrett Bush was second among special teams players behind Cleveland's Johnson Bademosi. John Kuhn was the leading vote-getter at fullback.

For Bush, Nelson and Sitton, it would be their first Pro Bowl selections.

In case you missed it on ESPN.com: Best of the rest:

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers has been with Mike McCarthy from the start. He has seen or heard every one of the Green Bay Packers coach's motivational devices.

That includes McCarthy's memorable "we’re nobody's underdog" line late in the 2010 season when they were, indeed, decided underdogs going into a game at the New England Patriots with Matt Flynn as their quarterback because of Rodgers' concussion. And there was the act of getting sized for Super Bowl rings the night before the game, although Rodgers said he actually missed the ring-fitting process on the eve of Super Bowl XLV.

If this season's defining moment was Rodgers' R-E-L-A-X comment after the 1-2 start, then McCarthy's decision to have the team elect postseason captains this week before the team has even clinched a spot could be what carries the Packers forward.

"I don’t think it's anything other than a mindset for him," Rodgers said Wednesday. "He likes to ooze confidence out of himself. It's a toughness from his Pittsburgh roots, but it's a confidence that he trusts the guys that he's going to get it done."

Rodgers, of course, was picked as one of those captains, joining Jordy Nelson, Julius Peppers, Morgan Burnett, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Bush.

"I don't think it was necessarily assuming we were going to make the playoffs," Peppers said. "It's just that time of the year. You want guys that's going to emphasize having that sense of urgency and leading that time of the year. It's the playoff time of the year. We're not assuming we've already made it."

The Packers need a victory on Sunday at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers plus some help from others to clinch a spot this weekend.

This move by McCarthy might not have been about playoff captains as much as it was to refocus the Packers after their five-game winning streak disappeared into the ether with Sunday's loss at the Buffalo Bills.

"Clearly, this is an opportunity to give people more credibility, more opportunities to take the platform," McCarthy said. "I think leadership is something every coach is focused on. I've always looked for ways to create opportunities for leadership. You can't assign it. Leadership has to come from the locker room. Credibility has to come from the locker room. That's why the locker room votes on it.

"This is clearly an opportunity identifying these are the six men we want to lead us down the stretch. And with that, those six men have accepted the responsibility."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Julius Peppers strolled through the Best Buy store in suburban Ashwaubenon, located just two miles down Oneida Street from Lambeau Field, looking for a new case for his iPhone this week.

No one stopped him for an autograph or asked to take a selfie with him.

[+] EnlargeJerry Hughes, Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Bills fans
Bill Wippert/Associated PressGreen Bay and Buffalo are similar in many ways, including player-fan celebrations.
He's not even sure if anyone gawked.

Such is life for a Green Bay Packers' player in the NFL's smallest city.

"These people around here are used to having Brett Favre here, Reggie White here," Peppers said. "They’ve got A-Rod [Aaron Rodgers] in their town, so it's not like it's anything special to see a high-profile football player out. I think people around here handle it pretty good. I don't get bothered at all really."

Peppers imagines it's much the same in Buffalo, New York, the NFL's second-smallest outpost. That makes this week's game between the Packers and Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium different from a normal NFL Sunday.

No, these aren't the one-stoplight, cow towns they're often made out to be -- Green Bay is home to 104,779 in the city proper and Buffalo has 258,959, according to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau figures -- but they're not Chicago or even Charlotte, North Carolina, where Peppers split his first 12 NFL seasons. In Northeast Wisconsin and Western New York, the NFL is either the only game in town or the biggest one.

"It's kind of similar to Green Bay's fanbase," Peppers said. "Small town. Those guys love their Bills. It's going to be one of those atmospheres that's going to be a challenge as well to go into an environment like that and perform."

Given their NFC-AFC affiliations, the Packers and Bills play just once every four years and go eight years between visits to each other's city. Only three players -- quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebacker A.J. Hawk and special teamer Jarrett Bush -- were with the Packers the last time they played at Buffalo in 2006, and Rodgers was still two years away from becoming the starter.

That's why on Wednesday, during his first address to the team this week, Packers coach Mike McCarthy talked his players through what to expect on Sunday in Buffalo.

"Talked about the small town, similar characteristics to Green Bay, the passion of their fanbase and really the type of environment that we're getting ready to go into," McCarthy said of his speech to the team. "It's an older stadium, small locker room. It's old-school NFL football. It's something I've always appreciated playing there in the past, and once again you have to make sure your team is ready for that."

[+] EnlargeJames Starks
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsPackers running back James Starks was raised in Western New York and went to the University at Buffalo, making Sunday a homecoming for him.
Few know how similar the NFL life can be in Green Bay and Buffalo better than Packers quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt. Van Pelt, who joined McCarthy's coaching staff in 2012, played all nine of his NFL seasons in Buffalo, where he was mostly a backup from 1995 to 2003 but started 11 games.

"Not just the similarities of the organizations, but the city," Van Pelt said. "It's a safe place. It's a good place to raise a family. The values and everything are good there. It reminds me of a Midwest town with the blue-collar workmanship. A lot of those are very similar here. When people ask me how's Green Bay? I'm like, 'Well, it's a little bit smaller than Buffalo but very similar.'"

Except perhaps for the fans.

Van Pelt called Bills' supporters "some of the best fans I've been around” in part because "they understand they can get loud when they need to. Quarterback starts to audible, you'll hear the crowd get higher and higher."

"But maybe a little rougher than say, the Green Bay crowd," Van Pelt added. "I remember coming here as a player and the fans telling you on the way out, 'Good job. Good luck the rest of the year.' You may not get that in Buffalo."

Independent of Van Pelt, Packers running back James Starks made a similar point. Starks grew up in Niagara Falls, New York, went to college at Buffalo and as a kid attended Thurman Thomas' football camps in Orchard Park, New York, where the Bills' stadium is located.

"They're very similar," said Starks, who has tickets for 20 relatives attending Sunday's game. "Real small. The football organizations bring in a lot to the community. Loyal fans. I think Green Bay's are a little more respectful and stuff. Their fans are a little more, I don't know ..."

Starks, wearing a Brooklyn Nets hat and a New York hoodie, didn't finish his thought on Friday afternoon. It was time to go home, first to his Green Bay locale and then to his real home this weekend.

"There’s no place like home," McCarthy said. "Obviously, everybody enjoys going back to their hometown, and I know this is special for James and his family. James is always smiling; his smile is bigger this week."

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