Green Bay Packers: Mike Neal

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When the Green Bay Packers report for the offseason program on Tuesday, don't expect linebacker Clay Matthews to put his twice-broken right thumb through any vigorous work right away.

But when training camp begins in July -- and more importantly when the regular season kicks off in September -- Matthews does not expect there to be any issues.

In an interview with USA Today's Tom Pelissero, Matthews said he expects his thumb to be a non-issue going forward.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
AP Photo/Mike RoemerClay Matthews hopes thumb casts, like this one worn Nov. 10 against the Eagles, are in his past.
"It's been getting better, so I have no doubt," Matthews said. "Obviously, OTAs will probably be one thing. I can't imagine I'll be too heavily involved with some of the stuff. I'm sure I can do stuff here and there."

But when training camp opens?

"I'll be ready," Matthews said.

For the first time, he revealed exactly what happened following his second injury, which occurred on Dec. 22 when he sacked Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Matthews had returned from the first break, called a Bennett's fracture, six weeks earlier against the Philadelphia Eagles -- a game he called "by far my worst professional game, but there was a legitimate excuse" -- and after wearing a club cast that left him ineffective for that game, he opted for a much smaller cast.

All was well until his thumb hit the helmet of teammate Mike Neal on the way to sacking Roethlisberger.

Rather than opting for the same surgery that he had when he first broke his thumb on Oct. 6 against the Detroit Lions, he went with something different.

"It's called a tendon transfer," Matthews said. "I broke it [the first time], and they did a closed-pin reduction. [The thumb] was dislocated, so they put it back in there. The bones line up, but it was a real small piece of the bone. So, everything was fine. I was coming out, I was working hard, and I was in a cast.

"And unfortunately, on a sack of Roethlisberger, the tip of my thumb [hit] my teammate's helmet. All that pressure went down the cast, broke it again. So then, to make it tighter, we took part of the tendon, turned it around, drilled some holes and they almost tied a knot through. It's stronger than [the left one]. Now it's super tight."

The Packers kept Matthews on the active roster for the playoffs, hoping he could return if they made a Super Bowl run.

Matthews estimated that his thumb is "about 75, 80% of where it needs to be."

"It's getting there," he said. "By the time the season rolls around, it'll be fine. I'm optimistic about it. I mean, I've never heard of a career-ending thumb injury, but no one had heard of a Bennett's fracture when I had done that."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When free agency began a month ago, the Green Bay Packers had the sixth-most salary-cap space among all NFL teams.

A month later, even after re-signing several of their own free agents and adding Julius Peppers, their salary-cap situation remains healthy.

They are currently $15,636,891 under their adjusted salary cap for the 2014 season. That ranks as the seventh-most cap space available, according to the latest figures from ESPN Stats & Information contract data.

The Packers will need about $5 million in cap space for their rookie salaries.

At this time of year, only the top 51 contracts count toward the salary cap.

With that in mind, here's a position-by-position look at the Packers' salary-cap situation under the top 51 rule. On Thursday, we looked at the offense. Today, we look at the defense:

Neal
Defensive end

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 7.56

Total cap charge: $9,648,919

NFL average: $12,840,629

Biggest cap hit: Mike Neal, $3,750,000

Biggest bargain: Mike Daniels, $645,146

Outlook: For the purpose of this exercise, we're putting Neal in the defensive end category along with Peppers ($3.75 million cap charge for 2014) because that's how the ESPN Stats & Information salary system has them categorized. In reality, though, Neal, Peppers and perhaps outside linebacker Nick Perry all will play a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position. Daniels made a jump from two sacks as a rookie to 6.5 last season and should get more opportunities this year. Peppers' salary-cap number spikes to $12 million next season. Also, Peppers currently counts nearly $8.3 million in dead money on the Chicago Bears' salary cap.

Raji
Defensive tackle

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 4.31

Total cap charge: $5,496,453

NFL average: $8,979256

Biggest cap hit: B.J. Raji, $4,000,000

Biggest bargain: Josh Boyd, $531,140

Outlook: Raji returned under a one-year deal after a disappointing 2013 season, but the Packers will move him back to his more natural position, nose tackle. Boyd, a fifth-round pick last season, saw increased playing time late in his rookie year and could have an even greater role this season. Letroy Guion, who signed to a one-year deal last month after he was cut by the Minnesota Vikings, would count $965,313 against the cap if he makes the team. If he doesn’t, only his $100,000 bonus would count on the cap.

Matthews
Linebacker

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 19.96

Total cap charge: $25,463,640

NFL average: $15,493,188

Biggest cap hit: Clay Matthews, $10,943,750

Biggest bargain: Andy Mulumba, $496,666

Outlook: The Packers have five linebackers, including Matthews, that count more than $1 million against this year’s cap. The others are A.J. Hawk ($5.1 million), Brad Jones ($3.925 million), Perry ($2.045 million) and Jamari Lattimore ($1.431 million).

Williams
Cornerback

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 15.81

Total cap charge: $20,173,209

NFL average: $12,150,127

Biggest cap hit: Tramon Williams, $9 million

Biggest bargain: Micah Hyde, $539,527

Outlook: There was some doubt last season about whether Williams would be back under the terms of the final year of his contract, but he finished the season playing perhaps as well as he did during the Super Bowl run in 2010. The four-year, $39 million contract that Sam Shields signed last month has a moderate cap number this year ($5.562 million) but jumps to $9.125 million next season and $12.125 million in each of the following two seasons.

Burnett
Safety

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 4.63

Total cap charge: $5,910,418

NFL average: $8,315,431

Biggest cap hit: Morgan Burnett, $4,843,750

Biggest bargain: Sean Richardson, $571,668

Outlook: There will be additions to this position, likely through the draft and perhaps even in the first or second round. The Packers also plan to use Hyde some at safety but haven't committed to him moving full time from cornerback. Richardson is a promising prospect who returned late last season from neck surgery.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There are several ways to judge an offseason.

The ESPN Insider team took one approach late last month, when it assigned grades to every team’s free-agent moves Insider. In that project, it gave the Green Bay Packers a C-plus.

Here's another way to do it -- by the Las Vegas odds.

In that regard, the Packers fared even better.

Two months after the LVH SuperBook listed the Packers' odds to win Super Bowl XLIX at 16-1, those odds have improved. In its latest figures released this week, the LVH SuperBook listed the Packers as 12-1 to win the Super Bowl.

Only four teams were listed ahead of the Packers -- the defending champion Seattle Seahawks (4-1), the runner-up Denver Broncos (5-1), the San Francisco 49ers (6-1) and the New England Patriots (8-1).

Vegas apparently likes the direction general manager Ted Thompson has gone this offseason, signing pass-rusher Julius Peppers to bolster the defense and retaining some of his own key free agents such as cornerback Sam Shields, nose tackle B.J. Raji, outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal, fullback John Kuhn, tight end Andrew Quarless and running back James Starks.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – If there's a common denominator among the Green Bay Packers' free agents that remain unsigned, it's that none played more than 50 percent of the team's snaps last season.

That's in contrast to the six unrestricted free agents the team has re-signed in the last month. Of the six, four were on the field more than half the time last season.

Six of the Packers' unrestricted free agents remain on the market.

In order of playing time from last season, they are:
  • Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett (535 snaps, 48.0 percent of the defensive plays)
  • Quarterback Matt Flynn (324, 27.3 percent of the offensive plays)
  • Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly (287, 25.7 percent)
  • Tight end Jermichael Finley (252, 21.3 percent)
  • Quarterback Seneca Wallace (58, 5.0 percent)
  • Linebacker Robert Francois (12, 1.1 percent)

Pickett was the only one to appear in every game but he will turn 35 just a month into this coming season, so his time could be over. Flynn is expected to re-sign, and Jolly could too if he recovers from his neck surgery as expected. Francois is still recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon. Finley still has not received medical clearance following his neck surgery, and Wallace will not be re-signed.

Of their own free agents that they re-signed, only two were on the field less than half of the time. They were:
  • Fullback John Kuhn (333 snaps, 28.1 percent of the offensive plays)
  • Running back James Starks (235, 19.8 percent)

Four played well over half the plays. They were:
Also, of the five former Packers' players who signed with other teams, three played more than half the snaps last season.

They were:
The other two were:
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With the bulk of the free-agent work done, it's a good time to recheck the Green Bay Packers' depth chart leading up to the May 8-10 NFL draft.

On Thursday, we broke down the way things look on offense.

Next up is the defense:

Defensive end: Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Jerel Worthy.

[+] EnlargeDatone Jones
AP Photo/Morry GashThe Packers are counting on defensive end Datone Jones to rebound in his second season.
Analysis: The Packers have high hopes for Jones despite a disappointing rookie season in which the former first-round pick was slowed by an ankle injury and recorded just 3.5 sacks (two of which came in one game). "I feel he's one of those second-year players who [can] take a huge jump," coach Mike McCarthy said of Jones earlier this offseason. "That will be my expectations for him." Boyd, a fifth-round pick, actually saw more playing time late last season than Jones. Worthy played in only two games a year after he blew out his knee.

Defensive tackle: B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion.

Analysis: Moving Raji back to nose tackle on a full-time basis should help his production, which declined sharply over the last three years following a move to defensive end. Daniels was perhaps the team's most improved player last season, which should lead to an even bigger role this season. Guion, who was cut the Minnesota Vikings, will have to battle for a roster spot.

Elephant: Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Mike Neal.

Analysis: Elephant is a catch-all term for the multiple positions this trio will play. They will be part outside linebacker, part defensive end and part defensive tackle. The addition of Peppers, who was signed last month after being released by the Chicago Bears, should boost the pass rush. Expect Perry to play more on the right side this season, where he was far more impactful last season. These players will actually be tutored by linebackers coach Winston Moss.

Inside linebacker: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Victor Aiyewa.

Analysis: Hawk had perhaps his best season last year, but Jones was a disappointment after signing a three-year, $11.75 million contract and could be on shaky ground for a starting job. Lattimore, a restricted free agent who has yet to sign his tender, got some playing time last year while Jones was hurt and could push for the starting job. So could Barrington, a promising rookie who missed the second half of the season because of a hamstring injury.

Outside linebacker: Clay Matthews, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer, Chase Thomas.

Analysis: Neal and Perry played almost exclusively at outside linebacker last season, so there's a good chance they'll be a big part of this group again. But behind Matthews are a couple of second-year players, Mulumba and Palmer, who played more than anyone expected last year as a rookies. Mulumba, an undrafted free agent, played better than Palmer, a sixth-round pick. Thomas was signed early in the offseason off the street after spending most of last season on the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad.

Safeties: Morgan Burnett, Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo.

Analysis: Easily the thinnest position on the roster, there's still likely to be several additions here, probably via the draft. However, McCarthy said cornerback Micah Hyde will get some work at safety. Whether he's a candidate to start next to Burnett (a strong safety), however, remains to be seen. Burnett needs to bounce back from a disappointing season, but there's little reason to think his job is in jeopardy. Richardson returned late last season from a serious neck injury and showed promise. Banjo played more early in the season than he did late last year.

Cornerbacks: Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush, Davon House, James Nixon, Jumel Rolle, Antonio Dennard.

Analysis: This is among the Packers' deepest positions thanks to the return of Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract, and Hayward, who is expected to be healthy after a hamstring injury limited him to just three games last season. Williams closed the season playing perhaps as well as he did during the Super Bowl season of 2010, which is why they kept him despite a $7.5 million salary. Bush had his best season in coverage last year, while House was a disappointment. Nixon's speed makes him an intriguing prospect. Rolle was promoted from the practice squad late last season, while Dennard joined the practice squad late last season.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers began this offseason with 17 players scheduled for unrestricted free agency.

They have re-signed five of them: outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal, tight end Andrew Quarless, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, cornerback Sam Shields and running back James Starks.

Four of them signed with other teams: center Evan Dietrich-Smith (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), receiver James Jones (Oakland Raiders), tackle Marshall Newhouse (Cincinnati Bengals) and defensive end C.J. Wilson (Raiders).

That leaves eight still on the market. Here's an update on where things stand the Packers’ remaining free agents:

Kahlil Bell, RB: With Starks back on a two-year, $3.165 million deal, it’s unlikely Bell, a late-season pickup last year, will be re-signed. The Packers already have five halfbacks with NFL experience on the roster -- Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, DuJuan Harris, Michael Hill and Starks -- plus practice-squad member Orwin Smith.

Jermichael Finley, TE: There's no guarantee Finley will receive medical clearance to resume his career following last season's neck injury. Finley reportedly failed a physical during a free-agent visit to the Seattle Seahawks, and the Packers say they are still monitoring his condition. At this point, Finley's career remains on hold.

Matt Flynn, QB: It's all but a lock that the player who kept last season alive while Aaron Rodgers was sidelined with his broken collarbone will return. Coach Mike McCarthy wants Flynn back and would like to keep three quarterbacks on the roster this season. Expect Flynn to be re-signed soon.

Robert Francois, LB: The special-teams player is coming off a torn Achilles tendon. If healed, he could be re-signed for a minimum contract later in free agency.

Johnny Jolly, DT: Like Finley, Jolly underwent neck fusion surgery. But Jolly's injury was not as severe as Finley’s and the fusion took place lower in his neck, which makes it safer for him to resume his career. McCarthy said he liked how Jolly played last season, so expect the Packers to bring back Jolly at some point.

John Kuhn, FB: The Packers remain in talks with the fan favorite who completed a three-year, $7 million contract last season. Kuhn is a valuable special teams player and has been their best pass protector out of the backfield the past several seasons. But it's not a given he will return. And if he does, it likely will be for less money than he received three years ago.

Ryan Pickett, DT: The plan to move Raji back to nose tackle might make Pickett expendable. Or perhaps his age (34) has already done that. McCarthy was non-committal when asked about Pickett's status last week at the NFL annual meetings.

Seneca Wallace, QB: McCarthy would like to bring four quarterbacks to training camp, but don't expect the 33-year-old Wallace to be one of them. He couldn't stay healthy when the Packers needed him after Rodgers' injury. Instead, they would like to add another young, developmental prospect.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers signed Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion in free agency to bolster their defensive line, not necessarily to replace certain players.

That was the takeaway from comments coach Mike McCarthy made at the NFL annual meetings this week when asked about the possibility that free-agent defensive linemen Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett could return to Green Bay.

Both remain on the open market.

However, their situations are different.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Jolly
AP Photo/Tom LynnJohnny Jolly recently was cleared to resume normal offseason workouts after neck surgery in January.
Jolly's is mostly a medical one. He had neck surgery in January to repair a bulging disc that bothered him late last season. Doctors fused together his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae using bone from his hip. He recently was cleared to resume normal offseason workouts.

McCarthy said the Packers remain interested in bringing back the 31-year-old, who returned to football last season after sitting out for three years while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and also spending time in prison.

"Yeah, if it definitely works out, I mean we're monitoring that," McCarthy said. "I think Johnny did a nice job last year. You have to be very pleased for where he started and where he finished. I think he gave us every inch of what he had and then some. I was very pleased with Johnny's contribution last year."

Jolly played last season for the veteran’s minimum of $715,000.

Pickett, 34, made $6.2 million in base salary and bonuses last season in the final year of a four-year, $24.925 million deal. Although he played in all 16 games for the second straight season and missed only four games during his most recent contract, his production dropped off last season, when he recorded only 19 tackles, his fewest since his rookie season of 2001.

"We'll watch what's going on with Ryan," McCarthy said.

There might not be room on the roster for both Jolly and Pickett. Even though McCarthy said Peppers will work mostly with the linebackers, he still has a deep defensive line group. The Packers return Josh Boyd, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and Jerel Worthy -- all four of which are still on their rookie contracts. They also plan to return Mike Neal back to the defensive line, at least on a part-time basis, after playing almost exclusively at outside linebacker last season. Nick Perry and Peppers also could split time between the two spots in what McCarthy calls the elephant position.

The Packers also re-signed nose tackle B.J. Raji and brought in Guion, who played for the Minnesota Vikings.

"Let's not forget about Letroy," McCarthy said. "I thought he was an excellent acquisition that we haven't even brought up. I thought he's played very well the last three times we played the Vikings. So he's been an excellent addition to our defensive front."
Don't put a label on new Green Bay Packers defensive end Julius Peppers.

In fact, he probably shouldn't even be called a defensive end.

The way Packers coach Mike McCarthy explained it to reporters on Tuesday at the NFL annual meetings in Orlando, Fla., the newest addition to the Packers' defense will play a hybrid position -- a combination of an outside linebacker and defensive lineman the Packers will call an "elephant."

[+] EnlargePeppers
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Packers plan to use Julius Peppers in a variety of ways along their defensive front.
It's a spot that McCarthy first revealed during an interview at the NFL scouting combine last month that was in his plans, well before he knew he would have Peppers on his roster.

In preparing for that role, Peppers will spend most of his individual practice time and meeting sessions with the linebackers, who were merged into one group under assistant head coach Winston Moss and position assistant Scott McCurley following the resignation of outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene shortly after last season ended. It also means Peppers will not work directly under defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who was Peppers' defensive line coach and defensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers from 2002-08.

"Elephant is a term used for a multiple-position player along the defensive front," McCarthy told reporters at the league meetings. "Julius will be part of that group.

"The specifics I'd rather get into once the players find out, once we go through it with the players, but that's the big-picture outlook for the way we'll use Julius defensively."

In his only public comments since he signed with the Packers, Peppers, who was released this month by the Chicago Bears, told the Packers' web site he expected his role to be "something different" than it was during his stint with the Bears.

This would qualify as such.

Even before the Packers signed Peppers to a three-year, $26 million contract on March 15, they had planned to use the elephant position for Mike Neal and Nick Perry. In some defenses, the elephant position is used to describe an end who lines up between the offensive tackle and the tight end (in what is called the 7 technique) but based on McCarthy's comments on Tuesday, it appears he has multiple positions in mind for his elephants.

Perry, a former first-round draft pick, was a defensive end in college but switched to outside linebacker with only moderate success the past two years. Neal played his first three NFL seasons at defensive end before he switched to outside linebacker last season.

The trio of Neal, Peppers and Perry could be interchangeable this season.

"It's not only your position, your alignment, it's your assignment," McCarthy said. "So he has more to offer in his opinion, and I agree with him, from an assignment standpoint. So where he aligns, competing against Julius, he's lined up on both sides at defensive end. He has been an inside rusher, so those experiences he already has and will continue to do so."

The addition of Peppers and the redefinition of some positions could make coordinator Dom Capers’ defense look a lot less like the traditional 3-4 he has run throughout his 28-year NFL coaching career. But McCarthy said Capers' defense has evolved into a two-linemen look more than ever to combat the spread offenses used so prolifically around the league.

"How much 3-4 defense do we play?" McCarthy said. "We've been averaging 24-25 percent over the past five years. So we're playing so much sub."

When the Packers do use their base defense, McCarthy confirmed that recently re-signed lineman B.J. Raji will return to his old position, nose tackle. Raji played more at defensive end the past three seasons, when his productivity waned. McCarthy said the plan for Raji will be to "cut him loose."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The seven players the Green Bay Packers signed or re-signed since the start of free agency received a total of $24.175 million in guaranteed money.

However, more than 80 percent of that went to two players -- cornerback Sam Shields ($12.5 million) and defensive end Julius Peppers ($7.5 million).

All of the guaranteed money came in the form of signing bonuses. For salary-cap purposes, that means each player's bonus will be prorated over the life of the contract. For example, Shields' bonus will count for $3.125 million on the salary cap during each of the contract's four years.

Let's review the highlights of each deal the Packers have done:

Sam Shields, CB
  • Details: Four years, $39 million, including a $12.5 million signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $15 million.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $5,562,500.
  • Full breakdown available here.
Julius Peppers, DE
  • Details: Three years, $26 million, including a $7.5 million signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $8.5 million.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $3.5 million
  • Full breakdown available here.
B.J. Raji, DT
  • Details: One year, $4 million, including a $500,000 signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $4 million.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $4 million
  • Full breakdown available here.
Mike Neal, OLB/DE
  • Details: Two years, $8 million including a $2.5 million signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $5 million.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $3.75 million.
  • Full breakdown available here.
James Starks, RB
  • Details: Two years, $3.165 million including a $750,000 signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $1,732,813.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $1,370,313.
  • Full breakdown available here.
Andrew Quarless, TE
  • Details: Two years, $3 million including a $350,000 signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $1.425 million.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $1.25 million.
  • Full breakdown available here.
Letroy Guion, DT
  • Details: One year, $985,000 including a $100,000 signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $985,000.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $985,000.
  • Full breakdown available here.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Shortly before free agency opened, the Green Bay Packers had the sixth-most salary-cap space in the NFL.

Since then, they have re-signed cornerback Sam Shields, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal, tight end Andrew Quarless, tendered restricted free-agent linebacker Jamari Lattimore and added free-agent defensive linemen Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion.

They began the month with nearly $34.2 million in cap space and even after all that activity, they still have about half of that remaining.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers had $20,627,413 in available cap space as of the start of the second week of free agency. However, that did not include Raji’s one-year, $4 million contract. It also did not include the new two-year deal that running back James Starks has agreed to but has yet to be announced by the team.

According to NFL Players Association salary information, counting the Packers' top-51 players under contract -- which is all that must be counted for cap purposes at this time of the year -- the Packers still had $17,024,449 in salary-cap space as of the start of business on Wednesday. That also did not include Starks' contract.

The Packers will need around $5 million for their rookie salary pool but even accounting for that, general manager Ted Thompson still has room to maneuver.

Among the things he has to consider is having enough space to extend the contracts of receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, both of whom are entering the final years of their contracts. Their situation likely played a role in Thompson's decision not to re-sign receiver James Jones, who signed a three-year, $10 million deal with the Oakland Raiders on Monday.

Free-agency review: Packers

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
9:00
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Peppers
Most significant signing: Re-signing perhaps their top three defensive free agents -- cornerback Sam Shields, defensive tackle B.J. Raji and outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal -- was important, but that didn't necessarily make the Green Bay Packers' 25th-ranked defense better. They hope the addition of defensive end Julius Peppers does that. Peppers had seven sacks in a down season last year for the Chicago Bears, yet that was more than any of the Packers' defensive linemen had last season. Even at age 34, expect Peppers to be motivated to bounce back and energized playing for a team he considers a Super Bowl contender.

Most significant loss: When Evan Dietrich-Smith signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, it ensured that quarterback Aaron Rodgers will take snaps for a fourth starting center in as many seasons. It also broke up an offensive line group that started all but two games together last season. The most likely internal replacement is second-year pro JC Tretter, but he was a college tackle at Cornell who did not play a single snap last year as a rookie.

Jones
Jones
Biggest surprise: Apparently 24 touchdown catches over the last three seasons doesn't count for much on the free-agent market. How else to explain why it took a week for anyone to sign former Packers receiver James Jones, who finally landed a three-year deal with the Oakland Raiders on Monday? Maybe it's that Jones will turn 30 on March 31. While Jones caught only three touchdowns last season, he had 14 in 2012 and seven in 2011. Last season, he caught 59 passes for a career-best 817 yards despite missing nearly three full games.

What’s next? Even after Jones signed, the Packers still have 10 of their own free agents still unsigned. Among them are quarterback Matt Flynn, fullback John Kuhn, tight end Jermichael Finley (visited the Seattle Seahawks), tackle Marshall Newhouse (scheduled to visit the Cincinnati Bengals) plus defensive tackles Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers signed Julius Peppers to do one thing: rush the quarterback.

How they plan to use the 34-year-old defensive end in their scheme, however, is not yet clear.

Peppers has not been available to reporters since he signed a three-year, $30 million contract on Saturday, but he did speak briefly to the team's website and revealed a little bit about what coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have discussed for him.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsJulius Peppers may line up in the 'elephant' position for the Packers.
"I'm going to let Coach McCarthy deal with questions about the position and the scheme," Peppers told Packers.com. "I'm not really sure. We haven't talked in detail about what the plan is going to be for me, but I can say it's going to be something different.”

McCarthy's next media appearance likely will come at the NFL annual meetings next week in Orlando, Fla.

Early this offseason, well before the Packers even knew Peppers would be available, McCarthy said he and Capers remained committed to the 3-4 defense as their base scheme but planned several tweaks in order to better utilize their personnel and remain multiple in their looks even if injuries hit like they did last season.

"We were not as multiple maybe this year as we've been in prior years really because of the stress of injuries on that unit so we want to get back to some of the things that we did very well in the past and make sure we're carrying enough packages to utilize all of our players," McCarthy said at the time.

Peppers played in a 4-3 during his four seasons with the Chicago Bears and at 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, he was an ideal defensive end in that scheme. However, in a 3-4 base defense the ends don't line up as wide as they do in a 4-3. And in nickel and dime situations, they move inside even more. Early in Peppers' career, in an ESPN.com story about the differences between ends in the two schemes, he was quoted as saying he preferred to play outside rather inside like 3-4 ends do.

"I really don't like being down inside," Peppers said at the time. "I feel like when I'm down in that area like a tackle, I don't feel like I'm being used properly. It's hard, because you have to be a lot more run conscious and a lot more physical, which, being physical, that's no problem for me. But I'd rather get on the edge and rush the passer."

What Peppers described as being ideal is essentially the 7-technique position in which a pass-rusher lines up on the inside shoulder of a tight end. McCarthy calls that the elephant position, and it's a spot he talked last month about using this season.

Peppers could be perfect for that role and could be used in a rotation with Mike Neal and Nick Perry.

Regardless of how the Packers use him, they expect more pressure from their defensive front this season. Although last season Peppers registered only seven sacks (tied for the second-lowest total of his 12-year career) despite playing in every game, that total would have ranked second on the Packers behind Clay Matthews (7.5) and first among the team's defensive linemen.
video 

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Who says Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson doesn't sign any free agents?

Yes, you've heard that line before, but almost every time it should have been hashtagged with this: #sarcasm. How else can you explain a signing such as Raymond Webber?

Who?

Exactly.

No hashtag needed this time.

Not for Julius Peppers, who signed a three-year, $30 million contract Saturday to continue his career in Green Bay.

This is more than a little splash. It's cannonball-sized, especially for Thompson, who specializes in no-name signings such as Webber, a street free-agent tight end whose signing last month barely made a ripple.

Not since 2006, when Thompson signed cornerback Charles Woodson, has he made a move like this. This won't count as a true unrestricted-free-agent signing, at least not under the terms of the NFL's formula for awarding compensatory draft picks, because Peppers was released last week by the Chicago Bears.

Forget technicalities. This was a significant -- and much-needed -- move for a defense that sank to 25th in the NFL last season and needs an infusion of playmakers.

There's plenty still to be learned about Peppers, including how much the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end still has left at age 34 and where exactly he will play in Dom Capers' 3-4 defensive scheme.

He's coming off his lowest sack total (7.0) since 2007, but, in his past three seasons combined with the Bears, he has 29.5 sacks. In his 12 NFL seasons, he has had fewer than 10 sacks only three times (2003, 2007 and last year), and he hasn't missed a game since 2007.

At 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, Peppers has been an ideal 4-3 pass-rushing defensive end. But defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme don't typically command $10 million average salaries because they're not asked to jet up the field and pile up sacks like 4-3 ends.

Perhaps Capers will use Peppers in the elephant end position coach Mike McCarthy recently discussed as a possibility for Nick Perry and Mike Neal, both of whom can be considered hybrid defensive end/outside linebackers.

The possibilities could be endless.

Regardless of how Capers uses Peppers, it should help outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Not that teams won't still double-team Matthews, but say Capers lines up Peppers and Matthews on the same side of the formation. What's an offensive coordinator to do?

Peppers nearly ruined the Packers' 2013 season. Had fullback John Kuhn not gotten the slightest of chip blocks on Peppers in the final minute of the regular-season finale at Soldier Field, Peppers would have drilled quarterback Aaron Rodgers before he could have released the 48-yard bomb to Randall Cobb for the game-winning and NFC North-winning touchdown pass.

He could be just what the Packers need in 2014.

Thompson might be done in free agency for this season. For that matter, he might be done in free agency for next season and the one after that. But don't say he doesn't sign free agents. Hashtag: #serious
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We're on to the fourth day of full-blown free agency and a week removed from the start of the negotiating period, and none of the Packers' unrestricted free agents have signed with other teams.

The longer things stay that way, the better chance they have of retaining players such as center Evan Dietrich-Smith, receiver James Jones, fullback John Kuhn, defensive tackle B.J. Raji and perhaps some of the others on the Packers' lengthy list of free agents.

Dietrich-Smith, the starting center last season, visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but remains unsigned. Other than tight end Jermichael Finley, who visited the Seattle Seahawks, none of the Packers' other free agents have been known to make visits.

One by one, the Packers have begun to re-sign some of their own free agents. After getting deals done with cornerback Sam Shields on Saturday and outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal on Wednesday, general manager Ted Thompson re-signed tight end Andrew Quarless on Thursday.

Could more re-signings be far off?

Here's a recap of the rest of the Packers-related happenings from Day 3 of free agency, with a little perspective added in:
  • Re-signing Quarless gives the Packers a player they want to continue to develop, but it didn't necessarily solve all of their issues at tight end.
  • The Packers expect a visit from free-agent defensive tackle Vance Walker perhaps as soon as Friday. Walker, a starter for the Oakland Raiders last season, doesn’t have star power but could provide some depth on the defensive line. Walker visited the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday.
  • The full breakdown of Neal’s contract showed that his salary-cap number is actually higher in 2015 than it is this season.

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