NFC North: Brett Swain

Super XLV: Where are they now?

February, 6, 2014
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Exactly three years ago -- on Feb. 6, 2011 -- the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV.

Since then, much has happened to the 53 players who were on the roster for that 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Arlington, Texas.

Free agency, injuries, retirement and declining performance cause roster turnover.

Still, it’s eye-opening that from the group that suited up for the Packers’ last championship, only 12 players (just 22.6 percent) remain under contract with the team for 2014. Another 11 are still officially members of the Packers, but have contracts that expire next month. There are 13 players with other NFL teams, and 17 are out of football -- perhaps for good.

Here’s a look at the status of every player who was on the active roster three years ago today at Super Bowl XLV:

Under contract for 2014

  • [+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
    Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThree years after being named MVP of Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers is still leading the Packers.
    QB Aaron Rodgers: Threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns on the way to winning the Super Bowl XLV MVP, then won the NFL MVP award the next season. Signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension last April.
  • G Josh Sitton: Started Super Bowl XLV at right guard, but moved to left guard in 2013 and was a second-team, All-Pro selection. Signed a five-year contract extension on Sept. 2, 2011 that averages $6.75 million per season.
  • T Bryan Bulaga: Started at right tackle, but moved to left tackle last offseason. A training camp knee injury ended his 2013 season, and he now enters the final year of his rookie contract.
  • G: T.J. Lang: Served as a backup, but became the starting left guard the next season. Signed a four-year contract extension on Aug. 14, 2012 that averages $5.2 million per season. Moved to right guard last season.
  • WR Jordy Nelson: Caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and went on to post 1,000-yard receiving seasons in two of the next three years. Entering the final year of his contract in 2014.
  • OLB Clay Matthews: Forced a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl that the Packers recovered and turned into a touchdown to pad the lead. Four-time Pro Bowler signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension last April.
  • LB A.J. Hawk: Started and made seven tackles in the Super Bowl. Was released two months later, only to re-sign a more salary-cap friendly deal. Is under contract through 2015.
  • CB Tramon Williams: Broke up three passes in the Super Bowl, including the one that sealed the game on fourth-and-5 from the Steelers’ 33-yard line in the final minute. Entering the final year of his contract. Scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2014, and could be a candidate to be released or restructured despite a strong finish to last season.
  • K Mason Crosby: Made a 23-yard field goal in the game and signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract on July 29, 2011. Struggled in 2012, but bounced back last year to post his best season.
  • P Tim Masthay: Capped his first season with the Packers by averaging 40.5 yards and allowing the Steelers just 5 yards on punt returns in the game. Signed a four-year, $5.465 million contract extension on July 26, 2012.
  • LS Brett Goode: Has been the long snapper since 2008 and signed a three-year, $2.715 million contract extension on Oct. 13, 2012.
  • CB Jarrett Bush: Special teams player who was pressed into defensive duty in the game after injuries to Sam Shields and Charles Woodson, and intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the second quarter. Signed a three-year, $5.25 million contract on March 26, 2012.
Headed for free agency next month

  • RB James Starks: Started the Super Bowl and rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries. Battled injuries most of his career, and might not be re-signed.
  • WR James Jones: Caught five passes for 50 yards in the game, and signed a three-year, $9.6 million contract on Aug. 2, 2011. Caught 59 passes for a career-high 817 yards in 2013, and could be a re-signed despite his age (will turn 30 next month).
  • DT Ryan Pickett: Started the game, made two tackles and was in on the play in which Matthews forced Rashard Mendehall's fourth-quarter fumble. Played in all 16 games last season with a base salary of $5.4 million, but might be at the age (34) where the Packers let him walk.
  • DT B.J. Raji: Capped a strong 2010 postseason with a pair of tackles in the game. Finished his rookie contract in 2013, and reportedly turned down an $8 million-per-year offer last season.
  • DE C.J. Wilson: Started the game, but played only 14 snaps. Biggest impact came the night before the game, when he kept things loose in the team hotel by playing piano and leading a team sign-along. Finished his rookie contract in 2013.
  • FB John Kuhn: Played on both offense and special teams in the game. Signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract on Aug. 1, 2011.
  • CB Sam Shields: Suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of the game. Had his best season in 2013 while playing under the restricted free agent tender of $2.023 million. Will command a big contract either from the Packers or another team in free agency.
  • LB Robert Francois: Went back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster throughout the 2010 season, and played on special teams in the game. Played last season under a one-year, $725,000 deal, but tore his Achilles tendon on Oct. 6.
  • TE Andrew Quarless: Caught one pass for 5 yards in the game. Suffered a major knee injury the next season and missed all of 2012. Returned last season to catch 32 passes for 312 yards (both career highs) in the final year of his rookie deal.
  • QB Matt Flynn: Served as Rodgers’ backup but did not play in the Super Bowl. Left after the 2011 season as a free agent, and after stints with Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, he returned to the Packers last season for a one-year minimum deal and played in five games after Rodgers broke his collarbone.
  • C Evan Dietrich-Smith: Was inactive for the Super Bowl. Became a starter late in 2012 and for all of 2013, when he played under the restricted free agent tender of $1.323 million deal.
With other teams

  • [+] EnlargeMcCarthy
    Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCoach Mike McCarthy and the Packers have seen a lot of roster turnover since winning Super Bowl XLV.
    WR Greg Jennings: Started and became just the third player in team history to catch multiple touchdowns in a Super Bowl by recording touchdowns of 21 and 8 yards. Signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Vikings last March.
  • G Daryn Colledge: Started at left guard, but left in free agency a few months later to sign a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Cardinals. Has started every game for the Cardinals since.
  • C Scott Wells: Started at center and remained with the Packers through the 2011 season before signing a four-year, $24 million contract with the Rams. Has missed 13 games over the past two seasons because of injuries.
  • LB Desmond Bishop: Became a starter earlier in 2010 after Nick Barnett's wrist injury and made nine tackles in the Super Bowl. Also recovered the fumble that Matthews forced. Signed a four-year, $19 million contract in 2011, but was released after missing the entire 2012 season because of a hamstring injury. Signed with the Vikings last offseason, but appeared in only four games.
  • OLB Frank Zombo: Started the game and had the Packers’ only sack of Roethlisberger but battled injuries the next two years and was released. Signed with the Chiefs last year and appeared in all 16 games.
  • CB Charles Woodson: Started at cornerback, but broke his collarbone late in the second quarter and missed the remainder of the game. Played two more seasons with the Packers, who released him last year. Returned to his old team, the Raiders, and played in all 16 games last season.
  • DE Cullen Jenkins: Played 36 snaps and had a pair of quarterback pressures. Left in free agency the following year and signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Eagles, who released him after two years. Signed a three-year, $8 million contract with the Giants last season.
  • TE Tom Crabtree: Played on both offense and special teams in the Super Bowl, catching one pass. Left last year to sign with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent, but was limited to seven games because of injuries.
  • CB Josh Gordy: Was inactive for the game, and the next season was signed off the practice squad the by the Rams. Spent the past two seasons with the Colts.
  • G Nick McDonald: Was inactive for the game, like he was for every game that season. Was released in training camp the next year, and spent parts of the next two seasons with the Patriots. Did not play in 2013, but was recently signed by the Chargers.
  • OLB Erik Walden: Was inactive after suffering an ankle injury in the NFC Championship Game. Played the next two seasons before signing a four-year, $16 million contract with the Colts last year.
  • DE: Jarius Wynn: Was active but did not play. Played in Green Bay through 2011, and with the Titans and Chargers before landing with the Cowboys last season.
  • FB Quinn Johnson: Inactive for the game. Was traded to the Titans in 2011. Has played in 24 games for the Titans over the past three years.
Out of football

  • T Chad Clifton: Started at left tackle, but his long career with the Packers ended when they released him after he played in only six games in 2011. Was never signed by another team.
  • WR Donald Driver: Started the game and caught two passes for 28 yards before leaving with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Retired after the 2012 season as the team’s all-time leading receiver.
  • S Nick Collins: Started and made a key early play when he returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Suffered a neck injury in Week 2 of 2011 and hasn’t played since.
  • DT Howard Green: Claimed off waivers earlier that season and started the game. His hit on Roethlisberger led to Collins’ interception return for a touchdown. Returned in 2011 and played in all 16 games, but has not played since.
  • WR Brett Swain: Posted a team-high four special teams tackles. Was released the following season and played briefly with the 49ers. Was cut in training camp last season by the Seahawks.
  • S Atari Bigby: Played on special teams. Signed with the Seahawks the following season and played in 15 games. Played in eight games with the Chargers in 2012, but did not play in 2013.
  • CB Pat Lee: Special teams player who saw action on defense after injuries to Woodson and Shields. Played one more season in Green Bay before splitting time in 2012 between the Lions and Raiders. Did not play in 2013.
  • RB Brandon Jackson: Played as the third-down back, but did not have any carries in the game. Caught one pass for 14 yards. Signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Browns in 2011, but missed all of that season and played in only two games in 2012.
  • FB Korey Hall: Caught one pass for 2 yards and made one special teams tackle in the game. He played in 13 games with the Saints in 2011, and retired after going to camp with the Cardinals in 2012.
  • S Charlie Peprah: Led the Packers with 10 tackles (including nine solo stops). Returned as a starter in 2011, when he had five interceptions, but was released shortly before training camp in 2012. Played in five games for the Cowboys in 2012.
  • LB Diyral Briggs: Made one special teams tackle in the game, but never played in another NFL game.
  • LB Matt Wilhelm: Made two special teams tackles, but seven-year career ended after that game.
  • G Jason Spitz: Played on special teams. Left in free agency the next year and signed a three-year, $4.05 million contract with the Jaguars, who released him in training camp last summer. He signed with the Seahawks, but was released on Oct. 12.
  • TE Donald Lee: Played in the game, but did not have a catch and was released two months later. Played in nine games for the Bengals in 2001.
  • QB Graham Harrell: Inactive for the game. Remained with the Packers until he was released in training camp last summer. Also spent time briefly with the Jets before being released.
  • RB Dimitri Nance: Inactive for the game. Was released by the Packers the following summer and never played in another NFL game.
  • CB Brandon Underwood: Inactive for the game. Was released in 2011. Went to camp with the Raiders in 2012 and Cowboys in 2013, but did not make either team.

Reducing NFC North rosters to 80

August, 30, 2011
As you know, NFL teams were required to reduce their rosters to 80 players by Tuesday. That high figure allowed most teams to save difficult decisions for Saturday's final cut down deadline for 53-man rosters. We'll take a look at some of the NFC North's top looming questions over the coming days, but for now let's get you up to date on how each team got to 80 players.

Chicago Bears: Released five players Monday, including defensive end Vernon Gholston. Running back Chester Taylor was not among those released and told reporters he expects to play in Thursday's preseason finale.

Detroit Lions: Released eight players Monday, including running back Mike Bell and place-kicker Dave Rayner, and released fullback Jerome Felton on Tuesday. The Lions appear to be moving away from the fullback position. Running back Mikel Leshoure, on injured reserve, no longer counts against the Lions' roster limit.

Green Bay Packers: Released three players Sunday, including tight end Spencer Havner and receiver Brett Swain, and three more Tuesday.

Minnesota Vikings: Released 10 players Monday, including quarterback Rhett Bomar.
All NFL teams must cut their roster from 90 to 80 players by Tuesday, and the Green Bay Packers got started Sunday morning before hitting the practice field.

Among those released were a pair of recognizable names, tight end Spencer Havner and receiver Brett Swain, whose early departures speak to the depth and fierce competition at their respective positions.

All five tight ends remaining on the Packers roster, including rookies D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor, have legitimate chances to make the final roster. The Packers also have 11 receivers left and are judging strong summer performances from youngsters Chastin West and Tori Gurley, among others.

The moves leave the Packers with a total of 83 players. Teams will be allowed to carry 80 players until Sept. 3, when the final cutdown to 53 is required.

Can Packers count on Brett Swain?

March, 25, 2011
Here's a question that came up this week during a conversation with Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy: How high should wide receiver rank on the Packers' offseason priority list? And since we've recently discussed the position relative to the Chicago Bears (right here) and Minnesota Vikings (here you go), I figured now was as good of a time as any to take a peek at the Packers.

[+] EnlargeBrett Swain
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireBrett Swain (16) could be in line for more playing time if James Jones leaves via free agency.
Intuitively, there doesn't seem much urgency for a team that boasts a Pro Bowl starter in Greg Jennings, a still-crafty veteran in Donald Driver and the rapidly ascending Jordy Nelson -- a second-round draft pick in 2008 who caught nine passes in Super Bowl XLV. But James Jones' contract has expired and his future is uncertain. He likely will return if classified as a restricted free agent, but could depart if the NFL's pending offseason rules make him unrestricted.

Most teams would consider themselves set with three proven receivers. But the three-receiver set is the Packers' base formation. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers used it on 57.5 percent of their offensive plays in 2010. Meanwhile, they opened the Super Bowl in a four-receiver set and used more five-receiver formations than the rest of the NFL's 31 teams combined during the regular season.

So it's fair to say the Packers have a bigger structural need at the position than some teams. It won't be an issue in 2011 if Jones returns. If he doesn't, however, the first question to ask is whether reserve Brett Swain is ready to join the rotation.

Swain had a rough go in the Super Bowl after Driver departed with an injury, and in two NFL seasons he has six receptions for 72 yards. McCarthy was hesitant to discuss the possibility of Swain's ascension, especially as long as Jones remains a candidate to return, but he did remind me that Swain suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in October 2009.

"I thought Brett really responded well from his season-ending knee injury," McCarthy said. "You always look for that from players. The first year back from knees is never quite right. ... He did a great job in rehab. He made it through the year. Did a good job on special teams. He's still a young player. It will be interesting to see if he can take that next jump if he's given more opportunities. If you get through that first year [after major knee surgery], usually the next year is better, from my experience -- particularly perimeter players."

If nothing else, Swain has followed a development path similar to that of other prominent Packers players. He spent 2008 on the practice squad after the Packers made him a seventh-round draft choice, and has been a backup/special-teams stalwart over the next two seasons. Given the time they've invested in him, and the success of their development program with other players, I think the Packers at least will give Swain a long look -- along with a draft pick or two -- in training camp.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Hitting a few quick topics from Green Bay's 31-25 victory in Super Bowl XLV:

What it means: The Green Bay Packers won their fourth Super Bowl championship in five tries. It was their 13th world championship, dating back to 1929. Much as they did during the regular season, the Packers overcame a series of rapid-fire injuries to hold off a Pittsburgh Steelers team that roared back from a 21-3 second-quarter deficit.

RodgersWatch: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't have the game of his life, but he did throw for 304 yard and three touchdowns. Most important, he was at his best on the Packers' final drive of the game. The Packers consumed 5 minutes and 19 seconds after the Steelers had pulled within 28-25, capping with a 23-yard field goal from Mason Crosby. Rodgers completed 5 of 6 passes on the drive, including a 31-yard strike to receiver Greg Jennings on third-and-10. I'm sure the Packers would have preferred a touchdown on that drive, but Rodgers more than did his part in a winning effort.

InjuryWatch I: The Packers lost two of their top three defensive backs on consecutive plays near the end of the second quarter, creating a situation that seemed reminiscent of their undermanned performance against the Steelers in 2009. In that game, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards against a Packers defense that was forced to reach to the bottom of its depth chart. Sunday, nickel back Sam Shields injured his shoulder and cornerback Charles Woodson injured his collarbone. Although Shields returned briefly in the second half, the Packers played a significant chunk of the game with Pat Lee at cornerback and Jarrett Bush as their nickel back. The Packers were on the ropes for a while thereafter, giving up touchdowns on successive drives to allow the Steelers to move from a 21-3 deficit to 21-17.

InjuryWatch II: The Packers opened the game with an obvious intent to spread out the Steelers' defense with their four- and five-receivers set packages. It worked splendidly as the Packers took a 14-0 lead, but Donald Driver's ankle injury in the second quarter reduced the Packers' advantage considerably. Packers receivers unofficially dropped six passes as everyone but Jennings moved up a rung on the depth chart. Jennings caught two touchdown passes and Jordy Nelson caught one among his nine overall catches. But No. 5 receiver Brett Swain struggled when used as the No. 4 receiver.

What's next: An offseason of labor uncertainty for the entire NFL. Hope you enjoyed what you saw Sunday night. It's not clear when we'll see something like that again.

As we wind down our week of coverage heading into Saturday's divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome, it's worth pulling together two related concepts we discussed independently this week.

As we noted Monday, the Packers utilized a three-back set on offense 20 times during the regular season, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the times it was used by all 32 NFL teams this season. Then, in Sunday's wild-card playoff victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Packers averaged 7.6 yards on the eight plays they ran out of that set.

So on one hand, the Packers have demonstrated an ability and willingness to use one of the oldest and most conservative formations in the game: the wishbone, or an inverted wishbone in some cases. But on the other hand, they have also used the high-octane, rarely-seen five-receiver set more than any NFL team as well.

(For those who have been asking, ESPN Stats & Information limits the definition of this set to occasions when five actual wide receivers are on the field, not when some of those split out are running backs or tight ends.)

The Packers used this spread formation 30 times during the regular season, employing special-teams mainstay Brett Swain as the fifth receiver. The other 31 NFL teams combined to use it 16 times.

These 50 plays represent a small percentage of the Packers' overall offensive approach this season -- 5 percent of the 1,000 plays they ran this season, to be exact -- but they require far different responses from opposing defenses. Jason Wilde of delved into that issue in further detail, quoting receiver Greg Jennings saying that opponents are almost always at a personnel disadvantage from a coverage standpoint when they see five receivers on the field.

It's especially relevant for Saturday's game, considering the Packers used the five-receiver set on 14 of their 59 plays in the first game with the Falcons this season. If nothing else, it's pretty rare when, in an age of schematic specialization, an NFL team pulls in two widely disparate ideas into a single season's worth of game planning.

BBAO: Reviewing preseason Week 4

September, 3, 2010
In lieu of our usual Black and Blue All Over format, we'll put a bow on Week 4 of the preseason on this fine Friday morning:

Cleveland Browns 13, Chicago Bears 10
Preseason record:
Of interest: The Bears finished the preseason winless for the first time since 1998 and only the second time in the past 33 years. Their offense scored 46 points, their special teams got three punts and a field goal blocked and their defense was almost unrecognizable from its heyday. Good thing the preseason doesn't matter, huh? Thursday night, the defense recovered a fumbled snap on its first play but then went on to allow Cleveland starter Colt McCoy to complete all 13 of his passes for 131 yards. If anything positive emerged, it was that veteran quarterback Todd Collins has caught up enough to be Jay Cutler's Week 1 backup. Collins started in place of Cutler and completed 10 of 15 passes for 139 yards, including a 15-yard scoring strike to tight end Greg Olsen.
Local coverage: Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said there has been some "frustration" but "it's not like we're defeatist," reports Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times on the Bears' pass defense this preseason: "Outside of poor pass protection, the most alarming trend has been the poor play of a battered secondary that has served up a steady diet of cushion coverage and nondescript play." Jeff Dickerson of thinks linebacker Brian Iwuh is solid insurance behind Lance Briggs. Melissa Isaacson of "But is there enough time? And can they flip the proverbial switch?"
Next: Sept. 12 vs. Detroit Lions*

Detroit Lions 28, Buffalo Bills 23
Preseason record:
Of interest: A majority of first-team players started the game, including quarterback Matthew Stafford. But Stafford threw his worst pass of the preseason on the third play, a telegraphed sideline pass to receiver Calvin Johnson that Drayton Florence intercepted and returned 40 yards for a touchdown. The Lions were down 16-0 in this game before No. 3 quarterback Drew Stanton led a fourth-quarter rally. Of the Lions' bubble players, I thought running back DeDe Dorsey made two plays that will make him a difficult cut. The first was a 25-yard scoring scamper off a short pass from Stanton in the third quarter; the second was a difficult 34-yard reception along the sideline in the fourth quarter.
Local coverage: Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press has seen enough to write: "For the first time in at least three years, the Lions have actual, genuine strengths. ... There are still too many holes to expect greatness, or even goodness, but they have an excellent chance at OKness." Dorsey could still be a victim of the numbers game, writes Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News. The true quality of the Lions' secondary is unknown because of so many preseason injuries, writes Tom Kowalski of Safeties Louis Delmas and C.C. Brown both sat out Thursday night, while cornerback Jonathan Wade played with a cast on his hand.
Next: Sept. 12 at Chicago Bears*

Kansas City Chiefs 17, Green Bay Packers 13
Preseason record:
Of interest: In a bit of a surprise, Packers coach Mike McCarthy sat a number of key veterans, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and removed the rest of his starters after one series. The move helped the Chiefs win their first preseason game in two years. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn started in Rodgers' place and threw for 304 yards, although I'm still trying to figure out how his 77-yard pass to a wide-open Brett Swain didn't go for a touchdown; probably a combination of a short throw and Swain's less-than-devastating speed. The Packers worked tailback Kregg Lumpkin hard (11 carries, 36 yards) to give him a final chance to make the roster. Kick returner Jason Chery probably didn't win much confidence after a fumble and no returns longer than 17 yards.
Local coverage: Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thought Swain and Lumpkin "looked the most like NFLers among a medley of soon-to-be practice squad and indoor football players Thursday night at New Arrowhead Stadium." The Packers are entertaining trade offers for offensive lineman Jason Spitz, the Journal Sentinel reports. Chery "probably did just enough to stay in contention for a roster spot, depending in part on the shaky health of Will Blackmon," reports Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Long-snapper Brett Goode's departure after a big hit left it difficult to measure the Packers' punting competition, writes Jason Wilde of
Sept. 12 at Philadelphia Eagles*

Minnesota Vikings 31, Denver Broncos 24
Preseason record:
Of interest: The Vikings started 20 backups, including quarterback Tarvaris Jackson -- who concluded a worrisome preseason with a terrible outing. His accuracy-challenged 2-for-8 performance brought his preseason numbers to 12-of-26 for 60 yards. No. 3 quarterback Sage Rosenfels didn’t do much better, completing 1 of 4 passes, but you have to wonder how coach Brad Childress remains so committed to Jackson. Brett Favre hasn’t missed a start in 19 previous seasons, but there have been occasions when he’s left competitive games due to injury. At this point, would you trust Jackson even for a half? Rookie Joe Webb continued to show raw potential, dashing 41 yards against a blitz on one play and tossing a 63-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Javon Walker. With two touchdowns in two preseason appearances, you wonder if Walker hasn’t made the team.
Local coverage: Jackson was booed off the field by the Metrodome crowd, reports Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. But Childress said Jackson will remain the No. 2 quarterback “as it stands right now.” Cornerback Lito Sheppard said “I don't see why not” when asked if he will be a Week 1 starter, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. Safety Tyrell Johnson took advantage of extended playing time to likely win the strong safety job, writes Tom Pelissero of
Next: Thursday at New Orleans Saints*

*And it counts!
This week was just too darn slow. Maybe it was the comedown from Super Bowl XLIV, or perhaps the realization that we won't have real football for another seven months. (And by "real football," I don't mean "preseason games.")

So let's spice it up a bit and devote our weekend mailbag to one of the most volatile debates we had this season. (But first the obligatory shout-out: You can contact me through the mailbag application, on Facebook or on Twitter.)

On with it...

Via Facebook, Matt writes: In the beginning of the football season you ranked the NFCN receivers. It would be cool if you revisited that and redid the rankings now that the season is over.

Kevin Seifert: Ah, Matt, you are referring to this Have at It, spurred by a sentence in this August feature. As the debate evolved -- or devolved, as you may believe -- we argued whether Minnesota or Green Bay had the deepest receiving corps.

Ultimately, I published a comparison between each receiver position on the two teams. The chart accompanying this post shows how it all worked out.

Here's what I would say on the issue:
  • Before the season, I thought Minnesota had better depth, but acknowledged Green Bay had a more top-heavy depth chart. That remains my assessment.
  • The best receiver in the division this season was the Vikings' Sidney Rice. Greg Jennings out-produced the Vikings' Bernard Berrian, and Percy Harvin outplayed Green Bay's No. 3 receiver, James Jones.
  • Jordy Nelson had three times the catches of the Vikings' Greg Lewis, but Lewis made the best catch of the season on his game-winning touchdown reception against San Francisco.
  • Neither team's No. 5 receivers this season factored into play.

So if I were to suggest a combined ranking of the Vikings' and Packers' receivers now that the season is over, it would go like this:

1. Sidney Rice
2. Greg Jennings
3. Donald Driver
4. Percy Harvin
5. Bernard Berrian
6. James Jones
7. Jordy Nelson
8. Greg Lewis

That gives the Packers two of the top three receivers in the division, while the Vikings have three of the top five. I think a decent argument could be made for Harvin to supplant Driver if and when we do a 2010 preseason ranking, but that's how I would list them based on 2009 performances.

How about you?

How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

November, 24, 2009
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Ron Turner, Bears offensive coordinator: You have to wonder if these are the final weeks of Turner’s tenure. He has had one of the most difficult jobs in the Bears organization: Retrofitting his scheme to fit the sudden arrival of a downfield thrower. The challenge has been exacerbated by limited experience at receiver and an offensive line that has struggled to protect and open holes for the running game. But when an offense fails, you don’t fire all the players. Usually the coordinator is the first to go. Turner’s playcalling has left some room for debate as well. The use of receiver screens are good substitutes for a nonexistent running game, but only in moderation. Turner has overdone it to the point where defenses seem to know when the play is coming.

2. Minnesota Nice: That’s the phrase Minnesotans use to describe their cheery default condition for human relations. It’s also what outsiders refer to as their passive-aggressive bite. The latter emerged last week when the Metrodome’s landlord started an unnecessary fight with the Vikings over their future in the building. Asking the team to extend its lease or face penalty payments, even if a negotiating ploy, represented an underestimation of the team’s (and NFL’s) patience on the issue. Every moment spent talking about this secondary issue is one that won’t be spent on solving the bigger problem.

3. Anterior cruciate ligaments: Four of them have snapped this year on Green Bay players. The list includes not only linebacker Aaron Kampman and Al Harris, but also cornerback/kick returner Will Blackmon and receiver Brett Swain. The ACL tear no longer marks the end of a career, but all four players will at least face the same issue that Packers linebacker Nick Barnett dealt with: Controlled activity during training camp and the possibility of a “yellow light” for playing time when the 2010 season begins.


1. Matthew Stafford, Detroit quarterback: The final diagnosis is in, and we now know that Stafford threw the game-winning touchdown pass Sunday with a separated left shoulder. It seemed pretty obvious when Stafford dashed onto the field with his left arm hanging limp, but now we have further proof that Stafford cares deeply about winning and has the competitive/tough streak he’ll need to navigate the Lions’ rebuilding project. You might question the hubbub about a quarterback who has an injured non-throwing shoulder, but I think we can agree Stafford was in excessive pain that was probably exacerbated by taking a snap from under center. Brett Favre might have produced the division’s play of the year Sept. 27 against San Francisco. If that’s the case, Stafford certainly gave us the sequence of the year.

2. Charles Tillman, Chicago cornerback: We can’t let the Bears’ third consecutive loss overshadow a signature performance from Tillman, who forced three fumbles in Philadelphia’s 24-20 victory. Tillman is quite simply the NFL’s best player at poking the ball loose from ball carriers. Occasionally he misses tackles when focused too hard on the strip, but isn’t that ultimately the definition of defense -- getting the ball back for your offense? According to official NFL statistics, Tillman has already forced a career-high six fumbles this season in 10 games this season. That gives him 22 in his career. And counting.

3. Ryan Grant, Green Bay running back: His second 100-yard game of the season couldn’t have come at a better time for the Packers, who needed to protect their injury-plagued defense as Sunday’s game against San Francisco progressed. His 129 yards helped the Packers maintain possession for a whopping 41:39 of the game, including the final 5:50. I think Grant would be a better back if he were complemented by a speedy backup, which would help make his own shifty pace more definable. But Grant’s style -- five yards here, six yards there, the occasional 21-yard run -- does lend itself to grinding out the clock in November/December games.

NFC North weekend mailbag

November, 21, 2009
We’ll soon be emerging from what I consider the dog days of the NFL season. The novelty of regular-season games has long worn off, but we seem a little too far from the playoff chase to start making January plans. Thanks for sticking with us during this difficult time.

As always, you can vent, complain, complement and question anything and everything through the mailbag, Facebook or Twitter.

Let’s touch on a few issues in this weekend’s mailbag:

Jon of Thunder Bay, Ontario, writes: Do the Packers get any kind of compensation for having Brian Brohm signed off of their practice squad?

Kevin Seifert: Nope, they sure don’t. That’s the risk of carrying any player on the practice squad, and it should spell out the ambivalent feeling the Packers had about Brohm 18 months after making him the No. 56 overall pick of the 2008 draft.

In fact, Brohm’s departure offers us an avenue to perform an early evaluation of the Packers’ 2008 draft, one in which they traded out of the first round in order to amass three picks in the second round. Suffice it to say, the Packers haven’t gotten much immediate help from this group. Let’s take a look:

Round 2a: Receiver Jordy Nelson
Comment: As a reserve, 44 catches in 22 games

Round 2b: Quarterback Brian Brohm
Comment: Reached bust status in less than two years

Round 2c: Cornerback Pat Lee
Comment: Injuries have limited him to two tackles in five games

Round 3: Tight end Jermichael Finley
Comment: High upside derailed by 2009 knee injury

Round 4a: Linebacker Jeremy Thompson
Hasn’t found a position and buried on depth chart

Round 4b: Guard Josh Sitton
Comment: Starting at right guard

Round 5: Tackle Breno Giacomini
Comment: Backup has gotten no turn in revolving door

Round 7a: Quarterback Matt Flynn
Comment: No. 2 status by default thanks to Brohm

Round 7b: Receiver Brett Swain
Comment: Strong on special teams but lost for season (knee)

Keith of Detroit writes: Around here, Calvin Johnson is starting to come under heavy scrutiny. He is consistently dropping passes during the games and is starting to have the look of someone that has been "Lionized." (To be Lionized means you become a soul-less football zombie, you are strictly in survival mode. This occurs to various players and coaches because of the infectious losing and hopeless atmosphere. Other prime examples include Rod Marinelli, Roy Williams, Bobby Ross, Darryl Rogers, James Hall.)

Kevin Seifert: Interesting way of putting it, Keith. I like it. I know it feels like Johnson is “consistently” dropping passes, but in reality we’ve got him with three drops via ESPN Stats & Information. Sometimes I wonder if some of the superior catches and plays he made last season has raised expectations for what should be his baseline play this season.

Also working against Johnson in this regard is his low-key demeanor. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times and found him to be friendly but pretty quiet. He’s not expressive and doesn’t always have much to say.

Does that mean he’s been “Lionized?” I’m not willing to go there yet. Johnson also has been dealing with a knee injury for much of the season. But as we discussed earlier this season, I think being “Lionized” is a real and dangerous condition, one that poses perhaps the biggest challenge that new coach Jim Schwartz will face.

Angry Tom writes: Just so you are aware of it, you can list Jay Cutler is FALLING OFF THE PLANET for all I care. Here is a clue that you are missing. HE IS THE BEARS QB AND WILL BE FOR THE NEXT 10 YEARS. I could care less if he throws FIFTY INT's it is not going to change it. If you want to actually CONTRIBUTE to the discussion why not talk about the lack of help he has from the offensive coaching and the O-line. Here, I think this would be interesting to know. How many times have each of the starting QB's been Hit, Hurried, and Sacked. SHOCKER. I bet that OLD MAN 4 is at the bottom - BY FAR.

Kevin Seifert: Glad to hear from you, AT. It’s been a while. Unfortunately, quarterback hits and hurries aren’t officially tracked and therefore aren’t fair to compare between teams. (Each team’s defensive coaches keep their own statistics in those categories, using their own criteria.) But in terms of sacks, it’s just a fact that Cutler and Favre have taken an equal amount.

Here’s your NFC North starter totals:

Aaron Rodgers: 41
Jay Cutler: 19
Brett Favre: 19
Matthew Stafford: 17 (in seven games)

I don’t doubt that Cutler has faced some jailbreak situations, but I can’t put pass protection high on the list of explanations for his 17 interceptions this season. In fact, I would say the offensive line is more to blame for not giving Cutler a good run-game option than it is for putting him in pressure passing situations.

Craig of Oconomowoc, Wis., writes: Do you think it possible that the Packers and Lions could pull an inter-division trade involving Ernie Sims and Aaron Kampman. Sims is getting outplayed by DeAndre Levy in DET and Kampman isn't the right fit for GB's 3-4 scheme. It could fill a need for both teams. Am I crazy thinking this could actually benefit both teams?

Kevin Seifert: First, I think that should be “intra-division,” but I’m not the best grammarian. Anyone?

Secondly, Kampman would probably fit in better in a 4-3 scheme, which Detroit runs. (Although coach Jim Schwartz’s emphasis on heavier players might make his scheme less than ideal for Kampman.) Would Sims excel as a 3-4 linebacker? I’m not sure.

Regardless, it’s highly unlikely this trade would ever happen. Most division teams measure their own status against that of their rivals. If the Packers make a trade that helps the Lions get better, or vice versa, it’s probably going to be a net loss. That’s why you rarely, if ever, see intra-division trades.

Jeremy of Grand Forks, North Dakota writes: With this season coming to an end soon and Favre being forty and possible not coming back next year, I'm wondering if having him to learn from has had any effect on Jackson or Rosenfels to make you think that when he leaves the Vikings quarterback situation will not go back to what it was before this season?

Kevin Seifert: I’ll stand by what I’ve said before: The Vikings’ next quarterback is not currently on their roster. I personally believe the Tarvaris Jackson experiment has run its course and that he will have an opportunity to leave via free agency this winter. And nothing that happened during training camp convinced me that coach Brad Childress would feel comfortable naming Sage Rosenfels his starter.
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

The headline in Tuesday’s Detroit Free Press says it all: “Lions don’t want to overlook Rams.”

It’s true: The Lions will emerge from their bye to face an opponent even more undermanned and injury-ravaged than they are. St. Louis is 0-7 and is coming off a 42-6 blowout at home last weekend to Indianapolis.

I’ve seen the Rams twice this year and can tell you they have some competitive elements on their team. But I agree: Sunday’s game at Ford Field is an excellent opportunity for the Lions to pick up their second victory of the season.

The Las Vegas crowd seems to agree. Last time I checked, the Lions were 4-point favorites.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Lions will return to practice Tuesday and give us a better idea if quarterback Matthew Stafford (knee) will be ready to play, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News. Here’s what Stafford said Monday night on WJR radio about his status: “I don't know. I think I'll have a better thought about that maybe tomorrow.”
  • Chicago coach Lovie Smith said he made the decision to rest defensive tackle Tommie Harris on Sunday at Cincinnati, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Save your breath, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. The Bears won’t be firing Smith this season. He has two years and about $11 million remaining on his contract.
  • Garry D. Howard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel encourages fans who plan to attend Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field to applaud quarterback Brett Favre and “[e]mpower yourselves by showing off your obvious class with this rousing ovation.”
  • The Packers have lost receiver Brett Swain (knee) for the season. One possible replacement is practice squad receiver Jake Allen, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • The Packers’ confidence is high, writes Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee.
  • More is at stake Sunday than just Favre’s return, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. We’ll have more on this topic later Tuesday.
  • The Star Tribune provides updates on cornerback Antoine Winfield (foot) and receiver Bernard Berrian (leg). Both could miss Sunday’s game.

Will Green Bay turn LT over to Lang?

October, 19, 2009
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

It will be interesting to see if Green Bay jump-starts a transition this week at left tackle, where starter Chad Clifton is dealing with a re-injured ankle. Coach Mike McCarthy told Wisconsin reporters Monday that the injury isn’t as bad as the one that cost Clifton two games earlier this season, but McCarthy added that Clifton won’t practice Wednesday.

That raises the possibility that rookie T.J. Lang will make his first NFL start Sunday against Cleveland. Given the problems along the Packers’ offensive line this season, you wonder whether Lang would displace Clifton on a more permanent basis if he plays well against the Browns.

McCarthy, however, said it will be at least another week before veteran Mark Tauscher can enter the conversation at right tackle. Tauscher, who re-signed seven days ago, needs more time to work on his conditioning.

In other injury news, the Packers have lost receiver Jordy Nelson to a knee sprain for at least a couple weeks, McCarthy said. Candidates to replace Nelson as kick returner include Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson and Brett Swain.

Have at It: Yikes

September, 11, 2009

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

Well. I’d say Minnesota cut out my legs from under me a full 24 hours before it was time to settle this week’s Have at It topic. The release of Bobby Wade as the final straw for the legions of you who went bonkers when I suggested we debate receiver depth in Green Bay and Minnesota. It’s not a good sign when the coaches who watch a player every day decide he’s not as valuable as a guy who caught a third the number of passes over the past two years.

That’s right. Wade had 107 receptions from 2007 to 2008 while Greg Lewis grabbed 32. Whatever. I still think Wade is a good player, but I don’t mind admitting defeat when it happens. I tried to steer the debate toward depth and away from pure skill at the top, but now even I can’t side with the depth of a receiving corps that features a rookie (Percy Harvin) at No. 3, a journeyman (Lewis) at No. 4 and an essential rookie (Darius Reynaud) at No. 5.

I will say I’m stunned how emotional the debate got. We set a Have at It record with more than 1,000 comments on the original post and another 170 or so on the Wade release. (I hope everyone got the sarcasm of the headline and the last line about the Vikings getting deeper with Lewis.)

Those emotions probably clouded a few nuances of the debate. I never questioned the superiority of the Packers’ Greg Jennings-Donald Driver duo. And while many of you thought I was trying to diminish James Jones by listing his 2008 statistics (based on 10 games), those numbers really were just a reference point to remind people what happened across the board last season.

Of all the responses I got, I laughed the hardest at Keith of Milwaukee’s mailbag note. Keith suggested some future Have at It topics:
  • How the Vikes will go 18-0 this year
  • Minnesota winters … sublime!
  • Everyone looks good in purple
  • Brad Childress for President: Let's start the campaign now.
In retrospect, a more constructive exercise would have been to take the top five receivers from each team and create a single depth chart for them. That idea spawned when encaitar suggested he would start Bernard Berrian opposite Jennings, and instead of Driver, if they were all on the same team. (“Having terrible QBs that can't get you the ball doesn't mean you aren't a great WR,” encaitar wrote.)

So if you’re bored on a Friday morning, I invite you to arrange your own Vickers (or Packings?) receiver depth chart. Mine would look like this, assuming everyone is healthy:
  1. Jennings
  2. Berrian
  3. Driver
  4. Jones
  5. Sidney Rice
  6. Harvin
  7. Jordy Nelson
  8. Lewis
  9. Reynaud
  10. Brett Swain

Remember, we’ll present a new Have at It topic every Wednesday morning and settle it by Friday morning during the season.

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

Last week, AFC South colleague Paul Kuharsky staged a virtual 100-meter race against the fastest player on each of the four teams in his division. Had he tried the NFC North -- I can assure you I won’t -- he might have had trouble narrowing down the field in Minnesota.

As Chip Scoggins details in the Star Tribune, a friendly banter exists between tailback Adrian Peterson and receiver Percy Harvin on that issue. Harvin might get the title based on raw speed, but you can never count out Peterson’s competitiveness. Here’s what Peterson had to say the other day:
"We all know that you are definitely entitled to your opinion but like I told [Tarvaris Jackson] and Percy, 'You can't beat me.’ The only way I'm going to say, ‘You beat me’ is if we line up and we race a 40-yarder or 100 yards. If you beat me then I can hand the crown over. Until then I'm holding on."

Scoggins explores the different ways Minnesota might try to exploit its collection of offensive playmakers. You might be surprised to know that the Vikings were pretty explosive last season and led the NFL in touchdowns of 20 or more yards. Harvin, Peterson, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and receivers Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice give the Vikings more weapons -- and speed -- than they’ve had since the heyday of Randy Moss and Cris Carter.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press examines the relationship between Vikings coach Brad Childress and his players after he went back on his word and signed quarterback Brett Favre: “The prevailing sentiment is that Childress doesn't owe anybody -- especially players -- an explanation.”
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune delves into the mindset of Chicago defensive tackle Tommie Harris: “It would be overdramatic to say this year represents a make-or-break season for Harris in Chicago, given his uncertain health situation -- he is coming off another off-season knee surgery -- but the questions only will mount unless that familiar burst returns. For his part, Harris seems to sense the urgency.”
  • Bears safety Danieal Manning has a chance to be a star, writes Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Tom Kowalski of looks at the game-day strategies to be expected of new Detroit coach Jim Schwartz.
  • Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News examines the issue of playing or sitting a rookie quarterback.
  • Here’s an analysis of Green Bay’s depth chart from the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profiles Packers receiver Brett Swain, who replaced Ruvell Martin as the No. 5 receiver because of his special-teams talents.

Packers: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

Check here for a full list of Green Bay’s player moves.

Biggest surprise: Brian Brohm was the 56th player taken in the 2008 draft, the third quarterback overall. For that reason alone it’s a shock the Packers have given up on him so quickly, despite another shaky preseason in which he finished with a passer rating of 54.5. He made some incremental progress this summer, and it’s possible the Packers will re-sign him to their practice squad Sunday. But it’s clear they were willing to risk losing him altogether. It’s a stunning fall for a player the Packers originally thought was polished and ready to immediately step in as the No. 2 quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers.

Second-biggest surprise: The Packers kept all three of their fullbacks while leaving their tailback depth pretty thin, at least for now. Fullbacks Korey Hall and John Kuhn are good special teams players, but doesn’t one make the other expendable? The Packers obviously don’t agree. They kept both players -- along with rookie fullback Quinn Johnson -- while waiving tailbacks Tyrell Sutton and Kregg Lumpkin. The decisions leave DeShawn Wynn as the only healthy backup behind starter Ryan Grant. (Brandon Jackson is recovering from an ankle injury.)

Third-biggest surprise: Veteran receiver Ruvell Martin was released in favor of first-year receiver Brett Swain. I’m guessing this was a special teams decision, as Swain was having some success on coverage teams this summer. But Martin has been a productive reserve over the past three seasons, and I didn’t hear too much about his roster spot being in jeopardy.

Fourth-biggest surprise: Safety Anthony Smith, signed to a free agent contract this offseason, was released. There have been suggestions he was pushing starter Atari Bigby. Not anymore. Neither of general manager Ted Thompson's veteran free agent pickups, Smith and center Duke Preston, made the final roster.

No-brainer: Placing defensive lineman Justin Harrell (back) on injured reserve was dramatic but needed to be done. The Packers have carried him on their 53-man roster for the past two years even though he has missed more games (19) than he has played in (13) because of various injuries. He wouldn’t have made it to training camp this year if he weren’t a first-round draft pick. It was time for the Packers to cut their losses.

What’s next: One way or the other, the Packers will have to address their quarterback depth. It might simply mean adding Brohm or a waiver claim to the practice squad. But it’s also possible the Packers will look elsewhere for depth behind Rodgers. In news reports, they have been linked to Tampa Bay’s Luke McCown; but it will likely take a draft pick to pry him away from the Buccaneers. Backup Matt Flynn has been limited by a shoulder injury, so from the outside it would seem risky to enter the season with Rodgers and Flynn as the only active quarterbacks.