NFC North: LeRoy Butler

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Pick after pick crawled across the bottom of television screens last April 25, 26 and 27 and those wondering when the Green Bay Packers would draft a safety got their answer when the 254th -- and final -- pick in the 2013 NFL draft was announced.

Three safeties went in the first round, but none to the Packers.

Two more came off the board in Round 2, but neither was a Packers pick.

[+] EnlargeHa Ha Clinton-Dix
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisHa Ha Clinton-Dix may be available to the Packers when they draft in the first round.
Seventeen more were drafted on the third and final day, yet the Packers still had not filled one of their biggest needs.

That's not to say they went into last year's draft wholly convinced that they didn't need help at the position. But when it came time to exercise each of his selections, there wasn't a safety sitting there that intrigued general manager Ted Thompson enough to make that call.

Thompson liked a few of the safeties in the draft, but the ones he was sold on were either already off the board or would have been a reach at the time of his pick.

So here are the Packers, nearly a year later, and Thompson still has not put pen to paper on a contract for a new safety of any consequence. (And no, street free agent Chris Banjo does not count.)

That has to change next month, when Thompson will take nine selections into the May 8-10 NFL draft, doesn't it?

If Thompson fails to land one of the top, say, five or six safeties in this draft -- be it Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville, both of who are locks to go in the first round; or possible second- and third-round picks like Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois, Deone Bucannon of Washington State or Terrence Brooks of Florida State -- then he will be handcuffing defensive coordinator Dom Capers in much the same fashion he did last season.

Last summer, Capers and coach Mike McCarthy opened the competition at free safety to a pair of second-year players, Jerron McMillian (a 2012 fourth-round round pick) and M.D. Jennings (an undrafted free agent the same year). It was a close competition, more so because neither one stood out, and when strong safety Morgan Burnett was unavailable for the season opener because of a hamstring injury, that duo started Week 1 at the two safety spots.

The Packers thought so little of their performances that they cut McMillian late last season and did not even bother this offseason to offer Jennings a restricted free agent tender, which would not have cost them any guaranteed money.

"Obviously we didn't get the production that we wanted from that [free safety] position," safeties coach Darren Perry said this offseason.

To be sure, the Packers need Burnett to show that Thompson wasn't misguided when he signed him to a four-year, $24.75 million contract last summer.

"I think he's fully capable of doing it," McCarthy said this offseason. "Morgan's going to do everything he can. He needs to be more assertive in play-making opportunities."

In order for Burnett to flourish, he can't be worried about the player lined up next to him. That player was supposed to be Nick Collins, the three-time Pro Bowl safety whose career was cut short in 2011 by a neck injury. At age 30, he still would have been in the prime of his career last season.

If the Packers don't find another Collins, they must at least come close.

Since the team's resurgence in the early 1990s, they have enjoyed a strong group of safeties -- from LeRoy Butler to Darren Sharper to Collins; all were Pro Bowl selections during their time in Green Bay.

The dynamic of the position has changed in recent years. Whereas Butler was a fierce hitter, today's safeties are judged just as much on speed and ball skills as anything else. What NFL teams need now are safeties than can cover chunks of yardage in milliseconds and knock passes away or, better yet, intercept them. The Packers were the only team in the NFL last season that didn't get a single interception from a safety.

"The intimidator isn't necessarily needed anymore," ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said. "The big hitters, you don't need that."

Kiper doesn't believe Clinton-Dix will be around when the Packers come up at No. 21 in the first round, but Pryor very well could be available.

Even if Pryor is gone or Thompson passes on him, he will have other options, says Kiper.

"Jimmy Ward from Northern Illinois you could make an argument is the best cover safety in the draft," Kiper said. "He's coming off the [foot] injury but he had a very good career, has great ball skills, real good hands for the interception. And Ward is a decent tackler, but he doesn't have tremendous size [5-foot-11, 193 pounds].

"The days of that big, intimidating safety are just about over. Terrence Brooks from Florida State would fill that void at that point as a safety that could come in and help you right away."

No matter what Thompson does in the draft, Capers and McCarthy plan to work cornerback Micah Hyde at safety this offseason. Perhaps the fifth-round pick out of Iowa last year will be the full-time answer; he certainly showed enough as a rookie to warrant more than the 39.4 percent playing time he got last year. But if the Packers think Hyde can allow them to concentrate on other areas of need in the draft, they'd better be right.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- No more dunking over the goal posts.

What's next, no more Lambeau Leaps?

It was worth wondering if that could be abolished after NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Tuesday the league will penalize players if they celebrate with a dunk over the crossbar.

Like the Lambeau Leap, which dates to 1993, the goalpost dunk was previously grandfathered in by the league, making it exempt from a celebration penalty.

Unlike the dunk, it looks like the Lambeau Leap is safe.

In response to an email seeking clarification about whether the Lambeau Leap could eventually join the goalpost dunk on the list of banned celebrations, NFL senior vice president of communications Greg Aiello wrote: "The goalpost issue is the potential delay of game for having to re-set the crossbar after being knocked askew by a dunker. It has happened a few times. Not the case for the leap."

The Lambeau Leap has become expected of all Green Bay Packers players who reach the end zone during a home game. It began when then-safety LeRoy Butler jumped into the stands during a game on Dec. 23, 1993, after he scored on a 25-yard fumble return that was originally recovered by defensive end Reggie White, who lateraled the ball to Butler.

"We grandfathered in some [celebrations], the Lambeau Leap and things like that, but dunking will come out," Blandino said, according to NFL.com. "Using the ball as a prop or any object as a prop, whether that's the goalpost, the crossbar, that will come out and that will be a foul next season."
We're Black and Blue All Over:

The Chicago Bears never mess around when it comes to signing their draft picks, and this week they became the NFL's first team to start locking up members of its 2013 draft class. Fifth-round pick Jordan Mills and sixth-round pick Cornelius Washington both agreed to terms Wednesday, as Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com points out.

There is no rush to sign draft picks at this time of year because NFL rules allow them to participate in offseason workouts even before they have a contract. And the NFL's current rookie scale has left less room for negotiating and made rookie deals more routine as training camp approaches.

Still, the Bears prefer to get their deals done early rather than risk market influence from other teams' deals later in the process. The players' incentive is to get their signing bonus earlier.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Rookie free agent P.J. Lonergan, a center from LSU, is a player worth watching in the Bears' offseason practices. Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times explains.
  • The Bears can expect some post-draft tweaks to their scouting department, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
  • New Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin wants to gain the respect of teammates before attempting to step forward as a leader, writes Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News.
  • The Lions are expecting relatively immediate impact from their draft class, according to Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
  • The Lions were focused on acquiring and drafting long pass-rushers, measured in terms of height and arm length, writes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • Former Green Bay Packers cornerback Al Harris has retired as a Packer, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com. Harris is currently on the coaching staff of the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette profiles former Packers place-kicker Jan Stenerud, the only pure kicker to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • Former Packers safety LeRoy Butler said the speech he was going to make to a local church centered around bullying, according to the Press-Gazette. The church canceled the appearance because, Butler said, he tweeted support when NBA player Jason Collins announced he was gay.
  • Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said he went to the emergency room in January because the bruise in his right elbow returned. There was concern he had compartment syndrome and needed surgery, but ultimately an MRI revealed he did not and that it would heal on its own. Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune provides the transcript of Ponder's revelation.
  • Vikings receiver Greg Childs, who tore the patellar tendons in both knees last summer, is back to running routes but there is no timetable on his return to practice, writes Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Vikings quarterback Joe Webb is doing extra work as a receiver in case the Vikings move his position, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. Matt Cassel will be Ponder's backup this season.
Perhaps you're aware of a series of tweets from former Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler. They open a can of worms that we don't normally wade into here on the NFC North blog. This week, however, it seems appropriate.

To bring you up to date, Butler tweeted that a Wisconsin church canceled a speaking engagement (worth $8,500) because he had tweeted support for NBA player Jason Collins. Earlier this week, Collins became the first male athlete from a major American professional sport to announce he is gay.

According to Butler, the church gave him the option of keeping the gig if he deleted the tweet, apologized and "ask God [for] forgiveness." Butler said he declined. In a subsequent interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Butler declined to name or provide an approximate location of the church.

A number of us have already discussed this -- quite civilly, I might add -- Tuesday morning on Twitter. Butler is a prominent former NFC North player who has maintained a public profile and has always been willing to utilize his freedom of speech. At the same time, of course, the church involved has every right to operate as it sees fit and under accordance with its core philosophies.

I don't think that a simple tweet of support would threaten the church's theology, especially if it isn't a part of the speech, but I'm nowhere close to an expert on such matters. In the end, the episode is a reminder of how complicated, divisive and multi-layered this issue remains even after Collins' momentous announcement.

The full tweets for those interested:

Have at it: Skills vs. Team

October, 16, 2009
10/16/09
11:05
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


We stirred up parallel debates in this week’s edition of “Have at It.” We’re apt to do that on occasion. Brett Favre suggested that Minnesota’s 2009 team is the best he has played for, and so we asked you to compare it to the 1996 Green Bay squad that Favre led to a Super Bowl championship.
Glenn James/NFL
Who deserves the nod: Reggie White's 1996 Packers or the 2009 Minnesota Vikings?

Favre qualified his assessment -- “physically and from a talent level” -- but many of you broadened the discussion past the skills of the individual players and into the “best overall team” zone. On that level, very few of you were willing to project championship-level success for the Vikings after five games.

Wrote Robbiemustgo32: “I don't need to look at the rosters, the comparisons ended for me when I read ‘1996 Packers CHAMPIONSHIP group’.”

Adambballn wants “to see the Vikings play somebody” before drawing any conclusions. (Indeed, three of their victories have come against Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis -- combined records of 2-13.)

A few of you attempted some roster analysis. After all, as Cmwernick3201 noted: “Saying the ‘96 Packer team is better simply because they won the SB is invalid to the discussion.”

I thought pchrisb3443 had one of the less emotionally-charged evaluations:
Overall I'd go with the 1996 Packers and not just because I'm a Packer fan. This year's Vikings have the edge as far as running back and maybe offensive line but that's about it. As good as Jared Allen is, he's no Reggie White even at that point in Reggie's career. And to have Sean Jones at the other end just made Reggie even more effective. Percy Harvin's got one special team TD but he needs a few more to compare to the season [Desmond] Howard had. Mark Chmura and Keith Jackson at TE? No comparison there. The wideouts are close as are the defensive backs. I'd also take the '96 version of Favre over the '09 version but not by too terribly much. Let's not forget the coaching staffs. You've got to go with [Mike] Holmgren and his staff.
EXIT_HERE concluded there is no debate after breaking it down this way:
  • QB: '96 Packers
  • RB: '09 Vikes
  • FB: '96 Packers
  • TE: '96 Packers
  • WR: '96 Packers
  • Oline: Even
  • Dline: Even
  • LB: Even
  • CB: '96 Packers
  • Safety: '96 Packers
  • Special Teams: '96 Packers
  • Coaching Staff: '96 Packers
My take? I’m with those who don’t think it’s worth our time to debate whether Minnesota can match the accomplishments of the 1996 team. It’s way too early in the season, and even Favre circled back this week and admitted he “caught a lot of heat” for even hinting at the suggestion. He emphasized that “we’ve got a long way to go to reach that team.”

As we noted in the original post, the 1996 Packers are the only team in the past 36 years to lead the NFL in most points scored and fewest points allowed. That’s a tremendous illustration of balance at a high level, something the Vikings have the potential to approach but probably won’t achieve. Through five weeks, the Vikings rank No. 3 in points per game (31.2) and are tied for No. 9 in points allowed (18) per game.

As for the rosters themselves, the ’96 Packers had five Pro Bowl players: Safety LeRoy Butler, tight end Keith Jackson, defensive end Reggie White, center Frank Winters and Favre. Based on how Pro Bowl voting works these days, I would suggest the Vikings have five near-locks for that honor: tailback Adrian Peterson, left guard Steve Hutchinson, defensive end Jared Allen, defensive tackle Kevin Williams and cornerback Antoine Winfield.

But when judging the rosters by position, as EXIT_HERE and others did, it’s hard to give this year’s Vikings group more than two advantages. I’ll grant them running back and linebacker, but I’m feeling a bit shaky on the latter. Luckily I’m not a personnel evaluator. Just a two-bit blogger hack who enjoys a good debate.
The 1996 Packers vs. 2009 Vikings
OFFENSE
1996
WR: Antonio Freeman
LT: John Michels
LG: Aaron Taylor
C: Frank Winters
RG: Adam Timmerman
RT: Earl Dotson
TE: Mark Chmura/Keith Jackson
WR: Robert Brooks/Don Beebe
QB: Brett Favre
RB: Edgar Bennett
FB: William Henderson
PK: Chris Jacke
KR: Desmond Howard
2009
WR: Bernard Berrian
LT: Bryant McKinnie
LG: Steve Hutchinson
C: John Sullivan
RG: Anthony Herrera
RT: Phil Loadholt
TE: Visanthe Shiancoe
WR: Sidney Rice
WR: Percy Harvin
QB: Brett Favre
RB: Adrian Peterson
PK: Ryan Longwell
KR: Percy Harvin
DEFENSE
1996
DE: Reggie White
DT: Gilbert Brown
DT: Santana Dotson
DE: Sean Jones
OLB: Wayne Simmons
MLB: George Koonce
OLB: Brian Williams
CB: Craig Newsome
SS: LeRoy Butler
FS: Eugene Robinson
CB: Doug Evans
P: Craig Hentrich
PR: Desmond Howard
2009
DE: Jared Allen
DT: Kevin Williams
DT: Pat Williams
DE: Ray Edwards
OLB: Chad Greenway
MLB: E.J. Henderson
OLB: Ben Leber
CB: Antoine Winfield
SS: Tyrell Johnson
FS: Madieu Williams
CB: Cedric Griffin
P: Chris Kluwe
PR: Darius Reynaud
PR: Jaymar Johnson

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


I’m pretty convinced that current Minnesota and Green Bay players aren’t nearly as affected by the rivalry between the teams as their predecessors were. Free agency, business arrangements and other modern-day advents have softened the emotions involved in such things.

But the feelings remain strong among alumni from both sides. We’re already well aware what former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton thinks of Brett Favre’s arrival in Minnesota. Thursday, Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published the reaction of former Packers players.

Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis said, “I just don’t understand why he went to Minnesota.” Former safety LeRoy Butler, meanwhile, said he cringes at the thought of watching ESPN highlights of Favre beating the Packers.

“It's going to be on every station, if they lose to the Vikings, for four days,” Butler said. “I don't want to see that. I don't want to see the four-letter network have Brett's picture up and the lovefest. 'Ah, he's this. He's that. He just loves playing the game.’ Nope, sorry Brett. You're on the other side now."

Former guard Jerry Kramer blamed the Packers’ handling of the situation last summer for creating the vengeance he believes Favre feels now. And former receiver Antonio Freeman believes vengeance is the sole reason Favre decided to play this season in Minnesota.

Favre is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon at the Vikings’ training facility. I’ll be there and will relay you the latest. For now, let’s take a spin around the NFC North:
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

How did Minnesota miss its pick in the first round of the 2003 draft? For some reason, former Vikings owner Red McCombs re-visited that issue Friday with Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

As you might recall, the Vikings believed they had made a deal with Baltimore to move from No. 7 to No. 9, but the trade was never fully reported to the NFL before time expired. The Vikings ended up selecting defensive tackle Kevin Williams with the No. 9 pick after Baltimore and Jacksonville leapfrogged them in positioning.

McCombs told Alonzo that the mistake occurred "because Mike [Tice] and the guys didn't have their damn signals straight. That was like junior high school handling of a situation. We didn't go up and get our draft pick in. That showed lack of organization."

The story that has always been told is that then-Vikings president Gary Woods, a McCombs associate from San Antonio, ordered the Vikings to trade down moments before the snafu occurred. In an e-mail to Alonzo, Tice said: "Being told MINUTES before the pick was to be made... 'TRADE THE PICK'... thanks."

McCombs, however, disputed that version and said: "That never happened."

Check out the story for Tice's full response to McCombs' finger-pointing.

I look at this exchange as an unfortunate addition to some of the bizarre chapters McCombs wrote at the end of his tenure with the team. Tice technically had veto power over draft decisions, but to blame him and his coaching staff alone for the mistake is a stretch.

Missing the pick reflected franchise-wide disorganization and confusion, starting at the very top. There was undoubtedly an error made, but to rub anyone's nose in it six years later seems totally unnecessary. I think the statute of limitations would have passed by now.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune notes that the Vikings brought Florida receiver Percy Harvin to their facility for a meeting earlier this month. Coach Brad Childress reportedly visited with Harvin again this week.
  • Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports spends some time with Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, who seems the likely choice of Detroit with the draft's No. 1 overall pick. Speaking about Detroit fans who want the team to draft Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, Stafford said: "Obviously, you want the fans to be on your side. I think you have to be yourself and play and get them on your side. I want them to know that I'm a down-to-earth guy, and I'll do what it takes, no matter what that is. If that's handing the rock off to Kevin Smith 30 times a game and letting the defense [control the game], then I'll do that. If it's chuck it around a little bit, I'll do that, too. I'm one of those guys that just wants to win, I don't care how. It doesn't have to be pretty."
  • Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press on the seemingly inevitable pairing: "The Lions want Matthew Stafford. Stafford wants the Lions. This makes me question both sides' judgment -- but, hey, what do I know?"
  • Curry told Alex Marvez of FOXSports.com: "In my heart, I think [the Lions] are going to get it done with Stafford. I know they have faith in both of us to become great players. They can't go wrong. They're really making their decision on a need basis. Quarterback for them is a more important need. I understand that."
  • Ohio State cornerback Michael Jenkins reminds people of former Green Bay safety LeRoy Butler, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Chris Jenkins of the Associated Press believes Packers general manager Ted Thompson will at least be tempted to stray from his mantra of taking the best-available player in order to address some of his defensive needs.
  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel wouldn't blame Thompson for trading down from the No. 9 pick given the salaries due players chosen high in the draft.
  • Chicago is hoping to replicate its second-round success last year with tailback Matt Forte, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Georgia receiver Mohamed Massaquoi could fit the Bears' receiving corps well, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.

The best drafts of all time

April, 2, 2009
4/02/09
11:15
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

If you share an interest in quantitative analysis, this latest effort from ESPN Stats & Information is worth your time.

The research staff ranked more than 13,000 draft choices to identify the best draft class in the history of each NFL franchise, dating to the start of the modern draft in 1967. Each team has been seeded 1-32, and a "tournament" will ensue to determine the best draft class of all time. Fans can begin voting Thursday.

The rankings are based on the following criteria: Hall of Fame, MVP awards, first- and second-team All-Pro selections, Pro Bowls, offensive and defensive player of the year, rookie of the year awards, and participation in the Super Bowl.

You need an Insider subscription to view the entire project, but I can give you the results for each NFC North team:

Chicago: 1981. Includes offensive lineman Keith Van Horne (Round 1) and linebacker Mike Singletary (Round 2).

Detroit: 1989. Includes running back Barry Sanders (Round 1) and cornerback Ray Crockett (Round 4).

Green Bay: 1990. Includes safety LeRoy Butler (Round 2) and linebacker Bryce Paup (Round 6).

Minnesota: 1967. Includes defensive lineman Alan Page (Round 1) and defensive back Bob Bryant (Round 7).

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, WIS. -- After a night of celebration, the Green Bay Packers have to get down to business. Training camp opens in a week. Their draft class remains unsigned, as does running back Ryan Grant, an exclusive-rights free agent who is pushing for a long-term extension.

And then, there is that little Brett Favre issue, which continues its run as the lead story of Black and Blue all over.

SPONSORED HEADLINES