NFL Nation: Aaron Rodgers

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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If the Green Bay Packers do nothing else at the quarterback position this offseason, at least they know they have someone who has proven he can win games as a backup.

That is a better situation than they were in a year ago, when they had no clue whether Graham Harrell or B.J. Coleman could function with a meaningful NFL game on the line.

Flynn
Flynn
And it's a better situation than they were in in September, when they broke training camp by cutting Harrell, Coleman and Vince Young.

By re-signing veteran quarterback Matt Flynn on Tuesday, the Packers renewed an insurance policy that paid off last season after Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. Flynn came back on Nov. 12 after failing to win starting jobs with the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders (and following a brief stint with the Buffalo Bills).

Just 12 days later, he rallied the Packers to a comeback tie against the Minnesota Vikings and went 2-2 in his next four starts to keep the Packers in playoff contention before Rodgers returned to win the regular-season finale -- and NFC North title -- against the Chicago Bears.

Whatever Flynn's shortcomings were (likely a lack of arm strength and an unfamiliarity with new offenses) when he got his chances in Seattle and Oakland, he has proven to be comfortable and effective in Green Bay, where he began his career in 2008 and still holds a share of the team’s single-game passing yards record (480 against the Detroit Lions in the 2011 regular-season finale, a mark Rodgers tied in Week 2 last season against the Washington Redskins).

Perhaps the Packers won't need Flynn or they will decide Scott Tolzien is a better option after he goes through coach Mike McCarthy's offseason program for the first time. But for now, they don't have to worry about the unknown that came with Coleman, who never caught on with another team; or Harrell, who, coincidentally on Tuesday, was hired as an assistant coach at Washington State, according to media reports.
Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson Getty ImagesGreen Bay Packers receivers Randall Cobb (18) and Jordy Nelson are both in line for raises as they enter the final season of their current contracts.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- At some point in the next 11 months -- likely sooner rather than later -- the Green Bay Packers will extend the contracts of receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.

Between now and when they scribble their names on their new deals there will be much discussion about each player's value.

Myriad factors come in to play during contract negotiations, but the most important ones are production, injury history (which is usually tied to production) and age (which can be tied to injury history).

Another factor you might hear thrown around when it comes to Cobb and Nelson is the unscientific term "No. 1 receiver" -- as in should either one or both be paid like one?

In an ESPN Insider piece, former NFL scout Matt Williamson helped define exactly what that term means .

He came up with four characteristics:

  • They need to have the ability to separate from man coverage, understand how to find the soft spots in zones and have very strong athletic traits.
  • They need to be strong, fast and play big, which often -- but not always -- can eliminate shorter wide receivers from this equation.
  • They must be productive, even when opposing defenses are scheming to take them out of the equation; No. 1 receivers can be uncoverable and never come off the field.
  • They must display the above traits with consistency.

What was perhaps most interesting about Williamson's list is that he came up with only 14 players in the NFL who fit his criteria.

"The term 'No. 1 receiver' is often thrown around loosely, but to me, there certainly are not 32 No. 1 receivers in the league just because every team has a favorite target," Williamson wrote.

Also, Williamson had two tight ends -- New England's Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham -- among his 14.

Among his 12 receivers, only four were among the NFL's top-10 highest-paid receivers (see the accompanying chart). They were: Detroit's Calvin Johnson (No. 1), Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (No. 2), Chicago's Brandon Marshall (No. 6) and Houston's Andre Johnson (No. 8).

However, six of the 12 are still playing under their rookie contracts and will be in line for significant raises on their next deal.

Back to the cases for whether Cobb and Nelson belong in that same category as they enter the final season of their current contracts.

According to Williamson, one of them should be considered a No. 1 receiver and the other is close. Also, it's possible for one team to have two No. 1 receivers, Williamson wrote, as is the case with the Bears (Marshall and Alshon Jeffery).

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound Nelson cracked the list at No. 13 under the heading "Just ask their quarterbacks if they are No. 1 receivers." Williamson also put San Francisco's Michael Crabtree in that same category.

"With great size for the position, he is often mistaken for a possession weapon, however only three receivers converted more receptions of 20 or more yards last year, Williamson wrote of Nelson. "His deep speed and big-play ability is vastly underrated, but Nelson also is Aaron Rodgers' go-to target when Rodgers needs a first down and has always proven to be reliable.

"Nelson had his best season in 2013, accumulating over 1,300 receiving yards, and bear in mind that he was playing without Rodgers for much of that time. He isn't a product of the system or his surroundings and would be great in any environment."

Nelson's next contract will be his third. Midway through the 2011 season, he signed a three-year extension that averaged $4.2 million per season. That average ranks 32nd among all NFL receivers in 2014.

Williamson ranked Cobb among 11 players who he termed as "close but not quite" No. 1 receivers.

Cobb, who like Nelson was a second-round pick, is entering the final season of his rookie contract. Two factors likely kept Cobb out of Williamson’s top 14: his size (5-10, 192) and that he missed 10 games last season because of a fractured tibia.

But in 2012, Cobb caught 80 passes despite missing one game, and there is room for growth. He is entering his fourth season but won't turn 24 years old until late in training camp this summer, making him more than 5 years younger than Nelson, who turns 29 in May.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's hard to tell where John Kuhn's popularity is greater: Among Green Bay Packers fans or with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Both were likely celebrating on Thursday, when Kuhn agreed to return on a one-year contract that will pay him a little more than $1 million if he makes the roster this season.

Kuhn's agent, Kevin Gold, summed up the feeling in the subject line of his email that announced the deal. Gold wrote: "KUUUUUHN!"

Why is Kuhn so popular?

Kuhn
To understand that, you must go beyond the statistics -- 165 carries for 506 yards (a 3.1-yard average). That's not for a season. That's for his eight-year career, the last seven of which have been with the Packers.

Rather, just turn on the highlights from last year's regular-season finale. Skip ahead to the final minute of the fourth quarter.

On fourth-and-8 from the Bears' 48-yard line with 46 seconds left, Kuhn saved the Packers' season. He dove at then-Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (now with the Packers) and got just enough of a block on him to allow Rodgers to throw the game-winning, NFC North-winning touchdown to Randall Cobb.

After the game, Rodgers called Kuhn: "A big-time football player."

"It's always good to highlight the unsung heroes on the play, and it was definitely John Kuhn, as usual," Rodgers added. "They brought empty pressure, checked to it late, and I was trying to hit Jordy [Nelson] right away, the safety rolled down quickly. As I looked outside, I felt Julius was coming free, was going to try to elude him, which the chances of that are pretty slim. John comes out of nowhere and cuts him."

Kuhn is the ultimate NFL underdog. He played small-college football at Shippensburg (Pa.) and entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Perhaps that's why he's so beloved in the NFL's smallest city.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Sometimes, NFL players outperform their contracts.

Without tearing up those deals, there is a way for players who fit that description to earn more money. It’s called the NFL's performance-based pay distribution in which each team can allot a total of $3.46 million in additional play to its players.

It typically benefits players in their first NFL contracts or minimum-salaried free-agent signings who become key contributors.

For example, Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick with a base salary of $405,000 last year, will receive an additional $256,882.22 in performance-based pay, according to documents obtained by ESPN.com. Bakhtiari started every game last season as a rookie. He received the largest pay increases among Packers' players. According to the NFL, those payments will be made on April 1, 2016.

The smallest distribution to a Packers' player went to backup tackle Derek Sherrod, who will receive $2,154.55. He was active for seven games but only took six snaps on offense all season.

Here’s a list of the top-10 and bottom-10 performance-based bonuses on the Packers’ roster:

Top 10
Bottom 10
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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
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In his first nine seasons as the Green Bay Packers starting quarterback, Brett Favre had two starting centers -- James Campen (two years) and Frank Winters (seven).

Aaron Rodgers will be on his fourth in four seasons after Evan Dietrich-Smith signed a free-agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday. And there is a decent chance it will be someone who has never played the position in the NFL.

Tretter
Dietrich-Smith completed his first full season as a starter last year after taking over for Jeff Saturday late in the 2012 season. Saturday lasted just one year after replacing Scott Wells, who was Rodgers' primary center in his first four seasons as a starter.

Perhaps the center-quarterback relationship isn't crucial, but don’t tell that to Rodgers. Shortly after the season on his ESPN 540 Milwaukee radio show, he called it "very important."

He then recalled a conversation he had with Dietrich-Smith during training camp.

"I just challenged him that this was a great opportunity and that he could really set up himself up to be a long-term guy here with a solid performance in training camp," Rodgers said. "And he did that and more.

"He's a very intelligent guy who had a very good season for us, and I'm proud of him in his development, and I hope that he’s around a long time."

Instead, Rodgers will have to adjust to someone new again.

The Packers have plenty of options, although none with any significant experience.

They like JC Tretter, a fourth-round pick last season who played tackle in college at Cornell. But Tretter did not play at all last season after breaking his ankle during the first week of offseason practices in May and only began working at center in November, when he returned to practice from the physically unable perform list.

"I think that kid has a lot of potential to play all five positions," Campen, the Packers' offensive line coach, said after the season. "Will he take reps at center? Yeah, sure he will. Wouldn't be surprised if he's taking reps at guard or tackle. You know, there's a lot of things that have to go through that process, certainly [Tretter] has displayed the ability to play center, yes."

Third-year pro Don Barclay, who played right tackle the past two seasons, could be an option. He worked at center during training camp last summer before he took over at right tackle. With Bryan Bulaga expected to return from his knee injury and go back to right tackle, it could free up Barclay to move inside.

The Packers have no plans to move T.J. Lang to center even though Lang slid over from right guard in two games last season when Dietrich-Smith was injured. The Packers don’t think Lang is a long-term solution at center and also believe he’s far more valuable at guard.

It's possible they could draft another center prospect, although it wouldn't likely be a high pick.

They also could pursue a free-agent center. The best one on the market is Alex Mack, a Pro Bowler with the Cleveland Browns. Mack currently carries the transition tag from the Browns, who could match any offer Mack gets from another team. The transition tag would pay Mack a $10 million salary this season. The most likely scenario for Mack to leave Cleveland might be in a trade.

McShay Mock 3.0 reax: Packers

March, 6, 2014
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If North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron is available when the Green Bay Packers pick at No. 21, they would have a tough time passing on him.

Ebron
In what looks like a strong -- or perhaps more apropos -- an athletic class of tight ends, Ebron is the standout. That is why ESPN's Todd McShay has Ebron as the top tight end in his latest mock draft Insider, version 3.0, which went live on Thursday.

Despite the Packers' needs on defense, McShay thinks Ebron would be a perfect fit for their offense. Although he has Ebon going to Green Bay, McShay seems to have doubts about whether he will be available when the Packers pick at No. 21.

McShay wrote: "Aaron Rodgers would love to have this guy on his team."

Much of that could depend on what the Packers decide to do with Jermichael Finley, their ultra-talented tight end who is coming off a neck injury and was in the final year of his contract.

One thing seems clear, McShay does not believe the Packers will be in position to draft either of the top-two safeties. He projects the St. Louis Rams will take Calvin Pryor of Louisville at No. 13 and the Pittsburgh Steelers will take Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama two spots later.

According to the latest mock draft, the Packers would have the option to take either Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III or Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. He has both going in the first round, but after the Packers pick at 21.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We talked this morning about the rising NFL salary cap and how veteran players like former Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (in whom the Vikings are reported to have interest) could find a kinder free-agent market this spring than they have in the past. What we didn't discuss was the projections for the salary cap in future years. Those figures, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, are expected to be stratospheric.

Schefter reports the cap will likely increase from $132 million in 2014 to over $140 million in 2015. It will surpass $150 million in 2016, Schefter reports, as new TV money juices the league's revenue even more. Teams aren't required to spend to the cap, but they must spend an average of at least 89 percent of the cap in cash on a four-year basis from 2013-16, and again from 2017-20. In other words, the NFL's rising financial tide will lift all boats, in one form or another.

[+] EnlargeCombine
AP Photo/Michael ConroyIf the Vikings select one of the potential franchise quarterbacks -- such as Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr or Johnny Manziel -- in this year's draft, they'll have every incentive to play him early.
Where will the money go? It's a good bet we'll see some of it handed out in the form of new deals for young quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick in coming years. Those QBs are all playing on their rookie deals, and they have six playoff appearances, four Pro Bowls, two Super Bowl trips and one championship between them. In other words, they've all delivered big results for their teams on the most cap-friendly contracts they'll ever have.

That brings us to the Vikings, and another aspect of their search for a franchise quarterback this spring. They've played with remarkably small expenses at the quarterback position for some time -- they've been in the league's bottom quarter of cap commitments at quarterback for six of the past nine seasons -- and thanks to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, the Vikings are now in an era where they can get big-time production from a young quarterback before having to pay for it.

The financial reality means that if the Vikings can find the right quarterback in the draft this spring, they'll have every incentive to get him on the field quickly. It would certainly be a prudent move to sign the much-discussed veteran bridge this spring, whether that's by bringing back Matt Cassel or finding another quarterback on the open market, but if the Vikings get a franchise-caliber quarterback, the league's salary structure incentivizes them to play him quickly. If he can produce early, he'll also produce cheaply, and the Vikings could fill other holes under the league's rising cap ceiling, much like the 49ers and Seahawks have been able to do while going to Super Bowls with quarterbacks on their rookie deals.

None of this is to say the Vikings should rush a young quarterback into action; if he can't play, he can't play, and we've seen with Christian Ponder the organizational consequences of trusting a young quarterback who doesn't get the job done. But there's a major financial advantage waiting for teams who can get a young quarterback on the field quickly. It's why the days of Aaron Rodgers-like apprenticeships are essentially over, and why the Vikings can get ahead of the game, financially and competitively, if they make the right moves at quarterback in the draft.
Chip KellyTommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsEagles owner Jeffrey Lurie wasn't afraid to start over with a new coach in Chip Kelly in 2013.
PHILADELPHIA -- The best news from the NFL combine, at least as far as the Philadelphia Eagles are concerned, might have come from the mouth of Jerry Jones.

The owner/general manager of the Dallas Cowboys told reporters that NFL realities make it impossible for his franchise to make a major change in direction.

“You can't do what I did in 1989 because of the contracts and cap," Jones said Monday, according to ESPN.com’s Todd Archer. "The system automatically creates about a third turnover, but it also creates contractually for clubs a situation where you cannot just strip it. You couldn't even field a team with the hits against your cap by canceling the contracts."

If the chief decision-maker of their chief division rival feels constrained by the NFL system, that is very good news for the Eagles. Good because it means the Cowboys are more likely to remain trapped in a cycle of 8-8 finishes. News because the Eagles themselves just demonstrated that it is not only possible to tear things up and start over, but it is easier in the NFL than in any other major American sports league.

The Eagles went 4-12 in 2012 with Andy Reid as their head coach. It was Reid's 14th season, making the Eagles one of the most stable franchises in sports. While it was admittedly difficult for owner Jeffrey Lurie to pull the plug on Reid's tenure after working so closely together for so long, Lurie did just that.

Lurie hired Chip Kelly out of the University of Oregon. The Eagles went 10-6 in 2013, defeating the Cowboys in Week 17 to win the NFC East title.

If that isn't a quick turnaround, what is?

Across the parking lot from Lincoln Financial Field sits the Wells Fargo Center, where the Philadelphia 76ers are trying to turn their franchise around. The NBA's system -- fully guaranteed contracts and intricate trade rules that make salary dumping impossible -- all but forces teams to tank in order to have a shot at a superstar-caliber player.

The 76ers traded away most of the recognizable names from their already threadbare roster at the deadline. They were rewarded with a 20-point loss Monday night to the Milwaukee Bucks, the team with the worst record in the NBA.

A long 3-point basket away from the arena is Citizens Bank Park, where the Philadelphia Phillies reside. The 2008 World Series champions have spent massive amounts of payroll money to try to win another title while their core of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley remains intact. But age, injuries and (again) those fully guaranteed contracts have the Phillies trapped in a cycle of ever diminishing returns.

Baseball and basketball present enormous challenges for a team trying to turn itself around quickly. The NFL? Sorry, Jerry, that excuse just doesn't fly.

It may have been easier when Jones bought the franchise 25 years ago, hired Jimmy Johnson and started amassing the talent that won three Super Bowls in four seasons. Things did change with the introduction of free agency and a salary cap, but that was 22 years ago. There has been time to adjust.

Since the Cowboys' last title in 1996, the Green Bay Packers have built two separate Super Bowl-winning programs -- one with Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre, one with Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. So have the Baltimore Ravens, who won it all in 2000 with Brian Billick and Trent Dilfer and in 2012 with John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco.

The New York Giants won a Super Bowl in 2007. When they won another four years later, there were only 14 players left from the 2007 team. New England, the team the Giants beat both times, had only seven players on the roster for both games.

Seattle just won the Super Bowl with a team that had exactly four players who were on the roster before 2010.

You get the point. It is very possible in the NFL to change cultures, turn over rosters and flip a losing franchise into a winner in a short period of time. It takes two things: the ability to recognize change is needed and smart decisions when making it.

The New Orleans Saints established themselves as one of the league’s elite teams and won a Super Bowl. The key was hiring Sean Payton, a coach who had spent the three previous seasons working as an assistant for Jones.

The Eagles have had three major reboots with Lurie as their owner. They hired Ray Rhodes in 1995 and cut their losses after a 3-13 season in 1998. Lurie hired the virtually unknown Reid in 1999. While Reid did not produce a championship, he was coach and eventually chief personnel man for a six-year stretch in which the Eagles were the class of the NFC East.

Lurie stuck with Reid a year or three too long, out of some combination of loyalty and finger-crossed hope things would improve. When he finally did make a change, Lurie admitted it was the toughest decision of his tenure as owner. Clearly, there was no guarantee he was going to find as good a coach as the one he fired.

For Jones, such a wrenching decision is even harder because the man whose work he's judging is one Jerry Jones. A clear-eyed owner wouldn't accept a GM's rationale that the team is stuck in mediocrity because of bad cap management, ill-advised contracts and misplaced loyalty.

It was hard for Lurie to reach that point with his friend Reid. Evidently, it's even harder to get there when the guy making excuses is yourself.
PHILADELPHIA -- It might mean nothing. It might mean quite a lot. At the very least, the whole idea of the Eagles’ meeting with Johnny Manziel in Indianapolis over the weekend is, like everything else Manziel-related, of interest.

Manziel is a little short for a lightning rod, let alone a quarterback, but the reality is that he and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney are the two most intriguing players in the 2014 NFL draft.

Peter King mentioned the Eagles’ meeting as almost an afterthought in his MMQB.com piece about Manziel, the Texas A&M quarterback:

“Manziel met with Houston (1), Jacksonville (3), Cleveland (4), Dallas (17), Tampa Bay (7) and Philadelphia coaches and team officials, and very likely Oakland (5), this weekend before flying back to Texas late Sunday afternoon,” King wrote.

The numbers in parentheses weren’t in King’s original text. I added them. They are the draft positions for the teams mentioned. According to King, then, Manziel met with representatives of teams with five of the top seven picks in the draft. The Cowboys at 17 and the Eagles at 22 are jarringly out of place in that company.

That can mean one of two things as far as the Eagles are concerned: Either they believe Manziel could drop far enough on draft day to be an option for them, or they are contemplating a blockbuster deal to move up in the draft to have a shot at him.

The former is more likely, for several reasons. First, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman went out of his way last week to underscore that Nick Foles will be the Eagles’ starting quarterback in 2014. Second, in a draft widely heralded as the deepest in years, the Eagles would be giving up valuable lower-round picks to move up for one guy.

Third, it would take a trade partner willing to give up a coveted high pick. The Rams (No. 2) and Falcons (No. 6) are the two top-seven teams that weren’t on King’s list. That’s because they have quarterbacks: Sam Bradford in St. Louis and Matt Ryan in Atlanta.

The Eagles, of course, have Foles. So their meeting with Manziel would give new life to the suspicion that Chip Kelly deep down wants a more mobile quarterback to run his offense.

It is certainly the more entertaining possibility to discuss. Drafting Manziel would unite the most compelling college coach of recent years with perhaps the most compelling college player in one of the most football-centric markets in the NFL.

Either way, though, the Eagles’ using valuable combine time to meet with Manziel is worth noting. Roseman has said the Eagles wouldn’t rule out a quarterback if one was clearly the best player available when they are on the clock. In that regard, it makes sense to do their homework on Manziel.

Some draft experts have him going first overall to the Texans. Others have him dropping a few slots. It would be surprising for him to drop all the way to No. 22, but ask Geno Smith (second round last year) or even Aaron Rodgers (24th overall in 2005) whether that is possible.

The NFL evaluation process began in earnest with the combine. Manziel was measured at just under 6 feet tall but helped himself by running the 40 in 4.68 seconds. Manziel’s hand size -- a major consideration for Kelly in evaluating quarterbacks -- was a very respectable 9-7/8 inches. Manziel didn’t participate in the other drills. He will throw at his pro day on March 27.

Only then will teams begin to reach conclusions on Manziel. That includes the Eagles, which is suddenly kind of interesting to think about.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Only three head coach-starting quarterback combinations have been together longer than Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers.

The 2014 season will be their seventh together in that capacity.

This could help explain why McCarthy keeps presenting Rodgers with new offensive concepts each season.

“Aaron needs that,” McCarthy said. “Of all the people, I mean he needs stimulation. And I like to think our offense stimulates him every year because there's new wrinkles. And I kind of take a lot of pride in it. He fights a lot of change because he always goes back to the foundation and core of things that he's had success [with].

“That's the sign of a guy that was developed the right way. Because he knows at the end of the day, when the [expletive] hits the fan, I'm going to call the thing that he has 1,000 reps in or 2,500 reps in, and he's going to get us in a good a play. It's going to be a clean play, and he's going to convert it.”

McCarthy -- or any other NFL head coach -- isn't going to let an outsider into his meeting rooms or his film-study sessions. But sitting in his downtown hotel room during a break from the NFL scouting combine, he provided a glimpse into what it's like to formulate an offense built around an MVP-caliber quarterback.

At his very core, McCarthy is one thing: a quarterbacks coach.

“That's the beauty of calling it the Green Bay Packer offense, and the offense in Green Bay is built around making the quarterback successful,” he said. “It's not about making the running back successful or the $50 million receiver successful. It's about the quarterback. So this is all part of the philosophy and with that comes big ego, and big ego gets your results in the arena that we compete in.”

If it wasn't obvious before, the 2013 season served as a reminder of the quarterback's role in the Packers' offense.

Not just any quarterback; their quarterback, Rodgers.

His fractured collarbone kept him out for nearly eight full games. It was supposed to be another double-digit victory season, but turned into an 8-7-1 struggle that nevertheless led to an NFC North title. It ended with a wild-card playoff loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers.

In the most simplistic terms, McCarthy has two offenses -- one for Rodgers and one for everyone else.

“I've created part of the monster, but the benefits definitely outweigh the negatives because I want him to be the most confident guy in the building,” McCarthy said. “I want him to be the most confident guy in the NFL, and I want him to feel like this is his offense and these are his deals.”

Coming off perhaps his most challenging season since 2008, Rodgers' first as the Packers starter, McCarthy hopes to get back to spending more time with the players and less time with the personnel department and medical staff trying to figure out how to field 53 healthy players. He made the comment last season that he spent too much time on the third floor of Lambeau Field, where the football offices are, and not enough time on the first floor with the players.

“If Aaron was sitting here, his complaint would be I'm not with him enough,” McCarthy said.

Yet McCarthy said he was not concerned that it impacted the important connection between him and his $100-million quarterback.

“It's not a high concern on my list,” McCarthy said.

Each year, Rodgers has gained more freedom at the line of scrimmage. While McCarthy still calls the plays from the sideline, Rodgers has multiple options built in to most plays. But that doesn't mean the bond between him and McCarthy is any less important.

“His reliance is not as high on the play-caller, but the connection has to be stronger than it's ever been,” McCarthy said. “That's how you can get sideways. I don't care what offense you're running, the play-caller and the quarterback have got to be on the same page.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Green Bay Packers would like to get back into the business of developing young quarterbacks like they did throughout the 1990s -- when Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks all came up through their system.

The problem is, this isn't the 1990s.

The rules of the collective bargaining agreement that was put in place following the 2011 lockout greatly reduced the amount of time coaches can work with players in the offseason, a time often set aside for individual and group instruction. For Packers' quarterbacks, that means four weeks have been shaved off coach Mike McCarthy's quarterback school.

Nevertheless, the Packers have come to the NFL scouting combine with one eye on finding a developmental quarterback prospect and hope to take four quarterbacks into training camp this summer.

"I think we definitely need four," McCarthy said at the combine, "So I'm hopeful that we can get a young guy in the draft."

The Packers have only two quarterbacks under contract for 2014 -- starter Aaron Rodgers and Scott Tolzien, who was signed to the practice squad last September and then promoted to the active roster after Rodgers broke his collarbone on Nov. 4. Tolzien has yet to go through an offseason in McCarthy's training program, having been with the San Francisco 49ers for his first two seasons.

Matt Flynn was re-signed last November and became the fourth quarterback to start for the Packers last season, but his contract was only for the 2013 season.

"I thought Matt Flynn came in and did a number of good things," McCarthy said. "There's a lot of stability he brings to the quarterback room as far as the role that he needs to play and his role to the starting quarterback to help them scout and so forth, so Matt is obviously a good fit for our program. I thought he definitely gave us a shot in the arm when we needed it. Free agency is upon us, we'll see what happens."

Whatever happens, the Packers don't want to be stuck in the position they were in at the end of last summer, when the trio of Vince Young, Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman all failed to win the backup job, forcing the Packers to sign veteran Seneca Wallace the week of the season opener.

That general manager Ted Thompson has drafted only one quarterback -- Coleman in the seventh round in 2012 -- since he took Brian Brohm (second round) and Flynn (seventh round) in 2008 would seemingly indicate that it's time to take another one.

"We're always looking," Thompson said. "Coach McCarthy's a quarterback guy. He likes to have a group, so you never stop looking, turning over rocks, that sort of thing."
INDIANAPOLIS -- From the time a scout asked Johnny Manziel on Friday to press his heels against the wall, keep his head level and against a measuring tape, Manziel got a taste of the NFL draft process.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Johnny VyJohnny Manziel can expect to hear plenty about what's wrong with his game at the combine.
NFL decision makers don't care how big a man you were on whatever campus, and they don't care how many trophies you have in tow.

Manziel, who two years ago became the only freshman to win a Heisman Trophy, just may be the most scrutinized and criticized prospect in this draft.

Oh, and, by the way, he measured 5 feet, 11 3/4 inches, and weighed 207 pounds.

He is not what most NFL talent evaluators draw up as the player they want behind center.

Now, Manziel will learn what so many prospects have learned before him, including one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

Peyton Manning came through the combine in 1998, albeit with far less notice, far less coast-to-coast coverage, but under the same critical microscope. In a draft binder from '98, I discovered some of Manning's best comments from that combine, along with a pile of his statistical glory from his career at the University of Tennessee.

"But they're looking for flaws," a 20-something Manning said then. "They're going to invest a lot in you and what kind of player you can be. They don't want to make mistakes. ... They aren't going to tell you how great you are, or at least not all the time."

No, they're not. They didn't for either Manning -- Peyton or Eli -- or Tom Brady. Or Drew Brees. Or Aaron Rodgers. They really didn't do it for Russell Wilson.

Here's what Manziel will have to endure in the coming weeks: He isn't tall enough, mature enough, big enough, ready enough to be the face of a franchise. The draft is not, by nature, a positive experience in terms of rose petals and compliments.

A prospect may never be worse, in terms of evaluation, than in the day before the draft and he might never be better, in terms of hope and optimism, than the day the team picks him.

Manziel says he's ready for this, to give answers when the questions come.

"I have an opportunity now to move into a professional phase. This is life. This is a job for me. I'm taking it very seriously," Manziel said Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium. "I'm really excited about the future."

Asked about the new round of criticism and scrutiny that has arrived at his doorstep, Manziel said: "I just look forward to showing up all the people who said that I'm just an improviser. I worked extremely hard this year, all around in my game. I'll continue to do that."

But from the moment Manziel's measurements circulated through the stadium Friday morning, a name wasn't far behind in many of the conversations along the way: Russell Wilson.

In a year when a 5-foot-10 5/8 quarterback -- Wilson's measurements from the 2012 combine -- won the Super Bowl with a 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos, Manziel will draw plenty of interest as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Call it the year of the vertically challenged.

Pete Carroll, the Seahawks' coach who made Wilson a third-round pick in 2012 draft, got the inevitable comparisons between Manziel and his own championship quarterback. And Carroll offered a caveat of sorts for those who may be looking to make Wilson's exception the new rule among NFL quarterbacks.

"We've learned Russell is a great football player. ... He's not a great football player because he's 5-foot-10 and a half. He's a great football player," Carroll said.

"Not everybody who's 5-foot-10 and a half can play quarterback."

No, they can't.

And so it will go for Manziel, with a pile of touchdowns and wins on his resume from the rugged Southeastern Conference. At the time of the '12 draft, Wilson had a consistently higher release point on his throws than Manziel had when anyone last saw him throw in a controlled setting.

Wilson had a far bigger supply of big-school experience as a four-year starter at NC State and Wisconsin combined when he entered the draft. He also had been a professional athlete as a Colorado Rockies minor leaguer and was such a leader in spring practices that his Wisconsin teammates voted him a team captain just after his arrival for his only season in Madison, Wis. He also studied enough and worked hard enough to easily beat out Matt Flynn as a rookie in his first NFL training camp.

Manziel is a double-take athlete, winning big games against SEC defenses loaded with NFL prospects. At times his game is football jazz, unpredictable and improvisational, that often turns out as a classic.

But his best chance to get what he wants in the NFL is not to try to be Wilson, or Brees or any other 6-foot-and-shorter passer who has survived the pre-draft scrutiny to flourish in the league. The list isn't long in the modern NFL and if Manziel's name is called among the first five picks in May -- even by Houston at No. 1 in his home state Texas -- his task isn't any easier.

The clock is now ticking in earnest toward a March 27 pro day in College Station, Texas, where Manziel will have to show he can be enough of a pocket passer to make a team want the rest of the package in the blue-ribbon spot in the first round where many expect him to be taken.

"You can ask my teammates, go back and ask anybody that when we needed to make a play that those guys wanted the ball in my hand," Manziel said. "I think a good example is the Duke game. It wasn't really looking as great as we wanted to in the first half. At halftime, me, Mike [Evans], some of the seniors had to get the troops rallied. ... But the ball would eventually bounce our way.

"I think the guys on my team know I would do anything and everything for them until there's no time left on the clock on or off the field, whatever it may be."

Super XLV: Where are they now?

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
6:30
PM ET
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.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers knows what he’s getting in his next quarterbacks coach, Alex Van Pelt.

The Green Bay Packers quarterback has worked indirectly with Van Pelt for the past two seasons, when Van Pelt served as running backs coach.

Although Packers coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t announced any staff changes yet, he plans to make Van Pelt the new quarterbacks coach to replace Ben McAdoo, who was hired last month as the New York Giants' offensive coordinator.

“As far as Alex is concerned, him and I have been good buddies from his first day here,” Rodgers said on his ESPN 540 Milwaukee radio show this week.

Van Pelt has something McAdoo did not -- NFL playing experience. Van Pelt spent nine season with the Buffalo Bills, mostly as a backup quarterback. McAdoo never played the position at any level. Van Pelt also has previous experience as a quarterbacks coach, having served in that capacity for both the Bills (2008-09) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2010-11). McAdoo came up as a tight ends coach.

Rodgers also has heard good things about Van Pelt from former Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

“Ryan and I are friends in the league, and Ryan got to play for Alex,” Rodgers said. "From the start, I’ve heard good things about him. Alex gets the game. He played the position and if he’s the guy, I know it’s going to be a really smooth transition, and we’d have a lot of fun together.”

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