ESPN Wisconsin Blogs - Jason Wilde
GREEN BAY – Sam Shields spent roughly seven hours on the free-agent market Saturday. By nightfall, he was back with the Green Bay Packers, having agreed to a four-year deal worth a reported $39 million.
Shields and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, each confirmed the deal was done Saturday evening via their Twitter accounts.
Congrats to RSR client Sam Shields & the Green Bay Packers on the new contract!— Drew Rosenhaus (@RosenhausSports) March 9, 2014
The deal reportedly will pay Shields, 26, a $12.5 million signing bonus and total pay of $15 million in 2014. That means the Packers will shell out $22.5 million to their two starting cornerbacks this coming season, as veteran Tramon Williams is in the final year of his deal and is set to earn a $6.9 million base salary and another $600,000 in bonus money. Shields will count about $5.6 million against the Packers’ 2014 salary cap, meaning they still have about $28 million in cap room to work with as the new league year is set to open
Shields’ contract will reportedly pay him $30 million in the first three years of the agreement.
According to Pro Football Focus, Shields played 902 snaps this season and allowed 42 completions on 84 targets for 664 yards while allowing four touchdowns and breaking up 12 passes (72.7 opponent passer rating).
“Sam’s been a big part of this defense. A playmaker for this defense. And we need him around,” Williams said as the season ended. “He’s taken the same path that I have in to the league as an undrafted guy. He continues to get better so we definitely need him around.”
GREEN BAY – Last fall, B.J. Raji had a long-term contract offer on the table from the Green Bay Packers that would have paid him roughly $8 million per year. Now, he plans to sign a one-year deal worth just $4 million that will give him a chance to prove himself once again.
An NFL source told ESPNWisconsin.com's Steve Haywood Thursday that Raji intends to accept the Packers' offer and could sign the deal Friday. The deal includes incentives that could push the total value of the deal to $6.5 million, with Raji eyeing another chance at unrestricted free agency a year from now.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report that the 27-year-old veteran defensive tackle was on the verge of returning to the Packers, even with the free-agent window opening in mere days.
Schefter reported Thursday morning that the Packers and Raji’s agent David Dunn, who also represents quarterback Aaron Rodgers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews, were closing in on the deal, just two days before players are allowed to begin negotiating with other teams. The free-agent negotiating window opens on Saturday, and players can begin signing with new teams on Tuesday.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport also reported that Raji has been told by the Packers that he'd be moving back to playing nose tackle full time.
The Packers, flush with nearly $35 million in salary-cap space, entered the offseason with 17 unrestricted free agents. If they get a deal done with Raji, he’d be the first of them to re-sign. Until now, the only player to re-sign with the Packers has been exclusive rights free-agent safety Chris Banjo.
Raji, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, saw his snap count diminish and his impact continue to be limited last season, when he played 666 snaps and went another full year without a sack. After a breakout season in 2010, when he had 6.5 regular-season sacks, another sack in the playoffs and an unforgettable pick-six interception in the NFC Championship Game victory at Chicago that sent the Packers to Super Bowl XLV, Raji hasn’t had a sack in 35 regular-season games, dating back to Nov. 24, 2011 against the Detroit Lions. Last season, he was credited with 36 tackles (14 solo, 22 assisted) and did not have a sack, forced/recovered fumble or pass deflection. He was credited with three QB hits and 10 hurries by Pro Football Focus.
A league source confirmed during the NFL Scouting Combine last month the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report during the season that the Packers indeed had offered Raji a deal that would have paid him $8 million per year. That offer was subsequently pulled.
Raji essentially played on first and second downs last season while Mike Daniels and Datone Jones were the most frequent down linemen in passing situations and played the fewest snaps per game since his rookie year, when he played only 380 snaps.
Raji played 658 of 1,117 snaps in 2012 (58.9 percent) because he missed two games with a sprained ankle, and 885 of 1,182 snaps (74.9 percent) in 2011. During that Super Bowl season of 2010, Raji played 1,092 snaps in 20 games, or a whopping 85.2 percent of the Packers’ 1,282 total defensive snaps.
“It comes with the territory, man,” Raji said late in the year when asked if he was disappointed with his play. “You put up good numbers early in your career, and then when those things dwindle down it’s like, ‘What happened?’ It’s more to the game than sacks. Since I’ve been here, we’ve been top of the league in sacks and that’s what’s more important to me. Individual stuff will come.
“Quite frankly, people that understand the game know what time it is. Everything else doesn’t matter.
“I’m older now and I understand that part of being a good teammate is understanding what is required of you. I don’t label myself as a two-down defensive lineman; I’m just a two-down defensive lineman for us this year.”
GREEN BAY-- First, reality. There's probably a better chance of conservative general manager Ted Thompson trading for franchise-tagged tight end Jimmy Graham, signing free-agent safety Jairus Byrd and giving up every one of his draft picks to select Jadeveon Clowney than there is of the Green Bay Packers changing their uniforms.
Remember, when the NFL shifted from Reebok to Nike a few years ago, the one team that did nothing -- nothing -- to its uniforms was the Packers, whose iconic look has remained largely consistent since the Lombardi Era glory days.
Retired GM Ron Wolf learned early on in his tenure, before rebuilding the team into a Super Bowl champion, how resistant Packers fans are to changing uniform fashions when he suggested the Packers go back to the navy blue color they had back in the Acme Packers days -- an era that the team now celebrates with its throwback uniforms.
Nonetheless, in the wake of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' unveiling of their new uniforms earlier this week, it might be fun to imagine what the Packers' updated uniforms might look like.
The folks at Baker Branding and Design, a Twin Cities-based company that has done design work for many familiar everyday products, took a stab at redesigned Packers and Minnesota Vikings uniforms last year. The group actually provided three different Packers concepts, shown below. The last of the three harkens back to the team's historic uniforms while delivering a modern twist.
What do you think?
GREEN BAY – James Jones hasn't entirely given up hope of returning to the Green Bay Packers, but the soon-to-be unrestricted free-agent wide receiver clearly understands his predicament.
Speaking on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access Monday, Jones came off as honest but realistic about his chances of coming back to the Packers after a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel during the NFL Scouting Combine that the club hasn't made him any sort of contract offer in advance of free agency opening on March 11.
“It’s an exciting time for me and my family. I would love to go back to Green Bay and play ball there; I love a lot of my teammates there and [love] playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the game," Jones said. "But we all know this is a business; this is the part that we all hate but you have to deal with it.”
The last time Jones was an unrestricted free agent, in 2011 after the Packers' Super Bowl XLV-winning season, a lockout wiped out the offseason and free agency opened just before training camp. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers went to bat for him -- both publicly and privately -- in an effort to get the club to re-sign Jones, and he wound up returning for a three-year deal worth $9.6 million.
With the emergence of Jarrett Boykin when injuries struck Jones and Randall Cobb last season, and the team's desire to extend Cobb's and Jordy Nelson's deals, it appears the Packers only want Jones back if they can re-sign him at their price. Jones has spent all seven of his NFL seasons with the Packers after they took him in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft out of San Jose State.
Last season, he caught 59 passes for 817 yards, setting a career high for receiving yards, despite missing two-plus games with a knee injury suffered at Baltimoreon Oct. 13. Although he wasn’t the touchdown machine he was the previous year (NFL-high 15 TD catches), he still showed at age 29 that he has plenty of football in front of him.
A veteran leader who is admired in locker room and active in the community, Jones finished last year having played 925 snaps despite the knee injury, which he came back from before he should have. He also played final weeks of season with broken ribs, which may explain in part the two drops that he had on tough but catchable balls in the playoff loss to San Francisco.
“Priority No. 1 is taking care of my family. Priority No. 2 is if I’m not able to go back to Green Bayto find a good fit with a good quarterback with people that are trying to win," Jones said. "[I want] to be a part of that and help them win some ballgames.”
Asked if there are any quarterbacks in the NFL he would like to play with, Jones said he'd prefer to stay with Rodgers but suggested Indianapolisor Seattlemight be fun to join.
“Yeah there are a couple of quarterbacks out there. Not saying they’re better than the guy that I’m playing with now, but there are a couple of guys out there," Jones said. "I wouldn’t mind playing with some of the young guys – Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson. I wouldn’t mind playing with those guys but I would love to stay put and play with A-Rod though."
GREEN BAY – In what shouldn't be a surprise, the Green Bay Packers will let the market bear out the value of many of their unrestricted free agents.
The club did not use its franchise or transition tags by Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline – on cornerback Sam Shields or any of the other 16 unrestricted free agents who’ll be hitting the open market on March 11 if no deals are reached before then.
Shields, the team’s best cover man, reportedly is set on testing the free-agent waters and fielding outside offers. Players’ agents can begin talking to other teams on Saturday. Reports from ESPN.com and ProFootballTalk.com late last week said a long-term deal between the Packers and Shields would not happen before the deadline.
The Packers would have been on the hook for an $11.8 million one-year deal had they tagged Shields. The Packers could have also used the transition tag on him, giving them the right to match any offer he received, as the Pittsburgh Steelers (linebacker Jason Worlids) and Cleveland Browns (center Alex Mack) did with their key players Monday.
There was a time when one might’ve expected the Packers to use one of their tags on defensive tackle B.J. Raji, but after an unproductive year and a 2 1/2-year drought without a sack, the team is ready to let him test the market and see where things go from there.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis two years ago, Thompson was asked about his philosophy on using the tag.
“I think it’s part of the collective bargaining agreement. It’s part of the strategies you use in building your team,” Thompson replied. “There’s a lot of uncertainty this time of year. That (tag) can give you a little more certainty. It’s something that if you use it, you use it. But, I think every team and every situation with every team is a little different.”
GREEN BAY – Before hanging up, Charles Woodson had a shout-out he had to deliver to the folks back in Wisconsin.
The former Green Bay Packers defensive leader and current Oakland Raiders safety wanted to make sure everyone knew that Bryan “Flea” Engel, a member of the team’s athletic training staff, had been named the NFC assistant athletic trainer of the year.
“There’s nobody that’s more deserving of that award. Any injury that I got through when I was up there with the Packers, me and ‘Flea,’ we got through it together,” Woodson said during an appearance earlier this week on Green & Gold Today on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com. “[I worked] with the other trainers, but I think me and Flea had a special relationship. I’m proud of him, and I just wanted to send him a congratulations.”
That Woodson would go out of his way to say that prompted the question: Amid the Packers’ seemingly endless injury problems – over the past two seasons, their starters have missed an NFL-high 153 games, according to the Dallas Morning News’ Rick Gosselin – could any of the fault lie with the strength and conditioning staff or the athletic training/medical staff?
“Not in the least bit,” replied Woodson, who broke his collarbone twice while in Green Bay but also played through multiple knee and shoulder injuries. “What I know about those guys, what I know about strength and conditioning with Mark Lovat, [the medical staff with] Pepper Burruss, Flea, Dr. McKenzie, Dr. Gray, Kurt (Fielding), Nate (Weir) – they do a first-class job with guys are far as injuries are concerned.
“And I know they are not the cause of injuries. So no, the blame is placed in the wrong place if you want to blame those guys.”
GREEN BAY – Even though he’s about to be an unrestricted free agent and fully intends to play football in 2014, Charles Woodson is essentially given himself an either-or proposition: Either he re-signs with the Oakland Raiders, or he retires.
“I do plan on going back to Oakland. Hopefully I can get that done. But if it doesn’t get done, then I think I’ll have to seriously think about hanging it up,” Woodson said during an appearance earlier this week on Green & Gold Today on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com. “I don’t know that I want to go to another team at this point and do it again. If I could sign back with the Raiders, that would be great.”
Woodson, who spent his first eight NFL seasons with the Raiders before spending the next seven years with the Green Bay Packers, was cut by Green Bay on Feb. 15, 2013, in a cost-cutting move. He ended up rejoining the Raiders, who went 4-12 last season but got a healthy Woodson for all 16 games. He ended up playing all but seven of the Raiders’ 1,105 defensive snaps after playing only seven regular-season games in 2012 – his last year in Green Bay – because of a broken collarbone.
If you’re holding out hope that Woodson, who turns 38 in October, might return for one last hurrah with the Packers, don’t.
Why? Because before the 2012 season, Woodson offered to restructure his contract to lower his salary-cap number – and the Packers refused. When they cut him a year later, they didn’t bring up the possibility of taking a pay cut to stay – they simply released him.
Woodson had two years remaining on the five-year, $55 million extension he signed in September 2010, a deal included $21 million in advances and bonuses. Woodson’s 2013 and 2014 base salaries were each $6.5 million, and he was scheduled to receive $2.5 million roster bonuses in the spring of each year as well.
“I see that ship as having sailed,” said Woodson, who while with the Packers won the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, was named to the Pro Bowl four consecutive seasons (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011) and earned first-team All-Pro recognition from The Associated Press in 2009 and 2011.
“Actually, the year before I moved to safety, my agent called the Packers to see if they wanted to restructure, and they said that they did not. So then I played the seven games that year, get hurt, and then I get released. So I figured it was in the cards that that ship had sailed.”
Woodson, who said he thought his 2010 extension meant he “would play my contract out in Green Bay, I would retire in Green Bay and that would be a done deal. Then I got released.”
Of course, he didn’t exactly like the idea of going to Green Bay in the first place in 2006, and with the Packers’ safety position still up in the air, Woodson couldn’t completely close the door.
“I have learned to never say never. So let’s not say never,” he said. “You need guys who can play football. That’s the bottom line. Whether it’s a young guy or an older guy, you need somebody back there that can make plays for you, whether it’s interceptions, fumbles, whatever. And of course understanding the defense is going to be the most crucial part of it because there can be a lot of moving parts to that particular defense.
“So you definitely need to have someone who knows that and is smart enough to get it done once they’re on the field, once things start moving around out there. So would somebody like me be a perfect fit? No question about that.”
GREEN BAY – In 16 NFL seasons, Charles Woodson has never once heard a white player use the N-word to him. But he’s heard it plenty of times among black players, and he hinted that he’s even used it himself.
For that reason, the former Green Bay Packers defensive standout and current Oakland Raiders safety said Thursday that he doesn’t believe the NFL should start doling out 15-yard penalties to players who use the word, as the league is reportedly considering doing.
“It really only affects one group, and that’s the black players,” Woodson said during an interview on Green & Gold Today on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com. “And so in that sense, that’s definitely unfair.
“If you think about the war on drugs or marijuana, if you look at that, black players are disproportionately targeted when it comes to those certain areas. To me, this is a reflection of that. If you have one group of players on the field that use the N-word because they’ve used it all their lives, then you’re only targeting one specific group of players. And so we, in a sense, become criminalized for using a word that all of us between ourselves, we use that word.
“I don’t think you’re going to be able to do that. You can’t just give one group of players 15-yard penalties in the game, which is going to hurt your team, for just using a word.”
When asked if a white player who uses the word in a racist, hateful manner deserved to be penalized for doing so, Woodson replied: “I guess if you look at it that way, but I guess I haven’t heard of too many instances on the football field NFL-wise where a white guy has used that word on the field. I’ve never [heard it] in the NFL. In high school [I did], but I never heard of a white guy in the NFL calling a black player the N-word. I don’t really see it as an issue from that sense.
“As far as black players talking to black players, you probably hear it all the time. That’s what I’m saying. Its’ going to be one group that’s going to be targeted with this rule. All of a sudden you’re getting penalties on the field, and it’s only black guys getting penalties. I don’t think you should enforce that rule.”
Meanwhile, Woodson said he believed that most NFL players would accept an openly gay player in their locker rooms, as Missouri defensive end Michael Sam preps for the NFL Draft and the possibility of being the league’s first openly-gay player.
“You’ve heard President Obama talking about gay rights and his evolution on that topic. I think that’s kind of what everybody’s going through at this point in time with that situation,” Woodson said. “There’s an evolution with your knowledge of that particular topic. I think most players, if you asked them 10 years ago how they felt about it, they’d probably have a totally different answer than what they would be giving now.
“I think now people are much more accepting and the bottom line is, everybody is on a particular team for one reason, and that’s to win a championship. And if you bring a guy on your team regardless of who he is or who he likes, you want to know, ‘Did they bring someone in who can play the game?’ And, ‘Can this person help us win?’ I think that’s really the sentiment of most guys around the league.
“I think there are going to be batches of guys who aren’t happy with having a gay player on their team, but that’s their own issue. For the most part, I think guys are going to be accepting of that situation and not worry about it too much. I think what we have to do, we have to get past the shock of it and get to the point where it doesn’t matter. You don’t ask a guy about his sexual orientation or who he likes or who he dates and just accept everybody as a football player if they’re on your team. Because really, it’s nobody’s business. And the sooner we get past that, the better.”
GREEN BAY – The NFL is moving toward expanding the playoff field from 12 teams to 14, and it could happen as soon as the 2015 season, according to a report from Mark Maske of The Washington Post.
According to Maske’s report, the measure could even be voted on at next month’s annual NFL Meetings in Orlando.
“I think there’s a lot of momentum for it,” a source told Maske. “I don’t know for sure if the votes are there yet [among the owners] or not. But there is momentum. A lot of people seem in favor of it.”
The NFL’s competition committee has been studying the idea of adding one playoff team in each conference, increasing the total number of postseason teams to 14. Seven teams would make the playoffs in each conference, and the team with the best record in the AFC and NFC would receive a first-round bye while the other six teams in each conference would face off in the opening round. As it stands now with only 12 teams, the top two seeds in each conference get a bye to the divisional round.
Expanding the playoff field would increase its television revenues and also could allow for a playoff game to be played on Monday Night Football in the opening round. According to Maske, the league currently seems to favor having two Saturday games, three Sunday games and one Monday night game on the opening weekend of the postseason.
The expansion of the playoffs would need to be ratified by 24 of the 32 owners to go into effect. The competition committee could present the measure to owners next month and teams would then vote on it.
GREEN BAY – Johnny Jolly remains in the Green Bay Packers’ plans if the veteran defensive lineman sufficiently recovers from the spinal fusion surgery he underwent last month.
ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky reported Thursday that Jolly underwent single fusion neck surgery on Jan. 10 to repair a bulging disc in his neck and had the C5 and C6 vertebrae fused.
Jolly is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11, when his one-year deal, which he signed with the Packers upon NFL reinstatement, expires.
“I talked to the Packers [last week] about Johnny at the combine, and they said they love him,” Jolly’s agent, Jack Bechta, told Demovsky. “They’re just in a wait-and-see mode.”
The Packers have had more than their fair share of spinal fusion surgeries over the past three years. Three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins had the C3/C4 vertebrae fused after a September 2011 surgery and has not played since; safety Sean Richardson had the C5/C6 vertebrae fused in January 2013 and returned to action last season; and free-agent tight end Jermichael Finley had the C3/C4 vertebrae fused after his Oct. 20 neck injury but Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he is “very open and optimistic” about Finley returning.
Jolly is hoping his path to recovery is even faster than that of Richardson, who started last season on the physically unable to perform list before being activated toward the end of the season.
Bechta told Demovsky that Jolly has already started doing light exercises and is scheduled for another MRI on March 11, the first day of free agency.
Jolly, who was reinstated after a three-year suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, played for a one-year, $715,000 deal last season. His comeback from suspension to make the 53-man roster coming out of camp was one of the best stories of the season, and the players think very highly of him as a teammate. It appears he played several weeks after suffering the disc injury before finally coming out of the team’s Dec. 15 game at Dallas.
“He played a couple of games and said he was losing strength,” Bechta said. “In typical Johnny fashion, he didn’t say anything right away to the doctors; he just played through it.”
Jolly is one of four Packers defensive linemen headed for unrestricted free agency. B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson are also free agents.