Rules, roster changes top NFL headlines

Packers poised to sit tight or trade up in upcoming draft
While Wisconsin celebrates the Badgers’ Final Four appearance and the Brewers’ season opener this week, it anticipates the Packers’ moves in the upcoming NFL draft in May.
The last time the Packers drafted higher than 21st was 2009, when they selected nose tackle B.J. Raji with the ninth pick and linebacker Clay Matthews with the 26th pick. They earned the ninth pick the hard way by finishing 6-10 in 2008. They acquired the 26th pick by working a trade with New England.
In 38 days, GM Ted Thompson again must decide whether to stand pat and select the best player with the 21st pick, or to trade up. According to the trade value chart, the Packers would have to surrender third- and fifth-round picks to move up a handful of spots. I don’t see that happening. It’s more likely Thompson will execute the 21st pick and then look to trade up higher into the second round presumably for a second impact player. The Packers’ greatest needs are at safety and inside linebacker.
The greater priority, however, is to select first- and second-round talent that can play and produce immediately. That hasn’t happened lately. No matter where the Packers pick they need to find starters.Too often the contributions have come from mid- to late-round picks such as defensive backs Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward.
When the draft ends and the undrafted free agents are picked through, Thompson can decide whether to re-sign free agent defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, or acquire a veteran such as ex-Steelers safety Ryan Clark. The fact that the Packers didn’t show interest in ex-Dolphins safety Chris Clemons, who signed with the Houston Texans, suggests as much.
Clearly, Thompson has positioned himself nicely going into the draft. The signings of Sam Shields and Julius Peppers affords the Packers the luxury of not reaching for need. By retaining Raji before the draft, they can take a wait-and-see approach on Pickett. The trick is for Thompson to identify players who will contribute immediately, regardless of their position.
In other Packers news:

  • It was great to see Aaron Rodgers hanging out with the Badgers’ men’s basketball team on its NCAA Tournament trek. It endears Rodgers to Wisconsin sports fans – as if he isn’t already beloved – and it had to be a thrill for the team.
  • Tight end Jermichael Finley’s future is on hold while he continues to recover from offseason neck surgery. The Packers insist Finley remains in their plans, which is wise because it keeps the door open for a talented player’s return. It also gives the Packers the flexibility to watch the draft unfold before making a final decision on Finley.

In NFL news the rules changes dominated the headlines. Here’s a look:

  •  Teams will be penalized 15 yards if a player dunks over the goalpost. I think the tradeoff between losing the post-touchdown celebration, along with the risk of a player being injured on the attempt, is worth it. The good news for Packers fans is that the Lambeau Leap is still legal.
  • The uprights will be raised from 30 feet to 35 feet. The goal is to reduce the potential for missed calls on field goal attempts. The question is this: Why hasn’t someone created the technology to take the guesswork out of this. In fact, the technology also should be instituted along the goal line on questionable touchdowns.
  • A 15-yard penalty will be enforced if a player rolls up on the back or side of another player’s legs within the tackle box. This rule change is long overdue. After all, interior linemen are people, too.
  • The clock doesn’t stop on a sack except for the final two minutes of each half. Also, the officials can ask for help from officials in New York on in-game replays.

Of all the rules, the emphasis on enforcement of player conduct infractions is most interesting. Too often the rule creates new rules rather than simply enforcing the rules that are in place.

Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio ( Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.