By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Veteran outside linebacker, safety would strengthen Green Bay’s unit
GREEN BAY, Wis. – In the NFL, the only thing more difficult than defending a talented diva receiver is living with one.
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Antonio Brown is proof. In a way, so are the Packers, but not for the reasons many fans associate receivers with prima donnas.
Brown, the ex-Steelers’ receiver, claims he was unappreciated in Pittsburgh, where GM Kevin Colbert said (and I paraphrase) that it was Big Ben Roethlisberger and “52 kids” on the roster.
Brown, one of the NFL’s all-time greats, is hardly a “kid.”
Neither are the other 51 grown men whose profession is playing football. Colbert has since walked back the comment, but the attitude it reflects is one of disparate treatment and disrespect.
On the other hand, I doubt it’s a coincidence that Brown’s claim of a lack of respect synched up with his contract’s lack of guaranteed money. The fact is Brown was angry because he wanted to get paid and the Steelers weren’t writing the check.
His only recourse was to demand out.
That said Brown was an incredibly talented pain in the butt.
His skill enabled him to force a trade to the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders for third- and fifth-round draft picks. It’s a pittance for a player of Brown’s caliber. He has caught at least 100 passes in seven straight seasons. That streak is in jeopardy not because of any expected drop in Brown’s ability, but because Derek Carr and the Raiders’ offense has been lame.
Obviously, Brown will make it better, but how much better? It’s not enough to make the Raiders a Super Bowl contender. In fact, it begs the question: How much better would Brown have made the Packers had they traded third- and fifth-round picks for him?
That’s a tough one.
The Packers’ offense and Aaron Rodgers instantly would rank among the NFL’s most explosive units. How do defenses stop Brown, Davante Adams and whatever other weapons Packers’ first-year coach Matt LaFleur and Rodgers deploy?
Then again, the Packers’ defense is so substandard would it matter? Could the Packers’ offense score enough points to overcome the team’s other deficiencies?
Certainly not enough points to get to the Super Bowl.
It seems the Packers would be wise to invoke the old adage, “If you can’t sign them, stop them.” How do the Packers do that? They do it by signing a couple of defensive studs in free agency.
My preference would be Anthony Barr and Tashaun Gipson.
Barr, the ex-Vikings outside linebacker, was underutilized in Minnesota. He is an every-down linebacker, but wasn’t asked to “go ‘sic ‘em” very often. His sack totals suffered for it.
In Green Bay, he might feel liberated under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who’s been known to bring out the best in players.
Imagine a linebacker corps featuring Barr, Kyler Fackrell, Blake Martinez and two draft picks: One an edge rusher, the other an inside linebacker with sideline-to-sideline speed. I’m talking about the Packers using the 12th pick and either the 30th or 44th to make this happen.
A high-end tight end such as Iowa’s Noah Fant, who is a legitimate 4.40 40-yard dash athlete with excellent hands, would be an excellent pick sandwiched between the defenders.
That still leaves three “top 118” picks for two offensive linemen and whichever player is atop the Packers’ board at 118.
Let’s say the player taken at 118 is a starting-caliber safety.
The immediate question would be this: Who starts opposite the rookie? My advice would be for the Packers to sign free agent safety Tashaun Gipson and get ready for the opener.
Gipson, 28, was released by the Jaguars as a cap casualty last week. The former Pro Bowl safety has 20 career interceptions to with 399 tackles and two defensive scores.
The 5-foot-11, 212-pound safety was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Wyoming by the Cleveland Browns in 2012. He developed into a top safety there, where he played for Pettine in 2015. When Pettine was fired after the season, the Browns also chose not to re-sign Gipson, who didn’t stay unemployed long. Jacksonville swooped in and gave him a five-year, $36-million deal – the contract they voided last week.
It would be terrific to see a Pettine-Gipson reunion in Green Bay. Gipson’s knowledge of Pettine’s scheme could go a long way toward competency in the secondary.
Gipson and Barr would be a great one-two defensive punch.
It would give Green Bay a much better chance at thwarting opponent’s passing attacks. That brings me back to Antonio Brown’s trade to Oakland.
In Green Bay, the Packers’ receivers have been a blessing.
Packers’ fans and Green Bay receivers have been one of the longest-running love affairs in the NFL.
Donald Driver leapt into Packers’ fans hearts with his quick, easy smile off the field and fearless approach on it.
Driver, the team’s all-time leading receiver, didn’t allow it to be about him. It was about Brett Favre and then Aaron Rodgers and always the offensive line and coaches.
From Antonio Freeman to Jordy Nelson and all the great receivers in between, the Packers have been fortunate to have some of the finest people AND pass catchers in NFL history.
James Jones, Greg Jennings, Davante Adams … Robert Brooks, Don Beebe, Randall Cobb … there have been so many talented receivers who seldom, if ever, were viewed as prima donnas.
Sterling Sharpe had his moments, to be sure, most notably threatening to hold out on the eve of the 1994 season opener against Minnesota at Lambeau Field.
The Packers ended up re-structuring Sharpe’s deal, which suggests he had a point, and they defeated the eventual division-champion Vikings, 16-10, in the opener.
Oh, by the way, it was Sharpe’s 14-yard touchdown catch from Favre in the second quarter that gave Green Bay a 10-0 lead and set the stage for a 9-7 season and playoff berth.
Great receivers … whether you love them, hate them or both, you’ve got to have them, and the Packers have been fortunate.