Time to Shine, Brian!

“It is time!”

Packer fans have heard that before. Kevin Greene pleading with Clay Matthews in Super Bowl 45 for him to step up and be leader when Charles Woodson went down with a shoulder injury.

“It is time!”

Perhaps Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst is hearing those immortal words as well. If he’s not, he should, because it is time for the Packers to knock it out of the park in free agency.

Gutekunst told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on his podcast that: “I think we’ll be really active, I’d like to be really active. The draft is how we build our team, but our team is ready to move in free agent areas more than we have.”

Gutekunst said similar things last year and the Packers, compared to other years, they were pretty active last year. Not just in signings, but Gutekunst was true to his word about being a part of every conversation. They were close to getting Khalil Mack that some Packers players went to bed thinking he was going to be on the team, only to wake up and see that the Bears swooped in. The Packers tried to get Kyle Fuller from those same Bears by signing him to an offer sheet. It was pretty evident the Bears would keep Fuller, but the Packers actually tried to do something in free agency.

But Gutekunst seems to be saying he wants, or they need, to do more this offseason. He’s putting the pressure squarely on himself by putting it out there in the media that the Packers will be active. You said it, now let’s see it.

It’s entirely possible that Gutekunst is constantly saying this in public as a PR move too. Since 2005 when Ted Thompson came aboard, the Packers were not big players in free agency. Agents knew it. Rival teams knew it. Players knew it. It’s a changing of the guard in Green Bay and Gutekunst is letting everyone know.

So what should his plan be? It’s anyone’s guess. But if I were the general manager of the Packers, this would be my game plan heading into free agency.

Get an Edge Rusher

Reports out of the NFL Combine said agents believed the Packers would invest heavily in a pass rusher and see what else was left in the budget. Good. It’s about time. Mike Pettine priorities pass defense and likes to put his corners in one-on-one situations. Help them out by getting a consistent rush.

The Packers should look to Za’Darius Smith from Baltimore. It sounds like he could get anywhere between $10-12 million a year. He’s coming off of a season where he had 45 tackles, 35 pressures, and 8.5 sacks. The Packers should have some good intel on him, as new Director of Football Operations Milt Hendrickson came over from Baltimore, where he was a longtime and highly respected national scout.

A nice bargain signing might be Shaquil Barrett from Denver. He kind of got lost in the shuffle after the Broncos drafted Bradley Chubb last year to pair with Von Miller. Barrett would be a nice depth addition.

Clay Matthews is a wild card. He’s not an every down pass rusher anymore, but he can still provide something for this defense either has a situational rusher or getting sometime as an inside linebacker. The Packers apparently met with his agent at the combine and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Packers asked Matthews to go see what the market value is for him and to come back to the Packers with those offers. I wouldn’t mind seeing him back on a good deal that won’t hamstring the Packers. No pun intended.

Get Secondary Help

Priority one for me in free agency for the Packers is safety. I believe the number position they need to upgrade is pass rush, but the fact that this free agency class is loaded with safeties, there is absolutely no reason the Packers shouldn’t be able to come out of free agency without a starting safety. Listening to Pettine last year talk about how vital the safety position is in his defense, it puts even more emphasis on grabbing one of these guys.

Landon Collins might get the biggest deal and he would be a nice fit. But he plays better towards the line of scrimmage and within the box. The Packers would need to pair him with a safety that excels in coverage. Maybe a low value signing like Jimmie Ward that has experience playing both safety and corner, the versatility Pettine loves.

Speaking of safety versatility, I would be very intrigued to see Tyrann Mathieu in this defense. He can play on the back end, blitz off the edge, and play the nickel. He’s a swiss army knife for a defense.

Earl Thomas could also be in play as Pettine was with the Seahawks for a year before he came to the Packers.

Speaking of the secondary, I would love to see the Packers bring back Bashaud Breeland. Having the corner depth chart be Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Josh Jackson, and Breeland would give the Packers a dynamic, playmaking group. But also, give them much needed depth as there is injury questions surrounding King.

Offensive Line Depth

The Packers could look to free agency to improve their depth along the line. Byron Bell might be an option to bring back, but they may also take a look at Quinton Spain, who was with Matt LaFleur last year with the Titans. The Packers could also look to Jamon Brown as they put in a waiver claim on him last November and was with LaFleur when they were with the Rams in 2017.

I think the Packers should stick with Bulaga this year, but also draft his replacement this year. The same strategy they had in place when they drafted Bulaga and he was the primary backup to Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. Bulaga ended up in the starting lineup and winning a Super Bowl after Tauscher went down with a knee injury.

That’s it. That’s my plan. We’ll see what the Packers decide to do, but I think Gutekunst has the same feeling as many Packers fans feel with this team and free agency.

It. Is. Time. 

MNF, Murray, Harper, and Bucks!

“Dun dun dun duuuuun….dun dun dun dun…”

That’s the best I can do typing out the Monday Night Football theme. Apologies.

ESPN is looking for a new MNF analyst. Again. Jason Witten is going back to football. It was evident that being a first time commentator and having it be on MNF was too much for Witten right away.  I honestly don’t think ESPN is THAT disappointed he’s leaving. They apparently were going to have him heavily involved in draft coverage to help him get confidence, but I think this move is best for both parties.

So who should ESPN get to replace him? MNF is losing its prestige. Its shine is wearing off. They have to get some better matchups, but also, some better talent in the booth. They have to hit it out of the park with this next hire.

ESPN….here’s my list. Use it. It’s your quick guide to fix MNF.

The Dream Pick

Peyton Manning

It ain’t happening, but ESPN should open up the bank for Manning. Manning was courted big time by all the networks in the last couple of years, but has turned down every offer. This past season, he did some media scouting stuff on quarterbacks, so maybe there is a very, very small chance he wants to get into broadcasting. But I see Manning wanting to run a franchise. Regardless, ESPN should be willing to offer everything humanly possible to land the biggest fish out there that would instantly skyrocket them up the ratings.

The Train Wreck But I’m Totally Here For It Pick.

Brett Favre

Favre apparently tried out for the MNF gig last year, but it didn’t go well. Big surprise, right? Favre would be horrible, but he would 100% be entertaining as hell. Whenever Favre says or does anything, everyone is drawn to it. It would be ugly and painful to hear his analysis at times, but dang it would be fun.

The Now You’re Just Giving Up Pick.

Jay Cutler

Please, please don’t let this pick happen. I don’t care if he tested well with FOX two years ago and had a gig before he went to the Dolphins. I don’t care he’s on his wife’s TV show. It’s Jay Cutler. That would be dull as hell.

The We’re Just Settling Pick

Booger McFarland

He’s not a bad analyst, but does he have the name draw for audiences? If anything, people know him more because of the “Booger Mobile”, which isn’t a good thing. If ESPN just wants to settle, this is the pick.

The Back Channel Finding Out Interest Pick

Tony Romo

I don’t know what Romo’s contract says about other networks talking to him or him talking to other networks. But if ESPN can talk to Romo, they would be foolish to not pick up the phone and talk to the hottest name in football announcing right now.

The Legit List

Here are my rankings of who I think they legitimately should target:

Greg Olsen

He’s my number one pick. Ron Rivera has said Olsen has told him he wants to play, but after two seasons of suffering injuries, would he entertain this offer? He has the experience and has done very well in his media roles. But will ESPN be skittish of trying to sway another tight end teetering with retiring or not?

Joe Thomas

Olsen is kind of a long shot, which would make Thomas my 1B choice. He would knock it out of the park. He’s got media experience, he’s smart, and has a sense of humor. ESPN needs to spice up its coverage again and while Thomas may not be a big flashy pick, viewers will instantly gravitate towards him if they haven’t watched or listened to his work before.

Kurt Warner

If you want an analyst that has a ton of TV experience and can breakdown everything about the game, Warner is your guy. He’s smart, polished, and respected. He may be a little dry, but when he talks football, you listen. And you learn.

Nate Burleson

He’s a rising star in the NFL media world. He’s got gigs on NFL Network on Good Morning Football and has done some color work on some games for them. He’s also on CBS as an in-studio analyst. He’s got a ton of experience and would be a solid choice.

Louis Riddick

If ESPN is looking for an in-house candidate, Riddick is clearly their best option. He’s smart, has played the game, and been in the front office. The only question concerning Riddick would be how long he would stay on the job. He has interviewed for a couple of GM openings in the past couple of years.

Moving on to the NFL Combine. The focus is of course on Kyler Murray.

Let’s stop the height and hand size talk. Real talk here. Murray can play IF he’s in the right system. If you’re a team that is interested in drafting Murray, don’t try to fit him into a certain system. Build the system AROUND him and put him in the best position to succeed.  Adapt to him.

If you’re the Cardinals and your new coach Kliff Kingsburry likes Murray that much, I think you have to seriously consider moving Rosen and going with Murray. I think Rosen is going to be a good quarterback in this league. But if the Cardinals believe Murray can run their offense better than Rosen, then they should seriously consider drafting Murray and moving Rosen for perhaps a later first round pick.

Moving to baseball, Bryce Harper finally signed with a team. 13 years, $330 million with the Phillies. No opt outs. No trade clause. Harper says he wants to stay in Philly for the long run and have other players follow him. That’s fine and great right now. But what if they’re not winning in a few seasons? What if the Cubs come calling? Would Harper really say no to playing with the Cubs, Red Sox, or Yankees, the three teams that were reportedly on the top of his list? Doubt it. It’s the right thing to say now, but I don’t totally believe him.

The Milwaukee Bucks may not be getting the most attention across the national landscape, but honestly I think the Bucks are good with that. Let the light shine on the Celtics and 76ers. Let the pressure be on those teams. I think the Bucks prefer it.

But what is the reason that maybe the national media isn’t paying all of their attention to the best team in the NBA? Market size is a reason. But I think a big reason why, is because the Bucks are winning in a way that you’re not supposed to in the NBA. They don’t have a famous “Big 3” or “Big 4” or “Big 5”. They have one, unselfish superstar player and some great role players surrounding him with a great, non-big name head coach. They don’t cause drama and they have a blue collar work ethic to them. They just get the job done, but in a way that isn’t flashy. National media doesn’t want that.

That’s what I have to say for this week!

Moose is Back, A.B. Drama, and Hulk Hogan?

Mike Moustakas, aka “The Moose”, is back with the Brew Crew. I love the move for both the now and future of this team. He obviously fits the clubhouse extremely well and is close with a lot of those guys. Having Moose back is a perfect fill gap for Keston Hiura and provides flexibility all around the infield. Aguilar and Thames struggling at first? Throw Moose over there and bring up Keston if he’s ready. The Brewers also didn’t have to commit long term to a free agent second basemen that was on the market. On paper, do the Brewers look to have the best offensive lineup in the NL? Time will tell. 

This whole Antonio Brown thing going on is…….something.  Should the Packers make a play for him? Let’s break it down:

There’s no question that Brown paired with Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers, and Aaron Jones would form quite the offense with the Packers. Bringing in Brown would add some more proven, veteran depth to the group. There is no denying any of that.

But the two big questions that are surrounding Brown are his personality and money.

He’s not helping his situation by some of the comments he’s been making. He needs to stay off social media, which is hard I get it, and stop criticizing his former teammates, regardless if it’s true or not. It’s not helping the Steelers find a trade partner. If anything, it’s giving teams some doubt whether they want to take him on. Teams don’t want a T.O type of personality in the social media age.

The money is the interesting part. Brown is scheduled to have a cap hit of $22 million this year, which is number one among wide receivers according to Spotrac. But, Brown also made a comment in his famous Instagram video about going to a team that has guaranteed money. Does that mean he’s looking for a new contract? How much would a team be willing to give him now? And if you’re the Packers, do you want to bring on a player that has a $22 million dollar cap hit that doesn’t play on the defense?  

Packer fans are going back and forth on this debate. If I were the GM, while the talent isn’t in question and the offense would certainly go up a notch, I would feel more comfortable using the cap space they have in finally building a defense and getting some depth at positions.

NFL Combine week starts next week. Get ready for 40 yard dash times and bench press numbers.

So apparently they’re making a Hulk Hogan movie? And Chris Hemsworth, the guy that played Thor, is playing the role of Hulk Hogan? Alright, I’ll admit it. I’m intrigued as all get out on this movie. I was a Hulk Hogan fan as a kid so the nostalgia alone will have me watching this movie. But who plays Andre the Giant? Macho Man Randy Savage?

Speaking of movies, Space Jam 2 is apparently really going to happen with LeBron. I already hate it.

February 2019 weather: You’re drunk. Go home.

Badger basketball in trouble?

What’s going on with the Wisconsin Badger men’s basketball team? Last year when they missed the tournament for the first time in what seemed forever, we had the excuses. Young inexperienced team and injuries to key contributors.

This season, there was hope. Optimism. Players were healthy, younger players got some experience, and it was Ethan Happs’ final season. There was no way this team was NOT going to make the tournament. And it looked that way to start the season. Wins against Oklahoma, NC State, and Iowa that helped propel the Badgers into the rankings.

Then came these last few weeks. Turnovers, missed free throws, slow starts have doomed the Badgers. They lost a game they had no business losing to in Minnesota at the Kohl Center. They lost to Purdue and Maryland in back-to-back games and now have Michigan coming up. Good chance they will be riding a three-game losing streak after this weekend.

Some fans are already calling for the dismissal of head coach Greg Gard. Are we at that point yet though?

I don’t understand what is going on with the Badgers during this rut and perhaps it is just a rut. They look to have athletes and solid players in that lineup. Brad Davison showed what he was made of last year,
D’Mitrik Trice started off this season on fire, and we know what Ethan Happ can do (and can’t for that matter.)

So the fact we know the Badgers have some ball players makes it all the more frustrating they’re at this point. But should we start pointing the finger to Gard?

There is still a lot of season left. Still a lot to be played out. A lot of things can happen. While some fans may want to see a new coach, I don’t see it happening after this year regardless of what happens. It may frustrate Badger fans, but I think Barry Alvarez would give Gard one more year if they don’t make the tournament this year.

But they still can make the tournament. Let’s concentrate on that right now instead of writing this team off already.

Top 5 Wisconsin Sports Stories in 2018

With 2018 coming to a close, here are my top 5 Wisconsin Sports Stories of 2018.

  1. The Milwaukee Brewers. Going to game 163 against the Cubs, winning the division, and getting to within one game of the World Series was an awesome year for the Brewers and their fans. Add in Christian Yelich being named the NL MVP and you easily have the best Wisconsin sports story this year.
  2. Mike McCarthy Fired. The writing may have been on the wall, but it’s still a big story that the Packers parted ways with their coach who had been with the team for 13 seasons and won them a Super Bowl.
  3. Giannis and the Bucks. The end of the 2018 season we saw the Bucks get to the playoffs, but lose in the first round. But the 2017-18 season we saw Giannis Antetokounmpo take a big leap in not only his play, but his popularity. The Bucks have started this 2018-19 season as one of the best teams in the league and Giannis is an MVP candidate.
  4. Badger Football Disappoints. There was a lot of hype and excitement for the Badger football team for the 2018 season and it didn’t even come close to preseason expectations. There was talk of the Badgers competing for the National Championship this year and the Badgers finished their season going 8-5 and finishing second in the west division of the Big Ten.
  5. Badger Basketball Tournament Run Ends. The Badger men’s basketball team had a run of 19 straight seasons getting into the NCAA tournament. That streak ended last season with a combination of a young roster and injuries to key players. So far, the start of the 2018-19 season looks like the Badgers will be back in the tournament in March.

Top 10 List of Packers Head Coaching Candidates

The Packers are now looking for a new head coach for the first time since 2006. Here is my top 10 list of candidates in no particular order:

Josh McDaniels – New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator

McDaniels is probably on the top of many lists. Yahoo! Sports is already reporting that some NFL assistants are already gearing up to possibly join his potential staff in Green Bay. Packers GM Brian Gutekunst and McDaniels already got to know each other during the 49ers coaching and GM search a couple of years ago. The Packers need to hire a coach that will command the respect from Aaron Rodgers. If McDaniels can command the respect of Rodgers good friend Tom Brady, shouldn’t Rodgers buy into McDaniels system?

Jim Harbaugh – Michigan Head Coach

Rob Demovsky is reporting that his source said Brian Gutekunst wants a “no non-sense guy” and that he has long admired Jim Harbaugh. Rodgers has long said he prefers his position coaches to be someone who has played the quarterback position. How about if his head coach played the quarterback position?

Lincoln Riley – Oklahoma Head Coach

He’s the hottest name in the college ranks that NFL teams with openings would love to talk to. The biggest question is, will he make the jump? And will teams be willing to wait until Oklahoma’s season is over with? His offense is drawing the attention of a lot of people, so of course people are intrigued with pairing Riley and Rodgers together.

Pat Fitzgerald – Northwestern Head Coach

It’s been rumored that the Northwestern coach would only make the jump to the NFL for one team: the Chicago Bears. But would he make the jump a little further north and join up with Mark Murphy, who hired him at Northwestern when Murphy was the Athletic Director? Murphy and Fitzgerald have an obvious connection, which makes him a candidate.

James Franklin – Penn State Head Coach

Franklin hasn’t been rumored with the Packers, but he has been attached to previous NFL openings. He’s had one coaching stint in the NFL during his career and that was as wide receivers coach with the Packers in 2005. His offenses at Penn State have been pretty solid, but would he want to leave his home state to jump to the pros? It’s worth a call.

Pete Carmichael – New Orleans Saints Offensive Coordinator

A lot of fans seem to like this pick. He’s the offensive coordinator of the dynamic New Orleans Saints offense. He’s been with Sean Payton for a long time now, but he doesn’t call plays for the Saints. Will that hurt his chances? A lot of Packers fans would like to emulate the Saints offense and hiring Carmichael would be the way to do it.

Vic Fangio – Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator

If the Packers decide to go defense, they should make a call to the Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. A lot of Packers fans, and even McCarthy, wanted Fangio as their defensive coordinator this season. And why not? He was impressive as defensive coordinator with the 49ers under Harbaugh and continues that with the Bears. It would also hurt their division rival prying him away.

Matt LaFleur – Tennessee Titans Offensive Coordinator

A lot of teams may be trying to find the next Sean McVay and this might be the guy. He was the Rams offensive coordinator last year and is currently the offensive coordinator for the Titans. He just turned 39 this year, so if the Packers elect to go with the young head coach approach and a guy that has worked with McVay in the past, this would be their best bet.

Eric Bieniemy – Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator

If you have been an offensive coordinator under Andy Reid, chances are you’re going to be getting interviews for a head coaching job. Bieniemy has been attached to possible head coaching jobs even before he was Reid’s offensive coordinator. If the Packers want to pick from the Reid coaching tree, it’s worth taking a look at his latest offensive coordinator, especially with the way the Chiefs offense has been playing this year.

Bruce Arians – Retired

Would Arians consider coming out of retirement for the Packers? How much does he have left in the tank? That’s probably the biggest question that needs to be answered. Arians has proven to be a good head coach and play caller and if the Packers want an instant turnaround on offense, Arians might be their best bet. But he won’t be around for the long haul. And do they want a coach that was out of the league this year? It’s still worth an interview.

Just missed the cut: John Defilippo – Minnesota Vikings Offensive Coordinator

His stock was extremely high at the start of the season, but it has come down a lot as of late. Mike Zimmer kind of calling him out in the media hasn’t helped much and Vikings fans would like to see them run the ball more. Run the ball more, does that sound familiar Packers fans? Defilippo will still get some head coaching interviews, but with the complaints from Vikings fans about Defilippo sounding an awful lot like the complaints against McCarthy, do Packers fans want Defilippo?

Change the message and plan. Or move on.

If I have one piece of advice for Mike McCarthy, it might be to avoid social media these days. It’s a dangerous world out there. A lot of fans, and now national media members, are calling for his job.

A lot of Packers fans would like to see McCarthy gone because of the Packers inability to win more games. Some would look at the lack of creativity or the unwillingness to change up the playbook. Some would point to what seems a lack of enthusiasm, discipline, and game management. The list goes on.

If the Packers decide to move on from their coach since 2006, I’m going to throw one more reason out there: Aaron Rodgers.

Not because Rodgers looks annoyed. It’s not because Rodgers should tell management they should make a change. And no, Aaron is NOT throwing games to get McCarthy fired. Anybody who thinks that is ridiculous.

The Packers may need to bring in a coach that can kind of rein Aaron Rodgers back in.

I don’t know if Rodgers isn’t buying into the system anymore. I don’t know if a lot of his frustration on the field is directed at the play calls, his teammates, or his own play. In all honesty, it might be a little bit of all that.

But Rodgers isn’t playing to the all-world level that we have been used to from him. If you look at his stats, yeah they look pretty dang good. One interception?! But the Packers are built to go only as far as Rodgers can lead them. That’s why you pay him all that money.

But watch the games and don’t box score scout. Rodgers is one of the leaders in throwaways, which is even more frustrating at times because he takes a lot of unnecessary sacks. His completion percentage is down. He’s missing open guys and still looks like he doesn’t trust a lot of guys at times, outside of Davante Adams.

But what was extremely evident in Thursday’s loss was Rodgers, for whatever reasons, not hitting the check downs to Aaron Jones and taking big sacks on third downs. We’ve seen the still frames and the pictures on social media. You know what I’m talking about.

So why is he doing that? My theory: Rodgers is still looking for the big play down the field. The big plays down the field we saw in the first half of the game against the Seahawks that looked vintage Rodgers. We all took to social media after that throw to Robert Tonyan and said, “Yup, that’s Aaron being Aaron.” And Rodgers succeeded in extending that play that allowed them to score that big touchdown.

But Rodgers is approaching 35 years old and he has a banged up knee. Consistently, Rodgers won’t be able to win all the time by using his legs, moving the pocket, and making big play after big play by extending the play. Playing backyard football if you want to call it that.

I think we saw some of that inability last night and we’ve seen some of that inability throughout the season. At some point, Rodgers has to realize that he doesn’t have the same maneuverability as he once did. He has to take what the defense gives him at times, like checking it down.

And whoever the next coach is, whether it’s still McCarthy or someone else, that coach has to tell him that. Not only tell him that, but game plan for it. Use shorter routes. Don’t always rely on slow, big developing plays to win on offense. You can still have those plays. You still NEED those plays. But the Packers cannot make that a priority on their offense anymore with an aging quarterback. Don’t give Rodgers that option all the time. Rein the offense in a bit.

Now 35 years old doesn’t mean Rodgers is over the hill. He’s not done. Not even close to being done. Look no further than Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Two high caliber quarterbacks still getting it down, without being as mobile, and not afraid to take the check downs and taking what the defense gives them. They have adapted as they have gotten older. Rodgers has to, no, MUST, do the same.

If McCarthy refuses to do that or his message doesn’t get through Rodgers, than that’s extremely concerning. And that to me, is the big reason it may be time for a change. McCarthy did that for Brett Favre. If he can’t do that for Rodgers or Rodgers doesn’t listen to him, how can McCarthy still be his coach and playcaller?

To sum it up: Rodgers is playing good, but not great. And the Packers need great Rodgers. It’s up to the head coach and playcaller to help Rodgers. Coach him. Adjust play calls to help him. Adjust to the older Rodgers. If Rodgers is checked out or has no interest in that, it’s time to move on and bring in a new voice. I don’t like calling for peoples jobs, but this may be a break that both sides need.

And run the ball more.