The Neighborhood: What decisions should the Packers make in free agency?

GREEN BAY, Wis. — I’ll begin by admitting I’m not an expert on the salary cap, and I don’t have a direct line to Ted Thompson’s office. But with about $42 million in cap space heading into the offseason, here are some of the options the Green Bay Packers are faced with, along with my predictions of how they’ll handle them. My predictions are only for those positions in which Green Bay also has options in free agency.

Center

Incumbent: J.C. Tretter has just finished up his four-year, $2.6 million contract and is an unrestricted free agent. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the 13th-best center in the league based on this past season’s performance, despite missing the last half of the season with a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL). That’s nothing new for the Cornell product, but it’ll cost him when it comes to contract negotiations.

Options: A.Q. Shipley | Arizona Cardinals, Joe Hawley | Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brian Schwenke | Tennessee Titans, John Sullivan | Washington Redskins

Prediction: With Corey Linsley as the only other experienced center on the roster and Tretter the best available, he’ll likely come back on a one-year contract.

Guard

Incumbents: T.J. Lang ranked as the No. 6 right guard in the regular season, according to Pro Football Focus, and has expressed his willingness to return to Green Bay at age 30. Don Barclay suffered a shoulder injury in November and was replaced by rookie Jason Spriggs, who showed promise for the future protection of the Green Bay backfield.

Options: Kevin Zeitler | Cincinnati Bengals, Ronald Leary | Dallas Cowboys, Larry Warford | Detroit Lions, Luke Joeckel | Jacksonville Jaguars

Prediction: I see this as a position the Packers only address in the draft, so the only move here is to re-sign Lang to a multi-year deal, while potentially cutting Barclay loose. With the promise of Spriggs and the frugal nature of Thompson, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Barclay released.

Tight End

Incumbent: Jared Cook came over from the St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams on a one-year, $2.75 million contract, and despite missing six games with a high ankle sprain, he performed admirably and became a keystone to their success entering the postseason. He averaged 55 yards and four catches per game over the last 10 games (including playoffs).

Options: Martellus Bennett | New England Patriots, Jack Doyle | Indianapolis Colts, Vernon Davis | Washington Redskins, Jacob Tamme | Atlanta Falcons

Prediction: After earning a Super Bowl ring with New England and making it clear he wants to get paid, Packer fans dreaming of a Bennett-to-Green-Bay scenario can forget about it. At 29 years old, Cook is productive enough to warrant a two-year deal to remain in Titletown.

Running Back

Incumbents: Neither Eddie Lacy, nor Christine Michael were dominant forces in the backfield for the Packers, but because of that, Green Bay can cash in when it comes to negotiations. Lacy logged just 360 yards and no touchdowns before an ankle injury sidelined him for the season. Michael was seldom-used, logging 114 yards on 31 carries in Green Bay.

Options: Le’Veon Bell | Pittsburgh Steelers, LeGarrette Blount | New England Patriots, Latavius Murray | Oakland Raiders, Danny Woodhead | San Diego Chargers

Prediction: Thompson doesn’t like to go with what he doesn’t know, so I don’t see him contacting any of the above options (Bell will re-sign with the Steelers anyway). It’s already being reported that Lacy is likely coming back on a one-year deal worth about $2 million. And with Ty Montgomery looking like a more sure bet, Michael will try to find work elsewhere.

Outside Linebacker

Incumbents: Nick Perry finally had a breakout year, posting 11 sacks, 35 solo tackles, and 17 assisted tackles. Julius Peppers‘ numbers weren’t as great, but he was still effective at 7.5 sacks, 15 solo tackles, and eight assisted tackles.

Options: Chandler Jones | Arizona Cardinals, Melvin Ingram | San Diego Chargers, Malcolm Smith | Oakland Raiders, Barkevious Mingo | New England Patriots

Prediction: While it’s been a nice ride for 37-year-old Peppers, he’ll likely hit the free market and end his career with his first team | the Carolina Panthers. After finally seeing one of “his guys” break out, Thompson will re-sign Perry to a three-year contract and probably overpay. Don’t be surprised if the Packers tease us with a nibble in free agency on an OLB.

Safety

Incumbent: It was a career year for Micah Hyde, matching his personal-best three interception mark on the season. That’s despite making a switch to slot cornerback due to injuries in the Green Bay secondary.

Options: Eric Berry | Kansas City Chiefs, Tony Jefferson | Arizona Cardinals, Barry Church | Dallas Cowboys, Johnathan Cyprien | Jacksonville Jaguars, Quintin Demps | Houston Texans

Prediction: Hyde had a relatively team-friendly contract of four years, $2.3 million, and after earning the performance-based escalator last season, I don’t see why that changes. He’ll earn a three-year deal with the Pack. Plot twist: Thompson nabs one of the above options at safety, but it’ll be a player we know little about.

While cornerback was largely ignored in this post due to the fact that Green Bay doesn’t have any on expiring contract, I’d expect that to be the area where the Packers find a piece in free agency. The best players available are A.J. Bouye (Houston Texans), Trumaine Johnson (Los Angeles Rams), Stephon Gilmore (Buffalo Bills), Morris Claiborne (Dallas Cowboys), and Captain Munnerlyn (Minnesota Vikings).

Cashing in on College Athletics

MADISON, Wis — In March of 2014, sports attorney Jeffrey Kessler filed an antitrust claim against the NCAA arguing that their current model of limiting compensation for student athletes at the cost of a scholarship is against the law.

The point of this lawsuit is not to provide an alternative for the NCAA or to receive damages, but to end its practice of unfair labor and allow players to be offered more. That opens up the door for the NCAA and the Division I football and basketball programs to decide how they want to compensate the players, but because Kessler isn’t seeking damages, the NCAA will likely have to face the lawsuit head-on.

University of Wisconsin athletes Nigel Hayes and Alec James are named as plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit and hope to bring change to the NCAA model. Sports attorney Jeff Katz of Patterson Law Firm in Chicago is one of a handful of subjects in the report to predict a bleak forecast for the outcome of Kessler’s litigation. Hear from Kessler, Katz, and former Wisconsin athletes Matt Bernstein, Reggie Torian, and Brandon Williams by clicking the link to the audio below.

Introduction

 

The Players

 

The Lawyers

 

Conclusion

 

You can also hear the report in its entirety on air Monday at 6 p.m., Tuesday at 5 p.m., Wednesday at 7 p.m., and Thursday at 7 a.m.

The next investigative report will focus on the effects of marijuana on athletes before, during, and after competition. Have a news tip? Email Eric.Rogers@MadCitySportsZone.com

The Neighborhood: “Nigel Hayes, please stop talking”

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes has been in the headlines in recent weeks not only for being named the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, but for pushing the NCAA to pay its athletes.

On Sunday morning, Eric Rogers and Mike Becker took time on “The Neighborhood” to put Hayes in his place. Is Hayes in a position to beg for money? Listen below:

 

Tune in every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on 106.7 FM / 1670 AM The Zone.

The Neighborhood: Bucks can’t backdoor Antetokounmpo

The Milwaukee Bucks signed Giannis Antetokounmpo to a four-year, $100 million contract extension on Tuesday afternoon, locking up a key member of the franchise through the 2020-21 season. Antetokounmpo’s deal puts the Bucks in a great position because the Greek Freak took about $6 million less than a max contract to give Milwaukee room to operate when it comes to future roster moves.

But will Antetokounmpo be rewarded for his generosity or will the Bucks take advantage when it comes to his next deal?

Antetokounmpo has been one of the most vocal supporters of the city of Milwaukee and didn’t ask for an additional fifth year on the contract due to the potential of a fluctuating salary cap after the 2017 collective bargaining agreement is reached. A fifth year could have bound Milwaukee into a bad financial situation should the salary cap drop below the Bucks’ expectations. The deal also includes to player option for that fourth year, keeping Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee for the full length of the deal.

There are some instances of instability in the Bucks’ organization, however, that should keep Antetokounmpo’s head on a swivel.

Last season, the Bucks went a disappointing 33-49 and missed the postseason even after adding free agent gem Greg Monroe. It took until after the All-Star break for head coach Jason Kidd to move Antetokounmpo to point guard, which provided almost instant success for the 21-year-old phenom. Antetokounmpo finished with an average of 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. He also became the youngest Bucks player to record a triple double, logging 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in a Feb. 22 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

There was also the security breach from this past May, in which several Milwaukee Bucks players had their financial information stolen, including social security numbers, addresses, compensation, and more. An email scam compromised their security, which is cause for concern when thinking long term about what that means for Antetokounmpo.

I’m not saying the Bucks have it out for Antetokounmpo or any other player, but let’s hope the young Greece native isn’t naïve to some of the corruption that happens in major and professional sports in the United States. If Milwaukee wants to have future chances at greatness and win a championship for the first time since 1971, they’ll make good on their debt of gratitude to Antetokounmpo and lead him to the top of the NBA mountain.

The Neighborhood: Packers 2015 struggles have carried into 2016

Many were willing to write off the Packers’ week one offensive struggles as a fluke, getting past an improving Jaguars team on the road. Upon closer inspection though, some of the things that plagued Green Bay’s offense in a disappointing 2015 season have carried over to 2016.

The return of receiver Jordy Nelson looked like it would be a cure-all for what ailed Green Bay in 2015, but the numbers for Aaron Rodgers have actually gotten worse. His completion percentage went from 60.7 to 57.1 and the yardage per game has dropped from 218.9 to 189.5. While not significant differences, an indication of Rodgers’ inconsistencies can be summed up by his passer rating. Based on a maximum score of 158.3, Rodgers has now gone 14 straight games without eclipsing the 100-point mark, dating to last season. His previous longest streak was four games (three times).

But not all of the offensive woes can be pointed at Rodgers. After management decided to release three-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton, the offensive line hasn’t been able to keep Rodgers upright. He’s been sacked six times this season, tied with the Browns for the fourth-most in the NFL. The inability to convert talent on the field into yardage and points is highlighted when comparing against other NFL teams. Green Bay ranks 28th in total yardage and 30th in total passing yardage.

Whether it’s a rift in the locker room or something happening in their personal lives, the Packers can’t seem to get clicking on offense. If they can’t figure out their issues, fans will look back on this era as a waste of great talent. During the Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers era, Green Bay has just two Super Bowl rings to show for it.

LISTEN: Jake Zimmermann previews Packers and Vikings from Minn.

MINNEAPOLIS — Wisconsin Sports Zone Network sports director Jake Zimmermann called into “The Neighborhood” Sunday morning to preview the Packers and Vikings game, as well as to give his thoughts on who should be Wisconsin’s starting quarterback next week when they open Big Ten play against Michigan State.

Hear Jake’s interview with host Eric Rogers below:

 

You can catch more of Jake’s thoughts on Badger football on “The Wisconsin Football Roundtable” every Friday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Feigin: naming rights for Bucks arena down to 6-7 prospects

LAS VEGAS — Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin revealed on Sunday that the naming rights for the new arena were down to six or seven legitimate prospects.

Feigin joined Eric Rogers on “The Neighborhood” in an exclusive Zone interview to discuss everything from free agency moves to seating arrangements for the new arena coming to downtown Milwaukee. The current name in place for the arena and entertainment district is the “Wisconsin Sports and Entertainment Center.” Feigin says that’s simply a placeholder which will be replaced once a deal is reached.

The difference between this arena deal and ones around the league is that the Bucks will be selling naming rights to the entire entertainment district as part of the $1 billion-plus project.

Feigin noted that three large Wisconsin-based companies were in contention for naming rights to the arena and entertainment district. While Feigin couldn’t release the names of those companies, a Milwaukee Business Journal article from Jan. 2015 shows the largest companies within the state.

  1. Johnson Controls, Inc. — $42.83 billion in revenue
  2. ManpowerGroup — $20.76 billion in revenue
  3. Kohl’s Corp. — $19.02 billion in revenue
  4. Oshkosh Corp. — $6.81 billion in revenue
  5. Rockwell Automation Inc. — $6.62 billion in revenue

No timetable was given for when naming rights would be sold