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Four Observations Following the Pack’s 2-0 Start

I Guarantee It

Before leaving the Vikings until the Monday night re-match in Week 16, I happened upon an interesting factoid. Of the 60 spendiest current NFL player contracts, only one is 100% guaranteed. Guesses? The 11 biggest contracts all belong to quarterbacks, with Russell Wilson currently at the top with his 4-year $35M average.

Correct, Kirk Cousins has a three-year deal with Minnesota, averaging $28 million per year – currently the seventh highest such average in the league – and it’s all guaranteed. In other words, regardless of how the 31-year-old plays over this year and next, Minnesota is absolutely wedded to a guy who has started all 66 of his team’s games from 2015 through Sunday’s. In that time, he has only one post-season appearance to show for it: the Redskins’ loss to the Packers in 2015. In those 4+ years (mostly with Washington), Cousin’s win-loss-tie record is 24-24-2.

Aaron Jones - Packers vs Bears

Sep 5, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) rushes the ball against Chicago Bears inside linebacker Roquan Smith (58) during the second half at Soldier Field. Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Gutekunst Is on Top of Things – Partially

Who would have thought Green Bay would have lost three players, at the same inside linebacker position less than two weeks into the season: Oren Burks, then Curtis Bolton, and now Raven Greene. Fortunately, Gutey obtained B.J. Goodson via trade, rather than taking one of the many available free agents or waived players – who are invariably either inexperienced or aging.

Gutekunst wasted no time in acquiring Goodson, a 2016 fourth-round pick out of powerful Clemson. He’s started for most of two seasons for the Giants, and recorded 114 tackles. At 6’1” and 242 pounds, he’s a ferocious tackler, and is best suited to stop the run. I really don’t know why the Giants lost interest in him, but even if he’s not a long-term asset to his new team, the GM has rapidly plugged a hole with an NFL veteran.

Gutekunst also didn’t hesitate to trade away Trevor Davis, whose performance had simply peaked and stagnated in this his fourth year in the league.

The trade was made in conjunction with the acquisition of Tremon Smith, another all-purpose and special teams player who popped up on the waiver wire. The initial buzz is that Gutekunst intends to make him a key special teams player, but with that speed, he might also find other spot uses for him, either in the defensive backfield or occasionally in the offensive formation.

Previously, on September 12, Gutekunst announced his signing of guard Ben Bradon. After going undrafted in 2017 the huge (6’3” 329 pounds) ex-Michigan player had been released two days earlier by the Jets. Bradon is on the practice squad for now.

Until the conclusion of Week 3 of the regular season, waived players (with less than four years of service) become available to the other 31 NFL teams according to the draft position of each team, which is based on the previous season’s records. In recent years, close to 30 teams have dibs before a waived player becomes available to the Packers. This year, however, only 11 teams have to pass on a player before Green Bay is eligible to pick him up.

Gutekunst seems to fully realize he has a rare (hopefully) opportunity this season to have a crack at some tempting waived players. While Tre Smith might be his best prospect since the season has gotten underway, Gutekunst is also concerned about other weak areas of the roster.

Given the serious injury to Jace Sternberger and the ice-cold start for Jimmy Graham, the Packers have shown increasing interest in tight end Evan Baylis, who had been on the team’s practice squad for a short time in December 2018. After waiving him (August 31), they added him to the practice squad (September 1), and then moved him to the active roster on Thursday. Baylis played for the Oregon Ducks from 2013 through 2016.

Also on Thursday, the Packers signed wide receiver Keon Hatcher to the practice squad. Since going undrafted in 2017, Hatcher has been with the Lions, the Raiders (twice) and now the Packers (twice).

Gutekunst clearly recognizes the Packers are lacking in quality pass receivers (why didn’t he listen to me earlier?), but at least he’s diligently trying to take some stop-gap measures now.

Kudos to Shawn Mennenga and Tony Brown

The Packers probably average one blocked place kick or punt every three years, so it was great to see lightning-quick Tony Brown block an extra point attempt by the Vikings. The background story seems to be that Brown had been studying Vikings’ place kicker Dan Bailey, and told special teams coach Mennenda he thought he could make a block on him. He called it!

In just two games, under ST coordinator Shawn Mennenga, the special teams units have improved markedly across the board after a terrible year in 2018.

Our Underrated ILB

I nominate Blake Martinez as the most under-estimated player on the team, if not the league. What does he have to do to obtain All-Pro or at least pro bowl standing? Last year he finished second in the league with 144 tackles, and added 5 sacks and three passes defended as well. In 2017 he tied for first, again with 144 tackles, and he had a sack, eight passed defended, an interception, and a forced fumble.

Blake is off to another strong start this season, with 20 tackles (tied for seventh), including a sack and two tackles for a loss of yardage. Additionally, he’s also has had no injury issues since his rookie year.

Martinez was only ranked 17th last year among qualifying linebackers by Pro Football Focus. Regardless of whether he’s dominant enough to be All-Pro material, Blake is sound, steady, and versatile. I’d hate to think of where the Packers defense would be without him the last two years. In 2020, Blake will be up for a new contract.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.