As the Green Bay Packers welcomed a new group of draft picks Saturday, they also were apparently shopping a few veterans.
Only days removed from waiving injured linebacker D.J. Smith and running back Brandon Saine, the Packers reportedly began entertaining trade offers for linebacker Desmond Bishop and running back James Starks, according to NFL Network.
The shopping of the oft-injured Starks isn’t too much of a surprise after the Packers traded up to nab UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round (125th overall) Saturday and after taking Alabama’s Eddie Lacy in the second round (61st overall) Friday.
The more interesting name to pop up was Bishop, who missed the 2012 season after tearing his hamstring in the team’s preseason opener Aug. 9 against San Diego.
The Packers committed to Bishop as a starting inside linebacker at the start of the 2011 season when they signed him to a four-year, $19 million deal. He went on to lead the team with 115 tackles and added five sacks in that season.
It’s uncertain if the Packers are looking to clear cap room in the wake of Aaron Rodgers’ and Clay Matthews’ hefty extensions or simply find Bishop expendable after re-signing Brad Jones and restructuring A.J. Hawk’s contract this offseason.
Jones moved inside from outside linebacker during training camp before stepping in for Smith and finished with 77 tackles and two sacks in 16 games and 10 starts before receiving a three-year, $11.75-million extension after the season.
“I’d never comment on anything,” said Packers general manager Ted Thompson. “There are all kinds of conversations that go on with other teams and different people who do my job around the league leading up to draft time, and most of them wind up being nothing.”
Behind Jones, Hawk and Bishop is last year’s fifth-round pick Terrell Manning, re-signed veteran Robert Francois and converted outside linebacker Jamari Lattimore. Lattimore and Francois have been predominately used on special teams and combined for only eight defensive snaps last season.
With Lacy and Franklin in the fold, the Packers have five running backs on the roster with DuJuan Harris, Alex Green and Starks returning. The team brought veteran Cedric Benson to town for a checkup on his foot injury but didn’t sign him.
“I think we can all clearly be in agreement you can never have enough running backs,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s hard to get through a whole season because of the demands of the position. Just the way we like to play and obviously the way our offense is built around our quarterback and the utilization both in the backfield and out of the backfield, you can never have enough.”
McCarthy confirmed defensive lineman Johnny Jolly has been in Green Bay but is still working through some matters relating to his three-year suspension from the NFL for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Jolly, 30, was reinstated by the NFL in February after serving six months of a six-year term in jail for violating probation following multiple arrests for felony codeine possession. He was released last May and placed on shock probation for 10 years.
Jolly hasn’t played in the NFL since 2009 and has missed three full seasons. He’s scheduled to make $715,000 this season after having his salary reduced from $2.5 million, which was tolled from before his suspension.
“I had an opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with Johnny,” McCarthy said. “He’s been in and out of town. His process is not complete yet so he’s not here full time. Johnny’s off to a good start.”
Optimistic on injuries
The Packers remain optimistic about the prognosis of their three first-round picks who finished last season on injured reserve.
Although the Packers selected a pair of offensive linemen with their first two fourth-round picks Saturday, they’re still counting on 2010 first-round pick Bryan Bulaga and 2011 first-round selection Derek Sherrod, who missed all of last season after breaking his leg in two spots toward the end of his rookie year.
Sherrod, who has played in only five career games, underwent a second surgery after the season and remained at the team’s training facility throughout the offseason.
“I’m really counting on Derek Sherrod to be a factor,” McCarthy said. “He’s a different man since the second surgery after the season. So he’s making progress. I don’t have a timeline for you, but he’s definitely a lot better than he was during the season.”
The outlook for right tackle Bulaga and his season-ending hip injury also appears to be good, according to McCarthy. Like Sherrod, he’s remained in Green Bay throughout the offseason.
The team doesn’t have a timetable for last year’s first-round pick, outside linebacker Nick Perry, but McCarthy said he’s also close to returning from wrist surgery that ended his rookie season after six games.
The Packers will be counting on Perry after losing top reserve Erik Walden to Indianapolis shortly after the start of free agency.
Micah Hyde still has a special place in his heart for his freshman year at the University of Iowa and Mike Daniels’ role in it.
When the Packers drafted the Iowa cornerback in the fifth round Saturday, it reunited him with one of his favorite college teammates in Daniels, a second-year defensive tackle who was the Packers’ fourth-round pick a year ago.
Coming into his freshman year, Hyde stayed at the 6-foot, 294-pound defensive tackle’s house during a hot summer in Iowa City and memories ensued.
“Oh, Mike D, that’s my man,” Hyde said. “He was the big man on campus — well, he wasn’t the big man on campus yet, but he was a big guy and he would never turn the air conditioning on in the house. It was 95 degrees out and he would never turn on the AC.
“All the freshmen were downstairs just sweating, so yeah, I love Mike to death and can’t wait to give him a call.”
Hyde and Daniels weren’t the only teammates reunited Saturday as the Packers traded up to take UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round — two days after taking his Bruins teammate, defensive end Datone Jones, with their 26th overall pick.
During the draft, Franklin and Jones texted a little and even tossed around the idea of being teammates in the pros.
“I’m so excited to be up there with Datone. He’s a great player,” said Franklin, who also mentioned his aspirations to be the mayor of Los Angeles during his introductary conference call. “It all worked out. I will see him next week and when I do, I am sure we will go crazy.”
Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac indicated veteran defensive lineman Ryan Pickett returned for the team’s offseason conditioning program at the lightest he’s been during his seven years in Green Bay.
Following the retirement of Donald Driver and release of Charles Woodson, Pickett is the oldest member of the roster. He will turn 34 in October but is coming off perhaps his best year in a Packers uniform after registering 51 tackles in 16 games.
Pickett and fellow defensive tackle B.J. Raji will be unrestricted free agents after next season. Trgovac said Raji came into the offseason workouts around the same weight he finished last season.
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