Packers face dilemma with Richardson
The Green Bay Packers pledged that their special teams would look drastically different next year, and so far their offseason actions have backed that up.
The transformation started when Packers coach Mike McCarthy fired special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum in January, promoted Ron Zook to take Slocum's place and inserted himself in the room as an extra assistant.
Predictably, personnel has undergone a makeover. Six of the 11 non-specialists who played the most special-teams snaps are gone. Brad Jones, Kevin Dorsey and Brandon Bostick were released. DuJuan Harris and Jarrett Boykin were non-tendered. Davon House and Jamari Lattimore split during unrestricted free agency.
The one special-teamer the Packers showed genuine interest in retaining, restricted free-agent Sean Richardson, also could be heading out if the team doesn't match the offer sheet he signed with the Oakland Raiders on Tuesday.
Richardson, a reserve safety, was mostly an afterthought a month ago when the Packers tendered him a low contract worth $1.54 million for 2015. It was assumed he'd eventually sign the contract and take his place in the Packers' rebuild after they finished last in the Dallas Morning News' annual special-teams rankings last season.
However, former Packers personnel executive Reggie McKenzie threw a curve ball when he offered Richardson a one-year, $2.55 million contract to come to Oakland. In turn, he presented his former boss, Packers general manager Ted Thompson, with an interesting dilemma.
The Packers believed in Richardson enough to extend a right-of-first-refusal tender, but are they willing to tack on another million to sweeten the deal? He'd carry the 14th-highest number toward next year's cap.
Common sense says Thompson probably won't budge. He already determined Richardson wasn't worth the second-round tender ($2.356 million) that would've assured his return.
Still, Thompson could change his mind. A year ago, all signs pointed to the Packers non-tendering Lattimore and attempting to re-sign him at a lower cost. Thompson submitted a low tender at the 11th hour out of fear he might lose the inside linebacker on the open market.
It's not easy to put a price on the value of special teams. Unlike the other two phases, one well-equipped player can't save a sinking unit. They must have upside at their natural position like the Packers felt Lattimore had at inside linebacker to validate a swollen paycheck.
Cornerback Jarrett Bush, who's currently unsigned, was in a similar predicament as a restricted free agent in 2010 when he signed a three-year, $4.5 million offer sheet from the Tennessee Titans, which the Packers then matched.
The move made sense because it gave the Packers a versatile reserve in the secondary and a special-teams stalwart. All it cost was bumping up their $1.01 million tender another $500,000 for the next three seasons.
Barring a rash of injuries, it could be difficult for Richardson to get on the field at safety next year. Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are the uncontested starters. Micah Hyde has become a fixture as a slot cornerback, but is ahead of Richardson as the top reserve at safety.
The Packers like Richardson's hybrid makeup, but he still hasn't escaped questions about his ability to play center field. On special teams, he possesses prototypical size at 6-foot-2, 218 pounds. Last season, he led the unit with 361 snaps and 17 coverage tackles, according to the coaches' statistics.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers even inserted a Big Okie package to get Richardson on the field in short down-and-distance situations, replacing one of the team's cornerbacks. He still averaged only about 10 defensive snaps per game.
The Packers had good reason to make the moves they have made this offseason. You could argue that Bostick, Boykin and Harris should have been supplanted long before the playoffs started with rookies Justin Perillo, Demetri Goodson and Jeff Janis.
The mass exodus could be a part of the Packers' plan. After all, McCarthy said at the NFL scouting combine in February that he anticipates playing even more starters on special teams.
"I think we need to adjust our special-teams philosophy," McCarthy said. "I know what it was here the last 20 years, but we had starters play more on special teams this year than we had in the past, and that will continue to increase. Special teams needs to be an asset, not something that we use as a stepping stone offense or defense. That's part of the charge."
However, McCarthy is quick to point out that they still need reserves who play with energy. If Richardson leaves and Bush isn't re-signed, that's another 720 special-team snaps leaving a room that's already shed nearly 1,200 this offseason. Bodies are needed. Someone will have to step up.
Outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott, who made the team as an undrafted rookie, played the most special-teams reps (223) of anyone currently under contract. The former Toledo standout was a pleasant surprise considering he never played on special teams in college.
Other than Elliott, the rest are players who are expected to have significant roles on defense: Hyde (207), Josh Boyd (170), Burnett (129), Sam Barrington (126), Casey Hayward (145) and Clinton-Dix (113).
The Packers hope to make up the difference with the return of players such as Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer and Jared Abbrederis from injury. There's also optimism "redshirt" rookies like Janis, Goodson and inside linebacker Carl Bradford could provide a lift.
The Packers have made a lot of changes, but is improvement on special teams as simple as subtraction? Green Bay will find out this summer, especially if Richardson departs for the Bay Area in the coming days.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod
SPECIAL TEAMS SNAPS
Jayrone Elliott: 223 snaps (43.4 percent)
Micah Hyde: 207 (40.3 percent)
Josh Boyd: 170 (33.1 percent)
Morgan Burnett: 129 (25.1 percent)
Sam Barrington: 126 (24.5 percent)
Casey Hayward: 125 (24.3 percent)
Lane Taylor: 124 (24.1 percent)
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: 113 (22.0 percent)
Andrew Quarless: 110 (21.4 percent)
Mike Pennel: 81 (18.0 percent)
Demetri Goodson: 75 (16.7 percent)
Nick Perry: 74 (16.5 percent)
*Sean Richardson: 361 (70.2 percent)
Jarrett Bush: 359 (69.8 percent)
John Kuhn: 104 (20.2 percent)
Brad Jones: 289 (56.2 percent)
Brandon Bostick: 241 (46.9 percent)
Jarrett Boykin: 194 (37.7 percent)
Davon House: 191 (37.2 percent)
Jamari Lattimore: 135 (26.3 percent)
DuJuan Harris: 134 (26.1 percent)
Kevin Dorsey: 53 (11.8 percent)
*Offer sheet executed (OAK)