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Week 12 Thanksgiving 10-pack

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We’ve moved the Friday 10-pack to Thursday, since posting it on Thursday puts the Thanksgiving games in play for our 10 takes regarding the coming weekend of games.

I also needed to get it done early because I’ll be spending Thursday night preparing to host The Dan Patrick Show on Friday, a process which may look a lot like achieving and maintaining a turkey-induced stupor.  Primarily because that’s precisely what it will be.

1.  At least the NFL tried to give us good games on Thanksgiving.

Every year, complaints arise regarding the quality of the games played on the fourth Thursday in November.  This year, the NFL did something about it.

Though the Lions continue to have a hammerlock on the early game, the NFL picked the Patriots to be the visiting team.  (Because CBS will televise the game, the road team had to be from the AFC; this year, the choices were the Jets and the Patriots.  Either way, a quality opponent would have been pegged for the game.)

For the afternoon contest, the NFL earmarked a game that, as of April, looked to be one of the 10 best of the year — Saints at Cowboys.  Though the Cowboys’ struggles have made the game less intriguing, the NFL opted not to take advantage of its captive audience by offering up the weakest home game on the Dallas schedule.  (Then again, the Lions already were booked.)

The night game — Bengals at Jets — also looked as of April to be a potentially great game, given that the Bengals and Jets both made the playoffs in 2009.  Who knew that the Bengals would be after 10 games The 2-Ocho Show?

Short of moving Thanksgiving to September, the risk that games that looked great in April will be relevant in November applies to every NFL season.  All we can ask is that the NFL attempt to provide quality games.

Even if the Lions and Cowboys would lose their automatic home games, there’s no way of knowing that the games picked prior to the season will involve quality teams by the time the games are played.  What if the Vikings had “earned” a home game on Thanksgiving as a result of their 2009 performance?  Or the 49ers, based on the widespread belief that they’d be much improved in 2010?

In April, every season is a crapshoot.  At least the NFL has finally decided to shoot for something other than crap on Thanksgiving.

2.  Favre could thrive under Frazier.

The decision of Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier to keep brett Favre at quarterback makes sense.  Frazier will earn the job for 2011 only by winning games, and Farve at quarterback gives Frazier the best chance to do that.

The Vikings don’t need to know what Tarvaris Jackson can do; he had relevance only when a change of quarterbacks may have belped salvage a playoff berth.  And Frazier has no interest in developing Joe Webb to become the possible starter for the next regime.

So what of the notion that Favre will continue to produce more turnovers than a baker on an IV full of Red Bull?  Without former coach Brad Childress peering over Favre’s shoulder and constantly telling him what to do and what not to do, it’s entirely possible that Favre will perform better.

Even though reeling off six in a row likely won’t be enough to edge out one of the three-loss teams currently in position to take both of the wild-card spots, a strong finish to the season would partially rehab Favre’s fading legacy — and it would give Frazier a fighter’s chance at keeping the job.  Having Childress out of the picture will make if easier for Favre to just relax and play.

3.  Delhomme’s revenge.

Earlier this year, the Carolina Panthers discarded quarterback Jake Delhomme like an empty bottle of screw-top wine.  And for good reason.  Ever since the completion of the 2008 regular season, Delhomme had been playing like a guy whose Gatorade had been spiked with a full bottle of screw-top wine.

On Sunday, Delhomme will get his first start since Week One, due to Colt McCoy’s ankle sprain.  Coincidentally, that start will come against the Carolina Panthers.

So the game will provide Delhomme with a shot at redemption, a chance to prove the Panthers wrong.

Then again, given that Delhomme received a contract worth $20 million guaranteed before the 2009 season, it’s the Panthers that should be thinking about revenge.

Either way, the link gives a sliver of meaning to an otherwise meaningless game.

4.  It’s getting no easier for Mike Vick.

If the Eagles and quarterback Mike Vick struggle at Soldier Field on Sunday, it’ll be easy to blame the Sports Illustrated jinx, given that he graces the magazine’s cover this week.  But we’re not much for jinxes, unless the person to be jinxed allows himself to think that the jinx exists.

For Vick, the bigger concern should be opposing defenses studying ever bit of tape from his performances to date, building on game plans that slowed him down and trying to devise the one tactic that will shut him down and/or knock him out.

Though the Bears present the latest challenge, a pair of games against the Cowboys, a rematch with the Giants, and a date with the Vikings remain.  With each passing week, defenses will be trying even harder to be the team that solves the Vick riddle, preferably by putting him back on the injury report.

Look for the Bears, mired in a seven-quality-teams-but-only-five-spots chase for the postseason, to pull out all the stops.

5.   Monday night loser could still be alive.

Thanksgiving weekend wraps up with a Monday night game between the 49ers and Cardinals.  It presents a rare stinker on ESPN’s 2010 slate.  But it’s not as bad as it appears, if we ignore the fact that each team has a record of 3-7.

If the 5-5 Seahawks lose on Sunday against the Chiefs, the loser of Monday night’s game will remain only two games out of first place with five games to play.

Sure, the loser will be a woeful 3-8.  But if we can get past that won-loss record, the reality is that the loser can still get hot in December and steal the division and reset its record to 0-0 in the single-elimination tournament that will commence with the NFC West champion hosting a playoff game.

6.  In Atlanta, home-field advantage possibly hangs in the balance.

The game of the week undoubtedly occurs in the Georgia Dome, where the red-hot Packers take on the red-hot Falcons.

Under quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons have won 18 games and lost only one at home.  Under quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have scored a total of 76 points in consecutive games against the Cowboys and Vikings.

The Packers are more than a good offense; their defense has allowed only 10 points in three games, including the pitching of a shutout of the Jets at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

With these two teams destined to play beyond January 2, this game will go a long way toward determining where the second game may occur.  And regardless of what happens this time around, the location of a January rematch will have a lot to do with its potential outcome.

7.  Keep an eye on Tom Brady’s foot.

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre has no qualms when it comes to talking about his injuries.  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is more apt to talk about his hair.

And so it’s impossible to know the exact diagnosis of and prognosis for Brady’s current foot injury, which caused him to miss practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and to be listed as questionable for Thursday’s game, a rare departure from his usual designation as probable.

Sporting a defensive line that could give the Patriots flashbacks to Super Bowl XLII and a Detroit team that is otherwise irrelevant in NFL circles, it’ll be interesting to see whether these Lions use their rare national spotlight as an occasion to roar, by pouncing on Brady’s bum foot.

8.  Colts are suddenly in trouble.

If the season ended today, the Colts’ season would be over.  And while they’ll play four of their final six games at home, the Colts face the prospect of missing the playoffs — and of winning fewer than 10 games — for the first time since Jim Mora refused to use the “P” word.

The slide very well could continue on Sunday night, when the surging Chargers come to town.  The Chargers have played the Colts well in recent years, providing Indy with a consistent thorn in their side.

And while both of the quarterbacks have had to overcome injuries to their supporting cast on offense, the Chargers are getting healthy a lot faster than the Colts.  And the Chargers will have receiver Vincent Jackson back, for the first time all year.

It could spell trouble once again for the Colts.  At 6-5, the Colts would have to make like the Chargers and finish strong in order to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

9.  Bucs get their chance to impress.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have handled every team they’ve faced, with the exception of the three elite franchises they’ve played — the Steelers, Saints, and Falcons.

This weekend, the Bucs draw the Ravens.  On the road.

On paper, this is another game that Tampa should lose.  If the Bucs find a way to win, it’ll be time to take this team seriously.

Actually, it’s already time to take this team seriously.  With upcoming games against the Redskins, Lions, and Seahawks, 10 wins could be in the offing.  With the Ravens, Falcons, and Saints also on the docket, victory in any one of those games will help the Bucs do the unthinkable — nailing down coach of the year honors for Raheem Morris, and possibly executive of the year recognition for Mark Dominik.  With a roster devoid of pricey veterans, the Bucs are one of the few teams that is playing like a true team.

10.  Chargers are following form, and will likely continue to do so.

After the Chargers lost five of their first seven games, we said (one or twice, or more often) that the team eventually would try to follow a slow start with a fast finish — and fail.

But the Chargers have shown that they can do it again, reeling off three wins and moving to within a game of first place in the AFC West.  And they’ll likely continue their climb to the playoffs.

Where they’ll likely lose in one of the first two rounds.

While, as mentioned above, they match up well with the Colts, the Chargers eventually would face the Patriots, Jets, Ravens, or Steelers.  And with five losses already in the standings, the Chargers will have to take their pass-first offense to an open-air stadium in the Northeast.  In the middle of January.

Moving forward, and as our friend Scott Caplan of XX 1090 in San Diego pointed out during our weekly Wednesday morning radio visit, the Chargers should redouble their efforts to figure out why they can’t win more games in September and October.  If they could emerge into November and December with a better record, they’d be able to force some of the other elite teams to San Diego in January.

Hey, at least the Chargers wouldn’t have to face a long flight home after losing.

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Shane Wynn shows off speed at Pro Day

Wynn Getty Images

Shunned from the Scouting Combine, Indiana receiver Shane Wynn made up for it on Monday.

The undersized wideout, who stands a mere five feet, six inches, ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.29 seconds, according to David Woods of the Indianapolis Star.

Pro Day workouts often occur on a track faster than the turf at the Scouting Combine, prompting scouts to adjust the time. Regardless, Wynn’s official time shows that he can move.

The question becomes whether he’s big enough to make it at the next level.  Trindon Holliday, who is an inch shorter and ran at 4.34-second 40 at the Combine in 2010, became an effective kick returner for a few years.

As a senior with the Hoosiers, Wynn caught 56 passes for 708 yards, scoring three touchdowns through the air.  He aded two rushing touchdowns and 138 yards.  He also returned 11 kickoffs for 244 yards (a 22.2-yard average per return) and 13 punts for 69 yards (a 5.3-yard average per return).

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Guard Dan Connolly visiting Buccaneers

Dan Connolly Getty Images

Veteran guard Dan Connolly is drawing interest from a handful of teams in free agency.

The former New England Patriots lineman is set to visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday, according to Ross Jones of FOXSports.com.

Connolly has also visited the Seattle Seahawks and continues to draw interest from the Patriots as well.

Connolly has started 67 games for New England over the past five seasons at both guard and center. If signed by Tampa Bay, Connolly would rejoin former Patriots lineman Logan Mankins.

 

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Jonathan Martin: I no longer think about the Dolphins bullying case

Jonathan Martin AP

Jonathan Martin may always be best known for leaving the Dolphins after he was bullied by teammates, but he says he no longer thinks about that.

“You know, honestly I haven’t given it much thought,” Martin said, via ESPN. “I’ve just been looking forward to each day. And now, getting here, I’m looking forward to being a member of the Panthers and to compete and play in this great game, and do whatever I can to help this team win.”

Asked about Richie Incognito and the situation in Miami, Martin said it’s behind him.

“That is a situation for the past,” Martin said. “I don’t think about it. I try not to catch the headlines, positive or negative. I’m focused on what I can do for my career moving forward.”

Martin, who was waived by the 49ers and claimed by the Panthers last week, said he’s expecting a much better experience in Carolina.

“I’ve only heard good things about the organization,” Martin said. “They’ve had success these past two years. There’s some things they want to do on the O-line, so it’s a good opportunity for me.”

It may be Martin’s last opportunity to show he can make it in the NFL. He wants all of his focus to be on the field.

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Rams agree to terms with center Tim Barnes

New Orleans Saints v St Louis Rams Getty Images

The St. Louis Rams have agreed to terms on a new deal with center Tim Barnes.

According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Barnes is expected to sign the one-year, $1 million deal with the Rams on Tuesday.

Barnes was not tendered as a restricted free agent by the Rams and allowed to hit the market. After a visit with the Kansas City Chiefs, Barnes elected to stay in St. Louis.

Barnes started four games in place of an injured Scott Wells at center at the end of the 2013 season. Barnes has appeared in 45 games for the Rams over the last three seasons while serving primarily on special teams.

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Falcons penalty doesn’t seem to provide much deterrence

Falcons Getty Images

The Falcons admittedly used artificial crowd noise throughout the 2013 season and into the 2014 season, until they were caught in November.  Ultimately, they were fined and stripped of a fifth-round pick in 2016.

The fine ($350,000) really isn’t all that much for a billion-dollar business.  The draft pick carries far more value, but since it was deferred until 2016 it’s roughly equivalent to a sixth-round pick in 2015.

Given that there’s a chance a team can use false crowd noise and manage to conceal their activities indefinitely, the punishment for getting caught doesn’t exactly operate as a major deterrent — especially since fake crowd noise can have a major benefit.

As former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker explained on Monday’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, crowd noise removes the advantage of knowing when the ball will be snapped, giving the blockers a split-second head start over the defensive players.  So the punishment doesn’t really seem to fit the crime, which could tempt others to commit the same crime.

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Heart attack preceded Armond Armstead’s retirement from Patriots

armondarmstead AP

The Patriots announced last summer that defensive lineman Armond Armstead was retiring at the age of 23, and Armstead has kept a low profile since then, never explaining what led him to walk away.

But now Armstead has confirmed in court papers that he suffered a heart attack in 2014, before announcing his retirement. The Sacramento Bee details that heart attack and other issues in a long story about Armstead’s lawsuit against USC. Armstead also had a heart attack in 2011, while he was a player at USC.

Armstead now believes his heart problems were caused by USC doctors giving him the painkiller Toradol. His lawsuit against the school will be closely watched throughout the football world, as hundreds of players in college football and the NFL have been given Toradol. Few players have had health problems as serious as multiple heart attacks before the age of 24, but several have expressed concerns about potential side effects.

Neither Armstead nor USC has commented publicly about the lawsuit.

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Technically, Brady’s cliff jump may violate his contract

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Unless the video was technologically enhanced, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady recently jumped off a cliff in Costa Rica.  Setting aside for now whether the national media would be reacting with a shrug if a quarterback perceived as being less committed to his craft were engaging in inherently risky behaviors, the conduct technically may violate Brady’s contract.

Paragraph 3 of the Standard Player Contract provides that the player cannot “engage in any activity other than football which may involve a significant risk of personal injury.”

No specific unsafe activities are listed in the standard player contract, but there’s some precedent.  In 2007, the Titans successfully kept cornerback Pacman Jones from taking up pro wrestling during his one-year suspension under the personal-conduct policy by flexing their legal muscles in court.  Likewise, Saints quarterback Drew Brees cited his contract during a 2014 marketing campaign for a three-wheeled motorcycle, the Can-Am Spyder.

“We knew the restrictions from the beginning, as did Can-Am,” Brees said at the time.  “Ultimately because I can’t ride it now doesn’t mean I won’t someday.  The first chance I have to ride it on a closed course, you can bet I’ll take advantage.”

If Brees really is prohibited from riding a motorcycle (and if it wasn’t just a marketing ploy), riding a motorcycle presumably is no more unsafe than jumping off a cliff.

Obviously, the Patriots won’t be doing anything about it.  But they’d surely prefer that Brady be a bit more careful with his body during those days of the year when large men in armor aren’t throwing themselves at his legs.

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Washington signs RB Michael Hill

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Michael Hill is back for a second stint with Washington.

Hill, a second-year tailback from Missouri Western, re-signed with Washington on Monday, according to the NFL’s personnel notice.

Hill (5-10, 210) was on Washington’s practice squad toward the end of last season. He was last with the Colts, who waived him in March.

The 25-year-old Hill has also played for San Diego (2013), Green Bay (2013, 2014) and Tampa Bay (2013-2014). Overall, he’s rushed for 23 yards on nine carries and caught two passes for 23 years in NFL regular season play, all in 2013 in stints with Green Bay and Tampa Bay.

Hill joins Silas Redd and exclusive-rights free agent Chris Thompson as reserve options behind starter Alfred Morris in Washington.

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Report: Miles Austin agrees to terms on deal with Eagles

Miles Austin Getty Images

A visit to Philadelphia this week has resulted in a contract between receiver Miles Austin and the Eagles.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the former Dallas Cowboys wideout is set to return to the NFC East after agreeing on a one-year, $2.3 million deal with the Eagles.

Austin spent last year with the Cleveland Browns after playing the first eight seasons of his career in Dallas. Austin caught 47 passes for 568 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games for Cleveland before landing on injured reserve with a kidney injury.

In his last fully healthy season, Austin caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns for the Cowboys in 2012. Austin has battled hamstring and kidney injuries the last two years.

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Doug Whaley: Marcell Dareus extension “priority No. 1″ after draft

Green Bay Packers v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Bills recently extended the contract of defensive tackle Kyle Williams and they have plans to make more tweaks to deals for their talented defensive linemen.

On the top of the docket is defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. The Bills exercised their fifth-year option on Dareus’s contract for the 2015 season, which leaves him set to make $8.06 million in the coming year, and General Manager Doug Whaley says that an extension that will keep Dareus in Buffalo even longer will be a focus for the team as the offseason continues.

“In the near future,” Whaley said of extension talks with Dareus, via the Buffalo News. “He will be priority No. 1 once the dust settles post-draft, maybe even before then, just to get the ball rolling.”

Whaley also said that the “most logical” way for the team to free up more cap room in the immediate future would be to restructure or extend defensive end Mario Williams in a similar way to the deal they struck with Kyle Williams.

“We want to set a precedent that we retain our own and we have them retire as Buffalo Bills. I think that’s a sentiment we’re trying to show the players on our roster now,” Whaley said. “Not only are we getting good players, but we’re retaining our good players as long as possible. And everybody wins. Mario gets a couple of more years, he’s going to retire a Buffalo Bill, and we get some cap relief.”

The two moves would continue a busy offseason in Buffalo as the team tries to put together a team that will end the playoff drought that started after the team’s Wild Card loss to the Titans in a 2000 game that remains memorable because of the Music City Miracle that ended it.

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Report: Packers, B.J. Raji agree to deal

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Packers coach Mike McCarthy said recently that the team’s top priority during free agency is to re-sign their own players and they’re practicing what they preach at defensive tackle.

A reports out of Green Bay Monday morning indicated that the team had reached a deal to retain defensive tackle Letroy Guion after Guion started 16 games for them last season. There was also word that they were working to re-sign B.J. Raji, whose biceps injury knocked him out for the season and opened the door for Guion to enter the starting lineup.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media now reports that Raji has agreed to the deal. Per Rapoport, it is a one-year pact worth “roughly $3.5 million” with incentives that can push the total value of the deal to $4 million. Raji signed a one-year, $4 million deal before last season.

That’s more than they were initially reported to be offering for Raji’s return and more than Guion is reportedly making under the terms of his deal, which would suggest he’ll get a shot to reclaim his starting spot. Whoever starts, the two moves shore up Green Bay’s depth up front and leaves the Pack on their stated plan to keep their team together.

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Colts, Irsay issue statements on Indiana law

Irsay Getty Images

Earlier today, the NBA and the Pacers addressed the controversial new Indiana law that potentially permits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under the guise of religious freedom.  Coincidentally (or otherwise), the NFL and the Colts have now done so, too.

“The Colts have always embraced inclusiveness, tolerance, and a diverse fan base,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said on Twitter. “We welcome ALL fans to Colts Nation.  ONE FAMILY!”

“Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” the NFL said in a statement.  “We are continuing to analyze the implications of the law.”

If that sounds familiar, it should.  It tracks the language of the statement issued last year as Arizona was considering the passage of a similar law.

“Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” the NFL said at the time.

While both the Colts and the NFL have made it clear that they oppose discrimination of any kind, neither the team nor the league have indicated whether and to what extent they’ll push back against the Indiana law.  With the Scouting Combine an annual fixture in Indianapolis and the city handling the Super Bowl so well that it could return, the Colts and the league have leverage to force the kind of change that will honor the concepts articulated above.

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Philip Wheeler visiting with 49ers

San Diego Chargers v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The 49ers’ search for inside linebacking help in the wake of the retirements of Chris Borland and Patrick Willis will include a visit with Philip Wheeler.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Wheeler is visiting with the team on Monday. Lance Briggs, Erin Henderson, Desmond Bishop and Mason Foster have also been on the radar, although Foster is now off the board after signing with the Bears.

Wheeler was released by the Dolphins along with several other veterans as they cleared out room under their salary cap earlier this month. He spent two years with the team after signing a five-year, $26 million contract before the 2013 season and failed to impress as a starter in 2013. Wheeler played in a reserve role for most of the 2014 season.

Whoever the 49ers wind up adding to the mix at inside linebacker will join Navorro Bowman and Michael Wilhoite in the mix for playing time in 2015. Given the resumes of the players up for consideration, it would be surprising if the team doesn’t address the position during the draft as well.

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Jameis Winston to work out for Titans after pro day

Jameis Winston, Al-Quadin Muhammad AP

The Buccaneers are expected to make Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston the first pick of the 2015 draft, but nothing has been set in stone at this point.

As a result, the Titans, who own the second overall selection, will be doing their due diligence when it comes to evaluating the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner.

General Manager Ruston Webster said during an appearance on The Midday 180 on 104.5 The Zone Monday that the team will put through Winston through his paces in a private workout after he goes through drills as part of his pro day on Tuesday. Webster, coach Ken Whisenhunt and other members of the offensive staff are expected to make the trip to see Winston.

Even if the chances of Winston being available with the second pick are infinitesimal, it is in the team’s best interests to know everything about him ahead of the draft. They’ve already worked out Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota as they potentially move toward picking a rookie quarterback to join Zach Mettenberger and Charlie Whitehurst on the team’s depth chart.

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Mike McCarthy: Packers’ approach to free agency is like Groundhog Day

Mike McCarthy AP

Much like Bill Murray in Punxsutawney, Packers coach Mike McCarthy feels like he keeps having the same conversations at the annual NFL meetings, over and over again.

McCarthy said that every year at the league meeting he gets asked why the Packers aren’t more active in free agency, and every year he says the same thing.

“We obviously have a philosophy,” McCarthy said, via TheMMQB.com. “It’s kind of like Groundhog Day. I feel like I answer this every year, so I’ll try to be creative and answer it differently this year. But it’s just the way we operate. We do the evaluations. We just stick to our plan. Our number one priority always has been to sign our own free agents. We go into every offseason—if we have 10 conversations, nine-and-a-half of them are about our own guys.”

All the Packers have done this year is sign their own guys: Green Bay is the only team in the NFL that hasn’t signed away a free agent from another team this offseason.

But that approach works well for the Packers, who have made the playoffs five years in a row. If you draft well, you can focus on re-signing your own players and not worry about breaking the bank to attract free agents from other teams. That’s what the Packers do, over and over again.

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