Packers Won Big While Losing in Free Agency

On March 14, Steven Jackson signed with Atlanta rather than Green Bay. On March 15, Greg Jennings left the Packers to sign with the rival Vikings. As it turns out, those perhaps were the best days of the offseason for the Packers, other than landing Eddie Lacy in the second round.

On March 13, Packers Nation was brought out of its usual March hibernation with the news that the Green Bay Packers were in hot pursuit of Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson.

Sometimes, the best free-agent moves are the moves that aren't made.

Jackson, coming off eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the St. Louis Rams, hasn't even rushed for 100 yards this season with the Atlanta Falcons. He's played in just three games, having missed more than a month with an injured hamstring. He's rushed 25 times for 83 yards, just a 3.3-yard average. He carried 11 times for 6 yards on Sunday against Arizona and added merely 7 yards on three receptions.

It's funny how things work out.

Jackson signed a three-year contract worth $12 million with Atlanta, a deal that included a $3.5 million signing bonus. Combining Jackson with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez was supposed to put the Falcons in position to win the Super Bowl after reaching last year's NFC Championship Game.

Instead, the Falcons are a mess. They're 2-5, including 1-4 in their last five games — with the lone win coming against down-and-out Tampa Bay.

At age 30, Jackson's miserable season hardly is a shock. Hamstring injuries, of course, can happen to anyone. Ask Casey Hayward, who at the ripe old age of 24 missed the first six games of the season due to a hamstring injury sustained during his offseason training. Still, 30 tends to be the not-so-magical number for running backs and the tipping point between a stud and a dud.

Jackson's contract, while hardly a budget-buster, did nothing to help Atlanta's defense. The Falcons are 22nd in the league with 26.3 points allowed per game. Only Atlanta and Minnesota have given up at least 23 points in every game. During the offseason, the Falcons lost cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson as well as top pass rusher John Abraham. They rank 30th with 16 touchdown passes allowed, 25th with four interceptions and are 20th in sack rate at 7.14 percent.

From Green Bay's perspective, do the Packers spend a second-round pick on Eddie Lacy if they reel in Jackson? Only Ted Thompson knows the answer to that question, though it would have made little sense to have two running backs with roughly the same running style.

While Jackson's had no impact with the Falcons, Lacy's helped keep the Packers' injury-ravaged offense afloat. Even while missing one game and all but one carry of another with a concussion, he ranks 13th in the NFL with 446 rushing yards. While Jackson has 83 rushing yards for the season, Lacy has games of 82, 94, 99 and 120 yards.

"He's able to get yards after contact, which is always a measuring stick for good running backs," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said before Sunday night's game, in which Lacy outrushed Adrian Peterson. "He can make plays when the holes are not always there. He seems to be sound in blitz pickup, as well. He's not playing like a rookie. He's playing very well for them. Has a lot of talent."

Last season, Jackson ranked eighth in the league with 693 yards after contact, according to ProFootballFocus.com, including 2.7 per rush. This year, in limited duty, Jackson is averaging 1.5 yards after contact per rush. Lacy ranks 15th with 228 yards after contact and 20th with 2.0 per rush.

"He's a stud," quarterback Aaron Rodgers told Jason Wilde on his weekly radio show for ESPN Milwaukee last week. "He's a big-time player. He's a winner, he knows how to play the game, he finishes his runs, he's a tough kid, he's smart, he cares about it, he's got a great charisma about him, a great attitude around the locker room."

One day after Jackson signed with the Falcons, the Vikings signed Greg Jennings away from the Packers with a five-year, $45 million contract that included $17.8 million guaranteed.

Jennings caught one pass for 9 yards against Green Bay on Sunday night and has 25 catches for 336 yards and two touchdowns for the season. Jarrett Boykin, whose cap number of $480,000 is less than one-tenth Jennings' cap charge of $5 million, caught more passes with more yards against Cleveland (eight for 103) than anything accomplished by Jennings for the Vikings.

After averaging between 16.2 and 17.4 yards per reception from 2007 through 2010, Jennings has seen his average fall to 14.2 in 2011, 10.2 in 2012 and 13.4 in 2013. At age 30, he, too, looks like a player in decline, showing, again, that sometimes the best moves are the ones that aren't made.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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