When the music stopped on the game of right guard musical chairs, here’s where the players landed:
Larry Warford went from Detroit to New Orleans with a four-year, $34 million contract that included $17 million guaranteed.
T.J. Lang went from Green Bay to Detroit with a three-year, $28.5 million contract that included $19 million guaranteed.
Jahri Evans went from New Orleans to Green Bay with a one-year, $2.25 million contract that included a meager $200,000 signing bonus.
Who got the best player? That remains to be seen. But it’s pretty clear who got the best deal. That would be the Packers, so long as the 33-year-old Evans’ level of play doesn’t suddenly plunge.
The Packers are banking on that not happening.
“When you turn on the tape and you see what he did last year and you see what he’s doing here now, he’s got fresh legs and he’s ready to roll,” offensive line coach James Campen said.
Evans, a six-time Pro Bowler who will turn 34 on Aug. 22, didn’t look like a player on his last legs with the Saints last year. In his 11th season, Evans gave up two sacks and a total of 26 pressures in 688 pass-protecting snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Out of 61 guards who played at least 350 pass-blocking snaps, Evans ranked 13th in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency metric. Lang, by contrast, ranked fourth.
Evans wasn’t a pushover in the run game, either. According to league data, the Saints averaged 5.39 yards per carry on plays directly behind Evans — the third-best average in the league. Green Bay averaged a 16th-ranked 3.64 yards per carry on runs directly behind right guard (a figure that includes the games in which Lang was sidelined).
“I played for the No. 1 offense last year,” said Evans, who started all 16 games nine times in his previous 11 seasons. “Threw the ball the most, we averaged 4.6 on the ground, Mark (Ingram) had 5.1 (per carry) and was a 1,000-yard rusher. Y’all know the stats better than me if you’re looking at them.”
Despite a strong season, Evans saw the writing on the wall as he became a free agent for the first time in his career. His one and only priority was to sign with a winning team. After Lang signed in Detroit, Evans was hopeful the Packers would come calling.
Eventually, they did.
“When I approached the offseason, I kind of figured my time in New Orleans was done,” he said. “I was just waiting on a phone call from a team like Green Bay. They came calling and I came, and it worked out well. I wasn’t going to play for a team that didn’t have a chance to win. I would rather just wait until somebody that had a chance to win needed me. It worked out well. I’m happy.”
With Evans entrenched as the starting right guard, the Saints have been a perennial offensive juggernaut behind quarterback Drew Brees. They’ve finished in the top 10 in scoring nine times in the past 11 seasons, including five top-three showings.
Nonetheless, Evans is embracing the change of scenery.
“This place has a lot of history,” he said. “A chance to play here in Green Bay, it’s exciting.”
The Packers are excited to have him. Without a ready-made replacement for Lang, the signing of Evans filled a major need without general manager Ted Thompson spending major draft capital. Evans’ pass-blocking prowess should provide the strong pocket necessary for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to work his extended-play magic.
“He brings some veteran leadership,” Rodgers said. “He’s a presence. He’s a big human. He’s played at a high level for a long time, and I appreciate his attitude. He’s a laid-back, easy-going guy, but he gets on the field and he’s a mauler. He gets after guys and competes. I think he’s kind of got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder at this point in his career, knowing he can still play and felt like he didn’t get a lot of love and respect last year. We’re really happy to have him.”
Center Corey Linsley and Campen also spoke highly of Evans’ approach.
“He’s a decent player,” Linsley said with a smile. “It was a great addition. We’re trying to learn as much from him (as we can) and he’s trying to learn as much from us as he can. It’s a two-way street. Honestly, that’s been the biggest thing. He’s been in here from Day 1, and you got the sense that this guy is not like, ‘I already know. I’ve been through it.’ He’s trying to learn from us because he knows it all works together. Bringing him in here, that was awesome. I’ve learned a ton from him already and I’m excited to learn from him as we go through this thing.”
Added Campen: “The biggest thing that he wanted out of a coach was someone to coach him. He was not one of those type of guys that says, ‘Look, I’ve done all this stuff. Here’s my technique and this is what I’m going to do, or I would like to do it this way.’ He is very open and he specifically said that. He said, ‘Listen, I want to be coached. I want to be coached like the rest of the guys. What I did in the past is what I did in the past.’ He’s a very prideful man, so it makes it a lot easier for a coach to coach someone like that. He has fit in just like everyone else and is accountable to his position. His requirement is to fill the expectations of the right guard of the Green Bay Packers. That’s not going to change, whether you’re a four-time All-Pro like himself or a new kid coming in. It’s very simple.”
The right guard musical chairs ended with Evans joining a veteran and accomplished group. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is entering his eighth season. Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari is entering his fifth season. Linsley is entering his fourth season. Left guard Lane Taylor is entering his fifth season and second as a starter.
“Obviously, you want to get along with the guys. I’m not going to do anything that’s not going to let me get along with the guys,” Evans said. “I’m coming here to be an addition, to add something. That’s how I look at it. I pride myself on trying to get better every day. As long as I’m taking a step forward every day, I’m going to help the guys get better and they’re going to push each other to make each other better I’m not really worried about stepping on anybody’s toes. I’m not a very vocal person. I try to lead by example. The unique thing about our position is we seek contact every play. When we have an opportunity to assert ourselves, we’re going to do it.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.