Key month in off-season arrives

In the days before salary caps and free agency, there wasn't a more quiet time on the NFL calendar than early June. The draft was over and most teams were done signing undrafted free agents. Training camp was still a good 6-8 weeks away and all was quiet. Now, June 1 is a major day on the NFL transaction wire.<p>

Because of salary cap rules many veterans are released on or just after June 1 to clear up cap room in order to sign draft choices or new free agents. The players released on June 1 tend to be veterans who are making more money than the team feels they are presently worth. In many cases, those released started the year before and a good number of well-known players become available each June.

The Green Bay Packers have a few players who may be released this week. Former top draft choice Jamal Reynolds may be let go, although the Packers failure to draft a big-time pass rusher makes this a bit less likely. While Reynolds has shown flashes of pass rush ability at times, he has never been able to crack the starting lineup. In fact, unless the defensive line suffered injuries, Reynolds has rarely even been on the active roster come game time. While coaches were generally pleased with his performance in the first mini-camp, Reynolds has a long way to go before losing the "bust" label that has been put on the Packers 2001 first round draft pick.

Defensive end Joe Johnson also is high on the list of potential departures. Johnson, a high profile free agent acquisition, has been injured and missed significant time both of his seasons with Green Bay. He has also failed to provide much pass rush when he was healthy. The former Saints Pro Bowler may be released or asked to re-work his deal to lower his salary cap number. Johnson's age is also working against him - he will be 32 on July 11. The only catch is Johnson may be too expensive for the Pack to let go.

The Packers have one last chance to add some talented players prior to the start of training camp. Perhaps from the list of salary cap casualties, the Pack can unearth someone who can improve the areas they need the most help in: a pass rush threat to complement Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and depth at safety, quarterback and tight end.

Gbaja-Biamila is a speedy but undersized defensive end and his effectiveness was limited last year because he had to play every down instead of just coming in when the opposition was in an obvious passing situation. While KGB still managed 10 sacks, few of them came at clutch times and many of them were the result of fine coverage by the Green Bay secondary. Gbaja-Biamila would be a bigger threat to opposing quarterbacks if his 255 pound body didn't have to take the pounding that comes with playing every down.

The Pack signed Mark Roman to replace the departed Antuan Edwards at safety opposite Darren Sharper. Backup safeties on the roster include Michael Hawthorne, Bhawoh Jue and Marques Anderson. Both Jue and Anderson have disappointed when given the chance to play in the past. Green Bay can use some extra depth in this area and if a solid player becomes available, the Pack may sign him.

Green Bay also is still uncertain who will backup Brett Favre in 2004. Doug Pederson knows the system but he has never had great arm strength. He may be a valuable fill-in, but couldn't carry the Packers for a long period of time if he was pressed into service as a starter. This year will be Craig Nall's last chance to prove he is a capable second stringer. After two years as the Pack's third string QB and a year in NFL Europe, Nall has the potential to be the heir apparent to Favre, but coaches have to determine if he will ever realize that potential. Rumors continue to abound about Green Bay acquiring former Browns starter Tim Couch although not much has been happening of late. If the right backup becomes available at the right price, Green Bay could bring him in.

Bubba Franks is a very good starting tight end, but because of Wesley Walls' age and David Martin's lack of consistent productivity, the Pack may seek some additional help in this area if the right player comes along.

Assuming Mike McKenzie gets his wish and is traded, the Packers can also use some experienced help at cornerback. McKenzie's stated desire to leave Green Bay had a major effect on the Packers' draft. Mike Sherman may deny it on the record, but Green Bay would not have used its first two selections in the 2004 draft on cornerbacks had the Packers been confident that McKenzie and Al Harris would both be returning as starters in 2004. While Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas have a lot of ability, their lack of NFL experience may leave the Pack vulnerable against the likes of Minnesota's Randy Moss and Detroit's Charles Rogers. An experienced corner may be needed.

So with training camp seven weeks away, the Packers could be very busy in the month of June. The Pack will seek to add a starter or at least a number of quality backups who can make a difference on the field come September. While June used to be the quietest month on the NFL calendar, in the modern NFL, there is no off-season.

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