Green's only going to get better
Ten Packers' priorities before the NFL draft Wednesday, January 3, 2001
Green Bay News-Chronicle

Ten Packers' priorities before the NFL draft

By Doug Ritchay
News-Chronicle

As I was watching the NFL playoffs this weekend, a bolt of lightning hit me like Ray Lewis hits running backs when thinking about what the Green Bay Packers need to do before the draft in April to improve themselves or at least stay where they are.

Ending the season on a four-game winning streak, the Packers will enter the 2001 season rolling, but does that really matter eight months later? No. So while watching my preseason Super Bowl favorite, Tampa Bay, play like the Bengals on Sunday, I brainstormed and came up with 10 things I would like to see the Packers do before they pick 17th in the draft:

No. 1: The Packers allowed 28 touchdown passes this past season (third most in the NFL), so if they don't re-sign All-Pro safety Darren Sharper, it can only get worse. Re-sign Sharper.

No. 2: Ryan Longwell will enter the 2001 season as the NFL's most accurate kicker of all-time, and after watching Seattle and Washington struggle miserably with kickers in 2000, there is no question having Longwell is a must. It's nice to know every time he kicks from 45 yards and in he's going to make it.

No. 3: The Packers need to renegotiate running back Dorsey Levens' contract before March as Levens has a $2 million roster bonus which kicks in during the month. In addition, he counts $7.4 million against the 2001 cap. Sign him to a contract loaded with incentives, and then later they can consider cutting him loose.

No. 4: Sign running back Ahman Green to a long-term deal. Green will become a restricted free agent Feb. 16 if the Packers don't at least offer him a one-year tender ($1.6 million). Green has done enough to convince me he is the Packers' workhorse back now and in the future. And at 23 years old, Green's only going to get better.

No. 5: Trade quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. I know it's great having a reliable backup quarterback, but when you have Brett Favre starting every game of every season, how important is a backup quarterback?

The Packers have just six draft picks in April, and this would be a way for Green Bay to possibly acquire an extra pick, possibly a first-round or second-round pick.

No. 6: Release right tackle Earl Dotson after June 1 when the salary cap hit becomes easier to digest. Dotson, who would count $3.55 million against the salary cap next season, is about 320 pounds and has had multiple back surgeries. His back problems probably will persist, considering his size, and rookie Mark Tauscher held his own as a starter and is cheaper.

No. 7: Attempt once again to renegotiate wide receiver Antonio Freeman's deal. Freeman, who refused to renegotiate in the last month of the season, will enter the third year of a seven-year, $41.8 million contract next season, and since signing the deal in August of 1999, he has been a disappointment on and off the field. Also, Freeman has a $1.7 million roster bonus that kicks in March 15, and he counts $4.8 million against the 2001 cap.

No. 8: Make sure tight end Bubba Franks increases his strength in the off-season. Franks struggled with the bigger NFL players, was slow to get off the line of scrimmage, lacked intensity and dropped passes. He needs to become stronger because the Packers expect and need him to become the next Mark Chmura (on the field).

No. 9: Renegotiate Favre's contract. Favre is worth every penny he's paid, but he does make $6.3 million next season, and the Packers (who are about $5 million over the cap) need to get below the $67.4 million salary cap for next season. Talks have already started to redo Favre's deal, so expect this to happen.

No. 10: Re-sign cornerback/return specialist Allen Rossum, who becomes a restricted free agent. No matter how the Packers get this done - long-term contract or one-year tender - they must do it.

Rossum could be the Packers' returner for years to come, which would end the annual routine of looking for someone with his talent.

All of these suggestions are within the Packers' control, with the exception of renegotiating Freeman's contract. But then again, when's the last time Freeman has been under the Packers' control?

If they are able to accomplish the other nine items, Green Bay will have taken a major step in returning to the top of the NFC Central Division

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