Amidst injuries, Mike Pettine plans to keep Packers' train moving

-- The loss of Jake Ryan within the Green Bay Packers' middle linebacking group isn't detrimental to the team's plans entering 2018, but that doesn't mean they won't be missing his presence.

Ryan was one of the league's best inside linebackers against the run last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He was also just another experienced body that rounded out the primary trio that was projected to make up the depth chart for that position.

"Yeah, it’s tough. Just seeing how much he had put into it and preparation," Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said on Wednesday via Packers.com. "Unfortunately, that’s part of it, and you feel for him. But at the same time, the train keeps moving. It’s always something to deal with, especially with how early it happened."

The Packers lost Ryan to what was diagnosed as a torn ACL during Monday's practice at what may have been the worst possible time. Not only was Ryan entering the final year of the rookie deal he signed in 2015, but now the Packers are forced to potentially throw third-round pick Oren Burks into the fire as a rookie.

Burks, an ex-safety before transitioning to linebacker before his junior year at Vanderbilt, rightfully specializes in coverage ability. A trait that the Packers should be overjoyed to infuse into what has been a weak point at the heart of their defense in recent years.

That still leaves a significant void without Ryan's ability to play the run, however, shifting second-year safety Josh Jones into the box -- where he played almost exclusively in 2017 and thrived as a rookie -- seems like the best option in replacing Ryan's presence.

Outside of Blake Martinez -- the undisputed head of any schematic plans -- and Burks, the Packers' cupboard runs thin.

"We have experience in a guy who was very productive last year in Blake [Martinez]. You have the rookie, OB, who has flashed some things," Pettine said. "But still, the transition from the college game to the NFL, it takes some time. He’s very intelligent, he processes very quickly, but there’s still just that learning curve."

There are ways that Pettine can get creative, which is one of the primary reasons the Packers brought him aboard to replace Dom Capers during the offseason: His ability to mix-and-match his packages and present a multitude of different defensive fronts. You'll almost never see the same look more than twice.

"It’s tough for those guys to come in—I think it overwhelms them a little bit at first. Especially now, we’re working out the entire inventory. ... That’s overwhelming, and once we get to gameplay situations, we really cut it down and that’s going to help a lot of guys who have a lot of stuff running through their head."

While general manager Brian Gutekunst expressed his desire to practice patience with young players like Burks and Jones, Pettine did sound like exploring other avenues of player acquisition hasn't been entirely wiped off the table.

"I know we’re going to get together as a staff later this week when we talk about the roster and where we are moving forward and what our needs are.

"I know there are certainly open lines of communication with the personnel department."

The Packers currently have $10.9 million in cap space -- 17th-most in the league -- and are in the process of discussing a contract extension for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

At this point in the summer, with both veterans already on the market and more expected to be cut prior to final roster adjustments throughout the course of the month, there should certainly be cheap alternatives the Packers can stock up with in order to fill any deficiencies the team's brass feels they may have.

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Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (42)

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GBPDAN1's picture

August 01, 2018 at 07:38 pm

10.9 in cap room. I'd like to see GB sign a FA to fill the void, but Rodgers new deal has to be impacting his decision somewhat. Also, having some cap room incase another valuable player goes down at an elite position is another factor. It's a shame that Ryan is lost for the season, but BG is doing the right thing by not panicking and waiting a little bit to see how things pan out.

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Spock's picture

August 01, 2018 at 08:13 pm

Zach, I think you meant to say, "...but that doesn't mean they (WON'T BE) missing his presence." The sentence you have written means the exact opposite to me. :)

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Nordom's picture

August 01, 2018 at 11:57 pm

...Although, really, both statements were wrong - while he had his flaws, of course it'll be detrimental to the LB corps, and of course we'll miss him.

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ZacharyJacobson's picture

August 02, 2018 at 12:53 am

Hoping for a speedy recovery, but I really don't think it's detrimental to the point where they need to re-map everything they plan on doing on defense. A commenter put it nicely the other day: If they can't survive losing Jake Ryan, they weren't really going to win the Super Bowl anyways.

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TarynsEyes's picture

August 02, 2018 at 04:38 am

Let's take that comment and use it as a team metric.

" If they can't survive losing ____ ____, they weren't really going to win the Super Bowl anyways."

Let's make a realistic list.
1) Aaron Rodgers
2)
3)
4)
Unless someone at any position proves himself a Rodgers-esk level of must have, this is the list.
I know some will jump and scream Mike Daniels...he's solid and would hurt but are our SB chances relying on him.
The point and it's clear, nobody on this team is the SB piece that Rodgers is and no one on this team is close to the impact of losing Rodgers. No other QB would have this team ranked in the top 10 to get to the SB.

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DraftHobbyist's picture

August 02, 2018 at 04:22 pm

Hey Taryn, nice seeing you again. I'll throw in Jimmy Graham and Nick Perry. I could see you taking Nick Perry out due to injuries, but when he is 100% he is absolutely elite IMO. If you consider injuries, I think you have to consider that all teams have to deal with injuries.

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holmesmd's picture

August 05, 2018 at 02:11 pm

How about our starting LT?

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dobber's picture

August 02, 2018 at 08:06 am

Is there a domino effect here, though, aside from the ILB position?

With Ryan out, maybe they go with one of the young ILBs to play that other spot...maybe they use more hybrid S looks. But are those guys going to get targeted in the run game due to their lack of bulk? Are they going to take the pounding of 320 pound guards? Yes, I get it's a passing league, but teams will move to exploit your weaknesses wherever they are...look at how many pedestrian QBs looked like all-pros over the last couple years against the Packers weak secondary and pass rush. The more effective teams are running the ball, the harder it is to play pass (except in obvious situations).

Suppose CMIII becomes the primary fill-in at ILB (which is actually my preference if they play more odd fronts) on early downs. That creates a hole on the edge where the Packers as of right now look frightfully thin. Maybe Gilbert plays that role, where he could be pretty decent. But as soon as Matthews blows a hammy or some other edge player (ahem: Perry) gets dinged up, it all falls apart.

I think the best play (given it's only Aug. 2) is to make the most of their depth at DL and shift to more even fronts. Play Perry at end, Martinez in the middle, CMIII on the strong side, and I think Burks (and, surprisingly, Fackrell) might be naturals on the weak side where they can run. The thing to remember, though, is that Ryan was only really a two-down player...

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4thand10's picture

August 02, 2018 at 03:02 pm

Spot on Dobber.

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ZacharyJacobson's picture

August 02, 2018 at 12:50 am

Good eye.

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4thand1's picture

August 02, 2018 at 09:23 am

Shouldn't this makes us more of a 4-3 defense? The d line is our strength,use it. LOL, look at me telling Pettine what to do, I'm sure he knows what to do.

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canadapacker's picture

August 01, 2018 at 08:59 pm

Not sure if the plan is to see what the young guys can bring and then perhaps see who might get cut, like they did last year. But this year the rules have changed and there is not early reduction in roster - although the really good guys will be kept until the rosters are finalized to the 53

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Bure9620's picture

August 01, 2018 at 09:20 pm

Of all the defensive starters Ryan is by far the most replaceable.
1) He simply cannot cover, watch the tape aganst NO where Brees threw to Kamara out of the backfield on every 3rd and long for a 1st down where Kamara just ran by Ryan unmolested.

2) one of the young guys Thomas, Martini can play the run just fine if coached up, or Pettine can easily move CMIII inside where he fits better at this stage in his career anyway.

3) We will play more 4 man fronts in base anyway and more Nickel with Jones in the box as an ILB.

More worried about Brice....that would be a blow

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Cubbygold's picture

August 01, 2018 at 09:19 pm

The need to grab a vet is somewhat reduced by Pettines style of play. If Capers overly complex system was still in place, a vet would have to be signed because there's no way a rookie could fill the role and have success.

Pettines less complicated system should allow for an athlete to be more successful. So I wonder if this means that a replacement in FA may not be one of the older vets, but rather a younger more athletic player.

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Bert's picture

August 01, 2018 at 09:29 pm

Pettine is a good coach. The team as it stands today can withstand the loss of Ryan and even Brice. I'm guessing the defense will be more prepared and better than in past seasons whether Gute signs another FA or not.

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RCPackerFan's picture

August 02, 2018 at 06:58 am

Just viewing at the options currently on the roster, I think they will be fine with the loss of Ryan. Ryan is a good run defender. But was a liability in coverage.

We don't exactly know how Pettine will be running the defense schematically. He has said that he adjusts his scheme based on the personnel he has. Our strength of the defense is the DL. So I would expect to see a lot more 3 man DL. Using more 3 DL will help more in the run defense. They will demand more double teams as well which should allow Burks (if he does start) to use his speed and make plays.

For options to replace Ryan, they do have options. First up will be Burks. While he is a rookie he was drafted in the 3rd round and will get every opportunity to take the spot.
I have seen that Ahmad Thomas has been getting snaps as well. He is another former safety who has speed.

Other options to replace Ryan are Mathews and Josh Jones. Josh Jones replacing Ryan kind of depends on the health of Brice. But either could play in a specialized ILB role.

I will not be surprised if they would go out and get another ILB but it may be after cutdowns. I think they will see how their own guys perform in a few preseason games first though.

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stockholder's picture

August 02, 2018 at 08:07 am

If they go out and get another ILB. They drafted the wrong people. It's Baptism by Fire.

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

August 02, 2018 at 10:04 am

Ryan wasn't a lock to make the roster. Part of stopping the run is forcing the run through shutting down the pass--and Ryan did the opposite. With him out there, moving the chains was a simple matter of hitting the check down.

Nothing has changed, and we have an abundance of good options already on the roster--for goodness sakes, we've been over-drafting defense for years.

My only concern is McCarthy's stubbornness. Jones should already be a full time ILB, where he can flourish with his wrecking-ball speed and hitting ability. Behind this ridiculous D-Line, he'd be terrifying. Burks has excellent potential too, and there's even the option of floating Matthews and Biegel around if guys like Odom, Gilbert, and Fackrell keep progressing outside.

We're acting like the cupboard is bare, but if anything, that would be parts of the offense. On defense, our cupboard runneth over.

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4thand1's picture

August 02, 2018 at 09:29 am

I was thinking the same thing ALP about Ryan. If any starter from last year was expendable it was Ryan.

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

August 02, 2018 at 09:32 am

Yep, and it's not as if we don't like the guy--we do. He's an underrated athlete who stuffs the run.

But this team is really deep there and has a severe need to stop short passing games--Ryan just doesn't fill that need.

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Bure9620's picture

August 02, 2018 at 02:13 pm

Agreed, run stopper and a liability against the past.

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The TKstinator's picture

August 04, 2018 at 07:26 am

So is a faulty memory.

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Qoojo's picture

August 02, 2018 at 10:59 am

My issue with the article is the one blurb about Josh Jones flourishing in the box. I thought he was lost when it came to stopping the run, and made some pretty costly mistakes, which ESPN ran some video on how his failure to plug holes like a regular LB cost them big runs as he got washed out. Then there's the miscommunication or mental mistake issues when covering slot WRs (thinking of the Panther game specifically here).

He had some good moments like the Bengals game, but there is a reason why they had been practicing him at Safety only this year, and drafted Burks. I think "flourishing" is pushing it a bit. :)

I really think the packers need to get another FA at inside LB, because I think it's a bit delusional to think Burks and Martinez can handle all the inside LB snaps for the season. Because you have to expect at least one or two dings during the season where they must come out for a few plays. So that leaves Pettine the choice of playing a different defense with on ILB or playing lesser ability depth, and this is assuming Burks can handle the job.

Given that depth, it almost forces Matthews to the middle more this year, and perhaps that was the plan all along, and they are checking the OLB depth at this point. Matthews and Martinez in middle on run downs. I think Matthews is better in coverage than Ryan. On passing downs, it's Burks in coverage, with Matthews going back to OLB.

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

August 02, 2018 at 11:47 am

I think this is a strong post, but here's where I disagree:

1. Do you honestly expect a rookie to instantly read and fill holes at a position he's never played before? Come on. Please share any other names you hold to that standard.

2. Jones didn't just have "some good moments" in the Cinci game. He was blowing them up. He was used as the missile he is, and responded by playing to form.

3. The Packers having Jones practice at safety means nothing to me, since I have zero confidence in this team's ability to play guys where they're best suited--so long as McCarthy is in charge. Sorry, but it just hasn't been his strong suit; not by a long shot.

4. This defense is simplified, Martinez QB's the middle, and Jones is in his 2nd camp. Could he flourish? Absolutely, and we'd be well advised to place him where that can occur.

5. By the way, Jones struggled even worse at safety than in the box last season--let's not forget that. He was thinking far too much, and this also explains his struggles in filling holes up front.

Bottom line, Jones is a punishing missile, not a center-fielder. Can he succeed at safety? Sure. He can succeed at either. But if we moved him to ILB, he could focus on playing next to Martinez and learning the moves in his 2nd camp, ultimately allowing us to see far more of what we saw against Cinci.

But fear not, sir, it won't happen. I have absolutely no confidence in McCarthy allowing a player to be used correctly. None. Zero. Maybe we'll have him compete at punter.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

August 02, 2018 at 12:08 pm

ALP: "I have zero confidence in this team's ability to play guys where they're best suited--so long as McCarthy is in charge. Sorry, but it just hasn't been his strong suit; not by a long shot."

Why do Packer fans feel like we're constantly playing players out of position? Injuries forced us to play Hyde at slot corner rather than safety and he still made plays in that role. Hayward made plays in the same position and wasn't tried at outside corner because he was never healthy after year 1. Randall at the star position played relatively well after his benching even though he wanted to play safety.

TY did well prior to injury switching from WR to RB. CM3 played well switching to ILB. We're constantly changing tackles to guards with a ton of success. Woodson transitioned from CB to Safety and won the defensive player of the year. After disappearing in Chicago Peppers flourished in GB.

I personally don't buy into the square peg in a round hole theory I've seen throw around repeatedly but never really backed up. When Capers came to GB we switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 to get the best 11 players on the field. That helped us win a SB. Since then our defense has been stable and injured. Pettine can't control the injury but but he can simplify the defense while still being creative.

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WKUPackFan's picture

August 02, 2018 at 01:52 pm

Peth isn't concerned about those facts, he just wants to slam MM. If he was concerned about facts he wouldn't be hypocritical in his opinions regarding Oren Burks. Today Peth said that Burks has "exciting potential". Just a few weeks ago he said that Burks was nothing more than a "distraction" who would hurt the team

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Demon's picture

August 02, 2018 at 02:22 pm

I find it a little surprising the amount of confidence that many posters have in so many of the young players and even the coaches.

When Dom Capers was hired, I for one was very excited! Capers was among the top D coordinators in the NFL. I remember watching his introductory press conference. He claimed that he was going to install an "attacking, aggressive style defense". I guess his plan must have changed somehow. Somewhere along the way they forgot to attack and be aggressive. Not sure how you go from an attacking D, to "bend but dont break" D.

Now comes Pettine and everyoneis excited because he is saying the things we all want to hear. Designing a defense to fit the players on the roster simplification, acvountability. It all sounds grest!! I'm excited too! But im going to curb my enthusiasm a bit until at least game 1.

Ive seen a number of you claim that Burkes is perfect for the new system. Or that Burkes should step in and start now that Ryan is hurt. Really? We havent even seen the system yet. Nor have we seen Burkes take a single snap. I'd never heard of him before he was drafted. Did any of you? He was a 3rd round pick from Vanderbilt. Thats not exactly a football factory.

Where did all the Biegel supporters go? Yesterday i asked a simple question has anyone seen or heard anything about Biegel" and some loser gave me a thumbs down. Are you shitting me? How dare I question how the former Badger is doing . A month ago some of you were ready to put him in the hall of fame just because he played UW.

Now I know everyone on here is going to give me a thumbs down for not believing everything im told. I will wait until at least the first snap of the season before I make any judgements.

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Qoojo's picture

August 02, 2018 at 03:40 pm

Even though I did not explicitly say it with "this is assuming Burks can handle the job", I was kind of saying that all the above working out is contingent on Burks handling the job, which if anyone has been paying attention is hardly a given.

Which makes Matthews to the middle or picking up a FA more likely, because rookie backed up by UDFA rookie doesn't sound like a good combo, since as packers fans we have been watching several years of such stuff already.

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WKUPackFan's picture

August 02, 2018 at 03:45 pm

I find it a little surprising that a cowardly xenophobe who viciously attacked a wonderful commenter like croat has the guts to continue posting.

By the way, it is "Burks", not "Burkes". Also, it is "I'm", not "im". And "I've", not "Ive". Correct spelling and grammar will at least allow you to appear smarter than you really are.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

August 02, 2018 at 04:06 pm

WKU please tone it down a bit. You're attacking Qoojo the way you're saying he attacked Croat. It'll be ok preseason starts tonight even if it's just the Bears vs the Ravens and preseason it's still football.

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WKUPackFan's picture

August 02, 2018 at 05:02 pm

I wasn't talking about Qoojo, I was talking about White_Supremacist. Check out his xenophobic remarks about croat below.

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Demon's picture

August 02, 2018 at 04:50 pm

Just how exactly am I cowardly? It was the "wonderful commenter" Croat that called me a bigot. Simply because I do not share his "they are in charge, so they must be right" attitude. I defended myself and challenged his knowledge of football. Which as we all could tell is very limited.

Croat would be much better off commenting on subjects he is more knowledgeable in ie soccer, sheep farming, goat herding.

As far as my improper spelling and grammar I am so ashamed as is my 3rd grade English teacher. Thank you for pointing out my miscues. Thats the best you got? Smh

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WKUPackFan's picture

August 02, 2018 at 04:57 pm

You are a bigot. Just go ahead change your screen name to White_Supremacist.

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DraftHobbyist's picture

August 02, 2018 at 05:18 pm

You seem out-of-line to me. He attacked both Vince Biegel and Dom Capers. His overall message was that we should wait for players and coaches to prove themselves rather than quickly anointing them.

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WKUPackFan's picture

August 02, 2018 at 05:34 pm

Apparently you missed the sheep farming, goat herding comment above, in keeping with his previous xenophobic remarks about croat.

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DraftHobbyist's picture

August 02, 2018 at 05:43 pm

At some point you have to move on. All you have done is turn this entire conversation into non-Packers talk. Next time I hope you think to yourself about how you are improving the conversation. If you had said nothing then I bet the entire conversation would've moved on by now.

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Demon's picture

August 02, 2018 at 06:20 pm

Thank you draft! Wku is famous for launching personal attacks and name calling. She's got her panties in a bunch because I slammed her buddy Croat for making uninformed negative comments to my posts 1 time too many.

Moving on

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

August 02, 2018 at 10:58 pm

I don't agree with Jonathan's facts. Hyde didn't get to play safety because we drafted HHCD and paid Burnett. Hyde played safety until HHCD displaced him very early in the season. HHCD played 86% of the snaps at safety. Hayward did get a chance on the outside. He played boundary CB until Randall displaced him. And Randall was never above average as a boundary CB. Hayward stunk for us on the perimeter. And I don't think Ty did well at WR. If you could get the ball to him, he looked good. So did Janis.

It would appear that TT drafted safeties Hyde (2013), HHCD (2014), Randall (2015), Rollins (2015), and the coaches played them where they could. I am not sure that the coaches should be blamed: they simply had generally highly drafted safeties coming out of their ears. Hyde could play the star. Randall could play star and on the boundary, so they did. They weren't their best positions, but what's a coach to do?

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billybobton's picture

August 02, 2018 at 02:33 pm

TM did not do well at RB prior to injury, he had an exceptional game v the bears, like many packer RB who got their only 100 yard games v the bears.

That stat padding game totally overwhelms and confuses fans. Outside the bears he is under 4.0 for his 'successful' time at RB and was terrible at pass blocking now graduating to merely low average (based on camp film this year)

Was Randal forced to the wrong position by injury? Rollins? Hyde was not either. Was burnett left at S for years after his speed marginalized him? Yes.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

August 02, 2018 at 04:26 pm

Randal and Rollins both looked good at CB their rookie year so how can you claim they were played out of position? He was moved around and filled in where players were injured 1st at safety with Burnett then at slot corner with Hayward going down. Burnett took snaps at ILB and Safety... As for TY he played well prior to the rib injury we'll see what a healthy TY looks like in 2018 and if he can finally stay that way all season.

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4thand10's picture

August 02, 2018 at 03:08 pm

Mychal Kendricks, OLB, Eagles. Age: 27.
Talent is certainly not the reason why Mychal Kendricks was released, as he had a terrific 2017 campaign. Kendricks was owed close to $6 million in 2018, so the Eagles needed to trade him to create cap space. They couldn't find a partner, so Kendricks was cut. Kendricks can play in both the 4-3 and 3-4, though he's better in the former, and as a skilled linebacker in all facets, he should find a home quickly. “....per Walter FB.

Current free agent, young ...might fit with Pettine.

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dobber's picture

August 02, 2018 at 08:31 pm

Kendricks signed with the Browns about a month ago.

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