Every team in the NFL has to weather off-the-field distractions during training camp, and the Green Bay Packers are no exception. Fortunately for the Packers, their distractions don't bring the type of circus atmosphere that a QB battle (Cleveland) or camp holdout (Seattle) generates, but there are three topics that will cause at least the media and fans, if not the players & coaches, to divert their attention from the play on the field.
Distraction #1: On-going Injuries
The first distraction is the one with potentially the biggest impact on the team, but completely out of their control - the ongoing saga of promising young players with injuries. As part of their check-in to training camp, each player goes through a physical, and several important defensive players ended up on the injury list. Most disappointing are the two on the Physically Unable to Perform list, Nick Perry and Mike Neal. Neal played an expanded role last year in his switch to outside linebacker, and was expected to build on his experience and potentially back up Julius Peppers in the new "Elephant" role the coaching staff is so excited about.
Perry is potentially an even bigger problem, as the coaching staff expressed their concern with his progress this spring, and every day he misses in camp will put him further behind. As we explored in a closer look at Perry's play from last season, the outside linebacker has the physical attributes to wreck havoc on offensive tackles, but without more experience and coaching he may not get the chance to develop his full potential.
Also on the injury list (non-football) are Jerel Worthy and new addition Letroy Guion, both defensive ends. Expected to be important cogs in the defensive line depth, their injuries are not disclosed and are hopefully non-serious, but like everyone else, every day they miss is a big deal.With the Green Bay Packers' injury history over the past few years, any name on the PUP/Injury lists is bound to be at least a bit of a distraction.
Distraction #2: Jermichael Finley's Future
Speaking of injured players, the former standout tight end is desperately trying to avoid being the latest in a long line of Packers forced into early retirement due to nasty neck injuries. The team has made a few moves in the offseason to try and shore up the position (drafting Richard Rodgers from California, picking up the potentially high-risk/high reward undrafted free agent Colt Lyerla from Oregon), while also talking up the potential of their returning TE's Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostick. However, none of those four, or the three other tight ends currently on the roster, have the proven ability to perform at a game-changing level like Finley (notwithstanding his frustrating tendencies to play hot or cold from week to week).
Both teammates and coaches have expressed the hope that Jermichael Finley could return to Green Bay, even as rumors of interest from other teams have surfaced. Nearly all Packers fans and members of the team would love to have him back, but as snake-bit as the team has been by neck injuries, it appears to be a long shot to have him return to Lambeau Field as a Packer. Regardless, until Finley is either under contract with another team, back with Green Bay, or officially retired, there will be at least a little bit of a question in people’s minds as to the future of the tight end position in Green Bay.
Distraction #3: Randall Cobb’s Contract Extension
Finally, the only true “off-the-field” distraction that Green Bay is/was going through this training camp was the status of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb’s contracts. I say was, because as of July 26th the Packers signed Jordy Nelson to a 4 year, $39 million dollar contract, almost right at the $10 million-a-year mark that Nelson desired. By signing Nelson on the first real day of training camp, Green Bay’s front office effectively eliminated the biggest potential distraction to the team, and put themselves in great position to come to terms quickly with Randall Cobb.
According to ESPN’s John Clayton, this deal could allow Green Bay to offer Cobb somewhere in the $8 to $8.5 million-a-year range, which would probably be enough to get him to sign quickly. At this point, the highest paid starting slot receiver in the NFL is Victor Cruz at 8.6 million-a-year, so being able to offer Randall Cobb nearly the same money is a huge bonus for both the player and the team. While detractors might point out that he only played in 6 games in the regular season in 2013, no one will soon forget his impact in that 6th game, where he caught 2 TD passes against the Chicago Bears in a de-facto NFC North Division championship game, including the dagger on 4th down with less than a minute to play. Without a doubt, Cobb has earned the right to be given a contract in the Victor Cruz range, and barring injury there is nothing that would make anyone think it would be a bad contract on the team’s side.
So there you have it - the top 3 distractions the Green Bay Packers face as they open training camp in 2014. Obviously, many other teams in the NFL would love to be in Green Bay’s shoes at this point, as these issues barely move the radar for even the local media. On the national front, the only time any of these distractions are mentioned is when the reporters have run out of things to say about Johnny Manziel, Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch, or a dozen other players or issues. Moving into the heart of training camp, the Packers find themselves without a major problem that would prevent their players from focusing on the job at hand, and for their sake I hope it continues!