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June 22, 2017

Walden Would Be Solid Insurance

Depth at outside linebacker was an issue even before Monday’s surprising news that fourth-round draft pick Vince Biegel underwent surgery on his right foot last week. Now it would be downright negligent of general manager Ted Thompson not to sign a veteran before players report to St. Norbert’s College in late July.

Even if Biegel is cleared to return in time for the start of training camp – which is far from a certainty – he’ll be way behind after missing all of the offseason activities. And whenever he does return, he’ll be playing on a right foot that’s now been surgically repaired twice in the past seven months. And even if Biegel manages to get up to speed in a hurry and stay healthy – two very big ifs – there’s still no guarantee he’ll be able to contribute at outside linebacker. As much as fans love the local boy, how many fourth-round picks make impacts as rookies?

The point is, Thompson can’t depend on Biegel in 2017. That’s also true of fellow backup outside linebackers Kyler Fackrell and Jayrone Elliott. The former struggled last year as an undersized rookie and the latter looks like a player who’ll stick in the league more for his ability to cover kicks than for his ability to sack quarterbacks. Does that mean neither Fackrell nor Elliott is capable of stepping up and becoming a key part of the defense this season? Of course not. It just means Thompson would be foolish to count on it.

The lack of proven depth wouldn’t be quite as big a deal at other positions, but it’s a really big deal at outside linebacker. That’s because starters Clay Matthews and Nick Perry aren’t exactly the paradigms of durability. The two missed six games last season, and were forced to leave a number of others early. And considering that Matthews’ hammys are wound tighter than Bob Costas’ face and Perry’s shoulder and hand have seen more needles than a crack addict, it would be unrealistic to expect either to suddenly turn into Lou Gehrig.

Those are the reasons Thompson needs to add a veteran, and fortunately there’s a veteran out there who would be perfect. Despite recording a career-high 11 quarterback sacks for the Colts last season, former Packer Erik Waldon is still unsigned. So why is he on the street in late May? Well, he’s 32 years old, and prior to last season, was never much of a pass rusher (21 sacks in 113 games). Another reason might be the awful rating he received from the folks at Pro Football Focus. That site is read by a lot of front office execs, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if some of the lazier general managers didn’t even bother to consider Walden (by the way, never forget that Pro Football Focus once ranked Brad Jones as a top-12 inside linebacker).

Not willing to simply take the word of Pro Football Focus, I decided to watch every game Walden played last season. What I saw was hardly one of the league’s worst outside linebackers. The former Middle Tennessee State star wasn’t a consistent threat as a pass rusher, but hey, neither was $60 million man Nick Perry. At the end of the day, 11 sacks are 11 sacks. Against the run, Walden was inconsistent. He would set a strong edge on one play and then get pushed around the next. In short, other than turning more hurries into sacks, he looked very much like the guy who started 24 games for the Packers in 2011 and 2012.

Would I want Walden to be a starter? Absolutely not. But at this point, there’s very little downside to bringing him in as a potential backup. He’ll come cheap (max of $2 million for 1 year) and he won’t count against next year’s compensatory picks. And if one or two of the young outside linebackers step up in training camp, he could be released. No harm, no foul. Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf used to sign veterans like this all the time. Thompson rarely has gone this route, but he did bring in 33-year-old guard Jahri Evans last month, so maybe he’s finally coming around to his mentor’s way of thinking – at least a little.

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11 Responses “Walden Would Be Solid Insurance”

  1. Nerd
    May 17, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Sign him and Elvis Dumerville. See what shakes out.

  2. Cudahy Cheesehead
    May 17, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    I hope someone on the Packer staff is reading this.

  3. William Ray
    May 18, 2017 at 8:20 am

    Of all the potential players that are and will be available , Eric Walden may be the last of that list to consider signing. He was bad when he played here and he’s been bad with the colts.

    We can do better than Eric Walden without trying too hard.

  4. TJV
    May 18, 2017 at 10:28 am

    I agree it would be negligent of Thompson not to add a veteran OLB – and I too thought that was necessary before Biegel’s surgery.

    Michael, would you prefer Walden to Dumervil? The site NFLTradeRumors lists four 3-4 OLBs in their top 50 available free agents list. In order: Paul Kruger, Elvis Dumervil, Eric Walden, and Trent Cole. I don’t know anything about the site but I’m just wondering who Michael – and the rest of you – would prefer of the OLBs still available. William Ray, since you mention the Packers can do better than Walden without trying too hard – who do you prefer?

  5. William Ray
    May 18, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    Dumerville, Kruger, Morgan, almost anyone else……Walden is terrible against the run and he cannot rush the passer. All of his 11 sacks last year were garbage sacks, not sacks where he actually beat anyone. Why would you sign a player that can’t defend the run AND cannot rush the passer? You’d be better off playing an UDFA, they couldn’t be worse.
    I agree we should sign a veteran as a pass rush specialist, there will be others available once the cuts start happening.

  6. Deepsky
    May 18, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    I still remember Eric Walden completely failing to set the edge in the 49ers playoff game, completely out of the play with Kaepernick running for 180+ yards.

  7. danang marine
    May 18, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    His aggressiveness killed his chances in Green Bay, he took the inside too often and they ran outside on him time and time again, he could not hold the point (not because of strength but they used his aggressiveness against him). I would rather bring back Frank Zombo who has been a solid occasional starter and special teamer for the Chief’s (younger and less expensive as well). I am sure the price to acquire him would not be prohibitive

  8. TJV
    May 18, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    I’ve read/heard the idea that veteran pass rush specialists will be available once teams start trimming their rosters. Since rushing the passer is such a valued skill in today’s NFL, how likely is it a quality veteran pass rusher (even on a part-time basis) will be waived? Is that something Thompson should count on, as opposed to signing an available vet now?

  9. Ryan
    May 18, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    If you are still a free agent at this point at a super valuable position there is probably a dozen reasons why. Free agents “can” make your team better not they “do” make your team better.

  10. Nerd
    May 19, 2017 at 5:14 am

    Dumervil is old and is coming back from an achilles. Still…

  11. May 20, 2017 at 10:24 am

    Last season Frackrell only rushed the passer 99 times last season.

    In those 99 snaps he had 2 sacks, 1 QB hit, and 9 hurries. If for example Frackrell could duplicate that this year every 100 snaps I’d take it in a second.

    Frackrell is only 25 so please don’t act like he’s a “Old Man”. He also has the perfect build to add 10 pounds of bulk and get stronger without losing any of his speed.

    Frackrell WILL be a productive OLB for the Packers.

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