Packers re-sign Neal
Mike McCarthy wants to get more creative on defense. The Green Bay Packers coach wants players who can juggle multiple tasks. That was lacking in 2013.
So this move should help. On Wednesday, the Packers re-signed linebacker Mike Neal.
Neal broke the news himself on Twitter, writing, “Hi Green Bay!!! I'll enjoy your winters for two more years!!”
The Packers did not sign any outsiders on Day 2 of free agency, but their defensive personnel did begin to take shape. In is Neal. Out is starting safety M.D. Jennings. The restricted free agent who was not tendered by Green Bay is off to the Chicago Bears on a one-year pact.
Neal generated early buzz in free agency with both the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears reportedly interested. Instead, he'll stay north.
This is quite a career 180 for the 2010 second-round pick. His first three pro seasons were a prolonged nightmare.
A torn rotator cuff robbed Neal of his rookie season. The next year Neal—pegged Cullen Jenkins' replacement—needed knee surgery to clean up torn cartilage. And then in 2012, Neal's season started with a four-game suspension. The defensive end said he took Adderall through a personal doctor, instead of a team physician. He mustered only 13 solo tackles his first three years.
Meanwhile, the Packers drafted a pair of interior pass rushers one year and UCLA's Datone Jones in the first round the next.
On possibly his last breath in Green Bay, Neal was moved to outside linebacker. He lost more than 25 pounds, learned a new position in training camp and saved his career.
Neal finished second on the team with 30 pressures, in addition to his five sacks. His sack of quarterback Matt Ryan that caused Ryan to fumble was the difference in Green Bay's 22-21 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons.
As a player who can rush from a two-point stance and stand up as a linebacker, Neal suddenly created a market for himself.
McCarthy would like to use Neal inside more this upcoming season. Injuries to Clay Matthews (thumb) and Nick Perry (foot) forced Neal to play predominantly at outside linebacker last season. He finished with 680 snaps standing up and 48 in the dirt.
Barring another season filled with injuries, expect more of a balance in 2014. McCarthy said Neal is best playing the three-technique.
Re-signing Neal also alleviates some pressure on Packers general manager Ted Thompson to draft another pass rusher. He may, however, have to find a safety. Top safeties have been flying off the board through the first two days of free agency, and now Jennings will not return as Green Bay's starter next to Morgan Burnett.
The restricted free agent Jennings, who was not tendered by Green Bay, signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears.
Jennings started 16 games last season. An undrafted free agent out of Arkansas State, Jennings endeared himself to coaches early with his knowledge of the playbook. His tackling improved a degree, too. Jennings finished with 74 stops.
But he was rarely ever around the ball (zero interceptions, one pass break-up) and he was beat for too many plays deep. Jennings allowed a team-high 4½ touchdowns.
Jennings will now compete for a role in the division. Opposite Burnett, the Packers current safeties are Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo and, potentially, Micah Hyde.
The tidal wave of signings overwhelmed the league with Green Bay on the sideline. Still, the team is welcoming one big name in for a free-agent visit. Former Houston Texans and University of Wisconsin tight end Owen Daniels will visit the Packers, a NFL source told the Journal Sentinel.
Green Bay must decide just how much game the 31-year-old has left. A fourth-round pick in 2006, Daniels ranks second in Houston history with 385 receptions for 4,617 yards. The Texans saved $4.5 million by releasing Daniels this offseason. He played in only five games last season, suffering a broken fibula in October.
The 6-foot-3, 249-pound Daniels finished the season with 24 catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns. The previous season, Daniels had 62 catches for 716 yards and six touchdowns.
It's decision time at tight end. Free agent Jermichael Finley started his week visiting the Seattle Seahawks, and the Packers haven't said if they'd clear Finley from his neck fusion surgery. His 2013 replacement, Andrew Quarless, also is a free agent.
While five years older than Finley, Daniels could stretch the field. Of his 385 receptions, 56 have been for 20 or more yards and 29 have been for touchdowns.
Elsewhere, defensive lineman Al Woods had a visit scheduled in Green Bay this week but can cancel those plans. He signed a two-year deal with the Tennessee Titans late Wednesday.
Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.