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Mel Kiper Jr. is right: the Green Bay Packers should address their pass rush in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.

It’s why the ESPN draft analyst has the Packers taking defensive end Marcus Davenport of UT-San Antonio with their first-round pick, No. 14 overall, in his first mock draft of 2018.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder who had 21.5 career sacks in college was the second pure pass rusher to come off Kiper’s board. The other, N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb, went No. 3 to the Colts. Kiper also had a linebacker — Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, who’s a potential pass rusher — at No. 12 to the Bengals.

Either way, the Packers would be getting one of the top pass rushers in the draft.

But they shouldn’t stop there. Not with how bereft they were of edge rushers this past season. They had only two players with more than five sacks, and none even came close to double digits. Clay Matthews led the team with 7.5, and Nick Perry had 7.

Matthews will turn 32 this offseason and is entering the final season of his contract. He underwent knee surgery already this offseason and missed two games in 2017 because of other injuries.

Perry, who signed a five-year, $60 million deal, couldn’t follow up his career-best season in 2016 (when he had 11 sacks). He reverted to his oft-injured ways, missing four games.

It’s why new general manager Brian Gutekunst might have to go all-in on pass rushers early in the draft, unless he’s able to find at least one impact rusher in free agency. His predecessor, Ted Thompson, ignored the position in free agency last year until he signed Ahmad Brooks (who had 1.5 sacks all season) at the end of the preseason. He waited until the fourth round of the draft to take an edge rusher, Wisconsin outside linebacker Vince Biegel, whose foot surgery last May all but ruined his rookie year.

It wouldn’t be an upset if Gutekunst drafted multiple pass rushers in this draft. He watched his old boss, Thompson, take defensive backs with his first two picks last year (cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones).

For what it’s worth, Kiper had the Packers taking running back Christian McCaffrey a year ago at this time in his first mock draft of 2017. McCaffrey ended up going much higher, at No. 8 overall to Carolina, and Kiper’s mocks will surely change as draft season progresses.

Fellow ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay’s first 2018 mock draft had the Packers taking a pass rusher, Boston College outside linebacker Harold Landry. Kiper had Landry at No. 25 to the Titans in his first mock.

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The most important offseason of Clay Matthews’ career began with knee surgery.

A source told ESPN that the Green Bay Packers linebacker underwent a procedure that was described as “a cleanup” last week shortly after the season ended.

Matthews, the Packers’ career sacks leader with 80, missed two games last season, but neither was because of a knee injury. In 14 games, he recorded 7.5 sacks — his highest total since 2014.

The 31-year-old former Pro Bowler is entering a critical offseason. He’s scheduled to make $11.4 million in salary and bonuses in the final season of his five-year, $66 million contract that still has him as one of the highest-paid linebackers in the league. The Packers could ask Matthews to restructure his deal this offseason.

Matthews’ status with the team will be one of the first decisions for new general manager Brian Gutekunst.

Matthews, who missed one game last season because of a groin injury and another because of a hamstring injury, has not recorded a double-digit sack season since he had 11 in 2014.

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The Green Bay Packers are only halfway to fixing their problems on defense.

The decision to change coordinators was the first step. Packers coach Mike McCarthy fired Dom Capers after Sunday’s season-ending loss at Detroit.

Whether it was Capers, the revered Fritz Shurmur or the inventive Buddy Ryan, it might not have mattered who devised defensive game plans and called plays for the Packers. The resources weren’t there.

Like most things in the NFL, it comes down to playmakers.

And that’s where general manager Ted Thompson failed Capers. Yes, Thompson devoted draft pick after draft pick to the defensive side of the ball, yet a dearth of impact players still exists.

Despite what coaches will say, the NFL isn’t about depth. Teams can lose players in bunches, but as long as they have one or two more difference-makers than everyone else, it doesn’t matter.

Quickly scan the Packers’ defensive depth chart — and consider the players on injured reserve, too — and it explains why Capers’ unit ranked 22nd in the NFL this season and hasn’t been in the top 10 since the Super Bowl season of 2010.

That Super Bowl defense had impact players at every level. There was B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett on the front line, and Clay Matthews and Desmond Bishop at linebacker. The secondary was loaded with talent — Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Tramon Williams and a young Sam Shields.

Like this season, that Super Bowl team faced injuries in mass quantities, but the injured-reserve list isn’t about numbers but rather names. There were so many playmakers on the 53-man roster that it didn’t matter who was on 15-man IR list.

That defense, also coordinated by Capers, ranked No. 5 overall and came up with key takeaways in every postseason game, including Collins’ interception return for a touchdown early and the Matthews/Pickett forced fumble late in the Super Bowl.

What did Capers have to work with this season?

The veterans among his group were an aged Matthews, who still plays with high energy but hasn’t been as effective; an oft-injured Nick Perry, who was a risk to re-sign last year in free agency; an inconsistent Mike Daniels up front and Morgan Burnett, who for all his versatility in the secondary is a jack of all trades but master of none.

The secondary was supposed to be built around Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who made his first Pro Bowl in 2016. But he inexplicably regressed. Veteran cornerback Davon House provided the steady play the Packers expected when they signed him to a one-year deal in free agency, and he battled gallantly through injuries, but the young defensive backs were either too inconsistent (Damarious Randall and Josh Jones) or too injured (Kevin King and Quinten Rollins).

The best prospect Thompson acquired on defense is Kenny Clark, the 2016 first-round pick who finished the season strong with 4.5 sacks in the final five games.

It’s not like Thompson ignored that side of the ball and tried to load up with weapons for Aaron Rodgers, although perhaps that would have been a better roster-building strategy.

In his 13th draft as GM last year, Thompson used his first four picks on defensive players: King and Jones in the second round, defensive tackle Montravius Adams in the third and linebacker Vince Biegel in the fourth. King didn’t have an interception before he went on injured reserve in need of shoulder surgery, and Jones had just one. Adams and Biegel were non-factors after both suffered offseason foot injuries.

Assuming Clinton-Dix bounces back next season, it’s not a stretch to say he and Clark are the only two defensive picks in the past five drafts that could be considered young defensive playmakers.

As much as coaching has been to blame for the Packers’ defensive struggles, the shortcomings in personnel remain as big an issue — if not bigger — for a defense that’s now in transition.

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It’s a good thing this was a meaningless game for the Green Bay Packers, given their inactive and injury lists.

Or maybe the Packers shut down so many key players before things started Saturday night against the Minnesota Vikings because it was meaningless.

Either way, what looked like a marquee Week 16 game in prime time when the NFL released its 2017 schedule in April turned into a glorified exhibition game, with players looking to make an impression for next season and coaches perhaps trying to justify their employment.

Yet very few did.

Other than Kenny Clark, the second-year defensive tackle who had a couple of sacks — giving him 4.5 for the season, all of which have come in the month of December — and first-year outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert, who was promoted this week from the practice squad and hit Vikings quarterback Case Keenum more than once, there wasn’t much anyone could claim as progress in the Packers’ 16-0 loss at Lambeau Field.

The Packers were shut out at home for a second time this season. Before this year, no team had been shut out at home twice in a season since 2006, when both the Packers and Raiders were.

“I never felt more defeated, more embarrassed by a performance,” said Packers receiver Randall Cobb, who had four catches for 22 yards. “Yeah, we had opportunities, and we didn’t connect when we did.”

Quarterback Brett Hundley, making his eighth start of the season, did nothing to change the narrative that he isn’t capable of taking over a game. He threw two interceptions, which means his home season ended with zero touchdowns and seven interceptions at Lambeau.

Dropping to 3-5 as a starter, Hundley failed to throw a touchdown pass at Lambeau Field once again. He set the record for pass attempts at home without a touchdown (162) in a single season, according to Elias. Along the way, he threw his third red zone interception this season, tied with Dak Prescott for the second-most in the NFL. Only (six) has thrown more red zone picks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

In Hundley’s defense, the Packers dropped six of his passes, their most since Week 15 of 2014 at Buffalo, another game in which they dropped six, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

When it comes to the roster, general manager Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy likely wanted to use this game — and the regular-season finale next Sunday at Detroit — to evaluate who stays and who goes in the offseason.

But after missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2009, McCarthy might have already made up his mind about changes to his coaching staff, even though Dom Capers’ defense looked respectable for a change. Still, the most likely change this offseason would be at defensive coordinator, unless, of course, team president Mark Murphy decides it’s time for Thompson to go.

Yes, the game was surprisingly still in play into the fourth quarter, as ugly as it was for the Packers’ offense, with five starters on the inactive list: receiver Davante Adams (concussion), linebackers Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) and Clay Matthews (hamstring), cornerback Damarious Randall (knee) and guard Jahri Evans (knee). That did not include Aaron Rodgers, who went on injured reserve earlier in the week after the Packers decided to shut him down the week after he returned from his broken collarbone.

Who knows how many, if any, of those players could have played if the Packers were still in the playoff race? Then it didn’t get any better when receiver Jordy Nelson (shoulder), tight end Richard Rodgers (shoulder), running back Aaron Jones (knee) and right tackle Jason Spriggs (knee) were lost during the game.

“I mean, it’s really hard,” Hundley said. “When you’ve got two big studs [Adams and Nelson] out there and then you lose them. Your right tackle goes down on the first play, then your running back goes out. I mean, it becomes really hard, but at the same time, a lot of people got reps and experience, and you’ve got find a way to win. That’s the name of the game.

“Defense played their butts off. Offense, we didn’t capitalize on the plays we needed to, and that starts with me. I’ve got to be able to lead this team no matter who’s on the field and get us in better opportunities to put some points on the board.”

As bad as Saturday night’s game looked with all those players out, the finale in Detroit might be even tougher to watch.

“We’ve got to play better,” Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “We have to find ways to win ballgames. We won’t take credit for anything. We’ve just got to continue to stay together, man, find ways to win ballgames, I guess. There’s a lot of things going on down here in this locker room, a lot of guys banged up, a lot of guys not playing, a lot of guys not putting their best foot forward. We’ve just got to hold guys accountable. The ones that step on the field with us, let’s go to work. The ones that don’t want to play, just turn your pads in and wait for next year.”

 

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Quarterback Cam Newton on Wednesday was feeling boastful about the way the Carolina Panthers outsmarted Green Bay and linebacker Clay Matthews on their first touchdown of Sunday’s victory against the Packers.

Video of the play, a 7-yard touchdown pass to rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, went viral.

The audio first picked up Matthews shouting to his defense to “watch that wheel route; it’s that wheel rout” when he thought he recognized what play was coming off the formation.

Then Newton, with a big smile knowing McCaffrey wasn’t running a wheel route, could be heard saying, “You’ve been watching film, huh? That’s cool. Watch this.”

Instead of a wheel route, McCaffrey came out of the backfield and went over the middle on a break-in route, untouched for the touchdown catch.

“I’m mad they didn’t see me and C-Mac’s reaction to when he said that,” Newton said of the smirk they exchanged. “It was funny. You could hear it clear as day, ‘Watch the wheel route, watch the wheel route.’

“Then there was, like, a pause, and the referee was right there, and I’m looking at C-Mac, C-Mac is looking back up at me, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s the wheel route.”’

Newton said he was too deep in the end zone celebrating to see Matthews’ reaction to the touchdown.

“You can guarantee one thing about it, we’ll have a new signals meeting a couple times this week,” said Newton, referring to this Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay in which a victory would give the Panthers (10-4) a playoff berth. “We don’t want the Buccaneers to get any ideas.”

Not that the Panthers wouldn’t have scored had McCaffrey run the wheel route, a pattern in which a back runs a quick out pattern and then turns up field.

“There were a couple things we could’ve done on that,” McCaffrey said. “Cam did a good job getting me the ball, and I was pretty much wide open from there. The wheel might’ve been open, too.”

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Bring back Aaron Rodgers. This season can still be saved.

Miraculously. Unexpectedly. Extraordinarily.

And with a little — OK, a lot of — thanks to the winless Cleveland Browns.

Ten wins, which was Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s formula for getting into the playoffs, is still on the board. At 7-6 with three games to go — at Carolina, home against Minnesota and at Detroit — it’s not over yet.

All that’s left to find out is whether Rodgers’ surgically repaired right clavicle has mended. If so, this 27-21 comeback victory in overtime — the second straight week the Packers have won in sudden-death fashion — combined with the return of their two-time MVP quarterback could turn out to be a defining moment in a season that for most of Sunday looked like it would end up lost.

“The way we fought, these last two weeks … to get that overtime win last week and do that same thing is huge,” said Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. “There’s your season right there.”

Of course, if the scan of Rodgers’ collarbone shows that the break suffered nearly two months ago hasn’t completely healed, then Sunday’s win could prove to be just an afterthought because it would seem unlikely that a Brett Hundley-led team could run the table.

Although after the way Hundley engineered a pair of second-half touchdown drives to rally the Packers from a 21-7 deficit to get to overtime, maybe it’s not as unfathomable as it sounds.

For much of the afternoon, this looked like it had the makings of one of the most humiliating losses since the 1997 Packers lost to the 0-10 Colts. That team, however, went to the Super Bowl. This one, however, still has so much more work to do to even make the playoffs.

But remember, Rodgers was playing at an MVP level before Anthony Barr changed the course of the Packers’ season with the hit that broke Rodgers’ right collarbone.

Rodgers had thrown 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions, and the Packers’ only loss in their first five games with him at the helm came at Atlanta.

“We love Aaron Rodgers, but I will not answer any questions about him today,” McCarthy said after the game. “This is about winning the game, and he’s still in the medical situation and as soon as we have the information we’ll try to get it to you.”

They still have all of their receivers, including Davante Adams, whose 1-yard touchdown on a back-shoulder throw sent the game into overtime and whose 25-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the extra session won it.

It was Hundley’s third win since Rodgers’ injury.

Now, they have a revamped running attack that, although it struggled for most of Sunday’s game, is just a week removed from a season-best 199-yard performance against the Buccaneers.

“It gives us a lot of confidence going forward,” said Hundley, who threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. “This team has a lot of fight, I’ll tell you that. We’re not out of this thing. We have a lot of fight in us. These two last games, we fought back. When we needed to execute, we executed. When our backs were against the wall, we came out swinging. We’ve done it for the last two weeks — came up short [against] the Steelers. This team has a lot of fight and it’s not over yet.”

The Browns gift-wrapped this one when their rookie quarterback, DeShone Kizer, threw one up for grabs in overtime with Matthews in his face. Rookie Josh Jones intercepted it, giving the Packers a short field to set up the game-winning score.

Of course, all the optimism over Rodgers’ return to practice last week and the face-saving overtime win over the Browns could be dashed if tests show Rodgers’ collarbone hasn’t completely mended.

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The Green Bay Packers lost Clay Matthews early and Kenny Clark late in Sunday’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and the latter injury, which appeared to be serious, did not sit well with members of the defense.

Clark, the Packers’ first-round pick in 2016, had to be carted off the field with an ankle injury that occurred while he was engaged with Ravens center Ryan Jensen.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said Clark was down on two knees and Jensen hit him repeatedly. The injury occurred during the fourth quarter of the Packers’ 23-0 loss at Lambeau Field.

“No. 66, I don’t even know his name, but he’s trash,” Clinton-Dix said of Jensen. “He’s a bad player. He doesn’t play fair. This is a game that we all love to play and love to enjoy, and you never want to see a guy get hurt when you’re playing overaggressive and doing things that you shouldn’t be doing. It’s uncalled for.

“[No.] 66, I don’t like him. He needs to tighten up on his play. Play ball. If you can’t whup him regularly, don’t cheap shot him. That’s what that guy’s been doing all year. I’ve been watching film of 66, and he’s a dirty player. I would love to have him on my team if he was like that, but at the end of the day, you can’t play like that and want to be a great in this league. It’s uncalled for.”

Clark was not available for comment after the game, and Packers coach Mike McCarthy had no update on his injured players.

“It was a play that a lot of us Packer players didn’t really like too much,” cornerback Davon House said.

Matthews sustained a groin injury in the first quarter, shortly after he ended the second-longest sack drought of his career. He dumped Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to force a punt on Baltimore’s first possession.

Matthews played the next series and then was examined on the sideline by the Packers’ medical staff. He returned for one more snap but limped off. He was then taken to the locker room early in the second quarter, then ruled out for the rest of the game.

Matthews had 2 1/2 sacks after four games, but then went the next five games without a sack until Sunday.

“It’s huge, man, especially the way Kenny got hurt,” House said of losing Clark and Matthews. “Guy’s a young guy, and for him to get hurt the way he got hurt sucks. Hopefully he’s all right, hopefully Clay’s all right too. They’re our big dogs. You need them. They do a great job rushing the [passer], collapsing the pocket for us. Makes our job a lot easier on the back end when they’re playing healthy and they’re doing what they’re doing.”

The Packers’ defense was already playing without two starters: cornerback Kevin King (shoulder) and safety Morgan Burnett (groin).

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There’s quarterback Aaron Rodgers plus receiver Jordy Nelson and right tackle Bryan Bulaga on offense. There’s safety Morgan Burnett and linebacker Clay Matthews on defense, plus kicker Mason Crosby.

Look around the Green Bay Packers’ locker room, and those are the only six players who remain from the franchise’s last Super Bowl team.

All of them no doubt yearn for a second Super Bowl, but two of them have to know their time is running shorter than the others. It isn’t Crosby or Rodgers, even though they’re the oldest among those players, at age 33. Kickers and quarterbacks can play until 40 — or beyond.

It isn’t Bulaga or Burnett; they’re both only 28.

It’s Matthews, 31, and Nelson, 32.

Both have contracts that expire after next season, and both play positions predicated on speed and athleticism, two things that can decline quickly. Both no doubt took it hard when Rodgers went on injured reserve last month because of his broken collarbone, knowing deep down that another year might pass without a return trip to the big game, even if the competitors in them won’t admit it.

“Is it going to be tough sledding this year?” Matthews said in an interview this past week. “Absolutely, but hopefully we can weather the storm until Aaron gets back. I don’t know. You just hope you get hot at the right time, and we’ve done that before.”

“I don’t know if it’s dwindling,” Matthews said of his chance to get another Super Bowl title. “But if you have the nucleus we have — championship teams usually have a great defense and a star quarterback. We’ve got the star quarterback, and we’ve shown flashes on defense. We’re a couple of plays away. … We ran into Atlanta last year in the NFC title game, and that was a buzz saw. I don’t know if we’re losing opportunities. Those opportunities are there. It’s just a matter of capitalizing. Unfortunately, we haven’t.”

Here’s a look at how Nelson and Matthews view their chances to get back to the Super Bowl:

Clay Matthews

Matthews was 24 years old and in his second NFL season when the Packers won Super Bowl XLV. A year earlier, he was a first-round pick and became the first Packers player since 1978 to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie. In the Super Bowl season of 2010, he was the runner-up to Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

The son of Clay Matthews Jr. and the nephew of Bruce Matthews, each of whom played 19 seasons in the NFL, Matthews surely figured that was just the beginning.

“Well, I think you’re a little naïve in thinking that, but especially following up the next year going 15-1, you’re like, ‘We’ve got something cooking here,’” said Matthews, who made one of the defining plays of Super Bowl XLV when he forced a fumble of Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall in the fourth quarter.

“We win that whole thing, and you’re going, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ Then ’11 comes along, and you’re 15-1, and you’re thinking, ‘We’re going to do this again,’ but you lose [in the playoffs] and you’re like, ‘OK, let’s refocus,’” Matthews said.

“In 2012, we got a second shot at San Francisco after playing them in Week 1, but we ran into a little bit of a buzz saw with Colin Kaepernick. Then, in 2013, Aaron gets hurt with the first [broken] collarbone, but we still get in [the playoffs] and lost at home, but I had just re-broken my thumb [and did not play]. In 2014, you’re right there again in Seattle [losing the NFC title game in overtime], those type of losses, and so on and so on.”

Matthews is in the fourth season of a five-year, $66 million contract extension. The Packers’ career sack leader — a mark he set earlier this year — hasn’t had a double-digit sack season since 2014. He has battled injuries but said before this season that if he can stay healthy for 16 games, he knows he can be as productive as ever. He has played 82 percent of the defensive snaps so far this season but has only 2.5 sacks.

“I’ll say this — and Clay may get mad that I say this about him — but Clay Matthews appreciates and participates with so much more energy in the practice environment,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in an interview this past week. “I see that over and over in this league that older players practice so much more and harder and are more giving of themselves to young players. The way Clay goes about his business today is night and day different than it was six years ago.”

Next season, Matthews would make $11.4 million if he’s on the roster. He is looking beyond that.

“Check the genealogy,” he said, offering a reminder of how long his dad and uncle played. “I don’t know how long I’m going to play. But I feel like I’m very real with myself from where I felt like I was going to be drafted to what I feel like I can accomplish, and I still feel really good. I feel like I can contribute a lot. I don’t think I’ve fallen off or lost a step. I’d love to be here for many more years. You accomplish what you can, and we’ll see where we’re at after next year.”

Jordy Nelson

Nelson was 25 and in his third NFL season when the Packers won the Super Bowl. It wasn’t until the next season that he became a 1,000-yard receiver and Rodgers’ No. 1 target.

Now, Nelson has three more reasons to get back to a Super Bowl: his kids. His son Royal was a year old the first time. Since then, Nelson and his wife, Emily, have adopted another son, Brooks, 2, and an infant daughter, Adda.

“Once you taste it, you want it again,” Nelson said in an interview this past week. “You want to experience it. Things have changed in my life that I want my kids to experience. My oldest turned a year the week of the Super Bowl. There’s pictures and stuff, but he doesn’t know what was going on. Now he’d be able to enjoy it.”

Nelson recalled the moments immediately after the 31-25 victory being a blur.

“I remember being on the field, and I was getting ushered off to go do the media, but I was like, ‘I need to stay here for a second,’” he said. “So I stopped and stood there with my wife and my son and took it all in. I have absolutely no idea what went on in the locker room after the game because I had to go to the media room. An hour later, I finally got in the locker room, and everyone was gone.

“I think you’d appreciate it more [the second time].”

Nelson has one more season left on his contract — he’s due to make $10.25 million — but the Packers are going to have to pay top money to another receiver, Davante Adams, who is scheduled to be a free agent after this season. Either way, Nelson wants to keep playing.

“I plan on playing two to four more years, so I think I’ve got two to four more chances,” he said. “I mean, that’s how we feel. Even if you look back to a few years ago, when Aaron broke his collarbone, once he came back and got into the playoffs, we felt like we had a chance. It’s the same thing now. You’ve just got to get in. You never know what could happen.”

From McCarthy’s vantage point, Nelson is doing more than ever to try to make it happen.

“Jordy speaks up in meetings all the time now,” McCarthy said. “Jordy speaks up on the sideline during the games — I’ve got to keep him off the officials sometimes — but he would’ve never done that eight years ago.”

That’s why Nelson uses the word “when,” rather than “if,” when he talks about the Packers getting back to the Super Bowl.

“I don’t want to say it will be sweeter because I think it downplays the one you got,” Nelson said. “But knowing where you’re at in your career, there’s certain things you would do to enjoy it. If it’s the week of the Super Bowl, with the family would be more enjoyable for me because all the kids would be there postgame and enjoying that.

“And honestly, all the perks that come with winning the Super Bowl, if it’s the TV shows or different things — we had kind of an awkward one because we had the lockout, and we didn’t really see each other until August. It will all be different.”

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The Green Bay Packers released defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois — again.It’s the second time this season they’ve let the ninth-year veteran go.

The first time came after he played just six snaps in the regular-season opener. They brought him back in Week 3.

On Wednesday, they released him again. Although they didn’t immediately replace him on the roster, they’re likely to fill his spot with rookie fourth-round outside linebacker Vince Biegel, who appears ready to come off the physically unable to perform list.

Biegel returned to practice on Oct. 18, the earliest possible date he could have taken the field after starting the season on PUP. It was the first time he was on the field since Packers rookie camp in May, when a recurring foot problem forced him to undergo a second surgery in less than year. Biegel first had surgery in the fall of 2016 during his senior season at Wisconsin.

The Packers hope Biegel can boost their pass rush, which has only seven sacks from their outside linebacker group (3.5 from Nick Perry, 2.5 from Clay Matthews and 1 from Ahmad Brooks).

Biegel would have to be activated or placed on injured reserve by the end of this week, when his three-week window to practice without counting against the roster ends.

“It’s like any player coming off whether it’s IR or PUP, there’s thresholds you have to jump over,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. “I thought he did a nice job practicing going into the New Orleans game. He’s going to have an opportunity to compete, and then we’ll make the decision whether to bring him up to the 53, and then from that you make the decision on the 46.”

Francois signed a one-year, $2 million contract that included a $250,000 signing bonus during free agency this past offseason. When the Packers re-signed him, they gave him nearly the exact same contract minus the signing bonus. As a vested veteran, he’s eligible to claim the rest of his $1.25 million base salary as termination pay. Players are allowed to do that just once in their careers.

In all, Francois appeared in six games for the Packers and made just two tackles.

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One look around the NFL during the Green Bay Packers’ bye showed just how much they miss the group of top-line players they lost in free agency last spring.

News of Martellus Bennett’s tentative plans to retire after this season make what happened with Jared Cook look even more perplexing.

Meanwhile, linebacker Julius Peppers recorded sack No. 7.5 this season — equaling his total from all of last season with the Packers — for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and safety Micah Hyde picked off his league-leading fifth pass for the Buffalo Bills.

Two of their former offensive linemen who left in free agency also lined up as starters for their new teams: T.J. Lang with the Detroit Lions and JC Tretter with the Cleveland Browns.

It’s hard to say which of those five free-agent losses the Packers miss most. Every one of those areas has proved problematic in Green Bay through the first seven games.

The Packers thought they had more than made up for Cook when they signed both Bennett and Lance Kendricks after negotiations surprisingly broke down with Cook. Cook and his agent either overplayed their hand or the Packers wouldn’t budge on their offer. Either way, the Packers turned elsewhere before Cook had anything in the works with the Oakland Raiders, who eventually signed him to a two-year, $10.6 million deal.

Cook, with 31 catches for 373 yards and one touchdown, has been more productive than Bennett (24 catches, 233 yards and no touchdowns) and also doesn’t plan on retiring after this season.

Then there’s Peppers, who has more sacks this season than Nick Perry (3.5 sacks) and Clay Matthews (2.5) combined. The Packers’ struggling defense, which entered Week 8 ranked 22nd overall, could have certainly used another pass-rusher. Peppers went back to Carolina for a one-year, $3.5 million deal, while the Packers re-signed Perry to a five-year, $60 million deal.

The Packers didn’t even make Hyde an offer before he signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract with the Bills. Meanwhile, the Packers’ secondary has been a mess with injuries at both cornerback and safety. Hyde’s five interceptions nearly equal the Packers’ entire team total of six this season.

On the offensive line, the Packers have started a different combination in each of their seven games this season. Meanwhile, Tretter has started every game for the Browns, while Lang has started all but one game for the Lions.