Not many people know what might have been going through Aaron Rodgers' mind Saturday night, when the Green Bay Packers quarterback accepted his second NFL Most Valuable Player award at the annual NFL Honors on the eve of the Super Bowl in Phoenix.

But Brett Favre probably had the best idea.

Favre and Rodgers are among a short list of NFL players who won multiple MVP awards. Favre, who preceded Rogers as the Packers' quarterback for 16 years, won three of them. He was the league MVP for the 1995, 1996 and 1997 seasons (though he shared the third with Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders).

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesOn Saturday night, Aaron Rodgers became the ninth NFL player to win multiple league MVP awards.
Three years after he won it for the first time, Rodgers collected his second MVP on Saturday.

"I think every guy who's had a chance to win even one, for that matter, you can never take that for granted," Favre said in telephone interview this weekend. "I think Aaron is well-deserving. I see no reason why he shouldn't win more. But I think the second and the third one were equally as gratifying."

Regardless of what Rodgers does the rest of his career, his place in history was secured when he became just the ninth player to win multiple MVPs.

Rodgers joined five-time winner Peyton Manning, three-time winners Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas and Favre, and two-time winners Joe Montana, Steve Young, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady as the only players to win multiple MVP awards.

"It's a great list. To be mentioned with those guys is an honor," Rodgers said after accepting the award, which was presented by Manning. "Like I said up there, Peyton, he set the gold standard -- him and Tom Brady, as far as quarterback play in my generation. And Peyton's won it five times -- that's incredible. But twice is nice. It just means that there's been some consistent play, and that's what I've prided myself on, and a consistent approach every week and good preparation and making the plays that my teammates expect me to make."

The Packers are only the second team with two players who won multiple MVPs. The San Francisco 49ers -- with Montana and Young -- are the other.

There's reason to think Favre is right: Rodgers could win more.

At 31, he has said several times he believes he can play between seven and nine more seasons. He has five more seasons on his current contract. He's the age Unitas was when he won his second of three MVPs. Only four of the multiple winners won their second MVP at a younger age than Rodgers. Those were Brown (22), Favre (27), Manning (28) and Warner (30).

Manning won his third, fourth and fifth MVPs at ages 32, 33 and 37.

Rodgers said that if he wins the award next year, he hopes he's not at the ceremony to accept it, but rather, in the team hotel preparing for the Super Bowl.

"Maybe I'm sending in a video message," Rodgers said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- To this day, Bob Harlan insists he's not sure what would have happened to the Green Bay Packers if they didn't start winning in the 1990s.

Maybe they would have survived. But maybe pro football in the NFL's smallest city would have eventually gone away.

[+] EnlargeMike Holmgren and Ron Wolf
Getty Images/Matthew StockmanFormer Packers GM Ron Wolf, right, helped bring a Super Bowl and staying power to the organization.
Thanks in large part to Harlan's decision to hire Ron Wolf as general manager in 1991, they never had to worry.

"I know what Ron will say: 'Without Brett, without Mike, without Reggie [the turnaround wouldn't have happened],' but that's what's great about Ron Wolf," former Packers quarterback Brett Favre said Friday in a telephone interview. "He's humble, modest, and he's a quiet guy. He's just not going to ever say that he was instrumental in that, nor should he. But the bottom line is it's the truth. Someone had to turn things around. And he did it."

Because of it, Wolf was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Harlan hired Wolf on Nov. 27, 1991. At that point, the Packers had exactly one playoff win -- in a wild-card game in the strike-shortened 1982 season -- since their latest championship under Vince Lombardi in Super Bowl II on Jan. 14, 1967.

Wolf acted swiftly when he arrived in Green Bay. Four days after he was introduced, he and Harlan sat in the press box in Atlanta, where the Packers played the Falcons. Wolf told Harlan he planned to trade for Favre, a backup with the Falcons. Back in Green Bay the next day, after a 35-31 loss to the Falcons, Wolf went to see his first Packers practice.

"He comes into my office," Harlan said, "and he says, 'You've got a problem on your practice field. This team is 4-10, and they're walking around like they're 10-4. We're going to make a change.' He had basically decided in two days on the job that Brett Favre was going to be our quarterback, and Lindy Infante was finished [as coach]."

With Wolf as general manager, Mike Holmgren as head coach and Favre as quarterback, the Packers went 75-37 in the regular season, 9-5 in the postseason and to two Super Bowls. They won No. XXXI. Holmgren left after the 1998 season, and Wolf stayed on for two more years, which gave him a total record (including playoffs) of 101-57 in nine seasons. Unlike when Lombardi left, there would be no falloff in Green Bay after Wolf retired.

"The thing that pleased me is that after 24 years of bad football, thanks to Ron and Mike Holmgren and now Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy, we've had 23 years of very good football," Harlan said. "It's been a huge turnaround, but I don't know where we'd be [without Wolf]."

Even though Wolf retired in 2001, his fingerprints remain all over the Packers. He hired Thompson, the current GM, as a scout in 1992, and his son, Eliot, is the Packers' director of player personnel. Four other Wolf disciples -- John Dorsey (Kansas City), Reggie McKenzie (Oakland), Scot McCloughan (Washington) and John Schneider (Seattle) -- currently hold GM posts.

"I think it was a combination of the leadership team in place with Bob Harlan, Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren," said Dorsey, who played for the Packers from 1984-88 and then worked under Wolf as a scout. "He's a stickler for doing it the right way. He was a big part, instrumentally, in terms of changing that culture and that environment. I would say that it was a huge step in laying the foundation for where that organization is today."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Before he said anything else late Friday night, Brett Favre wanted to know this: What were the chances his old general manager, Ron Wolf, gets elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame the next day?

Favre had just emerged from two days of hunting in the woods of Alabama with Steve Hutchinson, his former teammate from his two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, and had not read or heard any of the scuttlebutt surrounding Saturday's Hall of Fame vote.

Foremost on Favre's mind was Wolf's possible induction. Wolf, the former Green Bay Packers general manger, is a finalist in the newly created "contributor" category.

"Man, I sure hope it happens," Favre said during a telephone interview. "Of course, I'm biased to Ron."

And then one of the NFL's all-time greatest talkers – and, of course, all-time best quarterbacks – spent the next 20 minutes telling stories about Wolf, the man who traded a first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons in early 1992 to bring Favre to Green Bay.

That was one of the many moves that Wolf made to resurrect a downtrodden franchise that had not sniffed an NFL championship in nearly three decades.

"People don't think about it now because I played 20 years and had a great career, but he stuck his neck out to go get me," Favre said. "To give up a first-round pick for a guy who was drafted in the second round, who didn't play and was definitely unproven, and my goodness to hand him over to Mike Holmgren, an unproven guy as far as a head coach is concerned. That was his first move, and it ended up being a tremendous move. [Holmgren was] the greatest coach I ever played for at any point in my career. And I think getting me – and I'm not saying getting me because I thought I was great – just the risk was an unbelievable move, one that no one could see but him."

[+] EnlargeMike Holmgren and Ron Wolf
Getty Images/Matthew StockmanFormer Packers GM Ron Wolf, right, helped bring a Super Bowl and staying power to the organization.
Favre wasn't even sure who Wolf was when the phone rang at his parents' home in Kiln, Mississippi, on Feb. 11, 1992. He had just hung up with June Jones, then the Falcons' offensive coordinator. It was Jones who broke the news to Favre that he had been traded to the Packers. Favre and his brother, Scott, were standing in the family kitchen still stunned over Jones' phone call when Wolf called.

"I had heard of Ron Wolf, but I don't even know if I knew he was in Green Bay at that point," Favre said. "He said, 'Look, I'm the GM in Green Bay and we just traded for you and I want you to know that we're very excited about having you and having you lead our team.'

"From Day 1, there was one thing about Ron: He was always ultra-positive with me. Of course, Holmgren, as a coach you see things a little different. You want to win football games with whoever you see fit, but he knew that Ron wanted me to play. I always felt this sense of comfort that no matter what, Ron's got my back."

The Packers, who went 101-57 (including playoffs) and won one Super Bowl in Wolf's tenure as general manager, went 9-7 in that first season with Wolf, Holmgren and Favre, who became the starter four games into that season. It was just the Packers' fourth winning season since their last NFL championship under Vince Lombardi in 1967.

In Favre's eyes, the change really began the next offseason.

"Just as importantly, he made it cool to come to Green Bay, no pun intended, and that was because he got Reggie White," Favre said. "You know as well as I do – and no one thinks about it now because everybody would love to go to Green Bay and play – getting Reggie White brought serious credibility to coming to Green Bay. It wasn't just a place to be shipped off to in order to finish your career.

"Look, the players ultimately have to play at some point. You stick your neck out there for them, you pay them lots of money, you give up draft picks for them, and there are so many debacles that you can point to in the history of this league that didn't work. But yet his did. He can't win ballgames for anyone, but he can set the table, and that's what he did. I just think when you look at where Green Bay is today – [current GM] Ted Thompson's another one, he learned from the best in Ron and I think Ted's done an excellent job – there's just a filter-down effect from what he did that makes him unquestionably deserving of a Hall of Fame induction."
Each week, readers are invited to submit questions about the Green Bay Packers via Twitter using the hashtag #PackersMail. We'll continue that throughout the offseason. Here are some of the topics that came up this week:

Demovsky: Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been asked this before -- although not recently -- and his response is usually the same: If he felt like the team would be better served to have someone else call the offensive plays, then he would have no problem giving it up. He obviously hasn't reached that point. Now, there was something that came up indirectly about this matter in his season wrap-up press conference this week that was interesting. He was asked if he had any more information about why linebacker Clay Matthews wasn't on the field for a pair of fourth-quarter series and said, after mentioning Matthews had a knee injury, that: "As far as the doctors, especially being a play-caller, I don't get every play by play of what every guy was looked at during the course of the game. I really don't even get that until after a home game until I go back through the training room, and we have a list that we go through each guy he has seen. Just the way we're structured, unless it impacts the game as far as a player injury, I'm not really notified." Now, that's not to say McCarthy should or will give up play calling in order to be better informed of other aspects of the game. The point is that when the head coach is the play-caller, there are things that could slip through the cracks.

Demovsky: Well, they would probably be playing in Sunday's Super Bowl if they had recovered it, so I think it's safe to say he would. And then let's say they win the Super Bowl. How do you fire a coordinator? I can't recall a Super Bowl-winning team ever firing one of its coordinators, but perhaps it has happened at some point. Nevertheless, Shawn Slocum's fate was sealed when Brandon Bostick botched the onside kick recovery with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game.

Demovsky: Bubba Franks was a massive target at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. He had 32 touchdown catches in his eight seasons with the Packers and although I don't have every one of them charted, it's a good bet that at least half of them -- if not more -- were less than 10 yards. I know several of them were 1- or 2-yard touchdowns. He made three Pro Bowls doing so. Richard Rodgers is two inches shorter and nearly 10 pounds lighter, so he's not exactly the same kind of target. However, he's probably more fluid as a runner than Franks was. That's why Rodgers has a chance to post a much higher yards-per-catch average than Franks, whose career average was just 9.0 yards per reception. Rodgers averaged 11.3 yards per catch as a rookie, and he has the ability to raise that number. However, he may never be the short-yardage, touchdown machine that Franks was in his prime, when he caught 27 touchdowns over a four-year stretch from 2001-04.

Demovsky:: I spent time digging into this issue and here's what I found: For reasons that were never explained -- not even to McCarthy (I asked him on Wednesday) -- the officials said the penalty against the Seattle Seahawks' J.R. Sweezy was not a dead-ball foul. The way I understand the rule, that means that if the Packers accepted the penalty, it would have wiped out Clay Matthews' sack, which was a 15-yard loss for the Seahawks that made it second-and-30 from the Seattle 41. If they would have accepted the penalty, it would have been a 15-yard mark-off, but the Seahawks would have been allowed to replay the down, so it still would have been first down. Only if it had been ruled a dead-ball penalty would it have compounded the sack, so the question is why wasn't it a dead-ball infraction? I have no answer for that.

Demovsky: I can't say that I've noticed that from Matthews. He looked like he was flying around like usual, celebrating with his teammates after big plays, etc. Now, was he totally thrilled with the move to inside linebacker at midseason? No, especially not at the start. He even admitted on Nov. 13 that "in a perfect world, I'd love to line up outside 100 percent of the time, get sacks, but we were able to do that from a different position. It worked out." As the season went on, it appeared that Matthews warmed up to the idea of splitting his snaps between inside and outside linebacker.  

Aaron Rodgers named NFL MVP

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31

Aaron Rodgers didn't have quite the gaudy numbers he did in his first MVP season. But perhaps it's what the Green Bay Packers quarterback didn't do in 2014 that secured his second NFL Most Valuable Player award.

In winning the MVP award Saturday night in Phoenix, Rodgers was rewarded for a season in which he almost never threw the ball to the other team.

Rodgers, 31, led the NFL in touchdown-to-interception ratio (38 TDs, 5 INTs) during the regular season. He also finished second in passer rating (112.2) and yards per attempt (8.43), and third in touchdown passes.

He was the only quarterback to finish in the top three in all four of those categories.

"I feel so fortunate to live out my dreams, year after year," Rodgers said after accepting the award.

His TD-to-INT ratio was the fifth-best single-season mark in NFL history and was second among quarterbacks with at least 30 touchdown passes, trailing only Tom Brady's 36-touchdown, four-interception 2010 season.

Rodgers played the final game and a half of the regular season plus the playoffs with a torn left calf muscle that significantly limited his mobility. When he returned to the game in the third quarter of the regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions, the Lambeau Field crowd saluted him with chants of "MVP, MVP."

"So much has to come together for this to happen. It was a tough year injury-wise. I had the unathletic hamstring and calf pulls, and just dealing with those," Rodgers said. "My training staff and my acupuncturist and my massage therapist deserve a lot of credit for getting me back on the field. It was a tough grind to get through it, but that's what we do as players."

Rodgers won his first MVP award following the 2011 season. He became just the ninth player in history to win multiple MVP awards, joining former teammate Brett Favre, who was a three-time MVP.

Rodgers received 31 of the 50 votes from a nationwide panel of media members who regularly cover the league.

Defensive player of the year

(Read full post)

Junior Seau headlines HOF class

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31

PHOENIX -- Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau and Kansas City Chiefs guard Will Shields, both 12-time Pro Bowl selections during their NFL careers, were elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2015 on Saturday.

Seau, in his first year of eligibility, Shields, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and current ESPN analyst Jerome Bettis, wide receiver Tim Brown and defensive end Charles Haley were the five modern-era enshrinees selected in the meeting of the Hall's board of selectors.

The class of 2015 also will include former Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff, who played 240 games in his career and was the seniors committee nominee, as well as two nominees in the contributors category -- former Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian, as well as longtime NFL executive Ron Wolf.

The board of selectors began the day with 15 modern-era finalists, which were trimmed first to 10 finalists and then to five in the daylong meeting. A finalist must receive 80 percent of the vote from the 46 selectors to be selected for enshrinement.

The class was announced during the "NFL Honors" awards show inside the Phoenix Symphony Hall. It will be formally enshrined at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in August.

Seau played 13 seasons with the Chargers, three years with the Miami Dolphins

(Read full post)

Shawn Slocum fired after botches

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Less than two weeks after a pair of botched special-teams plays cost the Green Bay Packers in their NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks, coach Mike McCarthy fired special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum on Friday.

McCarthy made the announcement in a statement.

"I would like to thank Shawn for all of his contributions over the past nine years," McCarthy said. "He was a positive contributor to our success, including helping us win Super Bowl XLV. We wish Shawn, Michelle and their family the best moving forward."

One of the worst special-teams seasons in team history culminated with two costly plays in the overtime loss at Seattle.

Seahawks punter and holder Jon Ryan threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to backup offensive lineman Garry Gilliam on a fake field goal in the third quarter. The Packers had led 16-0 before the TD. Then, with 2:09 remaining in the game and the Packers clinging to a 19-14 lead, the Packers failed to secure Seattle's onside kick when backup tight end Brandon Bostick let the ball go through his hands. Bostick was supposed to block and allow receiver Jordy Nelson to secure the ball. Immediately after the play, Slocum could be seen screaming at Bostick on the sideline.

"Special teams, definitely a tough performance for us," McCarthy said earlier this week in his season wrap-up press conference. "Anytime you give up seven points and have a turnover, it's very difficult to overcome that, especially when it occurs in the second half like it did."

(Read full post)

2015 Hall of Fame finalist: Ron Wolf

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Even if Ron Wolf's career included only his 10-year run as general manager of the Green Bay Packers, his impact on the NFL would have been monumental.

 What he did in Green Bay had a long-lasting impact. He saved a franchise that was going nowhere. In between the Packers' last Lombardi-era championship in 1967 and Wolf's first full season in 1992, they had only three winning seasons.

After Wolf hired Mike Holmgren as head coach and traded for quarterback Brett Favre in early 1992, the Packers didn't have another losing season until 2005 -- four years after Wolf had retired.

"I think it's one of the great resurrection jobs this league has ever seen," said Bob Harlan, the former Packers president who hired Wolf on Nov. 27, 1991. "We had 24 years of mediocre football, and we had a fan base that was very upset and a fan base that was thinking we were never going to succeed again."

Wolf's impact on the Packers was so great that in 2006 Harlan put his name up on the ring of honor in the newly renovated Lambeau Field, something that previously had been reserved only for those in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"The fact that we were successful on the football field in the late 1990s was a big factor in us passing the stadium [renovation] referendum," Harlan said. "If we didn't have that stadium, I don't know where this franchise would be. It totally stabilized the financial future, and Ron and the success we had was a big part of that."

But there's more to Wolf than just his decade-long run with the Packers, which included two Super Bowl appearances (with one victory). He spent 23 years helping to build the Raiders' roster that won nine division titles and played in eight AFL/AFC Championship Games and three Super Bowls. At age 37, he was hired as GM of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Wolf and Bill Polian are finalists in the contributor category.

Plays that shaped the season: No. 6

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers were on the field for 2,916 plays combined on offense, defense and special teams in 18 games, including playoffs, this season. Most will be forgotten, but some will be remembered for years to come.

As we look back on the season that ended with the stunning NFC Championship Game collapse against the Seattle Seahawks, we will examine 10 plays, chosen subjectively, as the ones that most shaped the Packers' season.

The list, so far, in reverse order

No. 10: The Jets' touchdown that wasn't a touchdown.

No. 9: Dez Bryant's catch that wasn't a catch.

No: 8: Julius Peppers' 49-yard interception return for a touchdown versus Minnesota.

No: 7: Mike Daniels' and Mike Neal's combined sack of Tom Brady in the fourth quarter vs. New England.

Here's No. 6:

Game: Packers vs. New England Patriots

Date: Nov. 30, 2014.

Location: Lambeau Field

The play: Aaron Rodgers' 45-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson with 14 seconds left in the first half.

Why it mattered: Less than a minute earlier, the Patriots had cut the Packers lead to 16-14 on Brady's touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell with 1:05 remaining. With the Patriots to receive the kickoff to start the third quarter, all they needed was a defensive stop and they'd have the chance to double up with the last score of the first half and the first score of the second half. But Nelson, who before that drive had not caught a single pass in the game, finally beat the blanket coverage from cornerback Darrelle Revis. He ran a short in-breaking route, caught the ball at the Patriots' 35-yard line and outran everyone to the left pylon to give the Packers a 23-14 halftime lead on the way to their 26-21 victory.

Quotable: "Obviously, [that was] very important, especially where New England's coming back in the second half with the ball," Nelson said after the game. "For us to go down there and get points, at that point in the game, you're not thinking we’ll hit a slant for a touchdown, I don't want to say steal some points there, but we kind of did and put us in a situation to win the game."
Two weeks after wrapping up a brief stint as a consultant for the New York Jets, Ron Wolf is on the verge of football immortality.

Wolf is nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the contributors category and, if the 46-person selection committee doesn't fumble Saturday during its annual meeting at the Super Bowl, the former longtime general manager will be elected to Canton, Ohio.

Not many people remember this, but Wolf actually spent 17 months as the Jets' personnel director before taking over the Green Bay Packers in December 1991 -- a period that included one of the biggest "what if?" moments in Jets history.

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre
Bill Kostroun/Associated PressBrett Favre eventually played for the New York Jets, but if Ron Wolf had his way, it would have happened in 1991.
The time they almost drafted Brett Favre.

Wolf fell in love with Favre while working for the Jets' late general manager, Dick Steinberg. He scouted him in the fall of 1990 at Southern Mississippi and was blown away by Favre at the East-West Shrine Game in Palo Alto, California.

"Dick and I were at the East-West game, and Brett was outstanding," Wolf said in a phone interview Thursday. "I remember, we both said, 'This is the best player in the draft.'"

In fact, they made Favre the No. 1 player on their draft board -- much higher than most teams rated him. Thing is, the Jets didn't have a first-round pick, having used it to select Rob Moore in the previous summer's supplemental draft. Much to their surprise, Favre slipped into the second round.

The Jets, picking seventh in Round 2, made a deal to jump up two spots, ahead of the Atlanta Falcons, who were known to covet Favre. The plan was to swap places with the Arizona Cardinals and select Favre with the 33rd overall choice.

"Dick thought he had a deal with Arizona," Wolf said. "Fortunately for me and unfortunately for the Jets, when he called Arizona to finish the deal, they backed out because a player they wanted was still there [defensive end Mike Jones]."

As expected, the Falcons took Favre and the Jets got stuck with quarterback Browning Nagle, an all-time bust known for his erratic arm and hard-partying ways. Then-coach Bruce Coslet lobbied hard for Nagle, who was supposed to play with Favre in the East-West game but didn't play due to a late night. Nevertheless, Steinberg trusted Coslet and, man, did they get burned.

The Jets' misfortune worked out brilliantly for Wolf, who, in his first big move as the Packers' GM, traded a first-round pick to the Falcons for Favre. With three moves, Wolf restored the Packers to glory. He hired Mike Holmgren (who spurned the Jets in 1990), traded for Favre and, a year later, signed Reggie White (who spurned the Jets in free agency).

It was just a blip in a great career that spanned nearly 40 years, but Wolf treasures his time with the Jets.

"I had spent most of my professional life with [late Oakland Raiders owner] Al Davis, and everything I learned was pretty much from him, but that year and a half in New York was great," Wolf said. "I really didn't know Dick, but I was able to take a lot of things he did in his preparation, tweaked them a lot and took them to Green Bay. … It was a wonderful year for me from an educational standpoint. I benefited tremendously from his friendship. It was a good year for Ron Wolf."

For the Jets, not so much.
A roundup of what’s happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Last week, NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. re-graded the 2014 draft in an ESPN Insider piece.

He gave the Packers a high mark for their class.

This week, Kiper took a different approach to judging the most recent draft classes. He looked at the impact they made on each team's season and concluded that the Packers' class made the biggest contribution in the league in terms of helping their team win in 2014.

Kiper’s top 10 can be found in this ESPN Insider piece.

Here's why he ranked the Packers at the top:

"They obviously won a lot of football games, and were nothing less than extraordinarily unlucky to not be in the Super Bowl. And rookies played a huge role all the way to the end. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was good, and got better, and is a potential MVP of the NFC Championship Game if the Packers don't collapse. Pass-catchers Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers played winning roles. Corey Linsley started all year and was a borderline Pro Bowl center. That's getting a lot and winning, too."

In case you missed it from
Best of the rest:
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For Cody Mandell, there probably wasn't a better team than the Green Bay Packers.

The free-agent punter the Packers signed on Monday is plenty familiar with his new situation.

Three of his college teammates from the University of Alabama -- running back Eddie Lacy, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and linebacker Adrian Hubbard -- are on the Packers' roster. He knows the man he's going to be competing with for a job, Packers punter Tim Masthay, quite well. And his personal kicking coach, Jamie Kohl, is based in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha.

"Having familiarity is going to make it a comforting process," Mandell said Thursday in a telephone interview from his home in Houston. "But I'm going to go up there and work every day and give it my all."

Mandell has attended kicking camps with Masthay several times. In fact, the two worked out together last summer (along with Saints punter Thomas Morstead and Raiders punter Marquette King) at one of Kohl's camps in Whitewater, Wisconsin, shortly before Mandell went to training camp with the Dallas Cowboys.

This is Mandell's second shot with an NFL team. An undrafted rookie last year, he played in one preseason game for the Cowboys last summer, averaging 43.7 yards on three punts, before he was released.

His route back to the NFL was a long one. Out of football for all of 2014, Mandell worked as a sales representative for a medical device company called Smith & Nephew while still trying to stay in shape and hone his kicking skills.

Earlier this month, his agent, Brooks Henderson, encouraged him to attend a kicking combine organized by former NFL kicker Michael Husted in Mobile, Alabama, during the week of the Senior Bowl. The Packers liked what they saw there and invited Mandell to a tryout in Green Bay on Monday. Mandell outperformed two other punters -- Brock Miller and Kasey Redfern, who was with Jacksonville in camp last year and re-signed with the Jaguars on Thursday -- and was signed to a futures deal that would pay him minimum salaries of $435,000 in 2015 and $525,000 in 2016 if he makes the team.

It's the first time since 2010, when Masthay beat out Australian Chris Bryan, that the Packers have multiple punters on their roster. Masthay, who has two years remaining on a four-year, $5.465 million contract, is coming off a shaky second half of the season that helped contribute to the lowest net punt average (37.0 yards) of his career. In 2013, Masthay set the Packers’ record for net punting in a season with a 39.0-yard average.

Masthay did not finish the 2014 season well. In the NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks, he hit two poor punts in the fourth quarter -- a 37-yarder that was returned 2 yards and a 30-yarder that went out of bounds at the 31-yard line.

Still, there's no reason to think the Packers are giving up on Masthay. The Packers told Mandell they signed him to provide competition for Masthay.

"Tim is a great punter; I've known Tim for going on five years now," said Mandell, who averaged 42.6 yards (gross) per punt in 52 career games in college and was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award as a senior. "He's a great guy. He's a competitor. Like the Packers said, they had nothing bad to say about him. He just had a down year, I guess. But the guy's great. Every time I've kicked with him he’s been nothing but helpful to me."

NFL Nation TV talks Hall of Fame

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
Join us at 3 p.m. ET, 12 p.m. PT Thursday for the second special NFL Nation TV Super Bowl Week Spreecast.

Episode No. 42 will review's recent joint venture with Pro Football Focus, which broke down how many "above-average" players each team is from contending for the Super Bowl.

The crew will also preview the Super Bowl matchup between the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and three-time winner New England Patriots as well as break down how the Pro Football Hall of Fame's upcoming class may shake out Saturday.

Host Paul Gutierrez (ESPN Nation's San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) and ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando, both of whom are among the Hall's 46 selectors.