Free agent-to-be John Kuhn finished the 2013 season with 12 carries for 40 yards and two touchdowns, plus 15 receptions for 97 yards. But his pass-blocking and short-yardage savvy are far more valuable to Green Bay than his overall statistics.
Mike Roemer/Associated Press
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Think of five players on the Green Bay Packers. Which five came to mind first? Perhaps John Kuhn’s name was among them, perhaps not. But for a veteran fullback whose production is rarely measured in box scores, Kuhn may be as popular among the fanbase as he is quietly important to the offense.
Now imagine a 2014 Packers team without Kuhn. Something about not hearing a sold-out Lambeau Field crowd yell his last name in unison before a third-and-short or goal-line play seems strange. It could happen, though, as Kuhn is going to hit free agency this offseason.
While it will also require interest from general manager Ted Thompson and Green Bay’s front-office staff to continue a relationship that’s been going strong for six years, consider Kuhn to be very on board with the idea of remaining a member of the Packers.
"I love it in Green Bay, and I love playing for the Packers," Kuhn said.
Kuhn mentioned all of the factors that will ultimately go into his decision of where to sign when free agency begins March 11. Yeah, there’s the money, but the 31-year-old also included fitting in an offense, liking the city of where the team is located and how close that franchise is to potentially winning a Super Bowl.
One thing is certain, however: replacing Kuhn on Green Bay’s roster would be a challenge.
"John is so good at what he does," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. "I have to say he’s probably the best pass protector, third-down back in the league as far as protection. I don’t know if there’s anybody that’s more sound and doesn’t lose blocks. He wasn’t credited for one sack this season. When he was in there in protection, he was outstanding."
Though it was a fourth-down play and not a third-down play, Kuhn proved Van Pelt’s point on what was perhaps the most meaningful pass-protection moment of his career. It was the moment that earned Kuhn the title "unsung hero" from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. With the Packers trailing in Chicago in Week 17 and facing fourth-and-8 with less than one minute remaining, Kuhn stalled the pass rush of Julius Peppers, giving Rodgers the extra time to launch what was a game-winning — and NFC North-clinching — touchdown pass.
If Thompson elects to go in a different direction this offseason, it’s plays like that that could be in danger of not being executed properly if a player other than Kuhn is in that same position.
There’s also Kuhn’s experience and know-how in Green Bay’s offense that can’t easily be replicated.
"He’d often make adjustments to the offensive line when Aaron was out and quarterbacks may not have been as comfortable making a certain adjustment, where John would see it and go ahead and relay it to the line and get it communicated," Van Pelt said. "The value right there of protecting on third downs is huge.
"At certain points, you have a comfort level with John that’s huge. That would be a hole we’d have to fill."
Suffice it to say, Van Pelt wants Kuhn back next season.
Kuhn finished the 2013 season with 12 carries for 40 yards and two touchdowns, plus 15 receptions for 97 yards. That’s fine and all, but as Van Pelt was quick to acknowledge, it was Kuhn’s 77 plays as a pass-blocker without allowing a sack that will find him employment in the NFL — whether it’s in Green Bay or elsewhere — for at least one more year.
"Every time you get a chance to go out on the field, you try and reiterate why you’re valuable," Kuhn said. "And whether that’s playing fullback, halfback, shoot, any position on the offense, you want to do the best you can and show people all around the league that you are a valuable player, and I think I did that pretty good this year."
Kuhn made more than $2.5 million for the 2013 season, a fairly big number for a player who was on the field for just 32 percent of offensive snaps. He’s one of 17 unrestricted free agents, too, so money will have to be carefully allocated to those players that Thompson deems worthy of sticking around.
Keeping the unsung hero and fan favorite around for another season seems like one move that would be wise for Thompson to prioritize during what will be a very busy free-agency period in a couple months.