Paul Imig’s Jan. 2 Packers mailbag

Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass against the Lions on Thanksgiving. Shields is set to be a free agent, and could command more than $8 million per season on the open market. 

Andrew Weber/Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to a playoff edition of Packers Mailbag. Here are the answers to five of this week’s questions:

Q: Why didn’t the Packers go for 2 in the Bear game? Score was 26-28. — Jon Jahnke

A: I completely agreed with coach Mike McCarthy’s decision to kick the extra point after that touchdown. There was still nearly 12 minutes left in the game, and though smart football minds can disagree on this topic, that is too early in the fourth quarter (in my opinion) to try the two-point conversion.

The risk is: what happens if the Packers fail the two-point try? If the Bears had then scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive, Chicago would have taken a 9-point lead after the extra point. That would make it a two-possession game, making it almost unwinnable for Green Bay. On the flip side, it could be argued that, well, if neither team scores again, the Packers lose by one point and didn’t try to tie the game when they had the chance. But, with it still being early in the fourth quarter, McCarthy knew with a good deal of certainty that his offense would get the ball at least one more time (but probably not two more times). So, Green Bay did the smart thing, because it still would have been a one-possession game, even if the Bears did score (which they didn’t).

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Q: I don’t quite know what to make of Sam Shields’ impending free agency. Cornerbacks obviously have value, but is he worth $8+M/year? If you look at the best defenses in the league (Seahawks, 49ers, Chiefs, Panthers, Bengals, Ravens) it seems like they all have relentless "front 7s" but the CB picture isn’t as clear. None of these teams have incompetent CBs, but only one team has a big-time "shutdown" cornerback (Richard Sherman of the Seahawks). Wouldn’t we be better off saving the money we might otherwise spend on Shields and put it toward a lineman or linebacker? — Captain Lou

A: Yes, I think Sam Shields is worth somewhere around $8 million per season, and I think he’ll be offered that amount by at least one team this offseason. It would be in the Packers’ best interest to make sure they are that team to get a contract signed with Shields. Having just turned 26 years old, Shields has benefitted greatly from his four years in Green Bay, during which he went from being an undrafted player to being one of the Packers’ best defensive players. General manager Ted Thompson is all about re-signing his own players, and Shields is one that he won’t want to let get away.

As for the importance of having an elite-level cornerback, it’s still viewed as being a key position on every team. That’s why teams continue to use top-10 draft picks on cornerbacks. Darrelle Revis, probably the NFL’s best cornerback, wasted his great season playing for the 4-12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but don’t let that confuse the fact that a player of that talent makes a big difference for a good team.

Keep in mind that the Packers will have the cap room to re-sign Shields and still target other players, should Thompson have a change in strategy and actually make noise in free agency. Big-salary players like Jermichael Finley, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji are all coming off the books, and Green Bay could decide that it doesn’t want to pay veteran Tramon Williams the big money that he’s owed in 2014.

Q: Is it me, or is OLB an offseason need that is more pressing that is being credited for? Both CM3 and Perry seem like the kind of guys who are going to miss a couple games every year, plus Perry is far from a proven commodity, plus the backups offer almost zero pass rush. Do you think Ted Thompson should use a high pick on another outside pass-rusher?

Thanks. — Tim S.

A: In last week’s Mailbag, I was asked the positions that I believe the Packers should target early in the draft, and I did not list outside linebacker among the top four. In order, I had 1) safety, 2) tight end, 3) inside linebacker and 4) wide receiver.

For Green Bay right now, outside linebacker is a tricky position. Clay Matthews is one of the NFL’s best when he’s healthy, but he only played 11 games this season and 12 games last season. Nick Perry has been even less durable, playing a total of 17 regular-season games in his first two NFL seasons. Mike Neal, the same player who was healthy for only 20 games in his first three NFL seasons combined, was available for all 16 games this season after his position change from defensive lineman to outside linebacker. Neal is a free agent but is likely the type of player that the Packers will want to re-sign.

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The question for Thompson and his front-office staff is, what do they project from Perry in the coming years? As a first-round pick in 2012, Perry has underperformed. However, he’s not been altogether bad. Neal is more of a pass-rushing specialist, albeit one who can factor largely into a defensive game plan. With rookies Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer on the roster, I’d probably wait to see how they develop in Year 2 and use a mid-to-late round draft pick on another outside linebacker as insurance.

Q: Well that was something. The defense actually kept it within striking distance and the Pack pulled it out in the end. What will it take for the Packers defense to keep the niners game within striking distance? –Tom K, La Crosse, WI

A: It’s going to be difficult for Green Bay to stop San Francisco’s offense. In last year’s playoffs, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick beat the Packers with zone-read runs (an astounding 181 rushing yards for Kaepernick). In Week 1 this season, Kaepernick beat Green Bay through the air (a season-high 412 yards passing). Kaepernick hasn’t run the ball as much this season, with a season-high of 87 rushing yards. However, the Packers know first-hand that Kaepernick is capable of doing it.

Frank Gore is another player who could give Green Bay’s defense trouble. Though the Packers held Gore to 21 carries for 44 yards in Week 1, Green Bay’s run defense is nowhere near as sound now as it was then. And, without Clay Matthews and Johnny Jolly, it’s going to force other players to play at a level that they may not be capable of.

The answer, as is often the case in most games, comes down to turnovers. Kaepernick doesn’t throw many interceptions (only eight this season), but he has fumbled six times and lost four of them. Gore fumbled three times in the regular season. The Packers have not been good in the takeaway department, though, ranking 12th out of 16 teams in the NFC. The only playoff team with fewer forced turnovers is the New Orleans Saints.

Q: What jeopardy is Dom Capers job in? Though the offense has been up and down, the defense has been down all season. Do you see a major overhaul this offseason? — grampa40 via Mailbag page

A: Statistically, it hasn’t been pretty for Green Bay this season, ranking 25th in run defense, 24th in pass defense and 24th in points allowed. The one main positive was finishing ninth in sacks.

I think Capers’ job could come down to what happens in the playoffs. If the Packers give up 35-plus points to San Francisco and lose in ugly fashion, Capers could be in trouble. If Green Bay advances through a round or two and its defense holds up fairly well, Capers might stick around. Capers made it clear that he has no plans to retire, so Thompson and McCarthy will have to decide whether there’s an upgrade available at defensive coordinator. With Capers’ track record in the NFL, though, I think it will take a beating from the 49ers in order for the Packers to replace him.

** That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading.

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