GREEN BAY – While the Green Bay Packers didn’t deem free agent Scott Wells valuable enough to spend big money on this offseason, that in no way was indicative of the center position’s importance to the offense.
Instead, needing to budget for major contract extensions for a cavalcade of other key players, the 31-year-old Wells was viewed as expendable, only because the contract he ended up signing (four years, $24 million) with the St. Louis Rams was simply cost prohibitive with Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, Aaron Rodgers and others approaching the end of their expensive deals.
And, the Packers’ next personnel move made it clear just how important the center position is: They went out and signed five-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, eschewing their history of shying away from a) free agents and b) older players. For coach Mike McCarthy, who said he simply could not hand the center job over to an inexperienced player for the 2012 season, getting Saturday was a must.
“It’s important to make sure your key decision makers are giving everyone else an opportunity to maximize their talents, particularly the schematic challenge that we put on teams with our offense,” McCarthy said of Saturday, who turned 37 in June. “So that was a very important acquisition.
“It really was going to be very important on who was going to play center because we will not slow down the quarterback and the rest of our offense, especially where we are. We’re at a place we want to be, and we want to expand. When our offensive guys get back, we’ve got some new stuff going and they’re going to be excited about it, but it’s not for the inexperienced.”
Saturday, who signed a two-year, $7.75 million deal and has acknowledged that he may only play one of those two years, will be absolutely crucial to the Packers’ offense. Last season, McCarthy implemented greater use of the no-huddle offense, something that Saturday might have more experience in than any other center in the league, having played with Peyton Manning, who took it to another level in his time in Indianapolis.
McCarthy also said that despite his age – Saturday turns 37 in June – he doesn’t look like a high-mileage player on film and has been extremely durable, starting 188 games and starting all 16 regular-season games in six of the past seven years.
While the team wants to develop Evan Dietrich-Smith, practice-squadder Samson Genus or undrafted rookie free agent Tommie Draheim as the heir apparent to Saturday, the team is counting on Saturday to line up every week. His ability to recognize defenses, adjust protection calls and pick up blitzes will be vital to NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers not only staying upright, but having another boffo season.
“I tell people all the time, I’ve had a blessed career and now you’re just capping it off,” Saturday said. “I told them when I got here, obviously Aaron Rodgers is the MVP, so there’s a reason you’re the No. 1 player in the league, because you’re playing like it. The guy gets it done. Just all the guys I’ve seen here so far, getting to know everybody, guys know what they’re doing, they know this offense, they feel comfortable in the system and it’s fun to be a part of it.
“I feel a little bit like a rookie. I’m in the book a lot more than I’ve ever been, or at least the sinde the 90’s. That’s quite a while. It’s fun, too. It kind of refreshes you. You get back in the book. you look at different things and you see how different philosophies pick things up in different ways. Obviously I haven’t got the whole thing figured out Day 1, so it’s going to take me some time.”
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There are no games scheduled for today.