With the 2014 NFL Draft quickly approaching, it’s hard to focus on any other football happenings but yesterday the Green Bay Packers announced that inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore signed his restricted free agent tender yesterday according to PackersNews.com.
The third-year player from Middle Tennessee State, saw his most extensive playing time as a pro last season after being moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker in 2012 and was given a $1.4 million tender from the Packers earlier this offseason.
Lattimore was free to pursue a contract with another team but the tender offer gave Green Bay the right of first refusal, meaning the Packers would have been able to match any offer given by another team.
But as is customary is the NFL restricted free agent market, Lattimore generated little interest and decided to sign the tender to return to Green Bay for the 2014 season.
The former undrafted free agent played mostly on special teams during his first two seasons in Green Bay before earning some playing time last season following an mid-season injury to starting inside linebacker Brad Jones.
In Jones absence, Lattimore started two games and played in a total of 15. For the season, the 6-2, 232-pound linebacker posted 34 tackles and two sacks, flashing potential with his aggressiveness blitzing the quarterback and defending the run.
As far as projecting the 25-year old’s role with Green Bay for the 2014 season, much of that will depend on what happens in the draft next weekend.
There has been plenty of talk about the Packers selecting an inside linebacker in the draft who can come in and compete for playing time right away. Many mock drafts, including the one done by the yours truly, have Green Bay picking C.J. Mosley an inside linebacker from Alabama or Ryan Shazier an inside linebacker from Ohio State.
If Green Bay does end up selecting an inside linebacker in the first round or with one of their three picks on day two (one in the second round, two in the third) it would seemingly make it more difficult for Lattimore to work himself into the starting lineup.
However, if the Packers end up passing on the inside linebacker position, at least until later on the in draft, there is reason to believe Lattimore will have a legitimate opportunity to compete for a starting position.
After all, Jones had a disappointing season in 2013 and even though he was hampered by injuries most of it, he has a different skill set then Lattimore, who provides a much more physical presence in the middle of the defense.
Regardless of what happens on draft day, Lattimore flashed enough potential last year to get an opportunity to compete for playing time at inside linebacker this season and should also resume his role as a valued member of the Packers special teams.