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Friday, July 08, 2005

Disarray in Packerland, The State of the Packers, pre-camp

by Mark Lawrence
PackerChatters Staff

Almost immediately after the '04 playoffs were over, Packers President Bob Harlan relieved GM/Coach Mike Sherman of his coaching duties, and hired Ted Thompson as the new GM for the Packers. Thompson came in and has proven a master of talking to reporters but saying nothing. We have very few signs of his intentions for this team and its future. What we do know is quite disquieting.

At the time of this writing (7/7/05) Mike Sherman has one year left on his contract, and there have been no talks about an extension. The Packers have a lame-duck coach. Simultaneous with this, the Packers have undergone a substantial purge of their coaching staff. Of the 18 coaches on the Packers staff, 8 are new hires and 2 are coaching new positions. 6 of these coaching changes are on the defensive side. The only thing that's clear about the Packers defense is that it will have an all new look.

There are several key players who are threatening to hold out: Javon Walker, the pro-bowl WR; Grady Jackson, the NT who is the heart of this Packers defense; Bubba Franks, the pro-bowl TE; and Najeh Davenport, a backup RB. The loss of all four of these players would be an unprecedented blow which would be very difficult to overcome. In the absence of all four, it's difficult at this instant to see the Packers winning better than 8 games.

GM Ted Thompson proved very active in draft day trades, and managed to draft 11 new players. These new players were obviously chosen for speed and future potential; it's difficult to see any of them making a strong contribution in the month of September. Also Thompson used his 1st round pick on Aaron Rodgers, a QB prospect who will obviously be unable to play effectively this year, but who at this instant is the anointed heir of Brett Favre.

There are several other key players who are not currently signed past this year. Foremost on this list is Ahman Green, the Packers pro-bowl running back. Ahman will be 30 in '06 and up for a major payday, a payday that would be a questionable contract for a 30 year old RB who has taken the number of hits that Ahman has taken. It is not difficult to imagine that Thompson will let Ahman sign somewhere else. It is not at all inconceivable that Thompson will ask Favre to retire. It seems rather likely that if there is a new head coach in Green Bay that Favre will choose to retire. It seems impossible that Cledetus Hunt will be on the '06 roster - at this instant, one would be taking a long shot to bet that he will be on the '05 roster. Center Mike Flannigan will be in for a big payday, but has had ongoing leg and knee problems. It seems likely that Scott Wells will be taking his place. Ryan Longwell, the Packer's superlative kicker, is not under contract. Personally, I would make signing him a priority. Additionally, the Packers will most likely play most of this year with a pair of aging and mediocre offensive guards. It seems likely that there will be some new blood at this position.

At this instant, the Packers are pretty tight against the salary cap, with about $6M available, about $4M of which will go to signing the new draft picks. It's clear that there will be few major roster changes for the rest of this year. Next year, however, is completely different. At this instant, making a few presumptions about how the draftees will be signed, the Packers have only 34 players under contract for '06 (1). It would appear that they will also have about $55M in available cap space to sign players, either players currently on the roster or players who will become free agents. This is a curious state, as it would appear that Thompson does not place a lot of value on many of the players currently on the roster, nor does he show any inclination to be a big player in free agency. NFL rules specify that the entire salary cap must be spent, but it's not impossible to imagine a situation like Minnesota's last year, where a particular player gets a contract with some "likely to be earned" bonuses which don't get earned. In this way, Minnesota user Randy Moss' contract to effectively move about $7M of last year's salary cap space into this year. It's very plausible that Thompson will do some similar thing, pushing money forward.

The '06 Packers figure to be an exceptionally young and fast team. The starters in the defensive backfield will most likely be Al Harris and a bunch of 2nd and 3rd year guys. There will be almost all new faces on the defensive line. There will most likely be a new starting running back, and perhaps a new quarterback. Continuity will be primarily the offensive tackles, the wide receivers, and the linebackers.

The bottom line is that this is a team and a roster that can only be viewed as in transition. There very well may be a new head coach for the Packers next year, and it's likely that there will be at least 10 and perhaps as many as 20 new faces on the 53 man roster for '06. If Thompson wishes to take this team in a completely new direction, for example completely ditching the West Coast Offense, he will have every opportunity to do so. In my opinion, the team will look very different from the '05 team, and almost unrecognizably different from the '03 team. The key and only major question in terms of the look of the '06 Packers is, will Brett Favre be the starting quarterback.

Players currently under contract for '06

# Name Pos Acquired Yrs Comments (GM perspective)
.4 Brett Favre QB T-92 5 Aging war horse, not too many years left in this one.
11 B.J. Sander P D3c-04 2 Complete unknown, likely serviceable, perhaps pretty good.
12 Aaron Rodgers QB D1-05 5 Complete unknown, but you've made your bet now.
17 Craig Bragg WR/KR D6b-05 3 Complete unknown, could be good.
20 Mark Roman S UFA-04 2 Aging war horse, due to be replaced at first opportunity.
22 Nick Luchey FB UFA-03 3 Hard to say here, might be real good in a run-first offense.
24 Joey Thomas CB D3a-04 2 A big part of your future.
25 Marviel Underwood S D4a-05 3 Penciled in to replace Roman
27 Mike Hawkins CB D5b-05 3 ???? The next Prime Time? Or a flop? Time will tell.
28 Ahmad Carroll CB D1-04 4 A big part of your future.
31 Al Harris CB T-03 4 You simply must rely on this guy for a couple more years.
36 Nick Collins S/CB D2a-05 3 Penciled in to replace Sharper
51 Brady Poppinga LB D4b-05 3 A good depth player, maybe more someday.
52 Kurt Campbell LB D7a-05 3 Take a flyer, see what you get.
56 Nick Barnett LB D1-03 4 A big part of your future.
57 Atlas Herrion G FA-05 2 Penciled in as a guard in '06.
59 Na'il Diggs LB D4a-00 1 You need this guy for a couple years, maybe longer.
62 Junius Coston C/G D5a-05 3 Penciled in as a guard in '06.
63 Scott Wells C D7-04 1 Penciled in as center in '06.
65 Mark Tauscher T D7a-00 3 A big part of your future.
70 Adrian Klemm G UFA-05 1 Gone in 16 games.
76 Chad Clifton T D2-00 4 A big part of your future.
78 Steve Morley T/G FA-04 1 Training camp fodder.
79 William Whitticker G D7b-05 3 Penciled in as a guard in '06.
80 Donald Driver WR D7b-99 2 Not much left in the tank, two years maybe.
81 Andrae Thurman WR FA-04 1 Training camp will tell.
84 Javon Walker WR D1-02 2 Outlook is grim.
86 Terrence Murphy WR/KR D2b-05 3 Your #3 WR of the future.
87 David Martin TE D6-01 1 Not a big part of your plans.
89 Robert Ferguson WR D2-01 3 Your #2 WR for 5 years.
94 Kabeer Gbaja-BiamilaDE D5a-00 4 He's pretty good, and you're married. Make the best of it.
95 Donnell Washington DT D3b-04 2 We'll see. Hope springs eternal.
97 Cletidus Hunt DT D3b-99 3 Gone in 50 days.
99 Corey Williams DT/DE D6-04 2 We'll see. Hope springs eternal.


In the post above, I laid out what I see as the basic facts. Here, I'll speculate wildly.

Imagine you're Ted. You were in Green Bay, and you saw this magical thing where Ron Wolf put together this amazing team. He had Mike Holmgren, a young WCO guy who was full of energy. He had Fritz Shurmer, who had turned into the Dr. Frankenstein (to quote Steve Young) of defensive coordinators. He had Reggie White, who many believe was the most dominant defensive player in the history of the NFL. And he had the young Brett Favre, who would take off running and then magic would happen.

Surrounding this cast, because FA and the cap were new and not well understood, he was able to collect several other difference-makers: Sean Jones, Chewy, Andre Rison, etc.

Now, remember you're still Ted, you follow Holmgren to Seattle where the Great Walrusian assumes complete control. Shurmer very inconveniently dies. What happens? There's no Reggie White. There's no Brett Favre. MH is no longer a young guy with something to prove, now he looks more like a senior dean with a major ego problem. Mike tries to build a clone of the Packers, and fails utterly.

Meanwhile, back in Green Bay, Ron Wolf then Mike Sherman try to regain the lost magic. They fail utterly. There are two standout years remaining in the 10 years that follow the Superbowl, one ruined by massive injuries, the second ruined by a failure of the players to recognize their big chance is here, now, this instant and no other.

You come in and take over. What do you see? An aging quarterback that's not very reliable in playoff games any longer. An aging and underperforming defense. A great OL that you certainly can't afford to keep together, and what looks like an aging RB who perhaps is about to hit the wall. A salary cap that has your hands tied for one year, but then you're free-free-free. What can you salvage, what can you build? Where do you want to take this team? The only really bright spot is you seem to have a great OL coach and a very good OL. You can build on this.

You have to consider that you need a new head coach, not a coach that's desperately trying to reclaim a magic that's ten years gone. A new coach who wants to build a team appropriate to an outdoors stadium that's as north as NFL stadiums get. This team is a Lombardi - Pittsburgh - New England kind of team. Crushing defense, clock eating high-percentage offense. What do you have for a coach? A guy who can design a warm weather WCO that scores points with anyone in the world, but who seems to be clueless about defense.

You have to consider that you need a new QB. You have an aging war horse who is a river boat gambler, exactly the wrong guy for this crushing defense / high percentage offense. What do you do with the HOF / fan favorite? That's easy: play him for 1 or 2 years, 3 at the outside, meanwhile get a Tom Brady / Ben Roethlisberger type ready to replace him. You want someone young, smart, confident, who is going to be willing to run a conservative offense. Aaron Rodgers looks like he might be just about perfect.

Now, about that coach. You have to consider that you have one year of salary cap / roster hell. Why put your new guy though this? Why hire a new HC to run your new look team, then stick him with a WCO and a rebuilding defense? You wait a year, hire your guy, then you and the new guy have $55M and 20 roster spots to play with.

I vacillate on this almost daily, tomorrow I'll most likely have a different opinion, but right now this instant I see Sherman fired in January, a new HC hired by Feb. 10. I see Favre playing this year, maybe next year, not in '07. I see Bates being given whatever he needs in the '06 draft and '06 FA to build his dream DL / LB squad. I see a new head coach, possibly starting Rodgers, and handing off to a rookie RB. Lotsa handoffs, we're talking 55% run / 45% pass. And a young defense that has all the speed in the world in the backfield, and some young fast DL / LBs in front of them.

I think Sherman is gone.
who the hell is this Lawrence KNOW IT ALL--whaT A DORK
If you have a rebuttal fine but at least respect others views.

Anonymous...nice name.
Nice article, but you can't just make things up to make your point stronger. In the beginning of your article you stated that Davenport could be a hold out. This is completely untrue! In fact, he made a point to say he WOULD NOT HOLD OUT. Do your research before writing a story because many Packer fans read these articles. Don't make them even more crazy by reporting something that isn't true.

Otherwise, I like your '06 predictions. I agree, we will probably have A LOT of new guys next season.
i was hopeing you would have said
the next coach could be bates,what would you say tom him?
You listed Chewy as a difference maker the Packers added. Did you mean Keith Jackson who was obtained in a trade from Miami? Chewy was drafted by the Packers in the 6th round.
Clarification on what our Blog is intended for.

Comments are just that, comments, and not to be confused with getting answers back like in a Forum.

The authors will probably not be answering questions.
Dear Packer Chatters Staff,

I don't want you to take this the wrong way, as I love your website and I think you guys, in general, do a good job. But do you read and fact check the articles before they are posted? This one, factually, is really bad. Lawrence clearly didn't do his homework before writing this article. I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT HIS OPINIONS EITHER. The above posts shed some light on some of his major errors. Again, I think your website is great but this article is below your normal standard of excellence.
Well, a lot of things could play out the way ML has described them, but then again maybe not. The article has the typical "sky is falling" tone to it that we read every year along with the ultimate demise of the Pack and them being lucky to be 8-8.

Reality: It's just as likely that Sherman will get an extension, Favre play another year, new talent develop from that currently on the roster or rookies, and GB moves ahead just fine. It's also just as possible that Walker/Daven/Franks/Jackson all are back in the fold by some point in training camp (none of them really need the extensive training except Davenport).

What I might focus on instead is 'what becomes of Bates after this year'? He may be one-and-out, doing a nice job earning him a head coaching job elsewhere. I think that could lead to a motivation drop on the d-side of the ball that a new DC would have to deal with. Hard to imagine him not getting a HC shot.
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