TYLER DUNNE

‘Unf in­ished business’ men­tal­ity an as­set

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Pack­ers should lean more to­ward veteran play­ers.

Green Bay — Scat­tered across the coun­try, the Green Bay Pack­ers cope with one of the fran­chise’s most crush­ing losses ever on their own.

Some were at the Pro Bowl. Oth­ers dis­ap­pear to home­town seclu­sion. Ed­die Lacy en­joys craw­fish with his mom. This NFC cham­pi­onship over­time loss to the Seat­tle Sea­hawks will not thaw any time soon.

Reach­ing this point again — one in­ter­cep­tion re­turn, one on­side re­cov­ery, one (in­sert any of 15 plays here) away from the Su­per Bowl — is not easy.

Which is why this loss will sting for months.

Im­me­di­ately after the loss, no one was ready to face this fi­nal­ity. Ev­ery team is dif­fer­ent.

“We ob­vi­ously didn’t ac­com­plish our last goal,” guard T.J. Lang said, “but it was just a great team iden­tity and that’s prob­a­bly what hurts the most is know­ing there will be some new pieces next year, some guys gone. It’s tough to think about right now.”

One way to de-thaw, to rally? Value vet­er­ans.

Pack­ers gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son has al­ways trended to­ward youth, bid­ding farewell to play­ers a year in ad­vance. This off-sea­son may re­quire the ex­act op­po­site ap­proach.

With a Su­per Bowl win­dow wide open, it’s on the GM to keep it open.

Sure enough, Thomp­son was in Mo­bile, Ala., for the Se­nior Bowl hours after his team was elim­i­nated. Ad­mirable. The state of shock could have sent Thomp­son straight to the near­est hos­pi­tal in Seat­tle. Draft­ing, de­vel­op­ing, it’s built a team that can win the NFC North for the next thou­sand years.

But 2014 is proof that vet­er­ans take you fur­ther. For this group, an “un­fin­ished business” men­tal­ity in March should over­whelm tra­di­tional “draft and de­velop” pa­tience.

Where Thomp­son would typ­i­cally let Tra­mon Wil­liams walk, he should think twice. Wil­liams is the hu­man Gumby one-up­ping ev­ery­one on the mat at Flow Yoga Stu­dio in East De Pere, still the most ath­letic, play­mak­ing cover man on the Pack­ers’ roster.

Where he might see that Julius Pep­pers turned 35 years old Jan. 18 and move on, Thomp­son should do ev­ery­thing he can to re­struc­ture that $12 mil­lion cap num­ber in 2015 and keep him in Green Bay.

Where he’d be apt to stay pa­tient with a sec­ond- or third-year player, maybe it’s time to up­grade with a veteran free agent. Play­ers from other teams can, be­lieve it or not, help. See, Letroy Guion.

And above all, he’ll be work­ing on deals for wide re­ceiver Ran­dall Cobb and/or right tackle Bryan Bu­laga.

No, he can’t sign ’em all. Ob­vi­ously. Right now, the Pack­ers have about $8 mil­lion of wig­gle room un­der­neath the cap. But the Pack­ers can build a team around a nu­cleus of vet­er­ans, rather than gam­ble on up­side.

Re­mem­ber Wil­liams after last sea­son? He proved prophetic in say­ing the Pack­ers needed ex­pe­ri­ence. With 43½ pres­sures, 11 turnovers, 49and 52- yard in­ter­cep­tion re­turns for touch­downs and seven sacks, Pep­pers made a good team great. He was one fate­ful “No Mas” sig­nal away from an A-plus sea­son.

Cen­tral to any decision is the fact that Aaron Rodgers is 31 years old. The Pack­ers likely have three or four more sea­sons of him play­ing at this MVP level.

You must max­i­mize this level as a front of­fice, too.

Mike Sher­man ac­tu­ally had the right idea. When his star quar­ter­back got older — Brett Favre turned 33 in 2002 — Sher­man added vet­er­ans. Too bad they were the wrong vet­er­ans. Joe John­son (six years, $33 mil­lion) and Hardy Nick­er­son didn’t get Favre back to the Su­per Bowl; they were stunned by Michael Vick. Sher­man bombed as GM and Thomp­son was hired.

After the frac­tured col­lar­bone. . . . the strained calf. . . . through the fact that this quar­ter­back is best on the move. . . . the 4th-youngest team in the NFL shouldn’t get younger.

If this stale­mate with Cobb per­sists, he en­ters free agency and the Pack­ers lose him, they can sign another re­ceiver. Tom Brady (Bran­don LaFell), Pey­ton Man­ning (Em­manuel San­ders) and Joe Flacco (Steve Smith) all ben­e­fited from new veteran tar­gets. This spring’s menu of free agents is a five-star restau­rant to last year’s McDon­alds, too.

If the Pack­ers can’t ink Bu­laga, they’ll need to sign a veteran tackle, too. They’ve been one in­jury from dis­as­ter at the po­si­tion for too long.

Yes, there’s a lot of mov­ing parts on this roster. A lot of un­knowns. No won­der sad­ness blended with raw shock inside the vis­i­tor’s locker room at Cen­tu­ryLink Field.

Again, Lang re­peated “it’s tough to think about” this team chang­ing by next train­ing camp.

“Ev­ery year, you’ve got some new pieces,” Lang said. “You’ve got some guys who are play­ing some­where else. A cou­ple guys — just to name some of­fen­sively — Bryan and Ran­dall are huge pieces of what we do on of­fense. Bryan’s one of my best friends on this team. I hope it’s not the last time I get to line up next to him be­cause we have a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship and he’s a hell of a player.

“Ran­dall had an out­stand­ing year. So a cou­ple guys who are re­ally big pieces of this puz­zle, you don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen with them. It would be hard to see them go.” All teams change year to year. If the Pack­ers’ changes this off­sea­son re­flect a team that did, in­deed, have a 99.9% chance of win­ning the NFC cham­pi­onship with 3 min­utes and 7 seconds left, then maybe they can, some­how, rally.

Ted Thomp­son has al­ways trended to­ward youth . . . This off-sea­son may re­quire the ex­act op­po­site ap­proach.

MIKE DESISTI / MDESISTI@JOUR­NALSEN­TINEL.COM

De­spite his age, Julius Pep­pers (left) showed he was still a force to be reck­oned with over the sea­son. The Pack­ers would do well to try to re­tain the veteran line­backer.

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