‘Unf inished business’ mentality an asset
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.
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.