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By CHRIS HAVEL
Packers’ Thompson could search past to see how a Super Bowl defense is built
There is no magic formula NFL general managers can reference to build a championship team. If only it were that simple.
In an imperfect world replete with unforeseen injuries, off-the-field issues and all the rest, at least two realities are at play here.
First, there is the fact that only one team can win the Super Bowl each season. That makes it a monumental task to begin with.
Second, there is the fact that truly balanced teams – those with an ample number of playmakers on both sides of the football – have a much greater chance of winning a Super Bowl.
The Packers have two options entering this season. They can either:
Re-sign tight end Jared Cook, draft or sign another impact player at that position, and create nightmarish mismatches for opposing defenses. Also, re-sign Eddie Lacy and add another legit weapon at running back. That would make the Packers’ offense practically unstoppable. It also would cover up the defense’s various holes.
Or, the Packers could re-sign Cook and invest heavily into the defensive side of the ball.
Taking a page from Wolf
When Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf took on the job in Green Bay, he forged a Super Bowl-caliber defense in slightly less than four years. That may seem too long to wait in this current NFL, but remember he had to also create a new culture, hire an entire staff and retool the offense (quarterback and all).
That was a lot on one GM’s plate. The current situation isn’t nearly as dire.
The Packers’ Thompson has an excellent veteran coach in Mike McCarthy, whose willingness to proceed each season with an open mind to change is praiseworthy.
In turn, McCarthy has future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers to run the show on offense. Those factors surely accelerate the team’s potential to become a serious Super Bowl threat this season.
So what’s it going to take?
Thompson must be open to the idea of making trades.
He rarely makes them, unless it’s to move back on draft day. That needs to change.
The Packers have several young players who possess value (Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, etc.) in a move toward defense. They also have mid- and late-round draft picks that could be used to move UP in the draft. I’m not a big fan of the Packers using future draft picks (beyond 2017) but if that’s what it takes to acquire TWO likely impact players in the draft, so be it.
Also, any second- or third-year players who have underperformed or simply don’t fit with their current teams need to be given serious consideration.
The Packers have been too young for their own good.
The potential to have a position group ravaged in part due to the concussion protocol changes the playing field. The Packers suffered mightily without Sam Shields, especially when several other players were hit at the same position.
A veteran cornerback would’ve been a godsend at mid-season. Instead, the Packers were left to make do with inexperienced, often beat-up underachievers, Ladarius Gunter notwithstanding.
Wolf’s 1996 defense included safety LeRoy Butler, a 1990 second-round draft pick inherited from the Tom Braatz regime. Linebacker George Koonce was signed as a free agent in 1992.
Beyond that, each key defensive player was acquired within a three-year flurry of activity.
In 1993, Wolf drafted linebacker Wayne Simmons and safety George Teague in the first round. He added cornerback Doug Evans in the sixth round, and defensive tackle Gilbert Brown via Minnesota off waivers. He also added the great Reggie White in free agency that year.
In 1994, he signed one of the NFL’s all-time sack leaders – Sean Jones – in free agency. In 1995, he drafted corner Craig Newsome, linebacker Brian Williams and defensive tackle Darius Holland.
In free agency, Wolf acquired linebacker Bernardo Harris, cornerback Bucky Brooks and safety Rod Mullen. That makes nine of 11 Super Bowl XXXI defensive starters (Butler, Harris, Newsome, Evans, Teague, Simmons, White, Jones and Williams).
The final two pieces were safety Eugene Robinson, who was acquired in an 11th-hour trade, and free agent Santana Dotson, who completed the Packers’ incredible front four.
Super Bowl Caliber?
Is the current Packers’ defensive unit just two players away from being Super Bowl caliber? No.
That would mean adding two of the following three players in this offseason: an elite edge pass rusher, a shutdown cover corner, and a hard-hitting linebacker who can run sideline-to-sideline and play pass defense.
Without the possibility of a trade or two it seems farfetched to believe Thompson can acquire enough impact players between now and the season opener.
Here’s what would have to happen for that to happen:
Several returning players need to up their game
Clay Matthews, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Julius Peppers (if he returns), Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Joe Thomas are all on that list.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion need to sustain and at times elevate their current play.
Even if all that happens, at least three spots are still up in the air.
Therefore, at least two drafted players need to make an impact on defense. For that to happen, it’s almost necessary for Thompson to trade up into the first and/or second rounds to find that type of talent.
Wolf would’ve pulled that trigger.
Finally, Thompson needs to sign an impact free agent either at cornerback or at pass-rushing defensive end. The Packers have the wherewithal financially and they have the necessary room under the salary cap.
It’s time to follow Wolf’s example. It’s time for the Packers to think big in free agency for the defense’s sake.
It’s time the ‘D’’s identity is something more than, “Geez, let’s hope Aaron puts up 40 … and it’s enough.”
Because, that simply isn’t going to cut it.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.