Read here from jsonline’s fine column – 5 questions with LeRoy Butler. He makes sense most of the time and jsonline usually does a good job of asking good questions. I agree w/Butler re giving Aaron Rodgers the chance to win the game Sunday down at the 1 yard-line (and I’ve read since that McCarthy regrets the 2nd down hand-off call to Jackson).
But I especially agree with Butler’s comments this week re the need for us to pick up some veteran free agents in the off-season noting that the youth movement may not be working out so well. One of my criticisms of TT’s philosophy has been that it seems so draft-heavy and youth-oriented that, like Butler, I worry we lack proper veteran leadership (and I also worry on a more basic level that we miss out on major, proven talent in free agency). This is part of the reason why I wanted a veteran QB to back-up Rodgers…almost just to have another veteran on the team who could provide veteran guidance/leadership. Read below for Butler’s comments:
Q. If you’re the Packers’ general manager, what would be your off-season priority?
A. The first thing I’d do is bring in some veteran free agents because the youth movement now may not be the answer. I’ve got to see some veterans, whether it’s a backup running back or a linebacker or a pass rusher. Continue to draft, but I’m going to try to bring in the best available free agent veterans. If it’s trading for Kellen Winslow in Cleveland or going out and getting the best available pass rusher, I would improve the team with some free agent veterans. I think that may be the difference in this team getting where it needs to be. The leadership must improve in the locker room. These guys are in their 20s. They’re not used to being leaders, they’re used to following leaders. You need to get some guys who are used to playing in the playoffs and can lead. That would be my first mission. That was the formula for the ’96 team. We brought in a lot of free agents. Guys like Bruce Wilkerson, Desmond Howard, Andre Rison. A lot of these guys were other teams’ rejects and we brought them in to play a role, to fill a need. And one of the guys wound up being a Super Bowl MVP, Desmond Howard. He was a former first-round pick who the Jacksonville Jaguars said they couldn’t play at any position. That may be the formula you can go back to at anytime.
Leadership is an important facet of this team that has been hit hard over the last year. In one year, we’ve lost the main leader of the team in Favre, our defensive leader in Barnett and probably our emotional leaders in KGB and Rob Davis (being in the front office is different than playing). We’ve also lost a very popular player in Jon Ryan. As fluffy as some may think it is to evaluate such things, I can’t help but think these losses have affected team morale and leadership. Couple this lack of veteran leadership with inexperience at the coaching level, and I think Butler is on to something here.
My hope is that we’ve only seen the first part of TT’s team-building philosophy so far. He has focused mostly on drafting and picking up a bunch of young guys here in his first few years. Now we have a bunch of young guys on the team and we have a better sense for which players can play. And, we have been able to establish a core group of quality young guys and we’ve been able to use the available cap space to sign them – to keep them around for a while. Not a bad overall team-building plan (though again, still too shy in free agency for my tastes).
My hope is that in the second phase (starting this year), TT may start getting rid of/trading those younger guys who aren’t good enough (Poppinga, Colledge, Moll, Hawk???) along with some veterans not pulling their weight (Clifton), and will fill those spots with quality veteran free agents. Or perhaps he will add quality free agents using a “best player available” mentality, not really position-specific. Either way, adding free agents this coming year, like Butler argues, makes sense to me too. I agree when Butler implies that it just feels like the balance is off with this team in particular and some quality veteran players could make a positive difference both with their play and with intangibles like leadership.
And one last note I’d add is that we don’t have to just pick up guys through free agency – we can trade players too. I would hope we’d find a way to think outside the box here to plug the holes on our roster. And one last, last note: I’m not writing this from a doomed, we totally suck perspective. I think the team is basically decent and that it has some real potential based on some of the players we already have. I am writing this because I think we could go from decent to great with a few smart moves.