We are collectively entering the calm after the emotional storm that that is NFL free agency. Very few places is this storm more visceral than among Green Bay Packers fans. It has become an annual rite. The Packers enter free agency with a few holes to fill (granted, all teams have them) and after a few days there is no joy left in the fan base. The matter has even entered mass media as talking heads like Colin Cowherd and Skip Bayless call for the end of Packers hopes. Every year.
Green Bay Packers Not Doomed Like Many Fans Think
Wasting Aaron Rodgers
This year, the calling card of this over-reaction has been the loud claim that the Packers are wasting the prime years of Aaron Rodgers. Fans believe the organization is wasting Rodgers’ prime to the tune of eight straight trips to the playoffs with appearances in the Divisional round of the playoffs in six of the last seven years and three NFC Championship game appearances in seven years and a Super Bowl.
Those are obviously numbers without context. Over the last ten years, only the New England Patriots have appeared in more conference title games (seven). The Packers have four title game appearances in that time, edging out the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers (each with three). The Packers are one of the four winningest franchises in the league in recent history. In the six seasons since winning a Super Bowl, the Packers have a record of 66-29-1, and that includes playing several games without Rodgers under center.
Lamenting the Loss of Backups
Without fail, every off-season, Green Bay fans lament the loss of player after player. One recently referred to the losses of Micah Hyde, Datone Jones and Julius Peppers as a “blood bath.” The list of names leaving the team is always far more interesting to fans than the names joining.
Yes, the loss of T.J. Lang was hard for many fans. Still, it was reported the Packers offered Lang $7 million per year. The Lions swooped in and offered him $9.5 million per year. The difference essentially moved Lang from being the ninth highest paid right guard to the third highest. For the Packers to tell Lang they considered the 29-year-old veteran to be a top ten player entering his third contract was hardly a slap in the face.
The weird thing is the hand-wringing over the other losses listed above. People are taking to Twitter in large numbers to demand the head of Ted Thompson for not ponying up starter money to keep backups. Micah Hyde is now the 19th highest paid safety (in dollars per year on his current contract with the Buffalo Bills). This means his contract will pay him roughly the same as Morgan Burnett. Hyde was a backup safety and a part time slot corner. Julius Peppers had a snap count the entire season in hopes of keeping him fresh enough to play in January. Datone Jones played sparingly as a backup and he never pushed the starters for playing time.
Only Show In Town
The problem is free agency is a frenzy in a bubble. When fans know their team is so close to winning championships, every missed opportunity is highlighted. Teams see that they have holes to fill. Every team. No team has All-Pros at every position. Fans see players available and then see those players go somewhere else, even if the price was right. It seems like Ted Thompson is just hording all that salary cap space.
Lost in this is the make-up of contracts. Generally, contracts increase in value over time. If the Packers fill out their cap space this season, it means they will need to make very hard cuts later. There is no way of knowing which player(s) might be available later who could actually help more. It is a gamble either way. The Packers have built a team that is consistently in the playoffs by letting some players go and picking up others who fit their system, rather than just signing big names.
When the Patriots do this, it just seems natural. New England let Randy Moss walk for nothing. The Patriots let Richard Seymour go to the Oakland Raiders. Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law were sent away. Even last season the Patriots traded Chandler Jones for a second-round pick and a player they later cut. No one talks about New England wasting talent. And again, the Patriots are the only team to be more successful than the Packers over the last ten years.
If free agency and the NFL Draft happened at the same time (at terrible idea, but posited for the sake of argument alone), then Packers fans would likely relent some. Free agency is the only show in town right now. There is no other way teams can improve publicly (at least on paper) until the draft. All of the development and training is going on behind the scenes. For instance, when Davante Adams recovered from his 2015 injuries and worked through the off-season to return to form, no one noticed until the Packers took the field again. People spent that off-season talking about how Jeff Janis should replace Adams in the starting lineup and maybe Adams should be cut.
Packers fans need to stop being prisoners of the moment. Colin Cowherd gets to do that. He is just trying to get you to listen and watch his show today. Cowherd can change course (and will) in a week. Skip Bayless knows just as well that Packers fans are a huge audience and feeding them with doom is a great ratings boost. Talking Dallas Cowboys, Steelers, Patriots and Packers is a sure fire plan to get good ratings. Meanwhile, those fans selling out Lambeau Field for every game since 1959 need to realize there is so much more to building a team than free agency. Remember, the draft in April is coming quickly.