Friday, December 12, 2008

Why The Packers Stink: Reason #2 - It's The NFL, Stupid!

Second in a series of posts chronicling the mess that is the 2008 Green Bay Packers
It's the NFL, stupid!
In a league structured for every team to finish 8-8 and every game to end 28-27, teams going from good to bad happens All. The. Time. Take a guess how many teams have finished above .500 in each 2006, 2007, and 2008. Come on, guess. Two. That's it. Two. New England and Indy. Pittsburgh? No. Tampa? Nope. Seattle, Carolina, San Diego? No, no, and no. With one more win, Dallas will become the third.

This isn't to excuse Green Bay, rather show that this should hardly be a shock to anyone. If you're surprised by what you see in the NFL, you haven't been watching it very much. Week to week, year to year it's totally bi-polar. I could give you a million examples, but will only spare you a few:

The Packers have lost a bunch of close games, Minnesota has won a bunch. Some will even say they've been "lucky." The Vikes have beaten sorry Detroit by the scores of 12-10 and 20-16. Would anyone really be surprised if Green Bay's 5-8 and Minny's 8-5 records were flip-flopped? Or maybe Gus Frerotte is a really good close-game quarterback, but I doubt it.

Two years ago the Bears were 13-3 and in the Super Bowl. Before 2007, the talk wasn't if Chicago would make the playoffs, rather by how many games will they win the NFC North. Making the playoffs was an afterthought. Result? 7-9.

2007 San Diego Chargers: 11-5 and gave the Pats a great game in the AFC Championship. Now? 5-8.

2007 Jags: 11-5 and also gave New England all they could handle in the playoffs. 2008? 4-9

Seattle, 2007: 10-6 and won a playoff game. 2008: 2-11.

And the 2008 poster child of this roller coaster ride NFL: The Cleveland Browns. 10-6 and just missed the playoffs last year. Bright, young talent across the board: Joe Thomas, Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn, Braylon Edwards, Lieutenant Winslow, Kamron Wimbley, Josh Cribbs, etc. They were even bold in the off season trading for Shaun Rodgers, Corey Williams, and signing Donte them all big money. The result: 4-9.

The Dolphins? WTF? 1-15 to 8-5 and possibly division champs? Atlanta: rookie QB, rookie coach, tough division, no matter...8-5.

These are not anomalies. I could drone on, and on, and on (what I do best on this site) with more examples. Every year half the teams that made the playoffs one year, don't the next. This is not an opinion, but a fact in the last 10 years. That's the NFL. It really shouldn't come as a surprise the Packers are 5-8.


Matt said...

There is a way to have sustained success in the NFL - it's called having some balls and making moves to improve the team now rather than always building for next year.

Mother Hen Ted does not possess these traits, however, preferring to hoard and hatch his 2nd day draft picks and remain the youngest team in the NFL forever, all the while sitting on a pile of salary cap money.

Maybe that will change this off-season, but I'm not holding my breath. And don't tell me that he needs the salary cap room to re-sign his own players - when has one of those moves actually worked out for Ted? Kampman is the only example I can think of, and he's been neutralized because the rest of the line blows. Ryan Grant? Ha. Barnett? Ha Ha. Donald Lee? About 4 catches this year. Rodgers? Worked out great so far, if you want good fantasy stats from your QB and a 5-8 record.

Anonymous said...

So tell me about these "balls moves" the colts and giants have made?

ClownShipLollypop said...

Why would you change a team that won the Super Bowl???????????

And begin.

Anonymous said...

which "balls moves" did they do to make themselves super bowl champs?

brad said...

Ted has made 3 bold moves.

1) Gave Woodson a big contract. Actually, that was the only contract offer Woody got because no other GM's thought he was any good. Worked out fine.

2) Traded God to the Jets. Worked out fine now, and for the long term

3) Traded up to draft Harrell. Worked out like crap.

As to anonymous - that's actually a decent point (for once). I guess you could say Burress was a balls move. It worked as he was unguardable in the playoffs last year. Not so much right now. Turn the safety on big boy!

But yeah, overall the Giants and Colts won SBs by drafting very, very well. I still can't believe the Giants lost Osi and Strahan and haven't missed a beat.

Matt said...

Who is talking about Super Bowls? The whole premise of Brad's post is that it's hard to be .500 or above year after year.

Until Ted showed up, the Packers were .500 or better every year since 1993. Sustained success.

Enter Ted. Unless Green Bay rallies something fierce in the last 3 weeks of the season to get to 8-8, he'll be sub .500 in 2 of his 4 years as GM.

Thanks Ted!

kantwistaye said...

A GM doesn't have to make bold moves if he can draft well and then keep those guys with the franchise. The problem is the Theodore can't do that. He's filled this team with average talent and we have a few bright spots (Rodgers, Jennings, Kampman, Harris, and Woodson.) Kampman and Harris were here before Thompson, and Rodgers was a pick that my mother could've pulled off. Thompson needs to either change his style as a GM, or get the hell out because he sucks at building a team with his current philosophy.

brad said...

How was Rodgers an easy pick? 23 teams passed on him and they already had Favre. How was that a no-brainer?

Wrigleyville said...

the colts have been above .500 (usually well above .500) for seven straight season and 9 of 10.

whether these qualify as bold moves, i don't know, but...

the obvious reason is peyton manning came before that first season. after that, however:

1. letting marshall faulk go for a couple of draft picks (2nd and 5th) because he was demanding to have his contract renegotiated. they then drafted edge james (and not ricky williams, as everyone presumed).

2. letting edge walk and taking joseph addai - and not defense, as everyone said they needed (super bowl win that year). money was then available to spend on dwight freeney and bob sanders - instead of edge.

3. drafting freeney in the first round. everyone said he was too small and a reach. i think that turned out pretty good.

there are others, but they have managed this very, very well over the last decade.

it certainly helps to have a franchise QB, as GB fans certainly know.

kantwistaye said...

Rodgers was a no-brainer because just a couple days earlier he was the clear #1 pick and we needed a QB of the future. Picking anyone else would've proven that Thompson is indeed brain dead.

Tim said...

You can add to the list of "balls moves" by the Colts knowing which players to keep for big stacks of money. I'm too lazy to look it up, but I know that Wayne, Manning, Clark, etc... all got giant contracts to stay and they have filled in nicely around them. These are perfect compliments to Wrigley's comments. They also knew who they could let walk. Those are the tough decisions. Too often, a strong draft class comes down to dumb luck. There is no way of predicting how well someone will transition to the pros and how much motivation they will have to excel once they have signed that first big contract.

blueguitarbob said...

@Matt: Both the league and the players union have acted together -- for different reasons -- to reduce the likelihood of "sustained success" by a single team. The legal playing field has changed radically since 1993, so it isn't valid to compare any GM's recent record to the Packers of 1993-2004.

The league decided that parity makes for greater overall fan interest and growth. The players union decided that parity creates more opportunities for individual player contracts. A sustained record of wins by a handful of teams is not anyone's priority here, so they have worked to create a system that discourages that outcome.

That's too boring for most fans, so it's rarely written about or discussed. However, if your frame of reference is the 1996 Packer Super Bowl team, and the "bold moves" of Ron Wolf, then you are living in a world that no longer exists. Current GM's need to be evaluated by the standards of the present, not the "good old days."

There are ways to try to create sustained winning teams, but it requires long-term thinking, developing players primarily through the draft:

But more often than not, multimillion-dollar mistakes are made when instant gratification is sought. After failing to land Kerney, the Denver Broncos added 14 players last offseason, many on defense. But Denver limped to a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs in consecutive years, the first time that's happened under coach Mike Shanahan.

Teams can see their salary caps scarred for years when trying to quickly compensate for poor drafting and personnel mistakes.

Don't like it? It's about to get worse. Without a new CBA, free agency eligibility will start increasing to 6 years of service starting in 2010. Combined with other rule changes that trigger with the removal of the salary cap, free agency will become an even more risky path to player development. With that uncertainty, GMs have no choice but to think 4-5 years at a time. Anything less is reckless.

I agree though... safe and prudent player development is not much fun to watch.

Matt said...

I'll admit - I have no idea what NFL rule changes have occurred since 1993 that now prohibit sustained success by an NFL franchise.

blueguitarbob said...

"Prohibit" is probably too strong of a word. Sustained success by a single team is not prohibited, but it is not something that the league nor the players union values highly. Stability tends to financially favor a limited number of teams, which means less money overall to the league and the players. More chaos in the win-loss records (codeword "parity") makes more money overall, and that's their goal.

I don't think for a minute that this is a conspiracy to make building teams with sustained winning records more difficult. But by tweaking the system to make more money overall, this is an unintended outcome. We have to live with it until there is a new CBA, which may not come for 3-4 years.

As for the rule changes, this is what got the ball rolling:

There were other changes a few years ago, as I remember, that accelerated the demise of free agency. The original goal was to increase player mobility, which the Packers actually benefited from for a short time. As a function of that success around the league, free agent contracts started going through the roof, increasing their risk. Smart GMs started learning how to wrap up their quality veteran players, while dumping their B and C level players on the free agent market.

That's where we are now. The market consists mostly of average or flawed players at inflated prices. There are a few quality players without serious downsides (Charles Woodson), but they are not common. If you follow baseball, this is familiar. There are a lot more Eric Gagnes than CC Sabathias on the market. When you gamble on a veteran player with a question mark, sometimes you win (Gabe Kapler), sometimes you lose (Gagne), sometimes you fall somewhere in the frustrating middle (Jeff Suppan).

Unlike baseball, where it takes 2-4 years to see benefit from a draft class at the major league level, the NFL draft is a much more attractive way to acquire players who will have impact in 1-2 years. NFL GM's have the option to turn away from free agency, to the more favorable risk/reward structure of the draft. So they have.

Here's your choice: Joe Johnson at 6yr/33.5 million + 6.5 million bonus (in 2002) OR a third round draft choice who was a stud in his last bowl game, but has some question marks about his quickness and technique. The third rounder will cost you around $700,000 a year (very rough estimate).

I'll take 2 third rounders and a strong off-season program to fix the technique and quickness problems. More potential reward, less risk.

brad said...

"...having some balls and making moves to improve the team now..."

That's great in theory, but it doesn't always work. Guess who went bold and spent the most money in free agency last summer? Oakland. How about the year before? San Fran.

Didn't Danny Snyder and the Redskins "have balls" and sign every big name player and coach year after year after year? How'd that work out?

I'm not against signing guys (unless it's Joe Johnson or Cletius Hunt), but it might be more prudent to go the Pittsburg Steeler route. They're basicially the "anti-balls move to improve the team now." They annually push all-pros out the door (Plaxico, Joey Porter, Al Faneca, Rod Woodson, etc) and replace them with unknowns.

Now only if GB can build a defense like theirs.....