Packers have built a contender for the long haul : Packers Insider

Packers have built a contender for the long haul

August 14, 2015 by  
Filed under News

From Field Yates, ESPN Insider

~Aaron Rodgers — the best player in football — famously urged Green Bay Packers fans to “R-E-L-A-X” following the team’s 1-2 start to begin 2014. The team had averaged just 18 points per game over that brief stretch, and the Green Bay faithful were growing impatient.

The team would go on to average 33.2 points per game in its next 13 contests, compiling an 11-2 record, with Rodgers securing his second league MVP trophy after posting season-long totals of 38 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Turns out, he had a good point.
12 lacy hoffman

Green Bay’s mindset — as articulated by Rodgers — wasn’t to abandon their plan and make sweeping changes. The team had a plan for success entering the season, and they were going to stick with it.

Fast forward to the offseason — on the heels of a crunching defeat in the NFC Championship Game to Seattle — and the Packers’ stick-to-the-plan approach is once again relevant.

In a league where patience seemingly grows thinner by the year and many teams aggressively pursue high-priced free agents to fill holes, the Packers’ plan of draft, develop and reinvest remains. Here’s how Green Bay has built a 2015 Super Bowl favorite and a contender that won’t go anywhere any time soon.

Keeping the band together…

Rather than overreacting to a heartbreaking finish, the Packers’ offseason was laced with little more than fine-tuning from a roster perspective. The team returns 21,184 snaps from the 2014 roster, the second highest total in the NFL behind only the Cincinnati Bengals. That number could’ve shrunk had the team not taken care of business before the NFL funny money started flying around in free agency, too. Within moments of the 2014-15 season coming to a close, Green Bay’s top roster priorities crystallized: retaining wide receiver Randall Cobb and offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, both set to be free agents.

Both were re-signed (four years, $40 million for Cobb; five years, $35 million for Bulaga), and it didn’t even take the team using the franchise tag on either to accomplish it. The fact that Cobb and Bulaga both accepted deals before hitting the free-agent open market — which would have almost assuredly allowed them to fetch more money — also suggests that Green Bay has created an atmosphere that players want to be a part of.

…while not spending unwisely

When it comes to free agency, there’s only one appropriate term to describe the Packers: boring. Consider this: the Packers have not added a single player this offseason that played even one snap for another NFL team in 2014. Not one. Assuming that holds true, it will be the fourth time in six years that Green Bay’s Week 1 roster looked this way. And that’s by design. The Packers have just three players on their roster right now that have ever played for any other NFL team: outside linebacker Julius Peppers, defensive tackle Letroy Guion and fullback John Kuhn. Every other NFL team has at least 16 such players.

As should be expected, the Packers have also ranked exceedingly low across the NFL in terms of guaranteed money shelved out during the offseason over that same span (see chart).

Packers Guaranteed Money Spending
Year Guaranteed Rank
2011 $42.1M 28th
2012 $20.0M 29th
2013* $97.1M 7th
2014 $32.2M 30th
2015 $20.1M 32nd
ESPN’s Roster Management system.

This is not to say that spending less is always superior to spending big, but there’s plenty of empirical evidence that high-priced free agents can be fool’s gold. The Miami Dolphins were deemed “major” winners during the 2013 offseason after landing, among other players, wide receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers earned the same label after signing offensive tackle Anthony Collins and defensive end Michael Johnson in 2014. All four players — be it via trade or release — changed addresses this offseason.

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 09: Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers rushes toward quarterback Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears, resulting in a sack in the first half of the game at Lambeau Field on November 9, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

GREEN BAY, WI – NOVEMBER 09: Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers rushes toward quarterback Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears, resulting in a sack in the first half of the game at Lambeau Field on November 9, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The truth is a team often knows their own players’ value better than teams that are pursuing them as a free agent. The Packers believe in their system of drafting, and because they’re good at it, they’re rarely forced to take risks on unknown commodities in the free-agent market.

As one NFL personnel man said: “They do have a great plan for drafting players that fit their vision/system. Look at their offensive line as a prime example. All of them have size, they are smart and tough and they play damn well together.”

A roster with talent

Having a plan is one thing, but a plan must be matched by results. It would be na├»ve to overlook the impact Rodgers has on the rest of the roster. Any operation runs smoother with him involved — the Packers have won 64 of the 87 regular season games he has started since 2010 — but it should also be noted that general manager Ted Thompson has surrounded Rodgers with an abundance of talent.

The offensive line is a cohesive group — David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Corey Linsley, T.J. Lang and Bryan Bulaga started 95 of 96 regular season games combined last year — the receiving corps is the best in football, and Eddie Lacy is a terrific all-around back. On defense, Clay Matthews has evolved into one of the game’s most feared players, while Peppers — a rare free-agent addition — looked rejuvenated last season. “At the end of the day they have as much talent as anybody, especially on offense,” said one personnel man. “And if they can bolster their secondary and play better on defense, they are my favorite [to win the Super Bowl],” while noting, “but you still have Seattle, Indianapolis and New England.”

By sticking with their plan, the Packers are set up to succeed — yet again — in 2015.

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