A few days ago, the Green Bay Packers had the makings of a prime championship contender. Just imagine, spreading the field with some combination of Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley, with future Hall of Famer Steven Jackson lined up in the backfield.
Good luck stopping that.
Now, it's good luck competing in the rugged NFC.
Jackson signed with Atlanta, which had the conference's best record last season.
Jennings has signed with rival Minnesota.
Coupled with San Francisco acquiring Anquan Boldin and Seattle trading for Percy Harvin and signing standout defenders Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, four of the NFC's top teams made significant moves to get better. Plus, NFC North rivals Chicago (left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett) and Detroit (running back Reggie Bush and defensive end Jason Jones) are better today than they were when the season ended on Dec. 30.
And then there is Green Bay. Everyone, it seems, is going forward. The Packers are in retreat.
Yes, Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback in the game and can elevate those around him. The starting point on offense of Nelson, Jones, Cobb, Finley and DuJuan Harris is pretty good, but they're one injury away from having to feature Jarrett Boykin or Jeremy Ross in a three-receiver set. Not many defensive coordinators will be staying up late worrying about that possibility.
Sure, the draft will help. But the Packers ended the season knowing they needed to upgrade the defense. Now, they have to upgrade the offense, too. Good luck accomplishing all of that while picking 26th in the first round and near the end of the others.
Now, before the "fire that cheapskate Ted Thompson" e-mails come flooding in, the Packers had little choice but to let Jennings wear the dreaded purple. Five years and $47.5 million, including $18 million guaranteed, for a receiver who will turn 30 in September? For a receiver who has missed 11 games over the past two seasons and seen his per-catch average fall from 16.6 in 2010 to 14.2 in 2011 to 10.2 in 2012? That's crazy money, especially with money to be invested in Clay Matthews, Rodgers and others. But, that's the cost of business when you're trying to win now with a once-in-a-generation running back like Adrian Peterson and were counting on the bartender from Fred's Corner Tap to be the No. 1 receiver.
The Packers seemingly are in no position to win now. More than ever, Thompson's draft-and-develop philosophy will be put to the test. He's going to have to hit a home run on both sides of the ball in this draft. He's going to need last year's rookie class, especially first-round pick Nick Perry, to take a significant step forward. Ditto the Class of 2011, which has gotten next to nothing from Derek Sherrod, Alex Green, Davon House and D.J. Williams.
Over the long haul, Thompson made the right call by letting Jennings go to a rival. In the short term, however, the Packers — just two years removed from being reigning NFL champions — are practically an afterthought in the NFC.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.