Ted Thompson was burned by his decision to not re-sign Cullen Jenkins following the Super Bowl season of 2010. Jenkins carried a relatively high price tag and had a disconcerting injury history, so Thompson's decision certainly made dollars and cents. However, the Packers simply didn't have the manpower to replace Jenkins' pass-rushing ability. From that perspective, the decision made no football sense.
As a result, the defense – and the team – suffered. It's impossible to say whether Jenkins' absence proved to be the difference in 2011, when a high-flying offensive juggernaut led the way to a 15-1 regular season but a historically bad defense couldn't come to the rescue in a one-and-done postseason. Still, having one of the league's premier interior pass rushers would have done wonders for a defense that finished, by percentage, last in sacks and, by extension, dead last in passing yards allowed.
Fast forward a few years, and it's easy to find some parallels between Thompson's decisions on Jenkins and Desmond Bishop, who was released on Monday.
Jenkins ultimately didn't get a budget-busting contract when he landed in Philadelphia in 2011, and it wasn't like Bishop's base salaries of $3.464 million in 2013 and $3.522 million in 2014 were going to send the Packers tumbling over the precipice of the salary cap.
Bishop – like Jenkins – has a worrisome injury history. He missed one game with an injured hamstring in 2010, three games with a strained calf in 2011 and all of 2012 with a torn hamstring. Jenkins missed 19 of a possible 80 regular-season games between 2006 and 2010.
You can't help the club in the tub, to put a twist on a football cliché.
Nonetheless, there had to be some level of regret for letting Jenkins leave town following the Super Bowl – while nobody would ever admit to that on the record. Jenkins had seven sacks in 2010, despite missing five games. In 2011, the entire defensive line combined for six sacks. In 2012, when Mike Neal finally showed some of the pass-rushing production the team envisioned when they let Jenkins hit the road with 4.5 sacks in 11 games, Green Bay's defensive line upped its contribution to 11.5 sacks. That's still a far cry from the 18 sacks recorded by the defensive line in 2010.
Hawk's gone from overrated to underrated in the span of a couple of years. The truth is somewhere in the middle: Hawk will collect a bunch of tackles and make his share of impact stops (he ranked sixth in the league among inside/middle linebackers in run stops, according to ProFootballFocus.com), but he's just not going to make enough game-changing plays. He hasn't forced a fumble in five seasons or picked off a pass in two seasons.
Jones emerged as a fine all-around player. He had 99 tackles in his 10 starts. Using his length as a major asset, his six passes defensed -- while less than Bishop's 10 in 2010 -- were more than Bishop's two in 2011. He also forced the only fumble among the inside linebackers.
There's nothing wrong with solid, of course, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers has said countless times that games typically come down to three or four or five plays. Who makes those plays is who wins the games. Needless to say, teams with the most playmakers tend to make the most key plays. Bishop, with seven forced fumbles in four seasons and five sacks in 2011, was a playmaker. No doubt about it.
That's where the Packers felt Jenkins' loss the most. The Packers' defensive line was fine in 2011. It just didn't create enough big plays. The Packers' inside linebacker corps without an injured Bishop in 2012 was fine, too. But, like the defensive line from a season prior, Hawk and Jones (and D.J. Smith, who started the first six games in place of Bishop) didn't create enough big plays.
Jones certainly has room to raise his level of play another level. Perhaps Terrell Manning, a big-time playmaker in 2010 and 2011 at North Carolina State, can force his way into the lineup. Inside linebackers coach Winston Moss sang the praises of Jamari Lattimore, as well.
Right there is the gamble, because the Packers will be counting on a bunch of guys who haven't made plays to go out and make plays.
There's a saying that it's better to let a player go a year too soon instead of a year too late. Thompson gambled and lost on Jenkins a couple years ago. The options are better this time. But if good isn't good enough on defense for a third consecutive year, the fingers will rightly point at Thompson for again letting a proven playmaker go a year too soon.
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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.