Lombardi: What an off-season!

It seems like the Packers' loss to the Vikings in the playoffs took place years ago, but it has only been about six months.

One of the reasons I feel this way is that it has been a busy and wild off-season. Change is a big part of life in the National Football League, but the Packer Nation has had more than its share this off-season.

The hiring of Ted Thompson and Mike Sherman's "demotion" to just being head coach is old news, but it bears watching as we head into the season. It will be interesting to see how Coach Sherman handles being in the last year of his contract and whether the Packer organization makes any public effort to make a move in this situation.

The future is hard to predict, but it all comes down to wins and losses. If the team excels, look for the Pack to try and get the Head Coach in the fold as soon as possible. It will be interesting to see how Sherman and his camp progress in these negotiations if he proves himself on the field. Do they delay and see if his success in the fall makes him more attractive on the open market and consequently increases the cost for the Packers to retain him? If the team struggles, I give him a 50-50 chance of returning in 2006. It would boil down to why they fail. Even if the root cause of a down year does not fall on his shoulders, there is still a chance Sherman is out. The new regime may choose to start fresh and may use any excuse that presents itself.. It may not be fair, but it is reality. As Jerry Glanville said once, "NFL stands for Not For Long." One thing Thompson did do was show that he was in charge.

No larger example of this fact was the choices the Pack made in the first round of the draft, which was a shocker. The bombshell was not that the Packers took a quarterback, but that they had a chance to get one that was universally rated as a top pick. It is time to plan for the future at that position. Brett Favre may be in the best shape in years. He may have renewed zest for the game now that his wife seems to have successfully battled cancer. He is still one of the best in the game and he can carry this team offensively. But he cannot play for ever, even if the Packer faithful want him to.

Aaron Rodgers may turn out to be Rich Campbell or Don Horn, two Packer first round QB's who never really panned out, but I doubt it. By not having to be the man from the day one, he has the opportunity to learn the system and be trained by watching Favre. When it is time, we should be ready to step in. The ability to get comfortable and mature is hard to quantify, but it will benefit him greatly in my opinion.

I would rather have this scenario then the alternative, which is a rushed attempt at reaching for a guy in the draft. Or the team plays the veteran roulette wheel looking for a stop gap when Favre does hang it up. Who wants to see a couple years at the end of the Brett Favre era when the Packers starting lineup is composed of an untested rookie or the latest veteran who is looking for a home because his former team is convinced he has lost it. See Kurt Warner or Brian Griese to see what I mean.

These were the two big news stories from the off-season and they deserved the attention. There are other stories that may not be as newsworthy, but are still worth noting. I wish Javon Walker wises up and gets to camp on time. I am not a supporter of holdouts, especially with two years on his contract. I also wish that the Packers would cut Cletidius Hunt. I do not know the salary cap hit it would create, but he has worn out his welcome as far as I am concerned. Too bad the Packers could not file some form of grievance against him for non performance and get some money back. He definitely has not earned it.

The Randy Moss trade and the other moves the Vikings made have vaulted them to being the consensus pick to win the NFC North and in some cases, the whole thing. I will never have any faith in that team as long as Mike Tice in the coach. Minnesota will be better without Moss, the whole addition by subtraction thing. But they have had talent these last few years and that has not been enough to overcome their lack of chemistry and mental weakness. With Tice, I do not see how that has changed. If it does, Moss was a bigger cancer than anyone ever thought and the team should be ravaged for putting up with it for so long.

But the other biggie was the signing of Jim Bates as Defensive Coordinator. He was in Cleveland when I was there and he is a coach, pure and simple. He will bring energy and innovation to this team. He is not a miracle worker, but he will make this defense better. Bates and his staff will have to because the Green and Gold has done little to improve the personnel. It will have to be execution and scheme that carries the day.

This is why we love this sport. Each day is a new chance to get better and each day brings a fresh opportunity to improve. Camp opens on July 25th, see you there.

Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. John resides with his family in Green Bay . His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. He will be contributing columns for PackerReport.com.

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