Passing on Wright was wrong

The Green Bay Packers sent a message to Javon Walker on draft day. They missed an opportunity to send a similar message to disgruntled nose tackle Grady Jackson.

It slipped under the radar of all but the most diehard of fans, but the NFL held a supplemental draft Thursday. The prized attraction was Southern California defensive tackle Manuel Wright.

Wright, who backed up Mike Patterson (first round to Philadelphia) and Shaun Cody (second round to Detroit) while a sophomore at USC, was deemed academically ineligible to play this fall. Rather than miss the entire season, Wright petitioned the NFL for entry into its supplemental draft.

Wright was selected by Miami in the fifth round, meaning the Dolphins will give up their fifth-round pick in the 2006 draft.

Getting a player of Wright's caliber at that price is a steal. If he had played his junior and senior seasons, some draft insiders expected the 292-pound Wright to be a top-10 pick in 2007.

Packers defensive coordinator Jim Bates has said he's thrilled with the cast of defensive line characters who will battle during training camp later this month. Then again, his troops were dressed in shorts, and the only thing they were hitting was the weights in the weightroom.

The defensive tackles were the weakest of links on the chain that was the Packers' sorry defense last season. Jackson missed five games early in the season, and the Packers managed to win just once as Chicago's Thomas Jones, the Giants' Tiki Barber and Tennessee's Chris Brown ran roughshod.

Jackson, of course, is no idiot. Nor is his new agent, Drew Rosenhaus. Packers fans can talk until they're blue in the face about how they can win without Jackson, but the numbers don't lie. The Packers have a better chance of winning without Walker than they do without Jackson.

The Packers could have made a pre-emptive strike — like they did with Walker by drafting Terrence Murphy in the second round and Craig Bragg in the sixth — by grabbing Wright in the supplemental draft's fourth round Thursday.

Without Jackson, the Packers' projected starter at the nose is Donnell Washington, a third-round pick last season who was as invisible as humanly possible for a man who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 328 pounds. Washington, who had a rap for being lazy while in college, wound up spending the season on injured reserve.

That Washington is the projected backup nose tackle speaks volumes for last year's top backup, James Lee. Lee was a fifth-round pick in 2003 who couldn't even start at Oregon State.

As long as Jackson remains AWOL, there's a chance Wright could have been a viable alternative. If nothing else, he would have added depth up front and pushed Washington and Lee, bringing out the best in two underachievers.

Instead, Jackson holds more than his share of the leverage in a budding contract dispute. Without Jackson, the Packers' defense is, well, defenseless. Missing out on a chance to send Jackson a message is indefensible.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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