I don't know what Thompson will do, but I know what I would do if I were him.
The coaching staff
I would allow Mike Sherman to remain head coach under the following conditions: He needs to jettison Tom Rossley as offensive coordinator and John Bonamego as special teams coach. If Sherman refuses, I would terminate him with regret.
Sherman has done a fine job overall in his time in Green Bay, but he also has had some bad memories. For instance, this season (including the 48-3 debacle Monday night), the 4th and 26 game, the two home playoff losses and his tenure as GM which included the Joe Johnson free agency signing and the infamous trade up (two draft choices!) to the 3rd round to get punter B.J. Sander.
Sherman made a nice move this last year bringing in Jim Bates to run the defense. He needs to make similar moves on offense and special teams to keep his job. Rossley has had health issues and the offense has struggled this season. Yes, there have been injuries. But the offense has become stagnant and the play calling doesn't make sense at times. For instance, the Packers will be driving on a team with a lot of success with the run. Then, instead of running a play-action pass to freeze the linebackers and safeties, the coaches will call for an empty backfield to take the threat of the run away. Why? How many times have the Packers run the infamous shovel pass inside the other team's 20 yard line? A lot. Rossley had a good run in Green Bay, but he never developed a real chemistry with Favre and the play calling is predictable. I know he is a close friend of Sherman's, but the time has come for a change.
That change should be Steve Mariucci. Some people say Mariucci won't coach again unless he's a head coach. Baloney. I know some pretty successful coaches. There are always peaks and valleys in the coaching profession. Sometimes coaches need to take a step down to get another shot at a step up. Besides, Mariucci would be a perfect fit for a number of reasons. One, he would be coaching Favre again. They need each other as well. Mariucci and Favre both want the success they had in the past and together they could achieve it. Football would be fun again. Mariucci would also provide a spark and a swagger that is missing from the Packers offense. He would also help Favre focus on what will make him and the team successful. Nobody has really challenged Favre since Mike Holmgren left. I believe Mariucci would challenge Favre and make him a better player. Favre can still be great, but he needs great coaching and he's not getting it now. Finally, Mariucci would love coaching for his childhood team again and AGAINST the Detroit Lions. Nobody likes to be fired. They could call it revenge of the Mooch.
Special teams also need a new direction. I would let Sherman choose a new coach, but I would strongly recommend one with a GREAT track record, not some novice. The team has never recovered from letting Allen Rossum get away and they have to upgrade that part of the team. The Packers have won one Super Bowl in the Favre era. Why? Because ALL phases of the team were great, especially special teams. Wasn't Desmond Howard Super Bowl XXXI MVP? The current return teams are awful and the blocking schemes aren't working either. The coverage units are also less than mediocre. The B.J. Sander experiment is just about over as well. I would bring in someone to push the up and down punter big time. It would be nice if that punter had the ability to kick off and hold as well. I would try and re-sign K Ryan Longwell, but Longwell appears to have his sights set on Tampa Bay because of the great weather there for kicking, his home is in the area and his good friend P Josh Bidwell is the punter there. I wouldn't break the bank to keep Longwell, but I wouldn't lowball him either.
Favre is the face of the Green Bay Packers. He still has the skills to play the game at a high level. What he needs is better coaching and better players around him. Favre still has that little boy look when he plays, but he also doesn't seem to be having as much enjoyment. Success or lack of it have a lot to do with one's attitude. I believe Mariucci would help focus and inspire Favre to play better and with more discipline. I think the smiles would appear more often both because of success and his working relationship with Mooch. Mariucci would also make the offense more unpredictable. He knows what plays will work for Favre. He also knows when to call them. Favre became a NFL MVP under Mooch as his position coach so the track record is there. Mariucci believed in Favre when other coaches were doubting Favre in 1994 when they almost made Mark Brunell the starter at QB when Favre was struggling. The other big part of the equation for Favre is surrounding him with better talent. Bring in Mariucci and upgrade the talent and Favre is a cinch to return in 2006 and possibly longer.
Thompson will have some tough decisions to make with some current members of the Packers who are free agents. I think he should definitely re-sign DE Aaron Kampman. He should also try and re-sign Longwell as I stated earlier. Other players such as C Mike Flanagan and RB's Ahman Green & Najeh Davenport could be re-signed at a reasonable cost due to their recent injury issues. DT Grady Jackson also deserves a new deal but it has to be fair due to his recent injury past and his age. OT Kevin Barry also should be re-signed but he may leave for other opportunities if he isn't given a chance to start soon.
If I were Thompson, I would also get WR Javon Walker a new deal provided he is progressing as expected with his knee injury rehabilitation. Walker does have one more year left on his deal but the signing would also send a great message to the players in the locker room. No player's injury has hurt the Packers more this year than Walker's. What would make the signing of Walker even sweeter is that Drew Rosenhaus is no longer representing Walker.
The one UFA that is on another roster that Thompson should target is one he should know well. That would be G Steve Hutchinson of the Seattle Seahawks. Thompson drafted Hutchinson and has watched him develop into one of the top guards in the NFL. The team was never really able to fill the void of losing G's Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle and Hutchinson would be a perfect fit because of his talent and also because Hutchinson knows this offensive scheme.
Thompson should definitely try and get more picks in the 2006 draft. He also needs to make sure he doesn't miss on any of his early picks. The Packers have enough holes where the best player on the board theory should work fine in most cases. Right now it looks like the Packers will have a top 5 pick overall. They should get a tremendous player there. Or they could target a guy that they really like knowing he will be there at 10 or 11. They could then trade down 5 or 6 spots and possibly pick up another second round pick or a couple of third-round picks. I could also see Thompson trading some marketable players on the current roster for draft picks, especially positions with depth. The bottom line is that Thompson's early 2006 draft choices will have to contribute right away.
Thompson faces a similar challenge to the one faced by his mentor Ron Wolf when he became VP and GM of the Packers. Thompson has an advantage because he has a player like Favre to work around. This team is only a year removed from it's third straight NFC North title. The 2004 Chicago Bears were 5-11. The 2005 Bears are now 10-4. Things can turn around quick with some luck and more importantly a vision of what success looks like.
Thompson has a Super Bowl ring from his days with the Packers in the 90's. He also helped build what most people call the best team in the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks. The Super Bowl will always be the goal in Green Bay. Thompson can help bring the Lombardi trophy back to Green Bay and he can help hasten it's arrival by making the right moves before the 2006 season. I know what I would do.
Bob Fox is a longtime Packers fan and freelance writer from the Tampa, Fla. area. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.