Rome, and successful teams, not built in day

There are three burning questions that Packers fans want answers to. One, will Brett Favre return for 2006? Two, what do you think of new coach Mike McCarthy? And three, does general manager Ted Thompson know what he's doing?

Only Favre knows the answer to the first question, so we'll tackle the other two. The answers to questions two and three are joined at the hip. If Thompson succeeds, so will McCarthy. If Thompson flops, so will McCarthy. If McCarthy proves to be a superior coach, he'll make Thompson look smart. If McCarthy proves to be an inferior coach, then Thompson will look like a fool.

For now, the best answer I can give is "just wait."

While that won't please the knuckleheads — such as the creators of and, or the guy who called a Green Bay sports-talk station and railed against the "atrocities" Thompson has committed against the franchise — who want Thompson sent out of Green Bay on the next flight, it's the right answer.

It's the only answer.

Thompson is a man with a plan. For years, the Packers lived on a year-to-year basis, trying to keep the core group intact while hoping to find a few diamonds among the scrap yards of free agency and the draft. The goal every year, of course, was to get back to another Super Bowl.

There was nothing wrong with the theory behind Mike Sherman's plan, but in the end, it failed miserably. Sherman never led the team to the conference championship, much less win a Super Bowl. Worse, Sherman left the team in so-called "salary cap hell," with the team lacking the financial flexibility to keep a Mike Wahle or add a difference-making defender.

Enter Thompson, who blew up the old financial plan and cleaned up the monetary mess. The Packers plummeted to 4-12, but they will enter free agency at least $20 million under the salary cap.

The key now, however, is what Thompson will do next.

There's no answering that question, or even making an educated guess, because Thompson's body of work here is too short to make any concrete observations.

What we do know is what Thompson has said many times: He dislikes free agency. That's not saying he won't dip his toes in the water, but he's not going to take the plunge and sign any high-profile players. Whether that's the right or wrong approach is up for debate, but three good players could help a limited roster more than one big-time player.

Thompson's 2005 draft provided little help last season, though in his defense, first-round pick Aaron Rodgers didn't have to play and three others (second-rounder Terrence Murphy, fourth-rounder Brady Poppinga and seventh-rounder Kurt Campbell) wound up on injured reserve. Second-round pick Nick Collins, however, earned all-rookie honors.

The Packers own the fifth pick in the first round, and Thompson will face a big decision. Keep it, and the Packers can draft a major impact player. Trade it, and the Packers can stockpile draft choices, which is how Ron Wolf built the Super Bowl teams.

Whether you like or dislike Thompson, the man deserves a chance to make his plan work. Yes, losing is hard to tolerate, especially after years and years of winning. Face it, we're all spoiled. In the salary-cap era of football, however, successful teams can't stay successful forever. The days of hiding a Steve Young on the roster behind a Joe Montana are long gone. What goes up must come down. The Packers are down. It had to happen eventually, so deal with it.

There are two ways to build a football team, and it's obvious which one Thompson subscribes to.

One, is to throw money at big-time free agents and hope for an instant rise into contender status. More often than not, that method has failed miserably. The second way — the style used to build the New England Patriots — is to build through the draft, pick up a few of the right free agents to fill holes, and hope to build a team that will contend for years.

Rome, as the saying goes, wasn't built in a day, and neither is a championship-caliber football team. Don't judge Thompson on what happened this past season, and, for that matter, don't judge Thompson on what will happen in the coming season.

If Thompson drafts the right players and finds free agents who fit McCarthy's system, and if McCarthy is good on Sundays and his staff is superb on Mondays-Saturdays, then the Packers not only will be contenders again, but they'll be contenders for years to come.

Until then, be patient.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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