Key time for Packers

Thompson doing the right thing to resurrect Green Bay

A new era is being ushered into Green Bay during this critical off-season. With plenty of cap space, general manager Ted Thompson is on the verge of resurrecting the NFL's most storied franchise.

Thompson can certainly steer the Packers back onto the road to playoff glory, but the team's immediate success may boil down to two decisions that have nothing to do with draft picks and free agents.

Will Brett Favre's love for the game out-duel the strain 15 years in the NFL has imposed? Will Javon Walker be cold-cocked with a shot of reality? If both prove true, winning now is a major possibility.

Thompson is committed to improving Green Bay's current nucleus. Re-signing William Henderson, Ahman Green and Aaron Kampman, along with the wily acquisition of safety Marquand Manuel proved Thompson has be active in free agency. There is plenty of money remaining in his holster to wisely improve personnel and he'll certainly do so to the best of his ability.

Unfortunately, a prospective winning season could be a wash if Green Bay is forced to shove Aaron Rodgers into the fire. Ask the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers about starting young quarterbacks. Last year both teams plummeted with JP Losman and Alex Smith, a combined 9-23 record. Is Rodgers really any different? He remains completely untested after his rookie year. A Favre-to-Rodgers transition mirrors the Steve Young-Jim Druckenmiller torch passing. Scary.

As important as it is for Favre to return, it's just as vital for the pouting Walker to shut up and play. His presence is sorely needed in Green Bay's offense, as the Packers ground game remains a mystery without stable offensive guards.

During Walker's breakout season in 2004 the Packers overcame their 25th-ranked defense with the league's third best offense. Favre could pick and choose with an abundance of weapons that racked up the most passing yards in team history. Walker became Favre' top target and a Pro Bowler as Green Bay overachieved to a NFC North title at 10-6.

Without Walker, Favre forced throws on a regular basis this past year as the Packers' offense plummeted to 18th in the NFL, constantly pinning its 7th ranked defense against the wall with 45 turnovers. It was the absence of Walker, not Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle that chiefly caused Favre to deteriorate as the season continually got worse. The 6-foot-3 Walker comes down with Favre's jump balls that eluded a triple-teamed Donald Driver, 5-9 Antonio Chatman and a constantly confused Robert Ferguson.

Walker is the one dimension Green Bay needs in its offense, but it's not time to soften up to his demands either.

Thompson is banking that Ahman Green and Samkon Gado can hold down the running game this year. Ignoring a RB-rich market allows the Packers to address their true voids: offensive guard, defensive end, and linebacker. Either Mario Williams or A.J. Hawk will command a beefy a contract as the fifth overall pick, but there remains enough green to patch up all of the green and gold's primary needs.

This should entice Favre. Injuries simply can't strike as hard as they did last season and the opportunity to win now is realistic, as coach Mike McCarthy has emphasized.

The NFC North is the NFL equivalent to the Mountain West or MAAC conferences in college basketball. Going worst to first is not a daunting task. Swapping Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss for 37-year old Brad Johnson and a host of castoff receivers over the past two seasons has set Minnesota's offense back considerably. Detroit's defense remains as vulnerable as Hillary Clinton at a NRA meeting. And don't put too much stock into Chicago's latest division title, because we all remember how the Bears fizzled after their 13-3 campaign in 2001.

Dumping Walker doesn't only admit defeat in a player-management feud (as Mike Sherman did with Mike McKenzie), but it severs a golden opportunity in front of the Packers. It's time for Thompson to play hard ball, until Walker realizes that there are zero teams that'll cough up a multi-million deal for a receiver recovering from an ACL injury. Once Walker reaches this realization (hopefully with Favre on board), a key connection will have been reunited with playoffs lurking behind the corner once again.

Note: Tyler Dunne is an avid Packers fan and a freelance writer from the Buffalo, N.Y. area.

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