Lombardi: Random thoughts before the draft

Will the Packers select a quarterback with the fifth overall pick or not? What the are team's biggest needs? PackerReport.com's John Lombardi offers his thoughts on those topics and more in his column today.

There are a lot of things hanging out there in Packerland. Here is my take on some of them:

1. There is some speculation in the media and among fans that the Packers should or could draft a quarterback with their first round pick. The theory is that they should take Matt Leinhart or Vince Young (or Jay Cutler) if they are available when the Packers go on the clock. With Brett Favre's retirement imminent, the Packers cannot pass on a franchise quarterback.

I disagree with this line of thinking very fervently. The Packers need players and to take a quarterback with the fifth pick would not be a judicious use of the team's resources.

First, there is no guarantee that Leinhart, Young or even Cutler will add up to much in the NFL. The draft is a crapshoot. But if you miss on a defensive end, like Jamal Reynolds, you look bad and the team is not as strong at a certain position. When you miss on a quarterback, you destroy a franchise for a couple of years if not longer. Look at the Lions, Browns, 49ers and Bills. All of them have struggled after picking poorly in the QB derby.

Secondly, didn't the Packers just pick Aaron Rodgers in the first round last year? There is no guarantee that Rodgers will be any good, but how can anyone know yet? I watched him play in the preseason and in some garbage time near the end of the 2005 season. I would be hard pressed to say that anyone, outside of the coaching staff, knows if he is going to be any good. It troubles me that we have no patience for this kid. He has potential and only patience will dictate whether he will live up to it. It is too soon to tell.

If the Packers draft a quarterback with the fifth pick, then they will be admitting to the world that they know Rodgers is not the answer. Short of drafting and trading Young or Leinhart for more picks, there is no way they can take one of these young guns and not admit to me that Rodgers is a bust. If they think he can play (and I assume that Ted Thompson feels that way otherwise why would he have picked him last year?) then they need to look in a different direction. If he was good enough to go in the first round last year, and the jury is still out based upon last year's duty on the junior varsity, then the team must look to fill holes at other positions.

If on the other hand, the organization has already given up on Rodgers then Thompson should be fired. How can a team choose a quarterback first and then determine in under a year that he is not the guy to take this team to the playoffs. If they know Rodgers in a bust after one year then drafting him was a phenomenal mistake and heads should roll.

2. The Brett saga continues. I have nothing more to add to this deal. He will let us know when he knows.

3. The Packers are well under the cap. Why is that? It is not like they can use that money next year for cap dollars. They could use it for operating expenses like paying off Mike Sherman and for signing bonuses, but it does not roll over into next year's cap. I even think that they can get penalized if they do not reach a certain level. Green Bay is something like $19 million dollars below the cap (it is hard for me to determine this actual number because it changes daily and is hard to locate). If they can get Charles Woodson or LaVar Arrington without overpaying them, that would be OK. They both have baggage and it would be a mistake to overpay for either one of them. If Favre retires, that frees up even more money. What are they going to spend this dough on? Do they hope that some veterans get released between now and training camp? Are they going to extend some players here soon? What are they going to do to improve this team?

4. How are the Packers going to fill some holes on this team? They need some linebackers, a defensive end, some guards and a center and could use help at corner and in the receiving corps (assuming Javon Walker is not bluffing). If Mario Williams is there at five, they will take him I am sure, but he seems to me to have a suspect motor and I question his football instincts. He is a physical marvel and that will sell most teams.

Let us assume for a minute that Walker comes back healthy and with a good attitude. Then the wideout spot is solid. Donald Driver, Walker, Rod Gardner, Marc Boerigter, and maybe Robert Ferguson make it a strength again.

The Packers have a need in the interior offensive line. It looks like they will go to camp with last year's lineup minus Mike Flanagan, with a couple of draft picks, hopefully some high ones. There are not many highly rated guards in the draft, and the center position has two names that get scouts excited. Nick Mangold out of Ohio State and Greg Eslinger out of Minnesota are centers that teams hope are around in the second round. It is not the year to be looking for guards and centers. They better hope they find a sleeper.

The linebacker position shakes out like the guards and centers. The Green and Gold brings back Nick Barnett, Robert Thomas, Roy Manning and Kurt Campbell. They hope Brady Poppinga recovers from his injury and they added Ben Taylor in free agency. I do not think any of these guys inspire fear in opposing offenses. Odds are they draft a linebacker or two. At corner they also need to improve.Al Harris is no spring chicken and Ahmad Carroll is a liability. He has gotten better but the Packers need to upgrade at his spot. Mike Hawkins might be the guy, but time will tell. Look to the draft for help here.

5. The Packers' brass thinks they are improved or hopes that they are. It may be wishful thinking. They are counting on these young guys, like Manning and Poppinga and Will Whitticker and Junius Coston to take the next step. Scott Wells and Kevin Barry are being counted on to pick it up at guard and center. They must believe that the new zone blocking scheme will improve the offensive line and consequently the running game.

They are looking for last year's draft to pay some dividends at linebacker and in the secondary. With the addition of a Mario Williams or Vernon Davis, they feel that there are closer than most pundits give them credit, with or without Favre.

Ted Thompson is sticking to his guns and is not going to do anything rash and jeopardize the long-term health of this team. His success and the team's future hangs in the balance. If he is right about half of these guys, then he will be lauded long-term. If he is wrong then he will pay the piper. It will be interesting to see how long he has to build this team.


John Lombardi

Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. 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. E-mail him at johnlombardi22@yahoo.com.


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