If you look at the last five years and the teams that have had the most success over that span, the Redskins' way of doing things is the polar opposite. Teams like the Patriots, Steelers and Eagles – who have combined for four Super Bowl titles and nine conference championship game appearances in the past five seasons – do things a different way. They do things the right way and the good news for Packers fans is Green Bay followed that winning blueprint this off-season.
The Packers entered this off-season with a boatload of money to spend, as did the Patriots and Eagles. However, just because a team has money under the cap, it doesn't mean it has to go out and make Adam Archuleta the highest paid safety in football just because it can. That's not how you build a competitive football team for the long-term. The Patriots have a system where they don't mind giving money to players they think are deserving of a big contract but they won't overpay for a player because that's when teams get into trouble. The Eagles and Steelers take a similar approach. Sure, every now and then those teams will take a shot on a Corey Dillon or Terrell Owens but for the most part, they keep their franchises on top by drafting well and spending money wisely on bringing in players who fit their system.
That's why it was refreshing to watch the Packers turn away from a number of free agents they were targeting when they asked for too much money. While it may not be exciting for fans to watch their team pass up on big name players, do you want to pay David Givens or Antwaan Randle El $25 million? I sure as heck don't and thankfully, neither do the Packers brain trust.
If you look at what the Packers did this offseason to improve their football team, it may not be sexy but it was very smart. They signed one high-profile free agent in Charles Woodson. Teaming Woodson with Al Harris now gives Green Bay one of the most formidable cornerback tandems in the NFL. Remember that awful run defense in 2005? It's a lot easier to stop the run when teams don't have to constantly use safeties to help their corners in coverage. One problem solved.
The Packers defense was dreadful last year. There's just no other way to put it. But when you look at their free agent signings and what they did in the draft, this defense looks to be drastically improved from the unit that was on the field at the end of last year. Besides Woodson, the team brought in DT Ryan Pickett, LB Ben Taylor and FS Marquand Manuel. Those players may not be household names but along with Woodson are four new starters the Packers added to their defense without breaking the bank. Throw in draft picks A.J. Hawk (who should start as a rookie), Abdul Hodge, Will Blackmon and Johnny Jolly and the slow, aging defense we saw last year is beginning to look a lot more athletic and a whole lot faster. Amazingly, the Packers did all that without shelling out crazy contracts for the overrated Archuleta or the declining Lawyer Milloy. Go figure. Another problem solved.
Since the Packers went 4-12 last year, it's hard to address every position in one off-season but when you look at how they rebuilt their defense, it's very reminiscent of how Bill Cowher or Bill Belichick would address their own. Just in case you're keeping count, those are the coaches who have won four out of the last five Super Bowls.
There are still some areas of concern on the Packers roster, and receiver and offensive line are definitely at the top of the list. I, however, liked how the Packers brass took care of the Javon Walker situation. Hey, if the guy doesn't want to play with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, then show him the door. Don't let it linger on all off-season. Don't beg him to stay. Get rid of him and if no one can replace his production this year, the Packers will just go out and find another receiver next season. That's the thing with guys like Walker that they don't understand. Players like Brett Favre come along once every 20 years while players like Walker come along every year. Have fun with Jake Plummer in Denver.
A lot of "experts" questioned the hiring of Mike McCarthy and have criticized general manger Ted Thompson for not being aggressive enough but those people aren't looking at the big picture. The bottom line is the Packers improved themselves a great deal by using the same exact system the Patriots and Steelers get praised for using. They worked the draft well and were able to bring in a lot of young, talented players. They also used the free agent system to their advantage by bringing in starters that fit their system and not overpaying for overrated or declining players just because they had money to spend. Once again, it's not all that exciting during the summer months but you know what is exciting? Winning Super Bowls and the Packers are using the right formula to bring another championship to Titletown.
Will the Packers win the Super Bowl this season? Realistically? Probably not. However, is anyone going to be surprised if they win their division and make the playoffs? Let me put it this way: the three other starting quarterbacks in the NFC North are Jon Kitna, Brad Johnson and Rex Grossman. I'll take Favre and give you the other three every day of the week and twice on Sunday. With easily the most talented quarterback in the division and an improved defense, I see no reason why the Packers can't compete for a division title in 2006.
The Packers still have a little more work to do before they can be considered serious threats for another Super Bowl appearance but in today's NFL, good coaching, experience at the quarterback position and a solid defense can carry teams a long way. The Packers front office is building its team the right way. They're assembling a team that will not only be competitive in 2006, but in the future as well and that should have Packers fans all across the country doing the Lambeau Leap.
E-mail Tom Casale at email@example.com.