Now it's up to Ted Thompson, err, Brett Favre. Either way, the coming days and months are crucial for the Green Bay Packers.
First of all, Favre faces his toughest decision ever. On one hand he is physically and mentally drained from his 16th NFL season. On the other though, upside and potential bursts with enthusiasm in Green Bay.
It's as if Favre's career has come full circle. In the early 1990s, the likes of Reggie White, Robert Brooks, Edgar Bennett, LeRoy Butler, and Mark Chmura steadily established a team core around Favre that turned 9-7 seasons into back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. After an 8-8 campaign it can be argued that Aaron Kampman, Donald Driver, A.J. Hawk, and Charles Woodson are building a similar set of talent.
Does Favre trust that Green Bay can take the next step in 2007?
Is Green Bay's punishing 26-7 win over the 13-3 Chicago Bears the exclamation point to Favre's career or simply a sign of things to come?
While it's vital for Thompson to seek help at WR, TE, and DB, what Favre chooses will sway the Packers' promise for next season. His retirement undoubtedly sets the offense back. While Aaron Rodgers has been a model apprentice, replacing No. 4 could be the most daunting task any quarterback has ever faced. It's enticing to see what Rodgers has to offer but with Green Bay possibly on the verge of becoming a perennial playoff team, it is not time to hand the ball off to a virtual rookie. Favre's return translates to reliability at the game's most crucial position especially after a respectable season of 3,885 yards and 19 total touchdowns.
Rodgers? It's a roll of the dice.
"It could (mean a setback)," Kampman said. "But you never know. You've got guys that do really, really well that first year in case something like that happens, or they bring in somebody. You never know. Speculation at this point."
Right now the odds are against a Favre comeback. His emotions screamed retirement after the Bears game, and he already postponed ankle surgery. But remember one thing. This isn't anything new. Last year's 23-17 win over Seattle had an eerily identical vibe. After beating the NFC's top team, Favre's emotions spilled into the locker room, as he embraced teammates with tears streaming. He accepted the game ball from Rodgers, waved to the Lambeau crowd, and exited the field in rock star fashion. He personally sought out his former mentor, Mike Holmgren, after the game.
In the locker room after beating Seattle Favre practically said goodbye saying, "Hey, guys, I just want to say I love you guys," Favre told them. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do next year, but I care about you guys. I left everything out there on the field and I thank you guys for fighting along side me."
Favre has always been a player that leaves his heart and soul on the field. Emotions have always overtaken him as his 1999 press conference following an improbable 28-24 comeback against the Oakland Raiders attests. How could his heartstrings not be plucked when Driver carries him on his shoulders and he's royally congratulated by the entire Packer sideline? Maybe Andrea Kramer simply caught Favre at the height of emotions.
Don't count him out yet. Aside from records and cash, there are still plenty of reasons for Favre to return.
And that's where Thompson comes in. He has the cap space and the 16th pick to refine a team already in motion. Unlike last off-season, he does not need to overhaul the roster. He does not need to rebuild with long-term investments, although Tony Gonzalez should be atop his wish list. After two subpar seasons, Green Bay is ready to win now. A handful of short-term veteran fixes in the mold of Don Beebe, Eugene Robinson, Desmond Howard, and Sean Jones would be wise even if it clashes with Thompson's status quo. St. Louis WR Kevin Curtis, Seattle OG Chris Gray, Jacksonville safety Deon Grant, or any of the top-flight linebackers in a very rich group could become the difference-makers that elevate Green Bay into legitimate contenders.
This young foursome was key in a defense that surrendered only one touchdown in the Packers' final three games. Bull-rushers Williams and Jenkins flashed unlimited potential with three-sack games and consistent improvement as the year progressed. To cap a mostly poor sophomore year, Collins ended with a bang with six tackles and two interceptions, including one for a touchdown against Chicago. After suffering pass coverage woes throughout the season, Poppinga also ended strong with four tackles in Tarvaris Jackson's baptism by fire Dec. 21.
For Thompson, adding veterans via free agency into the mix can only help.
In short, the attitude in Green Bay has taken a complete 180 from last winter. Winning will now be expected. Instead of searching for a coach in the midst of total rebuilding, Thompson must manipulate the roster with the mindset of a champion.
Then again, it could all come down to Favre's decision.
After the win Favre said, "At some point, guys have to face the end of their career. Of course, I'd love to go out winning a championship. I would love to win another one, but it's hard to do. I realize that now."
But with a roster on the upswing, expect Favre to seriously consider a 17th season. Dominating Chicago is a great way to go out. But a realistic return to NFC supremacy could be too much to pass up.
Ty Dunne is a college student from the Buffalo, N.Y. area and frequent contributor to PackerReport.com.