'We want to win, and we want to win now'

PackerReport.com's Tyler Dunne was at the Green Bay Packers shareholders' meeting on Wednesday. Here are his thoughts on Ted Thompson's address to shareholders, and whether or not his blueprint will become the standard throughout the NFL.

Everybody wanted Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson to bite on risk/reward players this off-season and he didn't even nibble. Ted plays by Ted's Rules. Not the fan's. Not public opinion's. Not the way most GM's do business.

At least for now. Thompson's blueprint could become the standard throughout the league.

Only of course, if the Packers win.

The rising, $110 million salary cap has turned free agency into eBay, with the probability of fraud much higher. Teams have more money to spend so they reach for mediocre players such as Derrick Dockery, who is the highest paid player in Buffalo Bills history.

So why bother? Thompson's system is built on accumulating draft picks, taking high character players, re-signing those who progress, and eventually establishing a core.

"We've always said that the best way to build a team is from within," said Thompson at the shareholders meeting on Wednesday. "You have players already so to just turn guys over and over and over every year doesn't make sense so what we try to do is improve the guys we have."

Character concerns used to be a footnote. Now it's a factor that rips teams apart as Steve Mariucci, Jon Gruden, and Andy Reid would admit. Players like Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson aren't worth coddling anymore. Commissioner Roger Goodell is committed to cleaning up the league's image. Lawrence Phillips would never be the fifth overall pick in today's NFL and DeShawn Wynn may have been a first day pick ten years ago.

At his opening press conference, long before the Pacman Jones and Michael Vick fiascos, Thompson stressed Packer People, "good people and good football players." It seemed bland and vague at the time. Now it's brilliant.

"There's been a lot of emphasis on player conduct throughout the league," Thompson said. "We pride ourselves on adding good people that know how to conduct themselves."

We live in an era where individualism, massive egos, and celebrity status are embraced. If you're skeptical, simply watch MTV ... uhh, I mean ESPN and their useless tournament series "Who's Now?," which advances athletes for ‘buzz' on and off the court. (Before we know it, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan will be anchoring the Sportscenter desk.)

Thompson told the shareholders that such self-promotion will never infiltrate the organization.

"The team is what's important," he said. "In this day of age with the Internet and instant celebrity there's a natural gravitation for all of us to reach for the spotlight. But football, more any other, is a team sport."

Twenty-seven of Thompson's 34 draft picks the past three years remain on the team. There are a lot of GM's that want to build through the draft, yet pump money into free agency in fear of sending a rebuilding message to the fans and creating a publicity nightmare. If Thompson can pull off a winning season, more teams will risk starting two rookies on the offensive line (like Thompson did last year) and an unheralded rookie running back (like he may do this year).

But it's risky. You could feel a breeze of desperation in Thompson's demeanor Wednesday. He's heard those rebuilding boo birds all off-season.

"I want you guys to be clear on this because you're my bosses," Thompson said. "We want to win, and we want to win now. We like where we are, we are getting better, and like I said, through the individual growth of our team, some new additions and just toughness, I think we're going to be fine. We're going to win some games."

Thompson has shown unwavering consistency over his 2 ½ years at the helm. He has resisted the urge to overpay (on the likes of Kevin Curtis and Deon Grant) and roll the dice (on Randy Moss).

But a handful of veterans could have elevated the team in a way that Keith Jackson, Don Beebe, Eugene Robinson and Santana Dotson did a decade ago. A few acquisitions don't automatically mortgage the future. Green Bay was starved for immediate veteran upgrades at the offensive skill positions and all Thompson did was add more rookies to the mix. This is dangerous and could lead to major crisis management very soon.

If Green Bay's raw crop of running backs flame out at camp, Thompson may seriously entertain a trade for Kansas City running back Larry Johnson. And his beliefs would clash.

Johnson's acquisition instantly signals a power shift in the NFL. He's Shaquille O'Neal switching conferences in the NBA, only eight years younger. Johnson could single-handedly darken Brett Favre's hair and send him into retirement the same way Terrell Davis did for John Elway in 1999.

It's just at the expense of everything Thompson stands for as a general manager. Johnson wants an $80 million contract with $30 million guaranteed, Kansas City wants 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round picks, and LJ's rumored to be a cancer in the locker room. A deal for Johnson rivals almost everything Thompson preached at the shareholders meeting.

Where does the reward outweigh the risk? It didn't with Moss. But it may with Johnson. He hasn't mooned any cheeseheads to our knowledge.

In the grand scheme of the organization, Packer fans have to be pleased with Thompson. He sincerely seeks blue-collar players that represent the city well, makes personnel decisions with caution (unlike his predecessor), and he assembled a coaching staff that made a four-win improvement in one year.

But it's hard to fight temptation. Johnson rushed for 1,789 yards and 17 touchdowns in a conference that contained six of the NFL's eight top rush defenses. In the NFC, it'd be like Clubber Layne becoming a welterweight. Just scary.

If Thompson steers clear and still turns Green Bay into a playoff team, more GMs will play by Ted's Rules and the value of the NFL Draft will reach an all-time high in the free agency era.

Packer fans just may want to make the trip west to UW-River Falls where Priest Holmes is attempting a comeback at Chiefs camp. His progression could lessen Kansas City's trade demands and put Ted's Rules to the ultimate test.

Tyler Dunne

Tyler Dunne is a student at Syracuse University. He is in Green Bay covering the Packers during training camp for PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at tydunne07@yahoo.com.

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