Free agency and draft thoughts

Will Thompson trade down? Favre is due to announce decision; keep an eye on Finley

Much like the Green Bay Packers in the 1990's, the franchise now has three leaders looking to improve the team enough to win a championship. In the 90's it was Bob Harlan, Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren. After the 1996 season, the team did indeed win a Super Bowl championship.

Now the Packers have Mark Murphy, Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy as leaders. The team made it as far as the NFC Championship game last year before losing. Just like the 90's version of the Pack before they won it all.

Wolf was Thompson's mentor. It was Wolf who hired Thompson in 1992 and helped teach him the manner in which a general manager should function. Wolf should know. Before Wolf arrived on the Green Bay scene, the team was 57-85-1 from 1983-1991. After Wolf took over, the team went 92-52-0, 3 NFC Central titles, two NFC championships and a Super Bowl win from 1992-2000. Wolf had to make key decisions. He hired Holmgren. He traded for Brett Favre. He signed Reggie White as a free agent. A championship was made.

But Wolf did much more than that. He had outstanding drafts for the most part, especially later in the draft rounds, over the years. He helped acquire key free agents like White as well. Thompson has proven that he is having similar success as well. After a 4-12 2005 season under head coach Mike Sherman, Thompson hired McCarthy, and the team posted an 8-8 record in 2006 and a 13-3 record and a NFC North title in 2007. Now he has Murphy as a boss, and the Packers are hopeful that the team will have the same success it had under Harlan.

Thompson has had three pretty good drafts in his time in Green Bay. He has changed the blueprint of the team over that time, as the team was the youngest in the NFL in both 2006 and 2007.

Thompson accumulated a lot of choices in those drafts as well. In 2005, Thompson had 11 draft choices. In 2006, he had 12. In 2007, Thompson had 11. Right now, the team has six draft choices in the 2008 draft, because a sixth round choice was traded to the New York Giants for Ryan Grant.

I'd say that was a pretty good trade. Just like his mentor Wolf. Wolf traded for a few guys you might recognize. Favre, Ahman Green and Keith Jackson. Anyway, the Packers now have six choices. I don't expect the Packers to have too many more than that when the NFL decides compensatory picks or if Thompson trades down to acquire a couple of picks. The team has been the youngest in the league for two consecutive years now. The roster is definitely rounding into shape.

If I was to guess, I would say that the Packers will end up with eight overall picks in 2008, when it's all said and done. The Packers have many needs like most teams. More depth at cornerback, linebacker, guard, tackle and tight end. I also think there will be a quarterback taken by the Pack. Remember, it was Wolf who drafted Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks. And that was when Favre was a young pup.

I could also see perhaps a safety being drafted as well, along with a wide receiver and running back. Plus, as the New York Giants proved, you can never have enough defensive lineman. I think the Packers will have their own board as usual, and Thompson will take the best player on their board when the time comes. The pick may be a surprise pick like Justin Harrell was last year. But make no doubt, it will be a pick that Thompson and his scouting staff agree to pursue.

The NFL Combine is now taking place in Indianapolis. There has already been some supposed interest in a tight end, especially after the release of Bubba Franks a couple of days ago. The Packers seem to have interest in Jermichael Finley from Texas. Finley is 6-4, 243 pounds.

"Green Bay, they've been on me. They've been on me real hard," said Finley, who ranks among the top tight ends available in the draft, along with Southern Cal's Fred Davis, Texas A&M's Martellus Bennett, Notre Dame's John Carlson, Missouri's Martin Rucker and Tennessee's Brad Cottam. "I think I'd fit in real nice there. That's who's showing me the most love."

Thompson would only say this, "We look at all positions the same," Thompson said Thursday. "We'll see how it turns out." I don't know if Thompson plays poker. But I'll bet he would be pretty good at it, based on his low key comments about anything football and the Packers.

The Packers also have two other issues looking ahead to the 2008 season. Is Favre coming back? And what about free agency? First off, I think Favre will announce this weekend that he is coming back. The announcement could come as early as today, according to my gut. That will give the team the complete focus to scout at the combine and free agency, which officially starts on Feb. 29.

Last week I mentioned a few free agents that the Packers might be interested in. The first one they were interested was one of their own. The Packers franchised DT Corey Williams. Up and coming defensive linemen are hard to find. Again, ask the Giants. Other players the team might be interested in are LB Lance Briggs of the Bears and G Jake Scott of the Colts.

Another guy the Packers may look into is TE Alge Crumpler, since the Falcons recently waived him. Crumpler is a very dangerous receiver down the seam, and he is a good blocker. The team's medical staff will have to be certain that Crumpler's knee problems of the recent past aren't going to be an ongoing problem. Crumpler and Donald Lee would be a very potent duo at tight end.

I also mentioned that possibilities might be Ken Hamlin of the Cowboys, CB Marcus Trufant of the Seahawks and DE Jared Allen of the Chiefs, but all three players were franchised by their respective teams. Another name I brought up was LB Zach Thomas. But Thomas is on a whirlwind tour of the NFL as it seems like everyone wants him. The Patriots and Saints have reportedly already offered him a contract.

There is also a lot of speculation by fans about G Alan Faneca of the Steelers. I just don't see Thompson opening the bank for a 10-year veteran, although a very good one. But Thompson has surprised before, especially in 2006, when he signed Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson.

Since my article last week, another couple of players are now on the market. DE Justin Smith of the Bengals is now a UFA, as he surprisingly was not tagged by Cincinnati, and the Panthers waived RB DeShaun Foster. Those are two players that I also think the Packers might be interested in. Smith has a big motor, just like DE Aaron Kampman of the Packers. Smith has 43.5 sacks over his seven-year career, plus he plays the run pretty well.

Foster might be a viable complement to Grant at tailback. That is, if the Packers have any questions about Brandon Jackson, Vernand Morency, DeShawn Wynn and Noah Herron. Foster is a six-year veteran in the league, and although he has had some fumbling issues from time to time, he has been pretty productive in both the running and passing game. Plus, Carolina ran a zone blocking run scheme last year, and Foster gained 876 yards in that system.

Time will tell what the Packers and Thompson will do in free agency and the draft. Hopefully, the time will be very short before Favre announces he is coming back. But if Thompson continues to function like his mentor Wolf, then the Packers will have a bright future.

Bob Fox is a regular contributor to E-mail him at

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