All the Packers have to do is look back at last season when they entered the regular season with their fingers crossed at the running back position. Vernand Morency was supposed to be the top back, but he hurt his knee during the first training camp practice and was out until late September. That left Brandon Jackson, Noah Herron and DeShawn Wynn fighting it out for a chance to start. Herron injured his knee in the final preseason game and was lost for the season. Jackson started, then got hurt, and Wynn had a chance at the starting job before getting hurt. The backfield quickly became the team's weak link till Grant came out of nowhere to seize the starting job midway through the season.
Grant rushed for 956 yards in 10 games last season and will be Green Bay's top running back this season as long as he can break the grasp of a contract squabble that has kept him from practicing with the team all offseason. While coach Mike McCarthy and others downplay the fact that Grant's missed practice time won't have any effect on the offense, you've got to know that deep down inside the coach wants Grant out on the field this week to enhance the chemistry between the line and new quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
But Grant has refused to sign Green Bay's one-year minimum tender of $370,000 as an exclusive rights free agent this off-season. He wants a better deal, which is understandable, but having played only half a season, he has limited leverage in negotiations. If Grant and the Packers drag it out into training camp, the soft-spoken back who acts and runs a lot like Dorsey Levens, may end up sidelined, like Levens once was, after he missed the majority of training camp while holding out for a big contract in the late 1990s. Remember that ordeal? Levens held out for a long-term deal after his Pro Bowl season in 1997. When he and the Packers finally agreed to a contract, then-head coach Mike Holmgren rushed Levens into action too quickly early in the season, and Levens was injured. After rushing for a career-high 1,435 yards in 1997, Levens had 378 yards on 115 carries in 1998, starting just four games.
Do the Packers want to go down that road again? Doubt it.
If the Packers are going to pick up where they left off with Grant, they need him in camp from Day 1. It appears that he will miss this week's mandatory minicamp, which is unfortunate. It's not crucial that Grant participates, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
"I don't anticipate it's going to change," McCarthy said of the unresolved contract situation. "I do not know what the time frame is, but there has been nothing said to me that would indicate for his situation to change."
Grant is seeking a lucrative, long-term deal from the Packers. The thing is, the Packers have plenty of room under the salary cap to re-sign him but refuse to overpay. Without mortgaging the farm on Grant, the Packers will be better off paying Grant now, rather than later in August. It's a difference of a few weeks, but could make major difference between a good start to the season and a mediocre start. With a new quarterback for the first time since the start of the 1992 season, the Packers should do all they can to take the pressure off Rodgers.
Grant has said in the past that he doesn't plan to miss any time in training camp, which starts July 28. That would be good.
McCarthy says he isn't concerned about the matter potentially dragging on into training camp and perhaps threatening Grant's status with the team by the start of the regular season. But if you believe that ...
"I think he's done the best that he possibly can based on their approach," McCarthy said. "That's really what I keep focused on. I think it would be hypocritical for me to say otherwise. You need to concentrate on things that you can control in every aspect of this business. I think he's done that, and we have done that with him. It's a business matter. He will stay the course, and hopefully, we get it resolved."
Grant won't become an unrestricted free agent until after the 2010 season, so he's trying to collect on a big deal now. Yet, he's only played roughly a half season.
"I just felt like it was in my best situation to handle it this way and I think both sides feel that I'm going about it in the correct way," Grant said. "There's no unhappiness. There's no hard feelings or anything like that. It's just the business aspect."
The sooner Grant and the Packers take care of business, the better.