Ten months from now, the signing of safety Anthony Smith will be seen either as an astute move by general manager Ted Thompson or a wasted transaction by a general manager reluctant to get involved in high-stakes free agency.
Smith, the Packers' first free agent signing this year, comes to Green Bay with a world of talent. But the 2006 third-round pick was unable to put it together in Pittsburgh, where he did not take advantage of what many insiders call the best coaching staff in football.
So, while the success or failure of this move will fall in one column or the other on Thompson's resume, the success or failure really falls on new safeties coach Darren Perry.
Perry came highly regarded to the new Packers defensive staff led by Dom Capers. Perry, a former Steelers safety under Capers, coached All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu in Pittsburgh and All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in Oakland. As Perry joked with this reporter a month ago, he couldn't take much credit for coaching those standouts. But where Perry wins praise from those in the business is from his work with cornerback Chris Johnson.
Johnson was a seventh-round draft choice by the Packers in 2003 and was regarded as the fastest player in that draft. But injuries derailed his career here, and he didn't do anything while in St. Louis and Kansas City. Johnson's career appeared over when he sat out the 2006 season.
But Oakland took a flier on him in 2007. Last season, after the Raiders gave up on $70 million free agent flop DeAngelo Hall at midseason, Johnson entered the starting lineup and played well enough to earn a four-year, $15.3 million contract last month.
All of that is a long-winded way of saying Perry knows his stuff. And considering Perry was the Steelers' safeties coach in 2006, when Smith played in all 16 games with four starts and two interceptions, it stands to reason that Thompson checked with Perry before making the deal.
By now, especially if you read this, you know Smith's story. In 2007, his second NFL season, he started 10 of the Steelers' final 11 games. Before a Dec. 9 showdown at undefeated New England, Smith guaranteed a victory, and the Patriots relished making Smith eat those words. After the 34-13 thrashing, Patriots coach Bill Belichick called attacking Smith "pretty inviting."
Smith's promising career went downhill from there, as teams took advantage of his overaggressiveness to beat him with play-action fakes. Last season, Smith played sparingly in 14 games, and was deactivated throughout Pittsburgh's run to the championship.
Insiders tell us that the 25-year-old Smith is a much more humble man for the experience.
If Smith comes to Green Bay hungry for this fresh start to his career and eager to learn from a proven teacher like Perry, then this transaction could be a feather in the cap of Thompson. If not, it will be seen as a failure in Thompson's rather uninspired plan in stocking this new defense with talent.
But make no mistake, the success or failure of this signing comes down to the teacher (Perry) and pupil (Smith). We know Perry can teach. Can Smith learn?
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.