Make the Right Call  

 

Green Bay Packers' offseason about keeping a good thing going

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"Re-signing will always be sexier than signing."
-- No one ever

So far, our "Make the Right Call" series has covered seven teams, all of whom have dealt with the arrival or departure of a big name or two, either on the roster or in the coach's office. Not so with the club being investigated in today's installment.

Elliot Harrison examines some of the busiest NFL teams this offseason and attempts to answer whether the moves they've made will pay off in the 2015 campaign.

The Green Bay Packers -- who have been at it for 94 years -- are in the midst of one of their more successful runs in recent memory. They've been to the playoffs in six straight seasons. They won Super Bowl XLV and got to the brink of Super Sunday last season. And a huge reason for all that is the methodology of general manager Ted Thompson, whose M.O. seems to boil down to a simple stratagem:

Draft and retain.

That's the name of the game. Or, to quote former Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, "That's what baseball do." (Well, sub in the word "football" ...) Whether it makes headlines or not, drafting well and retaining well is the shortest road to success in pro football, even if pursuing that path might lack the pizzazz of trading for a star tight end New Orleans didn't want anymore.

Of course, a key part of that formula is drafting and retaining well. Did Thompson and Co. accomplish those goals this offseason? My findings are below. If yours are different, hit me up ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Not just a bunch of Bulaga ...

When Bryan Bulaga was drafted by the Packers in the first round back in 2010, people weren't exactly going crazy on Facebook. (Or was everyone still Myspace at the time?) It was a boring pick. A lineman with a buzz cut? It seemed straight out of a bygone era in pro football, befitting the Packers of the 1960s. Nobody cares about right tackles, right?

Well, Packers fans do. Packers fans know football. It was the right choice. Aaron Rodgers -- who had been known to hold the ball long enough for cheese to melt -- was sacked 50 times in the season preceding Bulaga's arrival. Fast forward five years, and Bulaga -- after overcoming myriad injuries -- has become one of the best right tackles in the NFL.

In an instant debate from March about deals given to the top 25 free agents this offseason, I praised the Packers' re-signing of Bulaga. To get a guy ranked in the top five at his position for just under $7 million per year makes tons of sense.

Sensible spending

In some respects, Randall Cobb would have been easier to replace than Bulaga, given that Green Bay does have rising youngster Davante Adams on the roster. Perhaps Thompson was playing the waiting game with Cobb in allowing him to nearly reach free agency. Whether he was willing to let Cobb go or not (and we think he would have, if the cost had climbed), Green Bay ultimately locked up one of the best wideouts around for a not-too-exorbitant price.

Cobb, who caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, will be taking home $10 million per year. Yes, Cobb was reportedly seeking $12 million -- more than Jeremy Maclin ended up getting -- but Thompson surely also figured Cobb wanted to stay with the best quarterback in the game and in an offensive system that had been conducive to plenty of personal success. Would going to a team like the Raiders for a bit more money have been worth it? No. Sure, Derek Carr has potential, but why move out of a house where everything works for one with foundational problems and faulty AC?

Cornering the market

They might not have knocked it out of the park, but by most accounts, the Packers tabbed the right college kids at the draft.

Most notable were the selections of defensive backs Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins in the first two rounds. At 5-foot-11, both should be used primarily at corner, though Randall is versatile and talented enough to fill in at safety or on the outside. He will probably participate in nickel packages Week 1. Both fill a need for a secondary that was burned plenty in 2014 and is now without Tramon Williams, who signed with the Browns.

Be careful not to pile on the unit too much, however. Many teams played Green Bay from behind, and outside of Clay Matthews, Green Bay's pass rush was intermittent, meaning this group was tested often. It is better collectively than you think, particularly when it comes to Casey Hayward and Morgan Burnett. The addition of Randall and Rollins could turn what was a decent back end in 2014 into a strength in 2015.

While we're on the subject of Green Bay's draft, it's worth noting the selection of former UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley in Round 5. Green Bay must have considered him the best on the board at 147th overall. While the Packers have Rodgers, remember that things do happen to quarterbacks in the NFL -- as we saw in 2013, when Rodgers was limited to nine games by a broken collarbone -- so it's important to invest in the backup position. And, of course, Rodgers is getting older; it's hard to believe, but he's entering his 11th NFL season.

One other pick to highlight: third-round selection Ty Montgomery. Here's what my colleague Bucky Brooks had to say about the receiver: "Ty Montgomery is an intriguing selection with big-time potential. He could eventually earn Pro Bowl recognition as a returner or blossom into a solid WR2 in the Packers' system."

An inside job

While writing and researching my "All 32" pieces this spring, I don't think I noticed a fan base complaining more about a fringe player than Packer Backers howling about Brad Jones. He is gone. A.J. Hawk, a fun guy who spent nine (mostly quality) years in Green Bay, is also gone. The analytics mavens over at ProFootballFocus.com -- one of my favorite football resources -- ranked Hawk 52nd among inside linebackers last year. Jones didn't play enough to qualify last season, but he would have come in at 54th based on their system.

It'll be interesting to see how coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers line up the defense this year. Technically, Green Bay has three outside linebackers in Matthews, Julius Peppers and Nick Perry. With up-and-comer Sam Barrington and 2014 fourth-round pick Carl Bradford also in the fold, Capers has some young players to put out there on prospective running downs.

Did the Packers make the right call?

#ITTIT -- In Ted Thompson I trust.

The Packers did precisely what I expected them to do, while following the blueprint that has made the franchise so successful during the Thompson-McCarthy era. Bulaga will be a bargain, provided he stays healthy; continuity is always key on the offensive line. To keep a star receiver from fleeing for greener ($$$) pastures, Thompson likely leaned on the best recruitment tool football can buy: the presence of a bigger star quarterback and a system that features both signal-caller and pass-catcher.

The Packers once again avoided making a big free agency splash. And while they might not have gotten an "A" for their draft (taking a defensive lineman or inside linebacker would have made sense on Day 2), it was certainly far from a bad haul ... at least insofar as we can say this close to the event. Ultimately, you must trust the organization's track record.

Retaining the home-grown talent has served this club well, much like it did the Colts and Steelers organizations in the 2000s. Those are two of the most consistently successful franchises over the last 15 years, outside of the Patriots. Given that Green Bay came as close as a team could to earning a Super Bowl berth last year without actually going, and given that Rodgers is still in his prime, there was no reason for Thompson to make any kind of free agency splash -- except in his own pool.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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