ARLINGTON, Texas -- Let the trumpets sound. We have a champion.
Even as the Packers receive their well-deserved accolades, the thought of next year is starting to creep into the minds of every executive and coach in the league. The push for 2011 starts now, and everyone has a clean slate. It would seem the Packers' chances of repeating are slim. Only the Broncos (1997-98) and Patriots (2003-04) have done it since the inception of the current free-agency system in 1993.
However, a closer look reveals the Packers have a real chance at repeating. While maintaining excellence is the hardest thing to do, it's easier when you have certain things going for you, such as youth and a great quarterback. Green Bay also has some extremely talented players coming back from injury.
Rodgers has been sensational since becoming the starter in 2008. I see a touch of Tom Brady in his approach to the game. Rodgers rebuilt himself from his college days, improving his arm, footwork and being quicker with his decision-making. He keeps working hard and never seems satisfied -- much like Brady. He made every throw Sunday, and though his numbers were incredible, they should have been better had the Packers' receivers made some easy catches.
In reality, Rodgers is just skimming the surface of his talent. I fully expect him to get better, even though that level of improvement will be hard to see for the casual fan. Rodgers strives for perfection, so winning one title will not satisfy his desire to be the best.
Due to all the injuries, the Packers have been forced to play younger guys who answered the call. General manager Ted Thompson loves the draft and is good at unearthing gems. He will continue to stockpile young talent, but at the same time, the Packers are also willing to admit a mistake. They will not allow a guy to stick around because of draft status. Most importantly, the Packers never seem to draft on need. They draft based on their board, which allows them to stay young and deep.
Did they really need a wideout when they took Jordy Nelson at the top of the second round in 2008? Probably not, but Thompson understands talent and value, so he picked Nelson. Equating value is the most critical aspect of the draft, and Thompson is great in that regard.
Most teams believe they set their board based on value, but they actually rig their board to have the value meet their needs. In essence, they lie to themselves, which starts to decay the roster. Packers fans do not have to worry about this because Thompson and his staff know value.
The Woodson factor
The Packers lost veterans Charles Woodson and Donald Driver to first-half injuries. But like they have all season, the next man went in and Green Bay continued to play well. Both Driver and Woodson have taken care of their bodies and will be ready to perform at a high level again next year.
Woodson has been amazing all season. He has done things on and off the field that I never thought he could, especially having been around him before with the Raiders. He was never the hardest worker on the team or the easiest player to coach -- in fact, Mike McCarthy felt Woodson was the most difficult player he had ever coached after the corner's first season in Green Bay and regretted the signing. But then it all changed. McCarthy found the right way to coach him, and Woodson decided to change his ways. Once he changed, his rare skill set came to the forefront and he became a leader. Woodson could always just show up and play, but now he prepares to play. The commitment has made him play better, even as he ages. I am really happy for Woodson getting a ring, but more for the player and man he has become.
The Packers have never been huge players in the free-agent market, preferring to re-sign their own players. Next season, assuming we have a labor deal, the Packers have several key players to retain, most notably defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins. He's a dominating player, and he will get paid. Green Bay might be tempted to place the franchise tag on him to prevent him from leaving. He is a must re-sign for the Packers.
Other than Jenkins, the only other starter who will be a free agent is left guard Daryn Colledge. Therefore, the Packers will enter next season with the nucleus of their team in place. They also will not have any players beating the drums for a new deal -- in part because the Packers have been proactive in getting key guys extended early and many of the young players are not in a position to ask for more money.
Having young, talented players under contract is a goal for many, but the Packers have been able to make it a reality. With that, they have avoided demands for new deals. With the offseason here, we enter the season of wanting to get paid. The Packers will not have this problem, which will allow them to concentrate on repeating.
The Disease of Me
There are several reasons teams do not repeat. However, former Lakers, Knicks and Heat coach Pat Riley came up with six definite signals that can alert a team it is in danger of not repeating: the Disease of Me:
- Chronic feelings of under appreciation -- focus on oneself.
- Paranoia over being cheated out of one's rightful share.
- Leadership vacuum resulting from formation of cliques and rivalries.
- Feelings of frustration even when the team performs successfully.
- Personal effort mustered solely to outshine one's teammate.
- Resentment of the competence of another -- refuse to admit his contribution.
Reading each of Riley's points as they pertain to the Packers makes me believe they are capable of repeating. With so many players contributing this year, no one (other than Rodgers) can believe they are solely responsible for winning it all. The Packers proved that everyone is replaceable, therefore they won't have the Disease of Me.
I understand winning consecutive titles is hard, but if there was ever a perfect storm in place for it to happen, the Packers are in prime position. They should enjoy their achievement and know they can make history next year.