Is the Green Bay Packers way the right way?


Packers President Mark Murphy

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

We all know about the Green Bay Packers way – draft, develop, and take care of your core players with contract extensions that keep them in Green and Gold for as long as the system will allow.

The debate rages, especially this particular offseason as the Packers make ovations, but walk away from the negotiating table when things get deep.

As a result, the Packers stand idly by – with the exception of Brad Jones and one Mulligan – while the rest of the league seems in a frenzy as quarterbacks play musical chairs and teams go after high-priced veterans. Though this offseason has been mild in comparison to others, keeping up with all the rumors and signings has been a chore.

Yesterday, an interview with Packers President Mark Murphy was published in the Racine Journal Times – a Q&A where Murphy touched on a variety of topics.

However, most notable was Murphy’s affirmation of the team’s draft and develop policy, saying that it was by far the most reliable way of doing business in today’s financial environment. He also said that though the Packers seemed a step behind the San Francisco 49ers on the playing field, those types of gaps between teams are made up through sound money management and drafting.

There are many who feel that championships are won in March, but Murphy, GM Ted Thompson and Head Coach Mike McCarthy are of the school that free agency wins nothing, but that the moves in the April NFL Draft and using cap money to sign their own is the way to build a team.

The best free agent signing by Ted Thompson.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Many feel that something in between might be the best mode of operation. And while Thompson has been successful in free agency (namely Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett several years ago) his forays into the market has been so few and far between that it’s difficult to come to any conclusion as to whether it could be deemed a success. Clearly, it’s been the Draft and the signing of undrafted free agents that have been utilized and thus have benefitted the Packers most.

So, while the Packers walked away from signing Steven Jackson and their own wide receiver Greg Jennings in favor of saving their dollars for contract extensions to Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, the 49ers traded for Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin and brought in Nnamdi Asomugha.

In the meantime, the Packers signed linebacker Brad Jones and and Matthew Mulligan, tight end from St. Louis – not headline news anywhere.

But don’t tell Murphy the Packers path is wrong … he will disagree vehemently.

Here’s what he told the Journal Times:

"“Look at the teams who have done that [spent in free agency]. Two years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles were anointed the Dream Team and NFL champions. It’s not that we can’t afford it. It’s really just that we think the best way to spend money is to identify your core players and reach long-term extensions with them rather than taking other people’s players.”"

Signing their own players is key for the Packers’ success.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Sounds good on paper, and it seems the Packers believe in their system because it’s been working. Though they have spent little over the course of the Ted/Mike/Mark regime, the team is year-in and year-out in the hunt for a ring. While having Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at the helm during this time span has helped, so has managing the money and drafting smartly.

Murphy again:

"“First all, setting Ted aside, there’s no question that when you look over the history of the league, the successful franchises who have sustained success over time do it through drafting players, developing them and then extending their key players. Now, teams will fill in with free agency and do a little bit here and there like we have, but I think the core has to be your draft. And I have tremendous confidence in Ted. I don’t think there’s a harder-working general manager in the league. When we draft somebody, he has spent time meeting with that player, watching him on tape, talking to his coaches, talking to his trainers … he makes an informed decision when he makes a draft pick. And the other thing that I think sets us apart is the amount of time and effort we put into undrafted free agents. It’s a combination of all those things and then Ted and his staff doing an outstanding job.”"

But will it be enough in the coming few years as the Packers continue in their attempt to be competitive on the field and on the business side of football? Murphy believes they are on the right track and will continue to do what works for them.

In catching up to the 49ers on the field, here’s what Murphy said:

"“We played them two times last year, the first game of the year and the last game of the year, and they beat us pretty soundly both times. But I’ve been around the league long enough to know that can change pretty quickly. And I think we’ll be better this year. I think getting back a number of injured players will make a huge difference. I think in the draft, we’ll be able to address some areas of concern and we have a great core of young players who are only going to get better.”"

It’s Mike’s way or the highway.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Part of that equation will be the signing of Rodgers and Matthews, as well as possibly taking care of defensive lineman B.J. Raji – again, their core players as designated this offseason.

Keeping those players in Green and Gold and having the monetary flexibility to keep and sign other players to keep the team competitive will continue to be the issue. There is the element of fandom that wants the Packers to sign every big name free agent that comes along. That simply isn’t going to happen. The triumvirate of Murphy/Thompson/McCarthy believe in one another and continue to build the team the only way they think is prudent.

So, is the Packers way the right way?

Well, over the course of the last eight years, it seems to have worked well. The Packers have won a Super Bowl, the team has won two straight division titles and continue to be competitive. Until someone comes along and either changes that system for the Packers or proves that their way of doing things is wrong, expect them to continue to take their time in drafting, developing, and building a championship football team.