Monday, November 13, 2006

The "WhatToDew" With Rodgers

Well, it was bound to happen. The Packers have gone on a little bit of a run, going 3-1 in their last four games, and suddenly people are murmuring about wild cards and playoffs. Something about beating the Vikings on their home field does that to people.

But something came out this weekend, thanks to the Jay Glazer at FOX, that has rustled the camps a little bit: Mike McCarthy is apparently stumping for Brett Favre to return for another year.

It has yet not been confirmed that Ted Thompson made immediate frantic phone calls to FOX to beg them to “bleep” out those comments within the ten-second censoring window, but I wouldn’t doubt it.

Said McCarthy, “I know what's being said out there and written about it but I'm telling you after watching him first hand that he's part of the solution, not part of the problem. I'd love to have him for one more year.”

Now, while apparently Thompson has no pull with FOX, he does have pull with his head coach. A day after the game, McCarthy backtracked the statements he made to FOX.

“If I opened that door for that type of scenario, I need to close it,” McCarthy said Monday. “As far as the way he’s playing this year, we’re excited about the way he’s playing. I referred to I think he has plenty of gas in his tank, he could play a number, a couple of years if he wants to, but those are postseason topics. I know he doesn’t want the distraction, our football team doesn’t need it and if I opened a door, I need to close it.”

There. Much better.

Now, let’s be realistic. The Packers are definitely improving, a sign of some young talent making some surprisingly good contributions in their first year, and the veterans playing solidly. Give McCarthy himself some credit for his grit in piece-mealing this team into one that is looking like it can challenge the mid-level teams.

And, indeed, after the Viking game, Favre looks like he’s as sure as ever. No, he’s not the prolific passer of the 90’s, nor the high-risk, high-reward passer of the first half of the next decade, but he’s developed into a game manager. His rush awareness has opened the door for his trademark 10-yard bullets, not the 40-yard prayers.

But with Aaron Rodgers, Thompson’s first draft pick still sitting on the bench, waiting for his turn to start, such talk has some people starting to get twitchy. The recent successes of Carson Palmer and Phillip Rivers has to be encouraging for those who have been in favor of Rodgers sitting for a year or two…looking at Matt Leinart and Alex Smith makes you pause a moment before you consider the wisdom of throwing a rookie to the dogs.

But Rodgers will be in his third year in 2007, and both he and his supporters are quietly chomping at the bit for him to get his chance in the spotlight. The Packers will need to pay A-Rod an escalator of $2.2 million if he doesn’t start next year, and there is a $3 million option bonus after this season. That’s a lot of coin for a backup quarterback. Now factor in the continued large amount of money that Favre will command with his contract in 2007 (upward of $10 mil), and that’s going to be some cap space tied up at a position where only one guy plays at a time.

And so, the grumbling begins: Favre’s coming back?! Should we trade Favre and start Rodgers? Should we bench Favre and start Rodgers? Should we trade Rodgers and get another first-round quarterback to sit the bench for a year or two, like Brady Quinn?? Can we afford to draft another quarterback when there will be such glaring needs at running back, tight end, and the secondary?

I have two words to say to you.

Re. Lax.

Football fans are, by far, the most bipolar people in the entire world. Very few people picked the Packers to win against the Vikings, and many were mired in depressing predictions after the disappointing loss against the Bills. Now, suddenly, we’re on top of the world again.

Reality: The Viking just lost to the 49ers, and looked horrible against the Packers. This team doesn’t have it together. When your opponent with a lead chooses to pass 14 out of 15 times in the fourth quarter, and you can’t make a play on the ball, you’re a pretty bad team. Like the Cardinals and the Dolphins, we may have just caught the Vikings at their season-low and benefited from it.

Reality: Favre is passing at a rate that will challenge the all-time record for most attempts in a season, surpassing his gaudy total even in 2005. Luckily, he’s playing under control and minimizing mistakes. But, do you honestly think this would be the game plan with Rodgers in there? Would Rodgers be attempting 40+ passes a game? As I predicted, Favre is getting the lion’s share of focus while the team around him gels, leaving Rodgers ready to step into much more solid footing.

Reality: We are playing a puppy schedule, and still don’t have a winning record. If this team does finish around .500 and ends up with the 2nd or 3rd place schedule in 2007, there won’t be as many pushovers as there are in 2006. And this team hasn’t proven it can beat a good team playing on all cylinders yet, despite all its improvement. Next week’s game against the Patriots will likely be an excellent measuring stick for exactly how far we’ve come compared to the better teams in the NFL, though one can argue that we’re playing them at the best possible time, too.

Reality: Favre is having fun. He’s not here to pad his stats (“I might be the only person who really doesn't care about the record. I would rather win.”), he’s here to help a team win and give his all doing it. He might well be content to end on a positive note rather than tempt fate again.

Reality: Thompson probably isn’t going to be all that excited to see his first pick leave the team without getting a shot to prove himself, all to squeeze one more year out of his Hall Of Fame quarterback.

I’ve been of the opinion for quite some time that this will be Brett Favre’s last year as a Green Bay Packer. More than likely, he will retire this year, as his conversation with Ragnar suggests. Less likely is that he’ll come back with another team, possibly coming out of retirement to help out an old friend, like Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid, Jon Gruden, or Mike Sherman continue a playoff hunt when their starting QB gets hurt.

But Favre coming back with the Packers? It’s far too early to start thinking about this right now, and Favre, to his credit, has stated he’s not addressing any retirement questions until after the season. A bit slow on the learning curve, but the right decision to make.

Like judging McCarthy or Thompson, this issue is also a “wait and see”. Favre could get embarrassed against the Patriots next week, and the ESPN flip-flopper's will all be prognosticating about how he’s washed up again (at least, until he has another great game).

Ted Thompson has shown that he will make pragmatic moves in the off-season. They don’t always work out, but how he handles this Favre situation will be direct and final: he’s either playing, or he’s leaving. Rodgers is either leaving, or starting. Given his propensity for favoring his own players, I think I know which way Ted will be leaning. Favre may have to sell himself to stick around Green Bay, and certainly won’t get carte blanche to make a decision.

And I think McCarthy won’t be saying much else this season about how much he wants Favre back next year.

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