Thursday, March 27, 2008

Packers Wise To Wait on Ryan Grant

Ryan Grant wants to get paid. Ted Thompson has around $33 million dollars to do it with. Makes sense, right?

However, Thompson doesn't appear to be in a hurry to up Grant's contract into some long-term deal. And now, Grant has subtly hinted that he might become a training camp holdout unless that happens.

However, as much as I like Ryan Grant and his feel-good story of the final ten games of the regular season, the Packers are wise not to put all their eggs into Grant's basket at this point. While he's certainly a valuable asset and our projected starter for the 2008 season, he needs to prove that he can continue to be a viable threat in the running game before we lock him up.

Now, I know what you're saying. "But, he was second to only LaDanlian Tomlinson in rushing over the last ten games!". Or, "We have $35 million to spend this offseason! We have to spend it somewhere!". Or even, "If we lose Grant, we have no running game at all!"

Let's take these one at a time:

"But he was second only to LaDanlian Tomllinson in rushing over the last ten games!" Yes, he was, and we all certainly saw the impact he had on the offense in that time. However, Mike McCarthy has shown his ability to make adjustments in his scheme as time goes on, tweaking for the abilities of his players (or lack of abilities, as the case may be). In the beginning of the season, McCarthy all but announced that after Week 1, he was essentially giving up on the running game. Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn could only muster 48 yards between them in the first game.

At that point, McCarthy gave the ball to Brett Favre and said, "Pass us to victory." And Favre did, averaging over 40 passes a game until the bye week in Week 7. Defenses started adjusting to the pass-happy offense, especially now that Favre was playing under control and effectively guiding the team. During that time, a revolving door of running backs, including Grant, continued to be little more than a mosquito-like distraction for defenses.

Following the bye week, Grant suddenly was a powerhouse, gaining 104 yards in his first game and not looking back. Was this a sudden change in Grant, or was it another subtle adjustment by McCarthy in his gameplanning and scheme? Favre only passed for 40 or more attempts two more times the rest of the season.

This is to take nothing away from Grant, but when you have a quarterback playing at an MVP level, forcing defenses to guard against the pass more than the run, it increases the chances for a good running back to become a threat. The question is, now that Favre has retired and our offensive philosophy will likely shift from where it was last season, will a running back have the same success with Aaron Rodgers running the show? Or, Rodgers' injury replacement quarterback?

We have $35 million to spend this offseason!!! Duly noted, and you can count me amongst the throng that looks at that number and gets antsy for something to be done in free agency besides signing a middle-of-the-road linebacker.

But, spending for the sake of spending is certainly not in Ted Thompson's gameplan, and throwing more money at Ryan Grant based on his performance last year doesn't appear to be his M.O.

On the other hand, Thompson has shown he would much rather spend free agent money extending contracts of players already on the roster, signing guys like Al Harris, Donald Driver, and Aaron Kampman to contract extensions before they hit the open market.

That practice, which most of us predicted would have a line of players outside his office asking for more money, has resulted in a greatly improved morale over the Mike Sherman period, when holdouts by characters such as Mike McKenzie and Javon Walker were a near-annual occurrence.

However, Grant isn't in the boat of being able to hit the open market for a long time. For $370,000, he is locked up as an exclusive-rights free agent, and isn't eligible for even restricted free agency until 2010. In other words, the only reason Ted Thompson has to give him a long-term deal is simply to make him happy.

This doesn't seem like Ted Thompson, a football version of Ebeneezer Scrooge when it comes to using his salary cap money for charity. However, Thompson may also be blinded by the dazzling rushing numbers he put up the latter half of the season and find Grant worthy of a incentive-laden extension, still allowing him to earn his reward on a more level playing field.

If we lose Grant, we have no running game! Shades of Samkon Gado, what is this? Ryan Grant is now the only running option we have? Well, certainly, it was good to have a back emerge out of the "talent pool" of young, raw runners we started the 2007 season with. Both Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn started out just as roughly as Grant though.

But, Wynn did have 78 yards rushing on 13 carries in a loss against the Bears before his season-ending injury. Also-brittle Brandon Jackson managed 113 yards in the season finale against Detroit. This season's rookie class also boasts a deep class of running backs that can be picked up, and we know somehow Thompson will come away from the draft with at least ten players. And there are several UFA's out there that are still available, if needed: Kevin Jones, Ron Dayne, and Michael Pittmann, to name a few.

How valuable, then, is Ryan Grant? It would be disingenuous to try and minimize him too much. Certainly, we would like to go into 2008 with him still in the backfield for the Packers, as he did establish himself as the season went on. He was well-hyped in our playoff run, and provides a somewhat familiar name for our offense now that our legendary quarterback has retired.

But, he also has a tendency to disappear in big games. After running for a 62 yard touchdown against the Cowboys, he only managed 32 yards on 13 carries the rest of the day. Against Bears, despite the glowing statistic of 100 yards on 14 carries, 90 yards were on 2 of those carries. That left 12 carries for 10 yards, and in a bitterly cold game, you can’t sit back and wait for the home run in between many strikeouts. And against the Giants in the NFC Championship game, Grant was a complete non-factor, gaining only 29 yards on 13 carries.

Grant is good, but still not consistent enough to demand top-dollar for his services, and certainly not based on just a half-season of work overshadowed by the best season Favre had since his MVP years.

So, was Grant's achievements completely a result of his skill and abilities, or did the coaches' schemes and the passing game's dominance pave the way for him to have a season that maximized a more limited ability that warranted but a sixth round draft choice in trade from the Giants?

If you're going to place your money on the answer to that question, I'd like to see another several games under his belt, surrounded by the players he'll be expected to play with for a while, before I sign the check.


rickusn said...

Nice analysis.

Although if you read my response on Poppinga TTs approach is a bit inconsistnet and over-rated.

He is NOT immune to the same predicaments that many GMs find themselves in.

But I agree whole-heartedly about Grant.

And his paying relatively big money to Jenkins, a player BTW he tried to replace in FA and the draft before blossoming and taking over from KGB at DE, has yet to prove to be the work of a genius.

I hope it does because I have always been higher on him than TT.

LosAngelis said...

Jenkins is kind of a funny story...gangbusters end of 2006, got his payday, started out 2007 the same way...then kind of faded from the limelight. Went from 6.5 sacks last year to just one this year.

Certainly, if you're looking for an example of some of the "paying your own" before looking to improve the talent from the outside, Cullen Jenkins may well be the one to look at.

Anonymous said...

If Grant hold out of camp, I'd be surprised. he is no dummy. He knows the delicate balance between realizing he has only 1 shot at big $$ and is only a torn acl away from never seeing his big pay day. But 10 games does not warrant a big contract. I hope Grant reports to camp on time and if he gets off to a good start...give him a modest extension with a signing bonue to take him up to his UFA year. I do think Pack should at least look at medical reports for Kevin Jones. Jones could not hold up in Detroit as feature back...but splitting time with Grant may be a decent situation for Packers if he will be healthy in time for training camp.