Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lack of Competition for Rodgers Glaring

Mike McCarthy reiterated on Saturday his own personal commitment to Aaron Rodgers as the Packer starting quarterback, and in doing so, forced his own hand to the Packer fans everywhere.

A lot of people continue to criticize Brett's behavior, and rightfully so. But, when you boil away the emotion, the accusations, the indignation, and the history of events, this all comes down to one thing.

Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy are not open to any competition for Aaron Rodgers, whether that last name be Favre, Culpepper, Rattay, Frerotte, or Carr. They have gone "all in" on Rodgers, and like any game of high stakes cards, this is the one that will win them the pot, or send them home early.

This decision was probably made at the beginning of April, following Favre's flip-flop at the end of March, and was edified by the selection of two quarterbacks a few weeks later in the draft: second-rounder Brian Brohm will likely need a season or two under his belt to legitimately challenge for a starting spot, and Matt Flynn is seemingly assured of the #3 spot despite his seventh-round selection that usually predicts practice squad status, at best.

In other words, Aaron Rodgers is not only the starter, but will not have to face any competition for that spot. This really contradictory to the often-stated philosophy of the Thompson regime, which cites competition to create quality at a position. Just apparently not in this case, in which Rodgers has been anointed the starter long before training camp even started.

The Favre situation has been emotional and tumultuous at best, but in the end, the Packers will enter the 2008 campaign without Favre and with a new level of pressure on Rodgers. Also, there is now an exposed commitment on the part of Thompson and McCarthy.

Had Favre elected not to threaten to come out of retirement, we would have continued on with the company line, that Thompson and McCarthy believe in Rodgers. But, we would have taken that with a grain of salt. His injury history and early struggles would lead us to believe that management was making a very public effort to bolster his confidence and encourage fan support for a young player who will be following a legend.

We never thought, though, that this was an "all in" situation. We all felt that if Rodgers struggled Thompson would be willing to look for another quarterback, or even (ironic in retrospect) be willing to call up Favre out of retirement. The lack of bringing in any veteran leadership to help guide Rodgers along the way was eyebrow-raising, but not out of character for Thompson.

What Favre did was force the hand of Thompson and McCarthy out in the open. While Favre admitted that he wasn't open to competing for the #1 spot, Thompson and McCarthy have now stated that Favre wouldn't be allowed to compete for the #1 spot anyway.

This calls into question Thompson's decision to not bring in any veterans to back up Rodgers along the way. Thompson commented on this last week [1]:
"I think, when faced with the facts as we are, we did not feel that comfortable with any of the available veteran guys. I think in a perfect world, you’d have a veteran guy that’s played some that can still play and be a mentor and all those sort of things. The problem is, you have to have somebody that you think can go into a game and help you win. We felt comfortable with these two guys during the draft. … Everything is a gamble. You could say, what happens if Chad Clifton gets hurt, what happens if Donald Driver gets hurt or whoever? That’s just the nature of the NFL. You can’t really overly concern yourself with it. We like our young guys."
But, in the view of Thompson and McCarthy's apparent refusal to allow Favre to compete for a starting spot, it casts into doubt how much Thompson valued any veteran leadership.

Admittedly, when you think of the free agent quarterbacks that had the most rumors connected to Green Bay, you would imagine that they would want to come to Green Bay to at least compete for a starting job. Certainly, a player like Daunte Culpepper wouldn't want to be facing his former team twice a year watching from the bench, without even having had the chance to win a starting job.

Can we undervalue the importance for a young quarterback taking his first shots in the NFL as a starter without having the guidance of someone on the sideline who has been there? Wasn't there a cry amongst many of the Favre Critics when he stated it "wasn't his job" to tutor young Aaron Rodgers? So now, in the end, Rodgers actually doesn't need a veteran tutor?

In particular, the variance between the starter that Rodgers has watched for so many years and the type of play we are going to want to see from him is quite different. We're not expecting Rodgers to be a gunslinger, fitting rockets into tight spaces as Favre did. The idea of having a Tim Rattay, a Gus Frerotte, or a Mark Brunell who can explain things from a more traditional quarterbacking perspective would seem rather valuable.

But, for whatever reason, Ted Thompson has decided that those veterans weren't valuable enough to have on the team. In light of recent events and the strong assertation that Rodgers would not be subject to competition from Brett Favre, it sure seems to follow that he wouldn't want any competition from Daunte Culpepper or Quinn Gray, either.

In fact, it was reported that Thompson offered Culpepper a one-year, $1 million contract to back up Aaron Rodgers. Culpepper spurned the offer, and remains unsigned to this day. Why on earth would you turn down a chance to be a part of a team that reached the NFL championship game last year, especially after playing on the pathetic Dolphins and Raiders the past two seasons?

It makes you harken back to Randy Moss's controversial comments last year, when asked why he wasn't particularly taken with the Packer approach for his services[2].

"The Packers were really talking about the wrong things, and not the right things. When they started talking more about the wrong things, I just hung up the phone and didn’t want to talk to them anymore. I thought at first it was something that could have worked, for the fact that Brett Favre was there, but I think as the conversations occurred throughout the day and the next day, I didn’t really want to go to Green Bay.”

Moss was pressed on what exactly those wrong things were and went into detail.

“They were just talking about their team concept and the wide receivers and Donald Driver," he said. "It was like they were telling me that they were going to somewhat take a chance on me but, ‘if you do come here, these are the things you have to watch out, and be on your best behavior, and Donald Driver is the top receiver here, so don’t come in and try to step on his toes,’ and things like that.

"I didn’t think that was right because my whole career I have been taken out of context sometimes, but at the end of the day all I wanted to do was win games. ...I didn’t really feel they wanted me. I felt that Brett Favre wanted me, but I didn’t really feel the Packers wanted me.”

Now, it is not my effort to dig up old wounds or old arguments by bringing up Randy Moss, particularly those that debate whether or not he should be a Green Bay Packer. So, look past that a moment and consider the point.

According to Moss, Thompson and/or his staff told Moss that when he came in that he would have to abide by the "team concept", which included respecting Donald Driver as the #1 receiver.

So, Randy Moss would not be given the opportunity to compete for the #1 WR position? Despite his many faults, you would not give him a chance to prove himself at all, that he had to settle for, at best, a #2 spot?

What if all these quarterbacks who came to Green Bay looking for a position were all told similar stories, that Aaron Rodgers is "the man" and they wouldn't be given an opportunity to compete for the starting spot? According to the Journal-Sentinel, Trent Green, Gus Frerotte, Mark Brunell, David Carr and Quinn Gray all visited the Packers the offseason, but apparently all left without a contract offer.

Before Favre pushed the issue, you probably wouldn't have thought twice about it. But now, it raises concern that Thompson and McCarthy are going to great lengths to eliminate any quarterback controversy for 2008, and that means eliminating any real competition for Aaron Rodgers.

In essence, there's nothing "wrong" with this, and there are story after story of GMs and coaches who have been deemed geniuses for starting young players over more experienced veterans. Both Favre and Culpepper, early in their careers, were risks, youthful promise trumping experience and wisdom.

But the NFL is also littered with the disasters of when those risks didn't turn out, as players like David Carr, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, and Alex Smith have hindered teams with their own lack of development. And those GMs and head coaches were often sent packing.

So, in essence, this is a tremendous risk taken by Thompson and McCarthy, and as a result, a lot of pressure placed on Aaron Rodgers. Yes, Favre's actions this past months have been condemnable, but as an side effect, it has forced Thompson and McCarthy to show all their hand.

They have committed unequivocally to Aaron Rodgers, so much so that they may have spurned any veteran leadership to come aboard as a Plan B. Favre's actions indirectly place that much more pressure on Rodgers, because the pressure is coming directly from Thompson and McCarthy.

Before Favre's attempted comeback, the two still had the opportunity for a fallback plan, to sign a veteran if Rodgers were to struggle. Now, it is clear that this is Rodgers' ship, win or lose, and Thompson's and McCarthy's fortunes will lie with his successes or failures on the field. Signing someone at the first sign of struggles by Rodgers will undermine a lot of what has been said the past few weeks.

It doesn't come down to spurning Favre anymore, but the decision to essentially spurn any competition at the position. That in itself is puzzling, because competition was always a key piece of Thompson's credo. Just back in April, he alluded to this, particularly at the quarterback position [3]:
(Can you get a starter with the 30th pick or are you resigned to just getting somebody to add to your depth?)
Oh no. We're expecting to get a really good player there. Whether they come in and start right away, that's not as important as whether it's a good long-term investment for the organization. We're going to try to put some heat on these guys and let them compete and see what happens. We want to create competition, as we've always done, create as much competition as we can at every spot, and there is no spot that doesn't need more competition.

(Do you have to find a backup for Aaron Rodgers this weekend?)
No. I mean, we don't have to. The quarterback position is an important position, and we feel very good about Aaron. There are other ways to get quarterbacks as you go through the spring and the summer, so we don't feel compelled to do anything. But again, if we can create more competition, that's a good thing.
This was the apparent belief of Thompson before the Favre controversy hit the fan.

So, which is it? Is competition the way to go, or anointing starters and limiting competition to draft picks?

Is it any wonder that Favre would have expected to be handed his starting job back?

As training camp starts today, we'll definitely see this all play out, and all eyes will be on Aaron Rodgers and how he handles this team, hoping that he has the cred he needs to command the leadership role.

A role that has been apparently given to him without competition. Let's all hope for the Packers' sake that this risk made by Thompson and McCarthy ends up being the right one.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's not about competition. It's about Favre's personal vendetta against TT. Favre wants to be the QB and the GM. TT won't let him do that, so Favre is now doing is best to play the fans against TT. He will lose.

LosAngelis said...

Hm.

So,there is no veteran leadership on our quarterbacking squad, simply because they want to punish Favre for wanting his way?

"We don't like you trying to push us around, so you can't compete for a starting job, and neither will anyone else besides Aaron Rodgers. This way, you can't argue that we brought in another veteran instead of you!"

Anonymous said...

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/ross_tucker/07/28/qb.competitions/index.html

In this article at SI.com, they posit the idea that teams with a QB competition inhabit the bottom half of the League, and I do note that none of the 2007 playoff teams have a QB competition in training camp.(maybe Tampa ? )

This is a unique situation, and looking for parallels on the Packers roster or on other teams doesn't seem to carry much merit in this discussion.

Favre didn't compete with Rodgers either, he earned it with his offseason prep in 2007 and his history in GB.

LosAngelis said...

I do understand what you are saying, but all of those playoff teams have incumbent (and proven, one way or another) quarterbacks. Rodgers isn't necessarily in that class.

I also don't think my article meant to state that there should be a quarterback on the roster that would make MM say "to the winner go the spoils", or a complete competition.

On the contrary, there isn't a person on the roster who even comes close to challenging Rodgers. Remember, Rodgers was on the roster the past few seasons, and had his rather rabid fan base along the way.

My point is there is not only no one to push Rodgers, but there really isn't anyone on the roster that is going to take a team to the playoffs in the event Rodgers is injured.

This is where the risk comes in...that keeping away anything that can be construed as competition is removed so that Rodgers is the undisputed starter.

Quinn Gray could be on the roster, and Rodgers is still the stated starter. But, I'd feel a lot better if Rodgers got hurt that we'd have someone with some NFL experience on the roster to make a couple of starts.