Monday, July 28, 2008

Sign Grant: We Don't Need Any More Drama

Back in March, I wrote an article advising the Packers to hold up on giving in to Ryan Grant's demands to be paid as a top RB in the league. I rationalized that he was a guy who was the beneficiary of a well-established passing game that minimized mistakes, forcing defenses to honor the pass and forsake run coverage at times. I also rationalized that Ryan Grant was far from proven, that Brandon Jackson had a career game at the end of the season, and that he should "prove it" before cashing in.

That was then. This is now.

The biggest difference between then and now is quite simply, the furor over Brett Favre. It shouldn't play a factor in the negotiations, but for Ted Thompson, it does.

There is no doubt that Grant's agent, Alan Herman, is fully aware of the maelstrom that is circulating at 1265, and that Ted Thompson is presently in the middle of a huge controversy in which an iconic player is being shown the door.

This has placed Thompson in a difficult position, with the fan base polarizing either in defense of him or on the side of Favre. As the situation has played out, and especially since the Greta Van Susteren interview, public opinion has leaned toward the Packer GM as holding the Packer organization above the needs of a malcontent quarterback who can't make up his mind.

But, in the past few days, more criticism has been directed at Thompson. Favre mentioned that the apparently false "Packer cell phone" story had to be corrected by someone in his own posse, Bus Cook, and that the Packers remained mute on the topic until Favre confronted Thompson over the story.

The organization is starting to even turn some of the most fervent Thompson Supporters in the local media to acknowledge that Thompson could have handled this better from the start.

With those cracks starting to show, Alan Herman decided to give it to the Packers with both barrels in the media yesterday, calling the offer from the Packers "a punch in the face" and refusing to even deal with new contract negotiator Russ Ball until he gets serious. He also accused Ball of making excuses for not negotiating for five months before lowballing him on the eve of training camp.

While Ball's name is mentioned, the buck ends up with Ted Thompson, who had to answer questions today from the media as to the ongoing negotiations, which he looked as excited to talk about as the Favre situation.

Which is exactly the point.

The Favre situation has place Thompson in a rather vulnerable position as it deals with public opinion and perception. Alan Herman knows this, and is taking full advantage of a fan base that is already torn, with Thompson in the middle.

It's low, indeed. But when have we known sports agents to be abiders of any moral code? This is akin to kicking a man when he's down, making the Packers and, in turn, Ted Thompson out to be cheapskates.

Perhaps this is a moment when Ted Thompson isn't all that excited about being "The Packers" when compared to Favre. Even though Thompson may not be directly involved in the contract negotiations, its apparent now that Thompson is the one who is getting the accountability for this.

And, its rather a big hit, and will continue to loom larger for as long as Grant holds out and Herman continues to spew his victimization story to the public. Because, it seems, there is an audience for those who are already a little frustrated with Thompson, and this adds more fuel to their fire.

But, even worse, the perception of those fence-sitters, who have seen their starting quarterback blocked from returning to the team in order to usher in an uncertain future, are now seeing their starting running back lowballed and frustrated.

Ted Thompson, to his credit, is a good manager. But, his people skills and public relations haven't always been as glowing as, say, Bob Harlan or Ron Wolf. He's allowed himself to operate with a teflon coating when it comes to public criticism, moving forward with his plan despite criticism of his drafts, his free agent approach, and lack of shoring up positional groups with quality players.

And, to his credit, a 13-3 record goes a long way in making you look like you were right all along.

But a 13 win season seems like pretty long odds with a new quarterback and the loss of your starting halfback, not to mention the drama and distraction both situations are bringing to the team. While I have always admired Thompson's teflon skin, this may be the time to consult your PR people and keep the criticism coming only from the Favre camp, not the Grant camp, too. Criticism has a tendency to keep spreading.

Some may accuse me of encouraging Thompson to give up his principles, to do exactly what he shouldn't do in a good business model, or most importantly, to do exactly what I told him not to about four months ago. As a leader, he should indeed be worrying more about what is best for the team and not what is best for his image.

But the Packers don't need any more tarnish on their helmets this offseason, and having a guy like Alan Herman make them look like lowballers with the hero of the second half of last season isn't removing the tarnish that is already there.

It's time to honestly consider what Grant would make on the open market right now if he were released outright, and pay him something in that ballpark. The Packers, according to Herman, have offered a $1.75 million signing bonus, when Grant would like something more in the ballpark of what Brady Poppinga was awarded ($3 million).

With the Packers swimming in salary cap room and few players up for extension at the end of the season, it seems kind of silly to not end this potential PR nightmare sooner than later. Grant may end up being a complete washout, perhaps even the next Samkon Gado.

But for now, he is viewed as our starting halfback, and when we've already got the furor with our former starting quarterback, this is a headache Ted Thompson and the Packers don't need right now. If the Packers seem willing to swallow $12 million to tell Favre to stay home for the season, why wouldn't they be willing to spend an extra million to tell Grant to come to camp?

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