Echoing Aaron Nagler's post over at CHTV, I have to admit that I was kind of stunned by the massive trade-up by Ted Thompson to have to rights to pick up Clay Matthews in the first round. Well, maybe not stunned, but surprised.
In all actuality, I had been eying up one of those handy-dandy draft value charts about an hour before the Thompson pulled the trigger, and had actually calculated that our pick #41 (490) and our pick #73 (225) equaled the value of Baltimore/New England's pick #26 (700), and still left us a third round pick on the first day.
And the name that popped out to me was OLB Everette Brown. Now, don't get me wrong. I wasn't pushing for Brown at #9, simply because I felt that there were a lot of hybrid OLB's out there in this draft and didn't think that was as pressing a need as the defensive line. So, I was thrilled when we got B.J. Raji with our first pick.
But I noted that a lot of draft prognosticators had the Packers picking Brown at #9, that he filled a need and would be a good playmaker for the Packers as they transitioned to a 3-4. At that moment, I started thinking: Raji and Brown on the first day? Two guys that were both predicted for the Packers to take with a top ten pick, and to come away with both of them?
So, when the trade was announced, I almost did a backflip. Brown was still on the table and I figured it was a slam dunk.
Then, it was announced that Clay Matthews was the pick. My heart stopped a moment.
Now, one thing I've learned over the years is that you never, ever question a pick made by Ted Thompson, because if you do, there will be 10,000 people there to tell you that you aren't being paid to be a GM and Thompson is, so you should shut up. I learned this after Justin Harrell was picked, and of course, we all know that Harrell has vindicated every one of those folks that voraciously defended that pick.
Matthews himself as a pick at #26 didn't bother me that much. After all, Thompson has shown some good scouting acumen in bypassing Chad Jackson for relative unknown Greg Jennings, as well as taking an obscure safety from Bethune-Cookman in the second round. I figured he must have seen something in Matthews that he didn't see in Brown.
And then, I saw the price. Our second-rounder and BOTH third rounders, getting a fifth in exchange. The draft value sheet said this was WAY in the favor of the Pats (Pick #26 and Pick #152 = 726 value points versus picks #41, #73, and #83 = 1,090 value points). And you will be hard pressed to find many folks out there other than the most fervent Thompson and Matthews fans who will admit that they truly believe this trade was a favorable one, or at least, worth the price.
Lost in all of this was Everette Brown, who for some reason or another was passed by the Packers at #9, passed again by the Packers at #26, and in fact, passed 42 times until he was taken at #43 by Carolina. With our 20/20 hindsight goggles firmly in place, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to note the Packers could have actually taken Brown (their oft-predicted selection at #9) with their second round pick.
To me, Everette Brown being able to be taken at #41 (giving nothing up in the process) is "the price" we paid to have Clay Matthews in Green and Gold. In a way, we are going to be watching his career out of the corner of our eyes over the next couple of years.
It reminds me a lot of the 49ers, who paid their price for Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft, taking Smith first overall and paying the exorbitant price that a #1 overall demands. Now, I think Smith was the more NFL-ready prospect over Rodgers, who benefited greatly from riding the pine for a couple of seasons. But neither guy was ready for on-the-job training playing with the 49ers offensive line in front of him, and Smith quickly looked like David Carr 2.0.
As time went on, 49er fans started looking at the struggles of Smith and realizing, "You know, we could have had Aaron Rodgers instead..." Rodgers was "the price" paid for Smith, in the minds of the 49ers and their fans. And as Smith began crumbling under the pressure, losing his starting job, and eventually, even some of his cash as he restructured his contract and will compete for his job with Shaun Hill, Rodgers began ascending.
There's no doubt that in 2008, when Rodgers took over the reins of the Packers and had a strong first season as a starter, that the 49ers had to begrudgingly look at Smith, who was benched, and wish they hadn't paid so much for what was really a similar talent level as what the Packers got 23 picks later.
Now, the 49ers also have themselves to blame. They placed Smith in the line of fire right away, a stupid move in the face of so many other #1 overall picks that had no other pieces in place around them (Carr, Akili Smith, Tim Couch). The 49ers should have brought in a veteran to help tutor Smith and ease him into the position (and of course, developed an offensive line and solid running game around him).
Today, the Packers find themselves on the other side of the coin. The Packers essentially went "all in" on Matthews, a former walk-on who didn't blossom and become a starter at USC until 2008, surrounded by tremendous talent. And, this high price means that Everette Brown, who could have been taken for nothing more than the Packers' second-round pick, will be the "Rodgers" to Matthews' "Smith".
Harsh? Maybe. But having first-rounders not reach their potential for a team hurts. They take up salary cap space and often have to be kept around for several seasons in the face of non-production to avoid the signing bonus acceleration (see: Jamal Reynolds, Justin Harrell). And then the team still has to find talent to take their place, whether it be through more draft picks or free agency.
Matthews represents a pretty high price for even a first round pick, given the Packers were unable to make any more picks in the second or third round, historically where Thompson has made some of his shrewdest selections.
You can ask Mike Sherman. When you trade back, the expectations lower. But when you trade up, the expectations raise considerably, and the criticism for failure doubles.
Ted Thompson is already getting heat for taking a workout warrior linebacker in AJ Hawk in the first round, and having him struggle to establish himself as a playmaker. Did Thompson overpay for another Hawk, when a potentially more established OLB in Brown would not only have been available at #26, but at #41?