So, Brett Favre got his wish and lined up behind center of the Minnesota Vikings, preparing to take on another NFL season and face off against his old team. This, despite the efforts of the Packers front office to prevent it from happening in the summer of 2008.
Yes, today is a day of catcalls, jeers, creative insults, and "Cash for Clunkers" jokes, all directed at a man who is regarded by most Packer fans as Judas Iscariot reincarnated as a hillbilly. But, as the clamor settles down and we focus on the players that really matter to us (the gentlemen in green and gold playing against the Bills this weekend), we might do well to review the standoff last summer that led to so much of the turmoil we are feeling today.
Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, and the Packers' brass took a hardline with Favre and stuck to their guns. But, in the end, all they did was delay the inevitable, and at a cost that may overshadow what we celebrated as a gain.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am not disagreeing with the Packers' decision to go with Aaron Rodgers as the quarterback. In fact, I support it wholeheartedly. I am also not disagreeing with the front office decision to not bring Favre back to the team, even as a backup. They made a decision and stuck with it.
I give Thompson and Co. credit for how they handled last year's offseason up to a point. After the 2007 season ended, the resumed their usual "we aren't giving Brett any deadline to make a decision" line (through gritted teeth), and waited it out. When Brett came forth and announced his retirement, they graciously showed him the door, and after he left, slowly watched him leave and kept the door open for a month or so, allowing him time to change his mind.
But, at some point, Thompson and McCarthy closed that door, crossed the Rubicon, and decided that it was time to move on. When Favre started waffling and inquiring about returning to the team, the leaders (perhaps clumsily) deflected his advances.
But, at the point where Favre said, "If you don't want me to play for you, grant me my release," is where I start to question how Thompson handled the situation. Even Ron Wolf granted the release of Reggie White in 2000 when he came out of retirement, allowing him to join a team that was on the Packers' schedule that year (and ended up a Packers' loss). But, Thompson refused. Favre requested a trade to a list of teams that he'd be interested in (namely, the Vikings), and again, Thompson refused.
This started the mother of all wars in the media, with months of he-said, she-said melodrama and splintering fan bases. Perhaps Thompson felt that this was in the best interest of the team. Perhaps he felt it was critical to keep him off a division rival's roster. Perhaps he felt that it was important to keep him off the Packers' schedule. Perhaps he simply wanted to not give in to the Will of Favre, as so many had done before him (and in retrospect, would do again).
Whatever the reason, the Packers allowed this drama to escalate all the way into training camp. In the end, Thompson thwarted any efforts Favre had of joining his desired re-locale, and eventually traded him to NFL Siberia, the New York Jets...perhaps the last team Favre himself would want to join. Favre was not only blocked from the team he wished to join, but was in perhaps one of the worst situations he could be in when it came to the potential of making the playoffs.
In the end, what Thompson got for the Packers was a Favre-less schedule and a third round draft pick. Many at the time hailed the move as a winning one for the Packers.
But, a year later, the Packers may have been better off giving Favre his release, or better yet, granting his request for a trade. It seems sacreligious now to willingly allow Favre to have joined the Vikings, but in the end, how much better off were the Packers?
* The distractions and unrest caused by the media and fan blitz last summer have been cited more than once by folks trying to come up with reasons as to why the Packers lost seven more games than last year. This would have been eliminated quickly by granting Favre's request earlier...putting the onus of the request on Favre and Favre alone, not on Thompson, McCarthy, or Aaron Rodgers.
* Looking at the 2008 stats of Favre and Jackson/Frerrotte side-by-side, they are almost identical (and identically mediocre). It is easily convievable to think that a Favre-led Viking squad would have finished 10-6, just like last year. The positives that Favre may bring with his presence and leadership may likely been countered by his propensity for turnovers.
* Using that same logic, the Packers would have likely finished 6-10 last year regardless, a season marked by Mike McCarthy stating "We need to clean up our house". But, how much did those early distractions contribute to the Packers cluttered season? Would a quick tie-cutting with Favre have allowed McCarthy to establish a more focused environment with Rodgers as his leader? Would Rodgers have to put up with pint-sized fans using the F-word at him?
* The rationale oft-cited about holding on to Favre in order to gain "value in return" for him not only pales in the face of the Wolf/Reggie situation mentioned earlier, but also in what we actually gained. The third-round pick was bunched up with several others to move up into the first round and get a now-injured linebacker and a project offensive lineman. Had the Packers demanded a first-rounder from the Vikings (a price they would seem willing to have parted with), they could have picked up Clay Matthews with the 22nd overall pick and still had the second- and third-round picks that Thompson usually excels at.
* Favre returned to the #1 spot in jersey sales for the Jets last season. Meanwhile, the Packer Pro Shop reported a significant drop in sales. While the economy is partially to blame, you don't need to look too far on the internet to find there is a small (but loud) contingent of fans who have sworn off the Packers based on how the felt their hero, Favre, was treated.
* While many fans won't care, the anger and revenge factor by Favre would have been lessened by granting him his quick release/trade. There's little doubt that Favre didn't like Thompson much before last summer, but not allowing him to play for his own team, not allowing him to play for his desired team, and not allowing him to play with any team until halfway through the preseason schedule sure didn't make that anger and resentment any better.
* Finally, the Packers appear to have what they least wanted, a year later: Favre will face them twice on their schedule. Is revenge a factor? Possibly. But, you can guess that those two games will be not only the most spirited games the Packers will play in the regular season, but the hype and national attention will be enormous. The Packers missed out on that publicity, attention, and exposure for their new quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, by working so hard to avoid it last summer.
Look, I am not writing this in any way to provide some sort of defense for Favre's actions over the last year or so. He left the house willingly, and Thompson gave him time to renege before closing the door behind him for good. His actions since that time have been at best selfish, and at worst, completely lacking in integrity.
But, the decision by Thompson and the Packers to have a two-month staring contest that bled into training camp, coupled with a trade that was designed to be to the advantage of the Packers (and the detriment of Favre) didn't work out the way they wanted. It could have, and should have, been handled better. And smarter.
Favre is a jerk and is does what he wants to serve his own best interest. However, Thompson is paid to be the executive leader of the franchise and to do what is in the team's best interest. Last summer's standoff seems rather futile and unnecessary today, as Favre got what he wanted anyway.