Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Barnett and Colledge: Why One Left and One Should Stay

Yesterday, Nick Barnett ended his eight-year tenure as a Green Bay Packer, a productive and boisterous career that certainly made him a presence both on and off the field.  In the next few days, offensive lineman Daryn Colledge might follow him into the uncharted waters of free agency in this new world in the NFL.

I'm certainly sad to see Barnett go.  He was an emotional leader of the team and was one of the first accessible players on Twitter.  He was one of the first big guests on uber-fanshow CheeseheadTV, and was, overall, a class act.  He had his blemishes, too.  He disappeared for long stretches, seemingly reliant on his own emotion to be at a fever pitch to overcome dominant blocking.  He had a prolonged bout with the city of Green Bay over issues at his downtown nightclub.  And he has quit and rejoined Twitter several times over some TMI tweets, not the least of which was publicly complaining he was to be left out of the official Super Bowl team picture last February.

None of that matters, however, because the real reason he left can be summed up in two words:  Desmond Bishop.  Many in the media and the blogger fan base had called for Bishop to get his break for years, usually to try and supplant fellow MLB AJ Hawk.  Barnett's spot, however, was always safe, and he never seemed to have to compete for his position.

It what might be the premier crucible story of the 2010 Green Bay Packers:  injury-decimated team found they usually had equally, if not more competent talent waiting on the bench.  Bishop walked onto the field with solid production and far less theatrics.  While Aaron Rodgers won the Super Bowl MVP, Bishop has to be considered a close runner-up because of the heroic forced fumble to start the fourth quarter.  Without that one play, I don't know if the Packers own a Lombardi Trophy today.

So, Barnett, who entered the McCarthy era back in 2006 as the de facto starter and never once had to seriously accept a challenge to his position, found himself the odd man out.  Salary cap savings were more important than that emotional leadership, which the Packers also managed to find out they could come up without Mufasa.

Switch now to the curious case of Daryn Colledge, a guy drafted in 2006 to be the integral cog in the new Zone Blocking Scheme, and has had his ups and downs over that time.  He's gone from being the promising rookie to the underachieving veteran that was due for an upgrade, seemingly every single season.  Nearly every year he has been pencilled out of the projected starting lineup, even benched once during the regular season.

But, each and every time, Colledge has fought and earned his place back.  Every.  Time.

Look, Colledge may never reach Pro Bowl status as a guard in the NFL. many Packer guards have over the last forty years?  But Colledge has lived through his whole Packer career under the microscope and proven the doubters least until the following year.

For your viewing pleasure, Ted Thompson has drafted the following offensive players in his time in Green Bay as GM:

1. Junius Coston
2. Wil Whittaker
3. Daryn Colledge
4. Jason Spitz
5. Tony Moll
6. Allen Barbre
7. Josh Sitton
8. Breno Giacomini
9. TJ Lang
10 Jamon Meredith
11. Bryan Bulaga
12. Marshall Newhouse
13. Derek Sherrod
14. Caleb Schlauderaff

Now, Thompson has drafted enough guys over his tenure to make almost three full squads of offensive lines.  And, as we enter Thompson's seventh season as general manager, 40% of the offensive line positions are still, barring injury, being manned by Mike Sherman holdovers.

That's a big deal to me, especially how after nearly every single draft, pundits and armchair quarterbacks around the Packer Blogosphere had every one of these guys, at one point or another, penciled in as a starter in the near future. 

I've made the point many times in the past how 60% of the offensive line had been unable to be "upgraded", that the threesome of Clifton, Tauscher, and Wells were still better than the talent brought in to replace them.

And now, out of fairness and common sense, I'm going to apply the same point to Daryn Colledge.  You see, unlike Barnett, the Packers were never afraid to challenge Colledge at his position.  And let's face it:  at one point or another, both Barnett and Colledge had some underwhelming games.  But Barnett kept his spot, year in and year out, and when an injury finally made him sit the sidelines, the coaches realized that Bishop was ready and willing to not only equal Mufasa's production, but exceed it.

Yet Colledge has been written off, time and time again, with one of those names on that list.   Many of the names that were the presumed heir apparent are no longer with the team, and Colledge has always taken his guard spot back.  Now, I understand the logic:  the Packers have a ton of young talent and could use the salary cap room.  Colledge has been steady-but-not-spectacular, and perhaps we have the OL version of Desmond Bishop on the roster already.


And perhaps not.

Daryn Colledge might take his Super Bowl Ring and head off to some other ZBS team and cash in, finishing his career someplace other than the one where he's always had to prove himself.  Colledge himself said that he doesn't think the Packers want him back.

"The Packers have had a lot of years to re-sign me if they wanted to, so it looks like they might just let me go to free agency," Colledge said. "Whether that’s a business decision or a personal decision, I don’t know."

Sometimes, when you've had so much doubt in a player and hoped to upgrade them over and over again, there's a point where it is just best to part ways and give the player a shot with a clear slate.  Maybe Daryn is tired of always having to fight for his job, too.

But if the Packers are smart, you keep the guy whose proven himself again and again.  After all, why are Clifton and Wells still starting ahead of all those guys Thompson has picked to replace them?

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