INDIANAPOLIS––Gehrig. Ruth. Combs. Koenig. Meusel. Lazzeri.
Wolf. Thompson. Schneider. McKenzie. Dorsey.
In a roundabout way, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson made reference to the 1927 New York Yankees known as “Murderer’s Row” when talking about the Ron Wolf personnel tree and the recent losses to the Packers front office the past few seasons.
“It’s next man up,” said Thompson at the NFL Combine on Friday. “You try to train your players and you try to train your personnel staff and coaching staff to take the next step and be able to grow and evolve. The NFL is all about evolving.
“The Baltimore Ravens, world champions, they would like to hold all that together and keep it and go forward like the ’29 or ’30 Yankees or whenever it was. You can’t do that in the NFL anymore. The NFL is always evolving, so you have to continue to evolve.”
Forgive Thompson for not knowing that Murderer’s Row was actually the 1927 Yankees team, but it was in ’29 that their streak of two consecutive World Series titles came to an end. A parallel can be drawn to the inevitable breakup of the Packers brain trust that’s currently taking place in Green Bay.
In each of the past three consecutive seasons, Thompson has lost one talent evaluator to become general manager of a rival NFL team.
John Schneider became the Seattle Seahawks G.M. in 2011, Reggie McKenzie left to lead the Oakland Raiders in 2012, and most recently John Dorsey was named commander-in-chief of the Kansas City Chiefs just a month ago.
It says a lot about Wolf who has four protégés each leading the war room of his own NFL team.
“We all started under the one plan, and it has been the Ron Wolf plan,” said Dorsey. “We have all grown from that plan, we have learned from that plan and that is kind of where we are today. I think that plan speaks for itself.”
The challenge for Thompson now turns to how he can replace the personnel lost to other NFL teams.
If Wolf has truly sprouted a proverbial tree, then the Packers have the acorn, Wolf’s son Eliot who is Green Bay’s director of pro personnel. Also leading the Packers’ front office is director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst and senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith, each of whom received promotions since McKenzie left for Oakland.
They’ll lead a scouting department tasked with returning the Packers to prominence. Two years removed from winning Super Bowl XLV, the Packers have made consecutive early exits from the playoffs despite having a core of elite, young players that includes quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews.
The Packers also lost a lot of veteran experience from their locker room in just their past few weeks. Donald Driver retired, Charles Woodson was released and Jeff Saturday was released so he could retire with the Indianapolis Colts.
“That is a lot of veteran leadership that won’t be with us, so you’re always a little bit concerned about that,” said Thompson. “We have a strong locker room, strong leadership foundation. In the NFL the wheel keeps turning and that’s what we’re about, trying to get ready for the next game.”
As long as Rodgers and Matthews are up to the task of being leaders, it’s up to the personnel department to start finding the missing pieces on the team, filling the holes so to speak.
The challenge might remain primarily on defense for a second straight year after giving up 579 yards to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs this past season.
Getting meaner, nastier and more athletic on defense is a must. Inside linebacker Desmond Bishop will return from a season lost due to a hamstring injury, and that should help. As should getting back last year’s first round draft choice Nick Perry after landing on injured reserve with a broken wrist.
But the Packers still need help on D. If M.D. Jennings or Jerron McMillian can’t fill the shoes of Woodson, they’ll need help at safety, which happens to be a position of depth in this year’s Draft class according to several general managers.
The Packers also need more of a pass rush from their defensive line, and more athleticism from their linebackers in general, those charged with preventing the Adrian Petersons and Colin Kaepernicks of the world from running roughshod over the Packers. A decision on athletically average A.J. Hawk could be the next domino to fall.
On offense, the personnel department has to find ways to protect Aaron Rodgers and get him more weapons.
The Packers gave up 51 sacks last year, second most in the entire league and the most endured by a single quarterback. And if Jermichael Finley happens to join Greg Jennings and Driver in leaving Green Bay during the offseason, at least one more prominent set of hands will have to help fill a need.
A better running game to complement the high-powered passing attack would certainly benefit the Packers as well.
It’s now on Thompson’s shoulders to pass down the lesson’s learned from Wolf, because Thompson’s former right-hand men are now gone. Above all, the personnel and scouting department need to become top-notch talent evaluators.
“Ron was very good at that,” said Thompson. “Like I said, he’s the best scout I’ve ever been around and he taught us well.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.