NFL free agency is six days old and already Packer fans find themselves welcoming unexpected players and bidding farewell to others who many hoped would stay. While the Packers have added some exciting and significant talent, the fact remains they let some talent walk away as well, and at some key positions.
Among those not returning to Green Bay next season are T.J. Lang, Micah Hyde, Eddie Lacy, Julius Peppers, JC Tretter and Datone Jones, all of whom contributed significantly to the organization during their time there. Five of those six, Peppers being the exception, were drafted by the Packers and will be experiencing new surroundings for the first time in their NFL careers.
Considering general manager Ted Thompson’s history and noted reputation for drafting and developing his own guys, the departure of this many former Thompson draft picks at once could certainly be considered out of the norm.
Justification can be found for all of the Packers’ offseason departures. Money played a big part in the loss of both Lang and Hyde, who both received contracts well above what the team was willing to pay and, at least in Hyde’s case, above what most viewed as fair market value. Lacy reportedly weighed in at 267 pounds during one of his three free agent visits, which did nothing to quell fears about his ability to stay in adequate game shape. Peppers is aging, Tretter was never going to stay to be a backup, and Jones could never quite seem to shake the look of a bucket of unfulfilled potential.
You get the picture.
And while all of the decisions are perfectly understandable for the aforementioned reasons, I’ll posit one more theory. These changes will force the Packers to evolve, and that is a very good thing.
Since Aaron Rodgers began his meteoric ascent to the top of the game, it has been common for pundits and fans alike to wonder aloud: Who wouldn’t want to play for a team that has the best quarterback in the league? That’s a no-brainer, right?
Apparently, no, it isn’t. T.J. Lang’s comments earlier this week regarding the Packers’ perceived overconfidence in their ability to use their quarterback to leverage other players into making smaller deals were quite telling, even if some viewed them as sour grapes.
This offseason, more than any other in recent memory, has proven the Packers may no longer be able to get away with extending lowball offers in exchange for the promise of a better win probability. If they want to keep pace, they’ll need to put their money where their mouth is, or use that money to find players whose collective impact will be greater than that of the players to whom they’ve shown the door.
Because those players were not retained, however, the Packers have an opportunity to add newer, younger and more diverse talent to positions of need. Defensively, they’re free to pursue speedy, athletic defensive backs and pass rushers. They can find running backs who fit their mold and complement Ty Montgomery. They can even pursue more weapons for that two-time MVP quarterback, which they’ve already done by signing tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks.
As the offseason progresses and the Draft draws nearer, the Packers have an opportunity not to change their approach, but to evolve it in a way that benefits all facets of the team. Cutting ties with valuable players, the majority of whom were homegrown, has forced them too, and that’s okay.
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