No offense to Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang. It's great that the Green Bay Packers have arguably the best pair of guards in the entire NFL.
In a cumulative grading of every guard in the NFL during the 2013 season by ProFootballFocus.com (premium content), the Packers are the only team in the league to have two rank in the top 14 players at the position.
Truly, hats off to such superb play. Sitton should be in line for his second consecutive Pro Bowl, and Lang's time might be coming sometime in the future.
But let's use the popular discussion starter of creating a football team from scratch, and we could magically have the best pair of players at any position we choose. Guard comes far down the list.
I'd rather have the best pair of defensive ends, defensive tackles, inside linebackers, outside linebackers, cornerbacks or safeties. On offense, I'd rather have the best pair of wide receivers, or bookend tackles protecting the quarterback.
About the only positions I'd prefer less than guard are the best pair of running backs, tight ends or quarterbacks, where having one good one will suffice. And believe me, tight end and running back don't come far behind guard. The New England Patriots showed how lethal their offense could be just a few seasons ago when Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were both healthy and available.
This isn't an indictment of Sitton and Lang. Obviously, any team would rather get elite play from their guards than a subpar performance.
Rather, this is a criticism of general manager Ted Thompson and one facet of the way he's gone about constructing the current Packers team.
Thompson has actually done a very good job of finding interior offensive linemen. The way he's able to identify athletic college tackles and seeing how their skills will translate to the interior offensive line at the next level is a stroke of genius.
The three current starters on the interior of the Packers offensive line were all tackles in college, including center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Kudos to Thompson for drafting them and the coaching staff for developing them.
Thompson and his scouting and personnel department also have a pretty good track record of drafting wide receivers. It's too bad the Packers haven't had the same luck at other positions, albeit injuries unfortunately have a way of stunting the growth of even the best prospects.
While not in the same category as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have nearly $100 million invested into guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, the Packers sunk $34.95 million into Sitton over six years and $22.06 million into Lang over five years (granted, not every penny is guaranteed).
That's over $55 million bankrolled into a pair of guards, which is limits the amount of money the Packers can spend on players at other positions.
Certainly, the amount of money invested into Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews outweighs that of any other players on the team, but the cumulative amount spent on the team's payroll will make it difficult for the Packers to be competitive in free agency, including extending their own free agents.
Certainly, the Packers have enough salary cap space to extend several free agents following the 2013 season, but will it be enough to extend all of them? It's a good bet, the Packers won't be able to sign every player out of a group that includes cornerback Sam Shields, defensive lineman B.J. Raji, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, wide receiver James Jones, quarterback Matt Flynn and linebacker Mike Neal.
That's not to mention the upcoming group a free agents whose contracts expire after the 2014 season, including wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson and offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga. The Packers might want to extend their contracts a year ahead of time before their price on the open market becomes cost-prohibitive.
And if the Packers wanted to go out and sign a veteran free agent or two, as has been suggested in some corners of the local media, there's even less moolah available.
So what are the Packers to do? They shouldn't have to apologize for drafting a damn good pair of guards. It's nearly a Catch-22 type of situation.
But if the Packers had developed a better pair of safeties or inside linebackers or defensive ends, maybe they wouldn't have so much invested into their guards, and they'd be getting better bang for their buck at a position that can have a bigger impact on the outcome of the game.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "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.
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