NEW YORK CITY––In addition to making Super Bowl broadcast history as an announcer, Brady Poppinga is now in the business of sharing his thoughts on football as an analyst.
To that end, Poppinga had no shortage of opinions this past week on his former team––the Green Bay Packers––and how their defense has gone downhill since the days of winning of the Super Bowl three years ago.
"I think Ted (Thompson) needs to go back to the philosophy a lot like what we're seeing with Seattle, to where you build that defense––especially in my years there––with competition," said Poppinga. "There's not much competition on that defense. That's because there's so many young guys. I mean, they were giving starting spots to guys like Nick Perry, to Jerel Worthy. That never would have happened when I was there, ever."
In 2012, Perry and Worthy––first and second round draft picks of the Packers––played big roles on an underachieving Packers defense before their seasons were ended by injury.
That substandard level of play continued into 2013, in part due to injury no doubt, but also perhaps in part to being given playing time without necessarily earning the right to be on the playing field.
And that's not necessarily to blame the coaching staff of the Packers. If it wasn't Perry or Worthy, it would likely be some other young player, probably one with even less of a pedigree, some lower-round or undrafted type.
It all goes back to the general manager's draft-and-develop philosophy of team building, spurning free agency as a method of procuring talent and instead bringing in rookie after rookie in hopes of uncovering a hidden gem and helping them mature and grow as players.
Thompson has a method to his madness, however. He's not about to mortgage the long-term future on short-term investments. He's tasked with fitting any new players inside a salary cap structure that includes the highest-paid player in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers and the highest-paid linebacker in Clay Matthews.
And that's not to mention the 20 players currently on the roster that are set to become free agents in March. This is no easy task ahead of Thompson this offseason.
But maybe the answer isn't to go out and break the bank in free agency. Maybe it's to fill out the roster with guys who are experienced, who've been around the block before, not unlike what's been suggested by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"I think they've done it enough through the draft, they have to go through free agency," said Poppinga. "I'm not saying go and get the top guys. But what I am saying is go in there and get some guys that have some clout, that have stripes you could say. And from there, have some kind of, bring a threat to them: If they play well, then they're going to play, to just light a fire up these young guys. So I think he's got to be more active in free agency, period."
One of the teams playing in Sunday's Super Bowl has taken just about the exact opposite approach to the Packers in their team-building ideology.
The Denver Broncos have rounded out their roster by signing a high number of veterans to one-year contracts, some of them playing large roles: Shaun Phillips, Quentin Jammer, Winston Justice, Paris Lenon, Stewart Bradley, Steve Vallos, Michael Huff.
Poppinga also came back to the "toughness" narrative that's been following the Packers ever since 2012.
"There's a lack of toughness overall," said Poppinga. "And I think it's just that they have so many young guys, and not enough leaders. You've got Clay. Morgan Burnett stepped in there as a leader, obviously A.J. (Hawk), guys like Ryan Pickett. But other than those guys, it doesn't trickle down the younger guys I think. I think there's too many young guys."
To Poppinga, the issues the Packers have to fix are on defense, because the offense is in good shape. It's a unit that finished third in the NFL in total offense in 2013. The players on that side of the football aren't the ones to worry about.
"I think offensively, obviously with Aaron (Rodgers) there, you always have a chance to be (successful)," said Poppinga. "And he has playmakers around him. He has a very, very, we could say, a full deck of cards. You talk about offensive weapons with Randall Cobb, James Jones. You've got Eddie Lacy, I think really is going to be a difference-maker. The offensive line I thought played the best year that I've seen since I had been there, which was eight years ago. I think the offensive line played really well, even with Bulaga getting hurt early in the preseason. So offensively, I think they're built to last."
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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