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Are we heading into a new rushing era?

Here are the answers to the salary cap test


Dan from Kelso, WA

Vic, I think I'm understanding better a good offseason strategy for building your team. Look for long-term solutions and core players in the draft. Then find veteran players in the second wave of free agency – at a bargain – that temporarily address positions/needs you weren't able to address in the draft but plan on addressing in future drafts. Am I on the right track?

You're describing a philosophy of "build through the draft and patch in free agency," but that doesn't mean you can't take a swing at a guy in expensive free agency every now and then. When you find that guy you think can be a difference-maker for your team, and you believe the potential for reward is worth the risk, go get him. Just make sure you keep those swings for the fence at a minimum.

John from Olympia, WA

I just saw mentioning Desmond Trufant as a possible first-round choice. Please tell me he is not that highly ranked on the Packers' board. I saw him get burned way too many times for the Huskies in the past few years.

I don't know where any player falls on the Packers' board, but I'll tell you this about Trufant: Nobody at the Senior Bowl jammed receivers at the line of scrimmage as Trufant did. He snapped heads when he jammed receivers, and that's the kind of thing that catches my attention. He's a big guy that can run and I think his skills are a good fit for the pro game.

Craig from Plymouth, MN

What offensive and defensive positions have evolved the most over the past 10 years?

Tight end and left tackle on offense, and middle linebacker and safety on defense. Once upon a time, tight ends were in-line blockers; they were an extra tackle. Now they're wide receivers and playmakers. Left tackles were weak side tackles in the Lombardi era. Now they're blindside pass protectors and the premier player on the offensive line. Middle linebackers were the stars of the show on defense; now they're often two-down players. Safeties were last-line-of-defense types whose main assignment was to be deeper than the deepest receiver; now they're being used all over the field.

Matt from Bremerton, WA

When a player is injured during the season, does their season salary still count against the cap? Could there be a point at which a team couldn't afford to bring in a new player to fill voids?

Injury does not extinguish a player's cap charge. The 1996 Ravens had very challenging salary cap problems and I can vaguely remember them either not having been able to field a full roster or speculation that they couldn't field a full roster. Teams maintain an emergency fund for in-season acquisitions to replace injured players.

George from Sturgeon Bay, WI

It seems there is a bumper crop of free agents with a considerable number of quality players to be had at a variety of positions. You have stated that the market for players will adjust to numbers and quality available. It seems to me that if this holds, there may be some real value to be had in free agency this year. Do you think this is a one-time phenomenon or is it likely to be an ongoing situation?

I think this year's free-agent class is a clearinghouse. I get the impression teams in the league have cleared their caps of older players with big salaries and dumped them into free agency, where the names will tempt teams that believe they can reclaim those players' past glories for at least one more season. The money that's going to be wasted will be staggering. Oh, a few teams will hit home runs, but the risk-reward in this free-agent class is at an all-time high, and I think regret will dominate. In essence, what we have is a class of players whose original teams aren't willing to accept the salary risk, so they're dumping that risk onto their competitors. I think we're going to see this more and more as time goes by.

Mitch from Austin, TX

Vic, the defense needs to get tougher and meaner. James Harrison?

I got a ton of these questions. I guess, all of a sudden, Harrison isn't such a dirty player, is he? It's funny how that works.

Josh from Holland, OH

Vic, you always say go young and look for the next so and so. What about Dashon Goldson? He's young and reminds me a lot of the way Woodson played.

Goldson is one of the headliners in this free agency class. He's six years in the league, which means he's an experienced and playoff-tested player, but he's also in his prime. He's one of the few players in this free-agent class for whom I believe the risk is out-weighed by the potential reward, and that's why he will likely cost a lot of money to sign, and that's where the risk begins to climb. Remember, this year's draft class is loaded with safeties. Do you need to spend big for a safety in free agency? I think that's a question you have to ask yourself.

Nick from Milwaukee, WI

I know this appears to be improbable, given the draft-and-develop philosophy and the huge contracts that need to be signed by existing players, but is there any chance the Packers would pursue Steven Jackson in free agency? Also, did you see Peter King essentially tell Jackson to go to Green Bay, who responded in the affirmative? He wants to go to a contender with a great fan base. Do you think the Packers should pursue Jackson?

Jackson is my kind of back, which is to say big, powerful and elusive. Through his esteemed career, he'd get you the tough yards and he'd break the big one. Here's the question you have to ask: After nine years in the league, 2,395 carries and 10,135 yards, does he have enough left in the tank to be a factor for you, and if you believe he does, can you get him at a price you can afford? The worry I have for older players is that they tend to get hurt more often and take longer to recover from their injuries. I would prefer a younger back, a player that solves a need for a long time, not just for one year. I think it's better than having to address the same need every year.

Owen from Los Angeles, CA

Is there a limit to the number of players a team can place the franchise tag on, and is a team required to have players with the franchise tag?

You use it, you lose it. You don't have to use it and as long as you have it, everybody on your roster in need of a new contract is afraid of it. There are times when the franchise tag is a good device to use, especially when it's used to retain a player at a position that doesn't carry with it a high tender, but it's always better not to need to use it.

James from Mount Morris, IL

"I don't like regulating evolution, but I don't mind helping it." I was hoping you could elaborate more on the above quote because I love your views and opinions on the game.

What I mean is I don't want to see the league outlaw a particular facet of the game, but I don't mind the adoption of rules that attempt to tilt the game against a particular facet of it. I think small changes in the rules encourage the game in a desired direction but still allow for it to create new ways to deal with change. That's evolution. For example, the hash marks were moved toward the center of the field in 1972 to help open up the passing game, but what it did was open the field for an explosion of thousand-yard rushers. In recent years, the league has adopted several rules changes that have promoted the passing game, but last season produced 16 thousand-yard rushers, up from 13 in 2011, and Adrian Peterson nearly set a rushing record. I like that kind of counter response. I think it's good for the game that its coaches and players are challenged to find new ways to do old things.

Brett from Brisbane, Australia

What happens if a player comes from a very small college? Does he have his own pro day or does he have to go to a bigger school for a pro day?

He's usually invited to attend a pro day at a neighboring school that has already scheduled one.

John from Ellison Bay, WI

Out of all the quarterbacks you've covered, who has had the best pure arm talent? Who's had the best intangibles? Which is the more important of the two?

Terry Bradshaw, Joe Gilliam and Aaron Rodgers are the best arms I've covered. Bradshaw's ball had heavy power. It needed a heat shield. I remember him tearing the webbing of some poor kid's hand darn near up to his wrist. Gilliam threw a dart, which is how I would describe Rodgers' passes. The ball looks longer, lighter. It cuts the air, instead of boring through it. When I think of intangibles for a quarterback, I think of the courage and calm to stand in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield. Bradshaw and Rodgers were and are fearless. They're both great leaders, which is as you'd expect when you combine talent with courage and calm. I love a great arm, but all of football begins with courage. If a guy lacks courage, everything else about his game is meaningless.

Susie from Two Rivers, WI

Do players change too much after success? Does this make it hard to win back-to-back Super Bowls? Mike McCarthy made a comment once about success changing people sometimes. Do the Packers need to come back to earth, get close-knit again, set their goals and priorities, team first, themselves as individuals second?

I think the Packers need to commit themselves individually and personally to being the best football players they can be. I think they need to dedicate themselves to doing their job and executing their role at their fullest. If they do that, all of that other stuff will happen naturally. First comes the doing and then comes the feeling.

Paul from Beaver Dam, WI

Your answer to the question about the 2010 uncapped season blew my mind. It completely backs up your belief that if there was no cap, teams that have little spending power and are deemed smart and conservative in their choosing of players and their program could win against big-money teams that buy up the superstars. Although I do not believe everything you say, I will admit that some things make such perfect sense that it makes my brain hurt.

A lot of big spenders passed on Aaron Rodgers. Money didn't make them smarter, did it?

Shalom from Austin, TX

The new-age quarterbacks are going to devalue the quarterback market. You know why? Their penchant for injury. Because they get injured so quickly, you only need to sign them for the first few years of their rookie contract, then throw them away after they bust a knee. If they underperform, just grab another running quarterback that's at a huge supply in the college scene.

That's what I'm thinking, too. It's all about supply and demand, and the supply of running quarterbacks in college football is very deep. Would it be in the league's best interests to legislate in favor of the new-age quarterback? It might save a lot of money at a position that's becoming very expensive. Hmmm, might we be heading into a new rushing era? As much as the game has tried, it just can't get away from the run. Maybe Lombardi was right, even today.

Kris from Oshkosh, WI

Why does it seem the teams that win in the offseason do not win in the postseason?

This might be the best question I have ever been asked.

Tim from Indianapolis, IN

Who does Tony Pauline think is a difference maker as a 3-4 defensive lineman?

He likes Jesse Williams and Datone Jones.

Josh from Plainview, TX

Packers Mt. Rushmore?

Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr and Reggie White. A fifth head is under construction.

Tom from New York, NY

Correction to cap '16 should be zero.

Congratulations, you're one of only two people that caught the trick in the second part of problem No. 3. The player has no cap number in 2016 because his contract voids after the 2014 season, which means all of his remaining amortization, $9 million, accelerates into 2015. That's why I gave the hint on Thursday that the June 1 cuts rule doesn't apply to the second part of problem No. 3. You can't cut a guy if his contract has already voided. OK, here are the answers to the test. Problem No. 1: 2013--$1.75 million, '14--$2 million, '15--$2.25 million, '16--$2.5 million. A lot of readers got problem No. 1 right and, frankly, if you can solve that problem, you know enough to be able to understand and appreciate the workings of the salary cap. Problem No. 2 is a little more advanced. The answer is $6.85 million. The answer to the first part of problem No. 3 is $10 million. I congratulate everybody that took the time and made the effort to work the problems. I promise that your effort has not been wasted. You will enjoy free agency more this year for the effort you made to master the process that dominates free agency.

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