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Be careful at signing players Packers allow to leave

Hazing doesn't help rookies contribute to the team


Mark from Dekalb, IL

Vic, how big was your sturgeon? I snagged one in the side last fall while musky fishing (and released). It was 60 inches. It was really tough to bring in.

We had trouble getting my fish to fit in the back of Mike's pickup truck. It looks like I'm gonna be eating sturgeon steaks for a long time.

Joe from Bloomington, IN

One could argue that free-agent pickups were critical to the Packers' last two Super Bowls. Reggie White was a top-dollar, first-week, in-his-prime catch and a bargain at any price. Woodson was also in his prime but not wanted elsewhere. Don't you think the risk here is overgeneralizing, Vic?

Those are two examples over nearly 20 years. Do you think the game has changed a little over that time? Do you think teams might have gotten better at keeping their good players?

Ken from Tosa, WI

Vic, imagine writing for a different organization which effectively uses free agency. Would you refer to Sam Shields, B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson, Andrew Quarless, Evan Dietrich-Smith, James Jones, Mike Neal, Robert Francois, John Kuhn and James Starks as old and injured free-agent prospects? Of course not, they are players the Packers would like to return next season. Whether or not they re-sign is a separate issue. Other teams have the exact situation where productive players are going to leave for another team. Some of these players would help improve glaring Packers weaknesses. Negative statements toward free-agent pickups are both short-sighted and incorrect.

If I was the general manager of another team, I would be very careful to discipline my interests in players the Packers allow to depart in free agency. The Packers are very good judges of talent and managers of their roster and salary cap. If you pay a lot to a player they declined to pay a lot, more often than not you'll be overpaying. The free agents that would tend to interest me are those whose talents were hidden on bad teams and who are being allowed to leave teams that have not been sound evaluators of talent and managers of their roster and salary cap. If you're going to find a bargain, I think that's where you find it. Charles Woodson was such an acquisition.

Blaine from Menomonie, WI

So, if moving the draft ahead of the free-agency period would increase need picking and sharply reduce free-agent prices, wouldn't a patient value-drafting, value-spending front office like Ted Thompson's benefit from that scenario? Is it even likely to ever happen? They could keep interest just as high by having the draft on March 1 and open free agency on April 1, but would the NFLPA fight that?

The players wouldn't allow it. They know what it would mean to free agency. It would kill it. It wasn't too long ago that a lot of people in the league were saying free agency was dead. Teams were locking their core guys up and the market was very soft. The uncapped year in 2010 created a degree of instability that has pumped a little life into free agency, and I think pushing the draft back will drive it even more. I don't think that's the intent, but I think it'll be the result. Free agency is all about panic buying. It's all about impatience. The more you push the draft back, the more vulnerable the weak-willed will be to impatience.

Kody from Layton, UT

Vic, I was looking at the page on packers.com called how the Packers were built. I noticed that most of our star players were acquired in the draft. I also noticed a column entitled waivers. What is a waiver?

It describes a player who was acquired from a team that cut, waived, released that player. They're all the same thing. Kody, most of the star players on every team in the league were acquired in the draft. For every Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, there's an Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco, Andrew Luck, Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, RG3, Cam Newton that was drafted and developed to be that team's long-term franchise quarterback. I say this because we tend to focus on the exceptions, such as Brees, instead of on the players in whom a franchise's financial future was invested as a free agent that became a bust. That kind of player can devastate a franchise. It'll likely result in the coach and general manager being fired. The team might have to go into a self-imposed roster-rebuilding and cap-repair effort that'll render the team a non-playoff contender. Is it worth the risk? I say no because I don't think the reward justifies the risk. I believe you can find that player in the draft for a lot less risk and, possibly, for even greater reward. Build through the draft, patch in affordable free agency. That's my motto. That's what the good teams do.


Jadeveon Clowney

Pat from Altoona, WI

At this point, is there a guy truly worthy of the No. 1 pick in the draft?

Jadeveon Clowney has talent worthy of the first overall pick. I wasn't crazy about what I saw last season, especially in the bowl game, but Clowney was in a tough spot. It's tough to play football safely. He looked like a guy who didn't want to hang around piles. I don't blame him.

Joel from Princeton, NJ

Vic, has a team ever had so many cap issues that it couldn't sign players it drafted?

Way back at the start of the salary cap era, the 49ers ran out of cap room and elected to not sign one of their draft picks; I remember him being a third-round type of guy. Those days are over. Back then, teams really didn't understand the salary cap system and how to use it. Teams have salary cap specialists running the show now. On top of that, the players' agents are salary cap experts and they're skilled at helping teams structure contracts that help the team get the deal done. In the beginning, I got the sense teams were trying to avoid knowing too much about the salary cap. Now, they fully understand the salary cap runs your team, and if you don't fully understand it and manage it effectively, you've got no chance.

John from Peoria, IL

Vic, I'm afraid the coming merger of Jos. A. Bank and Eddie Bauer will create a khaki pants powerhouse that will exercise its monopoly power to push pants pricing past practical parameters. Do you share the same concern?

I honestly believe I own enough pairs of khakis that, if I manage their use effectively, I can make it through the rest of my life without having to buy any more of them.

Christopher from Scottsdale, AZ

Vic, I was wondering what your take is on what's happening with the Incognito/Martin/Pouncey controversy? I know in your time covering the NFL you must have seen some really rough locker rooms.

I am firm in my dislike and unacceptance of hazing or bullying in any form. I'm against shaving heads or any of that other training camp stuff that's supposed to bond teams. I don't see how mistreating rookies helps a team get the most out of its rookies. That's the goal, isn't it? Get the most out of your players, right? You can ruin a young player if you allow him to be mistreated by his peers. Peer acceptance is critical to a young man's esteem.

Jesse from Houston, TX

Thompson's mentor, Ron Wolf, coined the logic that the NFL draft is similar to baseball in that you'll strike out as often as you'll hit a home run. What are your thoughts, Vic?

If you strike out only as often as you hit home runs, you are one great drafter because that means you've hit a lot of singles, doubles and triples. It's been my experience the strikeouts far outnumber the home runs.

Calvin from Seattle, WA

I've read that Calvin Pryor is arguably the most violent hitter in this entire draft. Since I think that's the type of nastiness our defense needs, I thought I would look up some of his highlights. Vic, I would love to see Calvin Pryor flying around the field wearing green and gold next year.

Violent isn't a word we should be associating with today's game. The new culture has targeted the violent. What you want in a safety in today's game is to say a sure tackler. Pryor is a physical player, which probably means he'll be a sure tackler, and that's why he would look good in green and gold. The days of drafting a safety because he brings some violence to your secondary are over. I can remember when Dick Jauron used those words to describe the selection of Donovin Darius, who was a big, head-hunting type of safety. Those days are gone. Can he tackle and cover? If the answer is yes to that question on both counts, he's a guy you want. Violence is going to be punished.

Tadd from Salt Lake City, UT

Vic, I assume you covered Super Bowl X. Do you have any good stories about it, specifically the filming of "Black Sunday" during the game? It seems bizarre to even imagine the NFL entertaining the idea of letting a film crew have such access to the Super Bowl in the modern day.

Those were in the days when the league had a "yes" approach to PR. It was still trying to promote itself. It wasn't too many years removed from the days when baseball was the national pastime. Now, pro football is king. Its PR policy is more about policing than promoting, and I can understand some of that thinking because the media has taken on a very different shape and attitude since the emergence of the Internet and social media. I can remember "Black Sunday" film crews running up and down the aisles at the Orange Bowl during the commercial breaks. We had been told in advance what it was all about. They were filming real-life scenes from the Super Bowl that would be dubbed into the movie. It was cool. I remember Raquel Welch being in the press box, too. That was very cool.

Randy from Trophy Club, TX

I propose Clay Matthews be moved back to left outside linebacker. On the right side, he's going against the other team's best pass blocker most of the time and gets swallowed up too much. At least on the left side teams may have to devote two players to block him, since the right offensive tackle normally isn't as good as the left offensive tackle. What do you think?

I didn't campaign for the move to the right and I'm not going to campaign for a move back to the left. Scheme is overrated. He's Clay Matthews wherever you put him. That's what's important.

Joe from Sherman, IL

Vic, you've made yourself clear on soccer. What are your thoughts on these new sports in the winter Olympics? Please give me Jim McKay and Jean-Claude Killy back.

The first time I saw skiing with guns, I decided this was nuts. It's just not for me, especially this winter. My driveway looks like a bobsled run. The walls of snow are up to my chest and we've got another 6-8 inches of snow coming today. Everywhere I look, it's white. I haven't seen anything green since I threw out that old bread. I watched that boring golf tournament yesterday, just so I could see green grass.

Kevin from Superior, WI

Draft, develop and release? I don't understand. When the Packers get an undrafted free agent like Sam Shields and spend three years developing him into a top-notch starter and don't pony up for the big money for a player with lots of upside, does this not go against everything about draft and develop?

It does not because teams are compensated with draft picks when they are judged to have sustained a net loss in free agency. The process begins anew. That's why I say it's a game of replacement. The good teams aren't afraid of replacement. They accept the challenge. It's a process that keeps your roster young and your salary cap healthy.

Jim from Reno, NV

I just read where Roger Goodell was compensated over $44 million last year. What say you?

My first thought was, if I was an owner, how is that information going to help me sign my players to affordable contracts?

Joe from Oshkosh, WI

I thought free agency and the salary cap were in place to diminish dominating teams. Wouldn't eliminating the salary cap, as you've expressed, be taking a step backwards?

As I expressed, I believe quarterback is the only position of concern, as it pertains to competitiveness. If the league could devise a way to promote the even distribution of the game's quarterbacks – maybe a salary cap for quarterbacks – supply and demand would take care of the other positions. I don't like the idea of the high-revenue teams driving the financial burden of low-revenue teams. The revenue potential of their markets isn't the same and, therefore, neither should their standards for spending be the same.

Chad from Brussels, WI

Vic, thank you for the story on Jim Flanigan. He went to my high school. He was always the first and last one to leave the weight room and practice field. He still inspires kids from Southern Door to this day.

I get questions all the time from people wanting to know how I can sit in the press box and watch a game without getting excited. They want to know how I can be so unemotional, and I suspect my answer never fully satisfies them. Maybe this will satisfy them: I was a teenage boy when I sat in the stands at Pitt Stadium and watched Jim Flanigan, Sr. play in one of the most memorable football games I have ever seen. It was November of 1964 and Flanigan was playing for Pitt against undefeated, untied and No. 1-ranked Notre Dame. The Irish were beating everybody by big scores, but not on this day. They won, 17-15, largely the result of a late-game controversial call. I sat in the stands with stars in my eyes. Notre Dame football was bigger than life back then. Well, I did that alumni video with Jim Flanigan, Jr. last fall, and I remember sitting there as he was answering one of my questions and thinking to myself, "I was a kid when I watched his dad play on that Saturday in 1964, and now I'm interviewing his son." It got to me.

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