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Compensatory picks provide maneuverability

Have the Vikings, Lions and Bears closed the gap in the NFC North?


Paul from De Pere, WI

Vic, as of this minute, who is the best team in the NFL? Who can we crown Super Bowl champion today?

That's a funny question, but I'll play along. I would've said the Denver Broncos, as they seemed to be most active in free agency and we all know that participation in free agency is the thing of which champions are made, but then came the Elvis Dumervil gaffe and that made the Broncos the top candidate for a different kind of distinction. I'll give it to the 49ers, as they lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl and the Ravens have since decided to cut and gut. The 49ers deserve to wear the bullseye, especially since every team in the NFC is spending the offseason working on how to stop the read option.

Tim from Winthrop Harbor, IL

Vic, as fans, many times we develop emotional attachments to our players that make this free-agent time of year difficult. However, as more details emerge about the Greg Jennings departure, it is my opinion that he overvalued himself and then became upset when the Packers didn't agree with that value. I, for one, am happy the Packers let him walk, not only for cap reasons but also to free the locker room of a disgruntled player. I'm OK with him getting all he can, but something in this episode goes beyond that. He was treated well here and it bothers me that he hints otherwise. Personally, I'm glad he's gone.

Here's my advice: Let it go. The jilted lover thing just doesn't work in pro football.

Brad from Granger, IA

We all understand that free agency has some risk. Is that sufficient reason to ignore it altogether? Why do the Packers have a pro personnel department? Are you telling us they can't find anybody worth signing at any price? Wouldn't a great GM use every avenue available to improve the team? Doesn't a great GM need to be bold and brave and willing to take a chance every once in a while?

Pro personnel departments are used mostly to find players such as DuJuan Harris. They're not needed to find free agents. We know who they are. So you want to find anybody at any price? That's too desperate for my tastes. I want to find a guy I need at my price, and that's difficult to do this early in the process.

Jon from West Lafayette, IN

The Lions renegotiated Ndamukong Suh's contract, and just pushed Calvin Johnson's contract out, too. Is it likely their roster will get gutted soon?

You can push money out for a long time. You restructure to bring next year's room into this year, and then you do it again next year and the year after that and by then you start to hear the train rolling down the tracks because you're running out of room that has already been spent. Whenever I hear of a team converting salary to signing bonus, I become suspicious of its future. It can be done at a minimum, but it usually becomes the equivalent of eating one potato chip. The Steelers never did it until recent years. Now they're having to do it just to get under the cap and that's when you know you've overdone it. If a fiscally ultra-conservative franchise such as the Steelers can fall victim to the temptations of restructuring contracts, no team is immune to it.

Chris from Coquitlam, BC

You always say build through the draft and patch in free agency. The Packers have yet to patch. Should we expect some low-key signings soon?

This is too early in the process for low-key signings. You'd still have to spend big to sign a guy today.

Troy from Delano, MN

Why do fans seem to expect players to become fans of the teams they are employed by? A lot of the comments I see seem to imply that a player should just be thankful that the great Green Bay Packers will let him play for them and I find that kind of thinking to be ridiculous.

What I quickly came to realize covering the Packers is that this team's fans love this franchise so much, so passionately and admiringly, that they can't imagine why any player would want to play for any other team. It's an emotional investment every team in professional sports wants its fan base to have.

Gregg from Kenosha, WI

Don't you think the Seahawks and the 49ers have a huge advantage in free agency because they have very good young quarterbacks that aren't making large salaries and aren't due for a big salary increase at this time?

Yes, but if those quarterbacks continue to be successful, the Seahawks and 49ers will have to start putting cap room aside to re-sign those quarterbacks. Haven't the Packers enjoyed the same advantage in recent years? Baltimore used that advantage last year with Flacco. The Steelers won a Super Bowl in Roethlisberger's second year, which meant they, too, enjoyed the advantage of an undervalued quarterback.

Robert from Maplewood, MN

You wouldn't believe (or maybe you would) the level of excitement out here in Minnesota about the Jennings deal. It goes back to what you said about teams like the Packers: They can be patient because they don't have to worry about selling tickets. There are plenty of dyed-in-the-wool Vikings fans, but not nearly as many as there are Packers fans.

If you trace the Packers' success back to its roots, you will find the fans. As I've written many times, teams with large and loyal fan bases such as the Packers have a huge advantage over the teams that have to sell tickets, because teams such as the Packers never have to make a decision based on anything but what's good for the football team. A healthy salary cap is good for the football team and what's good for the football team is good for the Packers' fans.

Ben from Milwaukee, WI

As we are seeing with the Ravens and Steelers, their salary caps are coming back to bite them and the teams are in transition from how they structured themselves years ago. What current NFL teams are setting themselves up now for that type of transition down the road?

The Broncos are doing it, but I think we understand why. The Patriots are doing it, too, but I think we also understand why they're doing it. A team is only as young or old as its quarterback. The Ravens and Steelers are victims of their own success. They each knew they were getting old and capped out, but they didn't want to quit on their runs until they knew for sure they were over. What's interesting about them mutually is that it appears they had their eye on each other. It was almost as though they were saying, "I won't gut until you do." I don't think it's any coincidence that both are gutting at the same time. I'm sure they believe that as long as both do it at the same time, they can each transition into a youth movement and turn their rosters over while, at the same time, remaining playoff contenders. This is why the division concept is important. As long as teams can make it into the playoffs by winning a division title, they can strategize their futures according to their division counterparts. I like this concept a lot.

Jonathan from Richmond, VA

Reggie White or Bruce Smith?

White, because he was as good against the run as he was rushing the passer.

Jesse from Norcross, GA

In your opinion, how does the NFC North look with all the free-agent acquisitions to the Vikes, Lions and Bears? Is there a real power shift about to happen? Or are the Packers just as strong as the past three years?

I don't sense a power shift, but I sense that the Vikings, Lions and Bears are trying to close the gap. Again, the division concept is at the root of this. The Packers are requiring their division counterparts to be aggressive in free agency to close the gap in the NFC North. If the competition's free-agent acquisitions are hits, the gap will be closed. If they're misses, the gap could widen. (For a more comprehensive look at the offseason happenings in the NFC North so far, click here.)

Paul from Salford, England

Could compensatory picks be one of the reasons Ted Thompson is less aggressive in free agency? While there is negativity now, losing Jennings, Crabtree and Walden early will give us a few nice draft picks in a year's time.

I can't speak for Ted Thompson, but I will speak for myself. Given a choice between a pricey free-agent acquisition and a compensatory pick, I'll take the compensatory pick every time because they allow maneuverability in the draft. As I collect compensatory picks, I can begin positioning myself to pursue players I've targeted in the draft and still come away with a full complement of draft picks. That, in my opinion, is invaluable.

Mike from Iowa City, IA

What explains the gap between Jermichael Finley's potential and his production? Can he still join the ranks of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmie Graham?

If he runs crisp routes and catches the passes that hit him in the hands, Finley can play at the level of any tight end in the league.

Gary from Chippewa Falls, WI

I support players getting as much money as they can. They have worked their whole life, including college for free, to get to this point. They deserve every cent, whether they're worth it or not.

That's a healthy attitude.

Christopher from Los Angeles, CA

It seems to me the real impact of free agency is who you lose, not who you pick up. For the fan, it is certainly the most troubling and often disappointing time of the year. The ultimate power in the NFL is the fan, without him/her you don't have a market. It takes guts to speak truth to power and while I often scream at my screen while reading your column, I don't sense any agenda other than you rendering your opinion, calling it as you see it.

I have a very easy job. I wake up every morning and tell the truth. Then, the next day, I read the harsh responses from people who are angry at me because I told them what I think instead of telling them what they think, and then I do it again. If it turns out that what I said to them was incorrect, I apologize for being wrong. When I was in high school, I walked into the school under this inscription: "Knowledge is power. The truth shall set you free." I got the knowledge part, but I didn't understand the truth part until I got older.

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