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Draft and develop working for 49ers

The balance between safety and physical aggressiveness is critical to future of game


Kent from Eagle Grove, IA

With all of the new safety rules and player safety problems in football, and with all of the parents not letting their kids play football, will that bring a power shift in the future between sports or will football stay the king of sports in America?

That's a worthy question. We're changing the fundamentals of the game. Will the American sporting public accept that change? I remember a speech Joe Paterno gave a long time ago, warning football fans that if we didn't make the game safer to play, we would lose players and popularity to soccer. Paterno's words were quickly dismissed as silliness. Were they? Imagine baseball losing favor in Puerto Rico, which is exactly what's happening. Soccer is becoming the top sport in Puerto Rico. Why? I'm not sure – mostly because I would rather have a stomach virus than watch a soccer game – but I suspect it has something to do with what Paterno said about mothers viewing soccer as a safe, everybody-plays sport that suits their maternal instinct for safety and calm. Yuk! Be that as it may, I worry about the game I've loved for all my life. There's a balance between physical aggressiveness and safety that must be achieved for the game to continue to grow. Right now, I'm concerned that the balance is tipping too much to the safety side. Football's popularity was not built on safe.

Bart from Sanibel, FL

I appreciated Mike Tomlin's comments on the read option, calling it the flavor of the day and questioning if teams want their QBs hit that much. And I loved him saying, "We look forward to eliminating it." Do you really think the QB position could be significantly downgraded to the point that the injuries that go with running so much could be tolerated?

Tomlin better watch himself with that tough talk; he might get a call from the commissioner. In my opinion, the read option can be successful if you can sell the mere threat of it. You don't have to run it, you only have to be able to run it.

Anthony from Seattle, WA

Vic, I am surprised Charles Woodson has not signed with anyone, yet. If he receives no decent offers from a good caliber team, do you think the Packers are interested in having him back for a year or two at the right price?

That would not be my expectation.

Mike from Swisher, IA

Doesn't pushing money out to the future make sense if you are expecting the salary cap to increase, or if you expect to release some of your older, higher-priced players?

Yeah, as long as you can eat just one.

James from Madison, MS

Seeing Jeff Saturday signing the one-day contract with Indy about a month ago made me wonder about other savvy veterans, like Charles Woodson. Would he and other players prefer to retire as a member of the team that drafted them, or as a member of the team that had the most success during their tenure?

I don't think much on this subject because I think one-day contracts are kind of silly and self-serving. Usually, it's a means for a player to announce that he's back in town and open to endorsement opportunities. Do we really need this kind of ceremoniousness to recall the good old days?

Brian from Neenah, WI

Were you always a draft-and-develop guy or did you become that way after arriving in Green Bay?

I've always been a draft-and-develop guy, or at least since Brian Stenger was traded. Huh? Stenger was a linebacker from Notre Dame. He looked like he had a future, but Chuck Noll traded him to the Patriots for a draft pick in 1973. This was at the beginning of my career, when I was a very impressionable young reporter trying to get a bead on professional football. What I saw was a pattern. Chuck would identify young talent, use it until another young player came along that was better, and then trade the guy that was being pushed out for a draft pick that, eventually, would push out the guy that pushed out the guy. I fell in love with the simple genius in that strategy. These days, of course, it's more difficult to trade players you don't want for draft picks, but the concept of younger players pushing out older players is still a sound strategy for improving your roster and keeping your team young. In today's game, it's a sound strategy for keeping your salary cap healthy.

Chris from Fort Worth, TX

What would you see in a back that would make you say he's a third-down back?

Catches the ball well, plays well in space.

Carl from Port Washington, WI

When does it make sense to sign a free-agent backup quarterback?

When you need one, you find one whose talent you like and you can pay him accordingly.

Tim from Albuquerque, NM

Vic, imagine you had a chance to start your career over again but you could only cover either coaches or players, not both. Who would you choose?

I'd choose coaches because players tend to repeat what their coaches tell them, so I might as well get it straight from the coach.

Nic from McHenry, IL

I know most players don't have the same love for their team as the fans do, but some players have to have some emotional attachment to the team or city. Donald Driver always struck me as one of those players who loves the team like a fan would. Any opinion on that?

I think it's really nice when players bond with their communities, but I think it's asking too much of a player to expect him to develop an immediate love for the town he represents. Think about it: You take a guy out of the steamy south and bring him to frozen Wisconsin and expect him not to experience culture shock? You have to give them time. As they become veterans whose identities are attached to the team and the town, they begin to develop a love for place, but you can't force it on someone, all you can do is allow it to happen. Some players feel it, some never do. What if you were transplanted to a new place? Given your love for Green Bay, could you fall in love with another town? Remember, players come from places they love.

Dan from Milwaukee, WI

Calvin Johnson's cap number in 2016 will be $23.2 million. Stafford and Suh need new contracts. Has the train left the station?

I hear the train a comin', it's rollin' round the bend.

Justin from Rochester, MN

Vic, the whole league watched the 49ers become a smash-mouth football powerhouse in the past two years under Harbaugh. We, as Packers fans, got to witness first hand that they now have a weapon at QB. Then you pointed out to those of us who hadn't realized yet what a good situation they were in for a few years as Kaepernick is still in his rookie deal, freeing up money to spend elsewhere on the roster. Now I finally glanced at their stockpile of draft picks for 2013. Please talk me down off the ledge. I know we have a good team and a promising future, but how are we supposed to catch up to these guys before Rodgers turns 40?

They have a lot of high picks on their roster and more on the way. It looks like draft and develop is working for the 49ers. Just draft, baby.

Josh from Boston, MA

I like to read David Halberstam when he writes about how the old Yankees players were as much a part of their neighborhoods as they were a part of the ballparks. It makes for better stories. The narrative is richer, more interesting, even more valuable. I get that it's a sport for tough guys, and that adds something to the narrative, too, but as soon as free agency and cap issues reduce a player completely to an interchangeable value, we've lost something, haven't we?

This is news? This is the new game. It's a little colder and a little more businesslike. The fans have had to come to accept that, and the players have to understand that it's that way for them, too, meaning you can't have it both ways. You can't hold your team up for money when you're in your prime, and then expect to be rewarded for loyalty in the end. I can live with that. It's an edge game. I like the edge.

Greg from Bellevue, WA

I read where San Francisco has 14 draft picks. Is there ever a case to be made for having too many picks or is more always better?

In my mind, you can never have too many draft picks because an excess of picks allows you to move and get the guys you want. Hey, if you have too many, trade some for a pick next year. The 49ers are in a very enviable position. All they have to do is identify the right prospects; they certainly have the ammunition to go get them.

Henrik from Stockholm, Sweden

With Jennings and Crabtree gone, could we expect Finley to stay?

That would be my expectation. We'll find out soon because he's due a roster bonus.

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