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How do teams defeat the draft system?


Koigi from Lynchburg, VA

Vic, almost half the players selected to the Pro Bowl are not attending. I think the NFL has a problem on its hands.

I remember watching a Pro Bowl game when I was a kid. It was sensational. It was played in the L.A. Coliseum, the two teams played as though it was a title game, "Big Daddy" Lipscomb was one of the game's stars and Johnny Unitas was the MVP. That was a long time ago and the Pro Bowl of today bears no resemblance to that game. Today's Pro Bowl is the People magazine of football games: a lot of faces but not much substance. Yes, it's a problem, but the NFL will fix it because the NFL is one of the best creators of entertainment in the world.

Alex from Mankato, MN

Vic, I have seen a lot of comments of the "Abby and Janis were not used until it was too late" variety, but that makes no sense; they played the whole last game. It doesn't matter what happened before that, they were playing when it mattered most.

What's getting lost in their emergence is the commitment to them and their development that allowed them to surface at season's end. Jared Abbrederis has had injury problems that might've caused another team less committed to player development to cut the cord with him. The Packers didn't. They maintained their belief in him. Jeff Janis didn't have a great preseason, but the Packers identified his talent, remained committed to him and then utilized him in a return capacity as he learned his craft as a receiver. That's coaching, and it's about more than play-calling, it's about teaching young men how to play the game of professional football. Why is none of this being mentioned?

Juan from San Antonio, TX

Vic, do you think the loss of Finley in his prime is still being felt? Do you know anything about the TE Hunter Henry out of Arkansas?

Sure it's being felt. Jermichael Finley was expected to become a superstar tight end. The injury that ended his career was unexpected. You can go out back to the young superstar tight end tree, but you won't find another Finley on it very often. The Packers lost a lot of receiving talent in a short period of time. Losing Jordy Nelson put the Packers at their saturation point. Henry is a top prospect.

Stan from Myrtle Beach, SC

Vic, do you think we need a playmaker at WR in the draft or in free agency?

You should be able to find one or more in the draft.

Matt from Eugene, OR

With so many experienced and impactful defensive players up for renewal this year, how will they be prioritized? I know the secondary is stocked and Casey has little chance of sticking, but it seems a shame to let such a rapidly improving player leave.

They'll be prioritized according to their value. That helps a team put a price they're willing to spend on each player. The Packers have cap room. I see no reason for not wanting to re-sign a lot of their potential free agents. After a slow start, I thought Casey Hayward played at a high level this past season. He stayed healthy and made plays. He plays a premium position and I'd want him back.

Philip from Baton Rouge, LA

New England has been the most successful team since 2000. They have averaged a signing of nine free agents per year since. Some stick and some don't. Draft-and-develop will get you steady success if done right, however, if you want to win the pot more often, you have to incorporate raising the pot as opposed to just anteing up and matching the pot. Or do you not understand poker, Vic?

I know bluffing when I see it. How many of those nine free agents are of the street free agent variety? Would Chris Banjo, Robertson Daniel, Rick Lovato and Josh Walker count?

Weston from Lake Geneva, WI

I know the new rule about trading compensatory picks doesn't start until next year, but with how Ted Thompson uses the draft to build his team, how big of an impact do you see that having on his draft strategy?

As I've written, I think it'll be huge. He'll be playing with more cards. Being the poker expert Philip from Baton Rouge is, I'm sure he can appreciate that analogy.

Tom from Antioch, IL

What can the NFL do to make the Pro Bowl worthwhile and interesting?

It can't be a real football game between stars of the game; the risk of injury is too great. I'd like to see a real game between bottom-of-the-roster players, with the real Pro Bowl players in attendance, signing autographs, doing interviews, singing and dancing, or whatever else they'd like to do to celebrate their selection.

Jay from Sheboygan, WI

You asked how do you draft near the top if you're in the postseason most years? Knowing we have "The Man" in his prime for at least the next four years, would you ever package a couple of ones and, say, a two and three to move up in the draft to get the one player you are almost certain will help you get over the hump?

Yeah, I think you have to be willing to take chances like that in the draft. That's a bit of a change in philosophy for me. I was critical of Atlanta when they did it with Julio Jones, but it nearly worked.

David from Withee, WI

Vic, how much free agency spending is meant to improve clubs, and how much is meant to pump up season ticket sales these days?

Teams that have tickets to sell tend to make a splash in free agency, and it often turns out badly. That's why I say teams such as the Packers, that have the security of knowing they don't have empty seats to fill, have a huge advantage. They only have to consider what's best for the football team. The Packers' fan base is the best thing about the Packers.

Brandon from Tulsa, OK

Vic, who is your favorite telecaster for NFL games? I'm a big fan of Jon Gruden.

Gruden and Collinsworth are my favorites. They tell me the most.

Joseph from East Dundee, IL

Vic, do you know how cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House played this year for their new teams?

Until he was injured, Williams played well. House stayed healthy and played to the potential he always had in Green Bay. I think the Packers are going to be awarded handsomely for having lost those two players in free agency.

Anthony from Janesville

A team like the Packers, a consistently good team never having high draft picks but great at identifying talent, should still be able to find a way to get high draft picks. You do it by also identifying your overrated players and fleecing some other team for their draft picks like the Browns did when they traded away Trent Richardson. I'm sure the Packers staff can identify a couple of players whose production doesn't match up with their trade value. So why don't we ever see the Packers trading away players?

Again, you're using the exception to the rule to represent the rule. Richardson was a fluke. The Browns got lucky. Shaun Alexander was the best back in the game and the Seahawks couldn't even get a third-round pick for him. Marshawn Lynch was traded for fourth- and fifth-round picks.

Mark from Brookfield, WI

Vic, Randall and Rollins are talented, young playmakers under the direction of a demanding coach (Whitt) and surrounded by a strong core of fellow DBs. In addition to their own raw talent, whose influence allowed them to make an immediate impact during their rookie seasons?

I credit Joe Whitt and the scouting department. The scouting department saw through the camouflage. In Damarious Randall, the Packers saw a cornerback playing safety; that's why he lasted to the bottom of the first round. In Quinten Rollins, they saw a one-year wonder whose talent, and the Packers' belief in their ability to identify it, made Rollins worthy of a second-round pick. They're home-run picks and examples of what teams at the bottom of the order have to do to defeat the system. You have to find players whose values are greater than the slot at which they were selected.

Allyn from New Canaan, CT

I was fortunate to watch the re-broadcast of Super Bowl I. These players hit hard and played hard. The one thing that was pleasing to watch is nobody celebrated after any play, including touchdowns. Do you think we will ever return to this type of sportsmanship?

No, but it wasn't about sportsmanship, it was about dignity. I'd like to see a return to that.

Lily from Mandeville, LA

Mr. Vic, are you an old soul or new one? Has your maturity/football intelligence made you a better football commentator over the years, or was writing when you were younger more personal/satisfying?

I'm an old soul who likes the way he is right now. The game of football made me this way, and so did the fans who read what I write.

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