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OK, let's take a look at that free-agent crop


John from Superior, WI

Here's a fun fact that I learned last night. I was watching the replay of the 1992 NFC Championship game between the Cowboys and 49ers. During the game, it was brought up that if the Cowboys won the game, they'd be the first team in NFL history to make it to the Super Bowl with the NFL rushing leader. Not that I'm downplaying the run game in the past – I also miss the days of a relevant rushing attack – I just thought it was interesting that up until 1992 the best running back in the league (statistically) had never made it to the Super Bowl during times when the rushing game was No. 1 and the pass was No. 2.

I think it's just a fluke that it happened that way; I don't think it speaks to the unimportance of the running game during the run-the-ball era. For example, Earl Campbell was the rushing champion in 1978 and '79, seasons in which the Oilers lost in the AFC title game. The Oilers didn't go to the Super Bowl, but they were a good team and they lost each time to a Steelers team that had Franco Harris and a strong running game. Marcus Allen didn't win the rushing title in 1983, but Allen was one of the league's star running backs that season and he won the Super Bowl MVP. O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders won a lot of rushing titles while playing on teams that lacked the passing game to put them over the top, and that's a major reason for the statistical anomaly you're presenting. If you go back and look at the Super Bowl teams year by year, in the run-the-ball era, you'll see a lot of Hall of Fame backs in the big game: Harris, Allen, Payton, Larry Csonka, Tony Dorsett, John Riggins, Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas and Marshall Faulk. Since that '92 game, Smith, Terrell Davis and Shaun Alexander have won rushing titles in seasons in which they led their teams to the Super Bowl.

Tim from Normal, IL

Vic, I remember Sean Payton saying before the 2009 NFC Championship Game that they were going to beat up Favre until he "was like an old man afraid of the rain." Then Favre was cheap shot on near consecutive plays and badly injured an ankle. Tough talk by Payton or a bounty on Favre?

I don't recall the specifics of the plays, but if it was within the rules and players weren't paid for the purpose of injuring Brett Favre, then I have no problem with attempting to make someone play "like an old man afraid of the rain." It's all about the rules, and bounties are against the rules.

Mark from Stewartville, MN

Vic, what do you think about an NFL player helping a fallen opponent to his feet? Is there a place for compassion in pro football, or is that kind of thing considered too soft during the course of a tough game?

If you heard what is often said while one man is helping another man to his feet, you might not think it is an act of compassion.

Mark from Bettendorf, IA

How long has the franchise tag been used and can you list the players the Packers have tagged in the past?

The franchise and transition tags are an invention of the CBA that ushered in unrestricted free agency in 1993. The Packers have franchised five players: running back Dorsey Levens (1998), wide receiver Antonio Freeman (1999), offensive tackle Chad Clifton (2004), defensive tackle Corey Williams (2008) and defensive end Ryan Pickett (2010).

Paul from Madison, WI

What happens when a team is forced to forfeit their draft pick? Does that just mean that there is one less pick in the draft? Doesn't that kind of punish a lower-round player who might have been drafted had that pick existed?

Yes, it means there will be one fewer player selected in that draft, which means one additional player will be pushed into undrafted free agency. What's more interesting about the forfeiture of a pick is how it impacts the whole draft. For example, in the 2004 draft, Houston didn't have a second-round pick because it spent that pick on Tony Hollings in the 2003 supplemental draft, so there were only 31 picks in the second round that year. Matt Schaub was selected by Atlanta in the third round. Schaub was later traded, of course, to Houston. What if Houston hadn't used its second-round pick in the supplemental draft? Maybe Schaub wouldn't have been available to the Falcons, which means they wouldn't have been able to trade him to Houston, which means the Texans might've traded with another team for Schaub, which means it's possible the dominoes would've fallen in distinctly different directions, impacting picks in ways we can't even imagine. That's what makes the draft so intriguing. Each pick changes the landscape of that draft and shapes future picks in new ways.

Brad from Huntsville, TX

What's the deal with the Steelers tendering Mike Wallace at the first-round level? What does this mean? Is this one of the differences between a UFA and a RFA?

Yes, it's the difference between being an unrestricted free agent and a restricted free agent. Wallace is an RFA. The Steelers tendered him at the first-round level, which means they will receive a first-round pick from a team that signs Wallace and should the Steelers decide not to match the offer. If they had tendered him at the original draft pick compensation level, the Steelers would receive only a third-round pick because Wallace was a third-round pick. If Wallace was a UFA, and since the Steelers elected not to franchise him, he'd be on his way to the open market and the Steelers would receive no direct compensation from a team that would sign him. So the Steelers now sit back and wait to see what happens. Should a team high in the order sign Wallace, the Steelers might elect to take the pick. Should a team low in the order sign Wallace, the Steelers might elect to match the offer. What they don't want is a team low in the order signing Wallace to a contract they can't match. A team with a lot of cap room could very easily front-load a contract the Steelers couldn't match because they don't have the room on this year's cap.

Anthony from Portage, WI

In response to the wide open passing games that are becoming the gold standard of the league, defenses are becoming smaller and faster. How long will it be before a balance is tipped and offenses start employing a bruising running game to take advantage of undersized defenses?

That's something the league doesn't want to happen and will be vigilant in guarding against. The average score of the team I covered in 1974, which went on to win the Super Bowl, was 22-13. Twenty-five years later, the average score of the team I covered, which finished 14-2, was 25-15. The average score of a Packers game last season was 35-22. That's an example of the evolution of the game and it includes an explosion of points and yards in recent years, which has also resulted in an explosion in popularity during that time because offense attracts the casual fan. That's the way the league wants it and it will not permit a return to the days of games in the teens.

Bryce from Milwaukee, WI

So, now we know who's really free and who's not. Everyone's probably asking about Mario Williams, so I'm going to skip that and ask about LeGarrette Blount. Would he fit into green and gold?

Blount is an RFA who was not tendered by the Bucs; that kind of surprises me. My first reaction is that Blount would fit into any team's colors, but he's a pounder and that's not how the Packers use their backs. Blount is a guy you pound at a team's midsection, trying to soften it, tire it, make it play run. The Packers' game is pass and it incorporates its backs into the passing game.

Andrew from Roseville, CA

Are there any specific advantages for a team to not use their franchise tag?

You don't use the franchise tag just to use it; you have to have reason to use it, and the reason for using it should be to retain the rights to a player for the purpose of signing him to a long-term contract. In the case of Scott Wells, however, the franchise tag doesn't fit because Wells is a center and there is no specific center or guard designation; all offensive linemen are considered the same and since left tackles dominate the top of the pay scale, franchising a center would mean paying him left tackle money. Franchising a player is sophisticated stuff that involves money more than it does esteem. Teams must be vigilant in guarding their pay structure. What they pay a guy today is the baseline that'll be used by the next guy in negotiations.

Tony from Platteville, WI

Vic, you said: "Quarterback Drew Brees has been tendered at the exclusive rights level of the franchise tag, which would cost the Saints considerably more money should an elite quarterback sign a new, richer deal between now and the draft." Would it not be a good strategy for a team to do just that? If it is inevitable for an elite quarterback to get a big contract, why not damage another team's financial situation? Am I thinking too dirty for professional organizations?

Give your quarterback a new, break-the-bank contract solely for the purpose of making Brees more expensive for the Saints? That's not guarding your pay structure and it's going to cost you a whole lot more money over the years than it's going to cost the Saints. It's been a long winter and we're all a little bored.

Tom from Chesterfield, VA

What's to prevent Cobb from being utilized as a Sproles-type checkdown threat? Why wouldn't we take every opportunity to get this guy the ball in space, up to and including handoffs, screens and pitchouts?

I think you'll be very satisfied with the role the Packers create for Randall Cobb in this offseason.

Jeremy from Stony Plain, AB

The franchise period is over and we have a clearer picture of free agency. Do you see any free agents that could have an impact like Charles Woodson or Reggie White did? Am I unrealistic in thinking that all free agents acquired should be compared to those two players?

You're being extremely unrealistic. Go back through the years of free agency and tell me how many Whites and Woodsons you find. Now that the tags have been passed out and players have been re-signed, take a look at this year's free-agent class and tell me what you think of it. It's not as good as it was a few weeks ago, is it? The stars of it are Mario Williams, Vincent Jackson and Matt Flynn. Williams is going to cost somebody a fortune for a player who is coming off a major injury and played linebacker last season after having played defensive end for the first five years of his career. Jackson will likely cost a fortune to play a position at which you should be able to find guys late in the draft (Wes Welker and Victor Cruz were undrafted). Flynn comes with a two-start guarantee. As Brian Billick said, pay the money and take your chances.

John from Milwaukee, WI

Will the Packers consider not picking up a big free agent, so they get more compensation for Flynn?

I like the way you think. Players, not plays, and picks, not players.

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