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Ten men who shaped the league


Anthony from Portage, WI

Teams that have sustained success, like the Packers, Patriots and Steelers, build through the draft, yet, because of their success, they rarely get picks in the top half of the draft. How do they find so much value in players in the bottom half that so many other teams miss?

You're missing a team: the Giants. It's amazing how those four teams have consistently drafted near the bottom of the order and found players to continue their success. How do they do it? Well, here's what they have in common: 1.) a franchise quarterback; 2.) patience; 3.) a strong commitment to the draft and the development of their draft picks. There's no underrating the value of their quarterbacks. Those teams wouldn't be where they are today without Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. We're talking about eight Super Bowl titles and 11 Super Bowl appearances. Think about that. The success those teams have had in drafting star-quality players can't be taken lightly either: Clay Matthews, Vince Wilfork, Troy Polamalu, Jason Pierre-Paul. Every way you turn, even in undrafted free agency, you see success. Are they smarter than everybody else? Well, if smart means knowing what wins, well then, yeah, they're smarter than everybody else. They know you have to look long and hard for talent, and then commit doggedly to the development of that talent. Rodgers' success is the result of a commitment to him; he waited four years to become the starter. The same can be said of Brady, a sixth-round pick. James Harrison is an undrafted player that had to wait his turn. Victor Cruz is an undrafted player that changed the face of the Giants. I have so much respect for these teams that it's difficult for me to express it without gushing, so I'll use something Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News said to me at the combine. "Those are the teams," Gosselin said.

Brad from Vancouver, BC

Sixty million guaranteed for a wide receiver? Seriously? I know Calvin is good, but to steal a phrase, come on, man.

I've angered a lot of fans of wide receivers by my expressing my belief that wide receivers are a dime a dozen. Truly, I believe good ones are a dime a dozen, but the great ones are special and, in today's game, they're invaluable. Calvin Johnson is a great one. Ironically, a team that had the worst case of wide receiver fever I have ever seen, finally got it right.

Dave from Meridianville, AL

So far, none of the franchise tag questions or answers has revealed for me why teams would tag a kicker. What am I missing?

Teams tag kickers because it's cheaper than doing long-term contracts with them. The team doesn't have to pay the kicker a signing bonus, they don't have to commit to him longer than for one season, and because the franchise tag pays salary only, they don't have to pay the guy until after Week 1 of next season. Here's another big one: A one-year tender eliminates security and emphasizes performance. If the guy performs poorly, he's gone, and he brings no "dead money" onto the team's cap.

Tom from Sanford, FL

I have a question about how compensatory picks are calculated. If your team loses Adam and signs Bob, both of whom are equally good and received equal contracts, then the team has no net gain or loss and thus gets no comp picks, right? What if Bob was a free agent from your team? Would re-signing your own free agent still count against the team in calculating compensation?

No, signing your own free agents doesn't count in compensatory award consideration, only the players you've lost to other teams or signed from other teams.

Nathan from Torrington, WY

I understand it was the Packers' philosophy not to franchise Flynn, but why would they let him go without compensation?

They couldn't trade him because leaguewide trading and free agency began simultaneously. I apologize to the readers who've read this explanation before, but a lot of fans are still troubled that the Packers got nothing for a quarterback of Matt Flynn's quality, and it needs to be explained so that everyone can sleep at night.

Mark from Missoula, MT

Just before the combine, you ran an article on the University of Montana DB Trumaine Johnson. I was absolutely ecstatic, as a Griz alum and a Packers fan, that NFL scouts were at least paying attention to our school. How do NFL teams look at FCS schools like Montana? Do certain teams have scouts or connections with these schools?

No school goes unscouted. If there's a player to be found, the NFL scouts will find him. A system is in place, ranging from area scouts to a video exchange program that puts video of every school in the country in the video vault of every team in the league, to grade every college player that is an NFL prospect. Fans would be stunned by the depth of NFL teams' video vaults. You name the game, regardless of the division, and they can probably give you a tape of it.

Kirkland from Ft. Hood, TX

Vic, I'm not understanding. I have been a Packers fan my whole life. Why are they not going after Mario Williams?

If, in fact, the Packers are not participants in the Mario Williams sweepstakes, and apparently they aren't, then it's likely the Packers have other plans for addressing their needs on defense. I think you have to ask the obvious questions. Williams has only played five games as a linebacker. Is he a natural defensive end? If he is, he's not a 3-4 end. What about that injury from last season? Torn pecs often come in pairs. What about the money it would take to sign Williams? The damage he could inflict on a team's salary cap could take years to repair. I understand why fans get excited about free agency. It's an exciting event at a boring time of year, but I think fans allow themselves to get carried away with a process that has a strong track record for producing regret.

Josh from Saint Cloud, MN

Have you been following any free-agent moves around the league so far? Has anything surprised you?

It didn't surprise me but it bothers me that, clearly, teams and agents were ready to roll at the moment free agency began. That's technically a violation and it bothers me that it was as flagrant as it was. Maybe that's another reason Ted Thompson doesn't favor free agency. It has a sleazy feel to it. As far as what's happened so far, it should surprise me but never does surprise me how willing teams are to spend huge sums of money on marginal talent. Write it down and tell me a year or two from now if I'm wrong, but I think you're going to see a lot of the teams that signed players to big deals this week releasing those players a year or two from now and trying to reclaim the cap room they wasted on them. I covered a team in 2008 that literally devastated its future with a wild spending spree in free agency. It dropped $25 million in guaranteed money on two players and both players were gone before the next season began. It was a spending spree that also shaped what the team did in the draft, and the combination of the two produced damaging, long-term effects. I've never been a fan of free agency. I like grabbing a guy here and there, but conservatively, judiciously.

Jim from La Grange, IL

The Packers obviously need to improve defensively. Where do they start?

They've already started because the effort is never-ending. When you commit to a draft-and-develop philosophy, the process is ongoing. I'll use Davon House as an example. He wasn't drafted to be discarded a year later. He was drafted because it's believed he has the size, speed, athletic ability and toughness to be a successful cornerback in the NFL. The process of teaching him how to play on the NFL level began last summer and it'll continue this spring. The same can be said of Vic So'oto. Maybe he's the pass rusher the Packers need. More talent will be added in this year's draft and undrafted free agency, and the process of developing it for the future will begin. Packers fans have long been exposed to this process; I'm assuming they understand this. If you bring free agents in over players such as House and So'oto, then you're blocking their opportunity for development. When you espouse to be a draft-and-develop football team, you must commit to it fully.

Dean from Clarkston, WA

Vic, I was glad to hear the NFL changed the rookie salary pool. Do you think this was a great thing to do?

Yeah, I think it's a positive move, especially as it pertains to the break-the-bank players at the top of the draft. When a player begins his career with the kind of contract Matt Stafford got, where do you go from there? It can be crippling for the team that drafted him. Worse, yet, it makes having high picks a bad thing, which is counter to the whole idea of rewarding the teams with the worst records with the highest picks. It had gotten to the point that those picks weren't a reward, they were a punishment. The greatest evidence of that was when Cleveland was desperate to trade out of the No. 5 overall pick and let the Jets come up to draft Mark Sanchez, for what was far less than the Browns should've gotten in exchange. Having said all of this, the teams did this to themselves; it wasn't the rookies that caused the problem. Had the teams adhered to the spirit of the rookie pool, they would've kept contracts in check, but they soft-capped everything and that caused the problem.

Ryan from Fredericton, NB

Vic, has set up a "March Madness" style bracket to find their greatest team of all-time. The 1967 and 1996 Packers are facing off. I won't even vote because it wouldn't be fair or accurate; I wasn't even born in 1967. Out of those two teams, who would you vote for?

I'm not crazy about these kinds of contests – I favor broad appreciation of the eras and their champions – but this is what people want to do these days, so I guess I have no choice but to chime in. I would vote for the '67 Packers. Why? Because it's loaded with Hall of Fame players, it was coached by Vince Lombardi and the core players on that team won five NFL titles, not just one. I'll be interested to see the results of this contest. If the winners are by and large teams from the salary cap era, then the contest will have no merit, in my opinion, because it's impossible for teams from the salary cap era to be as good as teams from the pre-cap era. Why not? Because there was no limit on how many good players you could have on your team in the pre-cap era. If the Packers of the '60's played in today's salary cap era, they couldn't have Taylor and Hornung, it would be one or the other. They couldn't have Nitschke, Robinson and Davis; one or maybe two would have to go. They couldn't have Kramer and Thurston; it would be one or the other.

Scott from Wausau, WI

Why aren't all contracts binding? Seems to me that once a contract is signed, it should be honored by both parties.

Because if contracts were unbreakable, a player could let himself get fat, out of shape and perform poorly without reprisal.

Will from Julian, CA

You mention Bert Bell being underappreciated for what he did for the NFL. In your opinion, who are the top 10 people who should be appreciated for their roles in the development of the NFL?

George Halas—He pioneered the league. Vince Lombardi—He defined the league. Pete Rozelle—He gave it a strategy for success. Bert Bell—He gave it order. Johnny Unitas—He invented the modern game. Jim Brown—He became a symbol for African-American players. Paul Brown—He taught it how to coach, think. Joe Namath—He merged it. Lawrence Taylor—He changed it. Judge Doty—He championed the cause of the players.

Gregg from Troy, Ontario

Okay, did the Packers win the Super Bowl last year? No. Did they go to the Super Bowl? No. Did they even win a playoff game? No. They obviously have some serious requirements. They won't get more than one player in the draft that might develop into something special in three or four years. What do we do in the meantime after we wait for this one guy who, of course, won't solve your problems by himself? Free agency is the only other option to get the rest of the guys you need. Also, sitting and doing nothing and watching your competition get stronger because they are going out and getting the guys that you should be getting. How can they possibly be better with the same guys that failed them last year? And as far as picking the best available player, what good is having seven quarterbacks and no defense? I predict the Packers won't even make the playoffs this coming season.

You need a dog that likes you.

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