I was astonished to read something about the Packers at ESPN today. Regarding the signing of Jeff Saturday it is notable that the veteran center for Peyton Manning is the first unrestricted free agent signing for the Packers in three years. That led me to do some more digging and I found that the Packers are so proud of the way that their team is built that they have a “How The Packers Were Built” page on their website.
On that page it tells you that 33 of the current Packers were drafted vs. 31 who arrived by way of free agency. That free agent total sounds pretty high, but so many of them were undrafted rookies it makes sense. Donald Driver is the lone player remaining from the 1999 draft. Chad Clifton is the lone player from the 2000 draft. Then there is a scary break in the action as the Packers have no representatives on the team from 2001 – 2004. During that time coach Mike Sherman fulfilled both the coach and GM role until Ted Thompson was hired in 2005. Thompson drafted Aaron Rodgers and built a Super Bowl winning team.
Jordy Nelson? Second rounder from 2008. Jermichael Finley? 3rd rounder 2008. Ryan Grant was acquired in a trade from the Giants in September of 2007 in exchange for a future sixth-round draft pick. James Jones was drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft.
The Packers high picks are interesting to note. A.J. Hawk was a first rounder from 2006. Nose tackle B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews were both first rounders in 2009. The last two years the Packers have selected offensive linemen with Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga. Other than Aaron Rodgers in 2005, the Packers have selected LB, DT, DT, OT, OL. In 2008, they traded out of the first round so the Jets could take Dustin Keller. That was when they selected Jordy Nelson from Kansas State toward the top of round two.
Based on Tom Heckert’s first two drafts it seems that he also might be headed for those kinds of drafts. The Browns did attempt to trade up to select Robert Griffin III. The Browns have been linked to star position players because of their fourth pick, but most of the talk has been about trading down, it seems, rather than selecting Justin Blackmon or Trent Richardson at #4. Could it be that the Browns just don’t want to take a chance on skill positions so high in the draft where the stakes are as big as the potential egos?
In Heckert’s first year he selected Joe Haden at #7 and followed it up with T.J. Ward and Montario Hardesty in the second round. Hardesty cost Heckert a third (#71) and two fifth rounders (134, 146.) Of course last year, the Browns traded out of the Julio Jones selection and ended up taking Phil Taylor at #21, Jabaal Sheard at #37 and then used Atlanta’s second rounder to take Greg Little.
Heckert has yet to draft an offensive skill position in the first round and only seemed tempted by the high ceiling of Robert Griffin III. Of course at the end of the day, it isn’t so much about what position where as it is about getting good players more often than not. We’ll see if this year’s draft continues to make comparisons applicable, but it seems that Ted Thompson would approve of the Browns’ strategy thus far.
Unfortunately for those who want to see big splashes in free agency, it doesn’t look to be very likely. Then again, when Thompson did make a splash it was for Charles Woodson. It seems like that splash might only be once a decade though. As for the records, the Packers were 4-12 in 2005, 8-8 in 2006, 13-3 in 2007 before falling to 6-10 in Aaron Rodgers’ first campaign leading the team. The Packers have won 11, 10 and 15 games in the years since.
None of this means that the Browns will have the same results, but at least there is a track record for success using what appears to be a similar method.