What a difference a decade makes.
Ten years ago I was only tangentially following the Green Bay Packers. I had a toddler under two, a full time career and my interest in the Pack got pushed to the back burner.
I remember being at work the night of the NFL Draft, and a colleague told me the Packers had drafted a quarterback from California. Why were the Packers drafting a QB was the first thing that went through my head. After all, the Packers had one of the best ever lining up behind center. Sure, Favre was starting to mention retirement here and there, but he still had a lot in the tank. And he certainly wasn’t intimating anything about taking his talents to South Beach or elsewhere.
Let me say that again: the Packers had Brett Favre. Why the hell did they just waste their first round pick on a back-up quarterback? Had Ted Thompson lost his mind? And the kid looked like he was 15 to boot, ready to head to prom and hardly ready to stake a claim to the Lombardi Trophy.
And I hated the stupid little soul patch, too.
Needless to say that night I called my grad student brother Jay who used to block off his schedule to watch and absorb that first day of the draft in all of its entirety. If anyone could talk me off the ledge, it would be Jay.
“Who the hell is Aaron Rodgers?” Didn’t even bother with a hello first.
This is probably one of the reason Jay rocks at his draft analysis. He takes the time to do his homework.
“Relax. It’s all good. He’s gonna win a Super Bowl some day.”
I hate it when my brother is right. But in this case, I guess I’ll give him a pass.
Pundits are at times critical of Ted Thompson’s first round selections. His strength, they say, is finding talent buried deeper in the draft. Sure there were Justin Harrell and Derek Sherrod that were outright busts from a combination of injuries and lost potential. Some say that Raji, Perry and Jones have never lived up to expectations or that AJ Hawk, while a very solid player, never played that first round level.
Yet six of Thompson’s nine first round picks are still contributing on the active roster.
But it appears that Thompson’s first pick as general manager was his most brilliant.
Best man on the board, that has been Ted Thompson’s mantra for the past decade. Sure, the Packers didn’t really need an heir apparent in 2005, but they took the plunge anyhow.
Only the men in the war room that day will actually know where Rodgers fell in the draft algorithm. Whether he was Plan A (highly doubt it) or Plan ZZ, it really doesn’t matter. A quarterback probably wasn’t their first choice or priority. San Francisco, after all, had been posturing to take a QB (which they did) with the first pick of the draft, and had been hinting that this Rodgers kid (which he wasn’t) would be their man.
Teams always have multiple picks for their first round. The lower you are on the board, the more contingency plans a team needs. Yet after 23 other teams passed on this supposedly #1 ranked quarterback, Rodgers had the highest value in that black box that contains all the Thompson metrics. The rest they say is history, and Green Bay pulled the trigger on a quarterback they had no intentions of using in any capacity in the upcoming season.
Draft and develop. It wasn’t even part of the Packers’ lexicon in 2005, but this draft choice epitomized it.
The Packers weren’t desperate for a quarterback. And when you think about it, it’s not the greatest move to throw a 21 year old kid into a pit with a bunch of seasoned players and expect them to immediately follow and respect him as their anointed leader. Yet it happens all the time. Some times a team gets lucky, that kid is on fire, and has the maturity to command the attention and respect of his new peers like an Andrew Luck.
And sometimes, he never meshes with the team, and his linemen don’t even bother to help him up after he’s pounded into the turf like a Robert Griffin III.
Of course the Packers’ fourth Lombardi Trophy and two league MVPs help make that retrospectascope shine, but the Packers were geniuses allowing Rodgers to apprentice on the bench for three years before turning the proverbial keys over to him.
He wasn’t shoved into a desperate produce or perish situation. He had three years to refine and restructure his throwing mechanics in Mike McCarthy’s quarterback school. And perhaps most importantly, he had three years of flying under the radar to earn the trust and respect of his teammates along the line. By the time he was named the starter in 2008, he was no longer the baby-faced kid with the stupid soul patch. He had three years to mature and develop as a quarterback as well as a leader without the glaring spotlight on him.
By the time he was thrust into the circus that was the Summer of Favre, he was ready for the heat, and was ready to lead.
Looking back, Jay was absolutely spot on about Aaron Rodgers. It was going to be okay. In fact it has been more than okay.
So let me be the first to acknowledge that my little brother was right, and I was wrong that this Rodgers kid was going to light up the Packers.--------------