A Retroactive Look at July

Wait, John Travolta was on that show?  Was that pre- or post-conversion to the most ridiculous "religion" ever Scientology?

It might be somewhat pretentious for me to give myself such a homecoming parade, but I don't care.  I've missed the site, I've missed writing, and I've missed the dear readership of APC.  I also miss cheddar-stuffed brats, but that's a different issue for a different day.

It feels like I've been gone forever and missed a lot of Packer-related news.  In reality, there hasn't been too much going on (compared to last season, at least), but I feel compelled to offer my take on several of the newsworthy events of the last few months.  So just bear with me, let me get it out of my system, and we can get back to more contemporary matters.

Donald Driver talks smack about Chicago's receivers.  Double D isn't known as the brash diva NFL wideouts are notoriously seen as.  The exact quote follows below:

"I think Chicago did a great job, and Lovie Smith went out there and got Jay Cutler to lead this team, but one thing they don't have is they don't have the receiver group," Driver said. "They have the running back, they have the offensive line and they have a great defense. But you're going to have to need receivers to make plays down the field, and they don't have that right now.

Sick burn, Donald.  That's major disrespect right there, and you never want to give another team bulletin board material.  Unless, you know, you're right.  Even Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times agreed with him in his article chronicling the Bears' receivers' two games against Green Bay in 2008.

If Driver is basing his opinion on those two games, you know what, he's dead on.

As Brandon so eloquently put it, besides Devin Hester, name a Bears receiver

***

Johnny Jolly's legal troubles put on hold.  As we well know, Jolly was arrested in July of 2008 for felony drug possession.  200 grams isn't very heavy, but when it's codeine (a controlled substance), "that's some heavy dope, Marine." 

I'm no lawyer, and I don't know the details of the case, but when the trial date keeps getting pushed back and now the charges are dropped, that seems to be a good thing for Jolly.  The charges can (and probably will) be re-filed within three months, meaning Jolly will have to go through the whole process again, but most likely not until next offseason.

As long as this doesn't affect Jolly's mental approach to the game, this event should be good for the team for 2009.  However, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am extremely troubled by a Green Bay player's involvement in a drug possession case of this nature.  I do not support it, and I do not condone it, and if Jolly broke the law, he deserves to serve his time, just like anyone else.

***

Kenechi Udeze retires.  This really sucks.  The guy has leukemia, fought to get himself back in shape, and still almost came back to the NFL.  Best of luck to him.  It was no doubt a tough decision whether or not to retire, and as Deadspin's Dashiel Bennett quipped: "See, if you're having trouble deciding whether or not resume a career, this is an acceptable reason."  More on that later.

***

Brian Urlacher once called Jay Cutler a bad name.  For the sake of adhering to APC's family-friendly approach to blogging, let's just say he called Cutler a "pansy".  If it were anyone else, I would both a) not believe it and b) not care.  But since it came from Bobby Wade and is about Jay Cutler, it's just crazy enough to be true/relevant.  C'mon, tell me you can't see Cutler going into a Bears practice and throwing a fit about Urlacher calling him a "pansy". 

***

Detroit's entire offseason.  You wanna talk about a makeover?  Between the draft, free agency, and trades, the Lions have overturned half of their roster.  Half!  Not only that, but they added an impressive head coaching prospect in Jim Schwartz, removed the Matt Millen-stone around their necks (high-five for the pun?  Anyone?), and they landed the QB they hope will become what Joey Harrington was supposed to be.  Yes, they vastly overpaid for Matt Stafford, and ignored more pressing needs when they drafted Brandon Pettigrew at number 20, and are using veterans as stop-gap measures instead of long-term answers (i.e. Larry Foote, Bryant Johnson, Grady Jackson, etc.).  But this team is no longer two guaranteed wins on the schedule.  They're not a contender...not yet.

***

Justin Harrell's setback.  Ugh.  Just when we thought that he was out, the trainer pulled him back in.  I've been pulling for Harrell ever since he was drafted, and nobody was more frustrated with his injuries than me.  OK, maybe Ted Thompson, the coaches, and Harrell himself, but I digress.  I was excited at the prospect of having two first-round defensive linemen making their respective debuts in 2009.  Speaking of which...

***

B.J. Raji skips town.  We have yet to hear why he left.  All we know is that he's in Boston and he's not signed to a contract, both of which are very bad things.  Can someone tell me why we're being punished for Michael Crabtree being a douche and Al Davis being insane?  Brandon's contract proposal of 5 years/$30 million with $19 million guaranteed is certainly reasonable.  Someone end the staring contest, please!

***

Michael Vick attempts to make his comeback.  Since his release from prison, Michael Vick has been fighting an uphill battle.  He's been demonized in the press and declared persona non grata by nearly every NFL franchise.  Green Bay, however, is not among those franchises.  While he doesn't have a clear role to the team, hasn't played in two seasons, isn't currently in NFL shape, and wasn't that great of a QB before his arrest, he's still Michael Vick.  He's still the same guy who did this, this, and this.  I firmly believe that with a full-length offseason and solid coaching, he could not only return to form, but become a more efficient QB than he was before.  Plus, the last two-plus years were not NFL years, meaning his body has less miles on it.  I'm not saying that he should compete with Aaron Rodgers, but if Rodgers gets hurt, I'd love to have Vick as a second option.

And for those who decry Michael Vick as a monster, hear this.  The man was involved in terrible things.  He has paid his debt to society, and has lost nearly everything he had.  He is despised across America.  In fact, far more despised than people like Donte Stallworth or Leonard Little, who killed people themselves and did not meet with the same reaction that Vick has met. 

The bottom line is this: Michael Vick was involved with something heinous, and he paid dearly for it.  The time for blind hatred is past, and the time to give a second chance to a reformed man is now.

***

Minnesota's summer for the ages.  I'm not going to directly link everything, because there's too much and the folks at Daily Norseman have covered it too well.   First, let's talk about what went well.  They finally signed Antoine Winfield to a new contract, which he sorely deserved.  They get E.J. Henderson back from his fluke toe injury.  Pat and Kevin Williams avoided (for the most part) suspension for their involvement in the StarCaps fiasco.  They drafted Phil Loadholt in the second round, who will be infinitely better than anyone they've had on the right side in a long time.

Now, let's talk about what didn't go so well.  Namely, everything associated with the quarterback position.  A brief timeline:

  • Tavaris Jackson is drafted in the 2nd round (64th overall) in 2006.  Minnesota's top brass fell in love with him and traded two 3rd round picks to get him...even though he wasn't projected to get picked until round four at the earliest.  Jackson is immediately dubbed as the "QB of the future" for the Vikings
  • After an impressive preseason, injuries and inconsistencies kept Jackson on the bench until week 13 of the 2006 season.  When he did play, he was better than previously thought, but still maddeningly erratic.
  • 2007 was more successful for Jackson in terms of W-L record, but disappointing statistically.  He showed flashes of improvement peppered across an unimpressive body of work that included poor decisions, risky throws, and stupid turnovers.  In a seemingly unrelated story, Brett Favre retired from the Green Bay Packers, then unretired, wanted to go play for Minnesota, then thought about reretiring, then eventually was traded to the New York Jets.
  • In 2008, Jackson see-sawed with Gus Frerotte for control of the reigns in Minnesota.  Jackson would play well, get his supporters' hopes up, then have a setback, prompting Childress to bench him in favor of Frerotte.  Then Frerotte would play poorly or get hurt, and Jackson would come in, and the cycle would resume. 
  • After the 2008 season, the Vikings traded a 4th round pick for Sage Rosenfels, a part-time starter for the Houston Texans.  The idea was to both provide competition at the quarterback position and bring in a more stable quarterback as insurance for when Tavaris Jackson's play went south.  In a seemingly unrelated story, Brett Favre retired from the New York Jets...or did he?!

That's the history of the quarterback position for Minnesota over the last few years in a nutshell.  But this past summer has really taken the proverbial cake.  The official date of the beginning of Favre's interest in the team is June 15th, 2009, but we know it goes further back than that.  Favre wanted to play for Minnesota back in 2007 when Ted Thompson didn't bow to his will and Favre wanted to punish him by playing for the rival Vikings and presumably beating the Packers for revenge.  Minnesota wanted him too, as it would finally give them between above-average to great production from the most important position on the offense.  There were tampering charges filed here, some poison-pill contract clauses there, but it really didn't amount to anything until this summer. 

Favre gets his release from New York and, after the initial speculation blew over, got involved with the Vikings.  He worked out for them, allowed examinations from their doctors, and even underwent surgery to repair his throwing arm for them.  But the ever-looming decision kept getting delayed further and further, until on July 28th, Favre finally pulled the rug out from under the Vikings and decided to stay home (for now).

Let's look at how this affects different members of the Vikings organization.  First off, there's the confidence and attitude of Rosenfels and Jackson.  While they've publicly said that it didn't bother them, I find it hard to believe that the team's pursuit of a broken-down retired quarterback did anything but hurt their standing with the team. 

Tavaris Jackson has always been the developmental project, the starter of the future.  Minnesota had invested so much in him, and the head coach and front office had always supported him.  But the future always seems so far away, and now the Vikings are going to bring in someone who will take that chance away from him?  Not only the coaches, but his teammates (including Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, and Jared Allen) lobbied for Favre to come to the Twin Cities.  I would get the feeling that the team has given up on him, were I in Tavaris' shoes. 

Sage Rosenfels was brought in to compete for the starting job.  Every NFL journeyman's dream is to go to a team with an open competition and try to make it work.  After all, they've always been good enough to start in short bursts, but not good enough to be a long-term answer.  Maybe this is the chance Rosenfels needed to turn his career in the right direction.  That is, until the team decided to pursue a player who would automatically come in as the starter and relegate Rosenfels to compete for the backup job...again.  Looks like it's the same old story in Minnesota for poor Sage, who would feel mighty miffed right about now, were I in Sage's shoes.

Brad Childress has been touted as a major force behind the development of players like Donovan McNabb.  He is believed to be a genius tutor for quarterbacks, but that hasn't shown so far.  His chosen player (Tavaris Jackson) hasn't shown the kind of development Childress tacitly promised to deliver.  But, hey, Jackson's still young and is still raw and has injury problems...he could still put it together.  But when Childress starts negotiating with Favre directly, that's a sign of desparation.  It shows that Childress really isn't the QB guru he's made out to be, and that he can't get the quarterbacks on the roster to where they need to be.  If he can't do that, and he can't convince a player to sign with the team, and he can't manage the clock, and he can't call plays well...what can he do?  Combine his shortcomings with a restless fanbase and stadium issues, and I would be feeling very insecure about my job situation, were I in Brad's shoes.

So the locker room is not really united behind the coach or either candidate for the starting QB job.  That is going to cause some problems somewhere down the line, I'd bet.  But these guys are just victims of opportunity.  Childress is desperate to make something work at quarterback, and he had a chance to do that.  It didn't work out, and he's now trying to perform damage control and go forward with the players he has to work with.

For those of you who still defend Brett Favre, or despise Ted Thompson, or wish that the team would have gave in back in 2007, this is exactly what would have happened had the Packers given in.  This is what we were afraid of.  The loss of credibility of the coach, the slap to the face of the players on the roster, the divided locker room, and all the drama that comes with it...all of these things were certainties had the team let Favre dictate his fate.

This past summer revealed Brett Favre for the monster he has turned into: an attention-loving homewrecker that cannot stand to be away of the spotlight and out of mainstream conversation.  He nearly brought the Packers to their knees in 2007, which would have robbed us of Aaron Rodgers in 2008 and beyond.  He conned the New York Jets into thinking he was their savior until his 39-year old body broke down.  And now he has disrupted the offseason of another team, which is even more egregious with Tavaris Jackson's recent knee injury and Sage Rosenfels' reported inability to learn the offense. 

I hate the Vikings because they are a rival, but I respect them because they are a talented team.  They have a great running back, great linemen on both sides of the ball, and a defense that is extremely sturdy.  All they needed was an above-average quarterback to run the show, and they could have been a major contender.  Now, that is likely in jeopardy, and Brett Favre shares a large portion of the blame.

***

So what does all this mean for the Green Bay Packers?  At this point, not a lot.  While it's prudent to pay attention to the goings-on of our competition, it's more important to handle first things first.  That means handling the transition to the 3-4, establishing continuity on the offensive line, and learning how to close out games.  If the Packers can do that in the preseason, I will be extremely excited for the upcoming season. 

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