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Artificial Intelligence answers the question ‘Are the Packers rebuilding?’

Paul interrogated an AI about how you can tell when you’re in a rebuild so we can stop arguing about it on the internet.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel Milwaukee Journal Sentinel files / USA TODAY NETWORK

ChatAPC: Good morning, your sports-specific large language model chat interface is ready and able to answer all of your questions pertaining to professional athletics, the history of sport, coaching theory, practical skill development, statistics, analytics, player acquisition economics, weighted positional value, the merits of various philosophies on scouting, fantasy sports, wagering, and concession and parking prices.

Paul: Hi.

ChatAPC: Hi!

Paul: I apologize in advance for this question.

ChatAPC: Not to worry! I have been trained on the entire indexed internet including all sports reference sites and niche publications. I am sure I can answer your question, or at least help you work through it. I am not just a search engine. I am most useful as a “sounding board.”

Paul: Thanks, I appreciate that, and I have full confidence in your abilities, it’s just that it’s an embarrassing question, but I’m professionally obligated to ask it.

ChatAPC: I can recommend several doctors in your area.

Paul: It’s not that. Have you ever heard the phrase “there is no such thing as a stupid question?”

ChatAPC: It makes up a surprisingly large percentage of my training corpus.

Paul: Ah, see. And what percentage of that is followed by what you would consider to be a stupid question?

ChatAPC: (Working.) I see your point.

Paul: Best to just be done with it. Are the Green Bay Packers “rebuilding?”

ChatAPC: Yes, the Green Bay Packers NFL franchise is currently rebuilding, due to the loss of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, following a disappointing season. Why do you need the absolute pinnacle of information technology to tell you this?

Paul: I should say upfront that I agree with you, but I think it would be helpful to have a framework or some parameters around the definition of a sports rebuild. Some sports writers don’t see it that way.

ChatAPC: I can develop parameters for what constitutes a sports rebuild, but I do not understand that controversy. Can you elaborate?

Paul: Do you have access to “debates about sports MVPs and the definition of ‘value?’”

ChatAPC: Yes, the nearly annual tradition most prevalent in American football and Major League Baseball, but recently encroaching on the National Basketball Association as well, pits those who believe an award should go to the player who, objectively, created the most “wins” based on various calculations, versus those who believe that wins accumulated for non-contenders should be discounted as they are not fundamentally “valuable” towards accomplishing the ultimate team goal of winning a championship. There is a smaller sub-faction that looks at value through the lens of a player’s absence, and how much worse a team performs without them.

Paul: This is sort of like that, which is why I think we need some sort of framework regarding what is and is not a rebuild. The word itself is subject to interpretation.

ChatAPC: I can assist with such a framework, but the analogy is imperfect. Value is a more nebulous concept. It is defined, fundamentally, on what is considered subjectively valuable, and the disagreement is honest.

Paul: I actually disagree with that. I think all of the viewpoints around MVP can be solved by asking whether the player who contributed the most wins, by some calculation, would have still done so on a championship-level team. If so, that player’s value is only limited by the play of his teammates, and the MVP is, fundamentally, an individual award.

ChatAPC: While that may seem like a clean answer, in performing this exercise you are relying on a projection system as a replacement for real results, and while your system may be theoretically be quite reliable, it will certainly not be perfect. We can never know for absolute certain whether elite performance will continue in a different environment.

Paul: Okay, fair, but let’s not argue about MVP. What conditions are necessary for a rebuild?

ChatAPC: The first factor: Has your team been bad for a decade or more?

Paul: Why does that matter?

ChatAPC: Rebuilds should take place temporally close to a “build.” While you can “rebuild” or “restore” a painting or building many years after their destruction in theory, at some point, you are no longer rebuilding, and are instead building anew on the ground of a former structure that has been razed. In the vernacular of building, those teams who have struggled for a decade or more have committed demolition, but there is no rebuilding, hence they are no longer in a rebuild phase. Teams of this nature are simply poor or mismanaged. Are you familiar with the Ship of Theseus?

Paul: I think everyone is since it was in WandaVision.

ChatAPC: This situation is not completely analogous as a rebuild need not take place “plank by plank,” but there must be some temporal element.

Paul: Agreed. I actually think this gets to a deeper truth about the controversy. People like to joke that the Lions have been rebuilding for half a century.

ChatAPC: Yes, the use of “rebuild” as a pejorative to describe poorly run teams has led some to avoid it at all costs, as the rebuild process itself could be seen as a tacit admission of failure.

Paul: Right. Even front offices are not immune from attempting to skirt this reality with the use of words like “reload” instead.

ChatAPC: “Reload” may be appropriate in some instances where the general framework of a successful team (the gun) remains in place, while a few departing pieces (the bullets) are replaced. The Kansas City Chiefs “reloaded” in 2023, replacing Tyreek Hill with Marquez Valdez-Scantling and a bevy of talented slot receivers.

Paul: But the Packers cannot plausibly be “reloading” right now?

ChatAPC: The Second Factor: Did a top ten quarterback leave/retire? If Patrick Mahomes left instead of Hill, the Chiefs would have lost the gun, instead of a bullet.

Paul: It would not be a reload. At least not without a different incoming top-10 quarterback, like Philip Rivers for Drew Brees.

ChatAPC: Correct, and even then, while Rivers worked out well for San Diego, his projection at the time wasn’t a certainty. I would consider the Chargers as a “quick rebuild,” which is one of the possibilities for a rebuild. And perhaps Green Bay will be as well, but until Jordan Love is established, it must be considered a rebuild, and cannot be considered a reload.

Paul: Could you enter a rebuild while still possessing an elite quarterback in his prime?

ChatAPC: It is possible, but such a small possibility that it is justifiable to disregard it entirely. An NFL star quarterback in his prime will, in almost all circumstances, facilitate reloads and not rebuilds.

Paul: That makes sense. What if you didn’t have a top ten quarterback? What if you had something like the 13th best quarterback and kept finishing around 9-7?

ChatAPC: Definitional questions become difficult around the margins. However, even while teams like this may appear to be passably successful due to the large number of teams who make the NFL playoffs, I would categorize a team like this as simply poor, due to their extremely small odds of contending.

Paul: Fair. OK, anything else?

ChatAPC: Along these lines, Factor 3 is as follows: A rebuilding team should make the playoffs in at least 3 of the last 5 seasons, allowing for one “fluke failure” and one “final failure.” It is important to allow for the final failure, as a rebuild will rarely occur outside of a definitive failure from the existing core of a team.

Paul: Right, if you weren’t recently successful, you were never really “built.” That makes sense.

ChatAPC: You require enough sample size to rule out occurrences like the Jake Plummer Cardinals, but not so large a sample as to exclude small windows.

Paul: So you need to have not been bad for an extended period, you need to have been good very recently, and you need to be losing an elite quarterback, or perhaps a large number of elite, core players. Anything else?

ChatAPC: I would add one final factor. Factor 4 is an acknowledgement from a team’s management, or front office, that an infusion of younger talent is necessary. This will often be accompanied by moves designed to reset the salary cap in a season or two.

Paul: So for Factor Four, you believe that for a team to be considered in a rebuild, there needs to be some realization that a rebuild is necessary, and actions taken consistent with a rebuild?

ChatAPC: Yes. This is necessary because a team can be primed for a rebuild, but if the team itself does not realize it should rebuild, and attempts to instead compensate via inefficient means, or through a “reload of a broken gun,” they will simply descend into consistent poor play. A rebuild must come with a willingness to “take your medicine.”

Paul: So, for instance, if you tried to replace a legendary quarterback with a mediocre quarterback and an improved defense, you would not consider that a rebuild?

ChatAPC: Correct. While that can work in theory, it rarely does due to the volatile nature of defenses generally.

Paul: But drafting a young quarterback who doesn’t work out would be rebuilding?

ChatAPC: Yes, the process behind such a move is sound, however, a mature front office should be willing to assess and move on from such a quarterback quickly should he fail.

Paul: Got it, so ultimately we have four criteria that must be met, and I think those four make logical sense, and are distinct from a reload or a reset.

ChatAPC: Correct. A “reset” would be conceptually similar, but brings connotations of starting from scratch, and lacks the positive connotations of a build. It is more analogous to demolition. I would consider a reset a more severe project than a rebuild.

Paul: “Reset” seems to have fewer negative connotations for some reason.

ChatAPC: Resetting your video game generally requires an admission of failure, and starting from the beginning, or a save point, and is frequently accompanied by references to “throwing a controller across the room.” It should engender as many negative emotions as an analogy.

Paul: I think you’ve nailed that. Nice understanding of human emotion!

ChatAPC. Thank you. Can I assist with anything else?

Paul: No, I think that should do it. Hopefully that ends all future internet arguments on the subject.

ChatAPC: You are using sarcasm.

Paul: My man.

ChatAPC: Bot.

Paul: My Bot.

I wrote the above fictional conversation first, and then went to actual ChatGPT to see what it had to say. Here’s the actual AI response:

“An NFL team is typically considered to be in a rebuilding phase when they are undergoing a significant overhaul of their roster, coaching staff, or front office, with the goal of establishing a new foundation for future success. Here are some common criteria that may indicate a team is in the midst of a rebuilding phase:

  1. Significant turnover in personnel: A team may be considered to be in rebuilding mode if they have recently traded or released several key players or if they are intentionally moving away from an older, more experienced roster in favor of younger, less proven talent.
  2. New coaching staff or front office: A change in the team’s leadership can also signal a rebuilding phase, as new coaches or executives may want to bring in their own players and establish a new culture.
  3. Poor recent performance: If a team has struggled to win games over the past few seasons, they may be more likely to embark on a rebuilding phase in an effort to turn things around.
  4. Focus on player development: During a rebuilding phase, teams may prioritize the development of young players over immediate on-field success, focusing on building a strong foundation for the future.
  5. Limited offseason spending: Rebuilding teams may choose to spend less money in free agency and instead focus on building through the draft, in an effort to acquire and develop young talent.

It’s important to note that every team’s situation is unique, and there may be other factors that contribute to a rebuilding phase. However, these criteria should provide a general framework for identifying when a team may be in the midst of a rebuilding effort.”