Green Bay's Middle Linebacker Flub
Whatever happened to Nitschke?
Recently with the dawn of Fantasy Football people have thrown their hats in with the idea that they would make excellent football managers. Obviously much better than the current managers, these newbies flare for picking the winning horses would lead their dream team to victory. It is a fun concept and even has a great number of fans jumping into new leagues every year.
Yet the sad fact is that because so many people feel as though they would have abundant success at such a job, they believe that the criticisms which they posit are worth more than the think tanks in the teams warerooms are producing. Perhaps this article itself is even a tribute as my opinion is critical of that of a certain Ted Thompson, current General Manager of the Green Bay Packers.
To get to know him better, you should understand that he has a fairly simple philosophy of Draft-and-Develop; in which he drafts players, gets them developed, and then hopefully resigns them instead of looking in the open market at free agency acquisitions. It is a fairly interesting and frugal philosophy that has worked out well for him as he has had the rare ability to find the diamonds in the rough on draft day, with such players as Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy, and Clay Matthews. With such a cast of just star talent at name positions it is hard to find fault with the man's diamond hunting.
That is not my problem though. Mine is his ability to not throwout the useful draft horses which have made the team successful in the past. The position I am currently most concerned with along with every person in the town of Green Bay is middle linebacker.
The three-four defensive scheme thrives on the idea that the ability to field two good middle linebackers trumps the ability to put one and a nose tackle or a defensive tackle on the field. It is intuitive therefore, that in such a scheme having a plethora of good talent in this crucial spot is a must. Yet with Ted Thompson's actions as general manager he has weakened the middle linebacker position more than helped it this offseason, with his release of A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, who were both starting the position at the outset of last year.
Their play was by my estimation sub-par, as many fans also thought. This thinking lead to pressure on Ted Thompson to clear house at the position and give studs Clay Matthews and rare free-agent pickup Julius Peppers some better running mates in the stable.
However, I myself question if an injured A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones play was so terrible that they deserved summary dismissal. The interior of the defensive line was weaker than normal without B.J. Raji swallowing up blockers and creating havoc in front. Though he is now back to being healthy, his true ability was lacking last year when his replacements attempted to fill the large void he leaves. Anytime a defense loses such a monster in the middle of the line, more pressure falls on the middle linebackers and safeties. Due to more blockers jumping through the gaps, middle linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones suffered the wrath of fans angry at the between the tackles run stopping.
Well, the instant gratification of fans must be answered, and to keep fans happy Ted Thompson bent to pressure and released the all-time leading tackler of the Green Bay Packers in A.J. Hawk. Hawk has had to date 1,118 tackles and probably a couple years of serviceability left in the tank. Brad Jones also played fairly well with 258 tackles and 10 sacks to boot in his five year career.
But losing in the NFC Championship Game in a season where they beat the eventual Champion Patriots, Packers fans wanted blood. Apparently the middle linebacker position has the easiest blood from last year to sacrifice and hopefully give Packers fans their long awaited return of having a pre-eminent middle linebacker, which they haven't had since Ray Nitschke.
Giving Ted Thompson props for his picking ability, doesn't mean he can turn coal into a diamond. It means he can see the raw diamond and polish it. Since in almost everyones opinion, this years inside linebacker prospects are average at best. With this knowledge in hand, why oh, why Ted Thompson decided to release A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones before the team could afford to lose them. And the worst mistake of all is that these players will actually still be receiving money from Green Bay to play on other teams. I may not be Warren Buffett, but I realise that investing in players to play against me is a ridiculous proposition.
All-in-all I think Ted Thompson is likely one of the better General Managers in the game. Yet in these specific releases at middle linebacker, he has shown to me that perhaps he gives too much credence to the popular opinion of arm-chair general managers.