|10-28-2007, 01:27 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
After trading Walker, Packers changed strategy
Thompson started renegotiating some players' deals
By Rob Demovsky
Whether the Green Bay Packers will admit it or not, Javon Walker’s ugly departure changed the way they do business.
Since General Manager Ted Thompson traded the disgruntled Walker to the Denver Broncos on the day of the 2006 NFL draft, he has taken a proactive approach to renegotiating contracts for players he has identified as core members of the team.
Had the Packers been in that kind of business when Walker first expressed unhappiness over his contract way back in the summer of 2005, they might still have the former Pro Bowl receiver on their roster.
Back then, the Packers, mostly under former coach and GM Mike Sherman, flat-out refused to rework the deals of players who had more than one year left on the their contracts.
Thompson operated largely the same way during the first 16 months of his tenure.
But a mere two weeks after Thompson traded Walker to the Denver Broncos for a second-round draft pick, which he parlayed into five picks by making two more trades, he made the bold and surprising decision to give receiver Donald Driver $4 million in new bonus money as part of a two-year contract extension. What made the move so surprising was that, like Walker, Driver had two seasons left on his deal.
Since then, Thompson has given extensions to linebacker Nick Barnett, tight end Bubba Franks, cornerback Al Harris, defensive end Cullen Jenkins, right tackle Mark Tauscher and center Scott Wells. He even gave Driver another extension during the last offseason. What’s more, Harris, Tauscher, Wells and Driver all had more than one season left on their contracts at the time of their new deals.
Though Thompson repeatedly has said he was simply making what he felt like were smart business decisions regarding important players, he in essence has set up a system to help the Packers avoid another Walker situation.
“You would hope it would,” Packers chairman Bob Harlan said last week. “Those situations are a common thing in every sport, unfortunately, but I think the way we’re working right now, we have a much better chance of avoiding it than we did with the previous arrangement.”
Harlan watched as Sherman agonized over cornerback Mike McKenzie, who in 2004 also held out for more money, threatened to never again play for the Packers and eventually forced Sherman to trade him to the New Orleans Saints shortly after McKenzie ended his holdout. Though Thompson was still with the Seattle Seahawks at that time, he no doubt watched from afar as the McKenzie situation turned ugly.
“Mike Sherman was just a basket case about the Mike McKenzie thing,” Harlan said. “I think what Ted determined was he didn’t want to get into that situation. McKenzie was going to be a problem whether he was out of camp or in camp.
"I don’t think Ted wanted to go through that (with Walker), so he said, ‘Let’s settle it right now.’ Because when a guy isn’t in camp, he becomes the lead story. Then when he comes to camp, he’s disgruntled so again it becomes the lead story. Ted’s thought was, I just don’t want distractions, and that’s what this was going to be. So if we can do something, we’re going to do it.”
At time of the draft, Thompson said the second-round draft pick – No. 37 overall – was fair value for Walker, who was a first-round pick (No. 20 overall) in 2002 and made the Pro Bowl in 2004.
Thompson didn’t use the second-round pick he acquired from the Broncos. Instead, he used it to make two more trades that ultimately netted him five picks for Walker. He used those selections to take guard Daryn Colledge (second round, No. 47 overall), cornerback Will Blackmon (fourth round, No. 115 overall), quarterback Ingle Martin (fifth round, No. 148 overall), Texas A&M defensive tackle Johnny Jolly (sixth round, No. 183 overall) and safety Tyrone Culver (sixth round, No. 185 overall).
Colledge and Jolly both have become starters, and it looks like Jolly has the makings of an impact player. Blackmon has been injured for most of his two seasons, and Martin and Culver were cut during training camp this summer.
In that same draft, the Packers also got receiver Greg Jennings in the second round (No. 52 overall) after trading their second-round pick (No. 36 overall) to New England for picks Nos. 52 and 75 (a third-round pick that netted guard Jason Spitz).
With the Packers set to play to the Broncos on Monday night in Denver – Walker won’t play because of a knee injury – Harlan said he “has never heard (Thompson) say he regretted what he did.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said: “It’s about acquiring players that fit your organization. Whatever happened with Javon, why or when the relationship went south, we made a decision to move on, and I’m very happy with the players we have here.”
The Walker situation was even more problematic because of the apparent division it caused in the locker room. At one point, quarterback Brett Favre publicly chastised Walker for threatening to hold out in 2005.
“I think Ted’s philosophy helps the atmosphere in the locker room,” Harlan said. “If a guy is performing that well and he’s under the market, I think Ted thinks, ‘Let’s reward him now and get some more from him.’ It helps (the locker room) tremendously.”
In a roundabout way, some players have McKenzie and Walker to thank for their contract extensions.
“I think Ted and coach Sherman have a different way of going about it,” said Harris, who in February got a raise of potentially $4 million over the next three years after quietly complaining that he was underpaid.
“My whole thing was I’m not giving back any money (from fines), so I wasn’t going to miss anything that was mandatory. From day one, I said I wasn’t going to hold out. I just wanted to express to Ted my point of view. He expressed his point of view, and everyone did what they needed to do. I’m cool with it. I just wanted fair market value. You just want to get what you’re worth while you can, but I didn’t want it to be a distraction to anybody.”
There can be a downside to Thompson’s new philosophy. There’s always the possibility that he’ll have players lining up at his door asking for more money.
“Sometimes you can’t do it,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. “Sometimes we’d like to do it but don’t do it because once you do it, you’ve got to do it for everybody. Not that we haven’t made an exception here or there, but whatever your philosophy is, you’ve got to stick with it or you can open up Pandora’s box.”
Harlan said: “I think you’ve got to be careful who you do it for. That’s what it comes down to.”