20

February

Live By the Draft, Die By the Draft – Pigskin Paul

Ted Thompson - Packers NFL Draft

Packers GM Ted Thompson

Since I appear to be the Grandpa of the Draftnik football writers I find at times a need to explain some of my witticisms and quotes. There is an old saying “live by the sword, die by the sword’. That really should be self-explanatory. Today I want to relate that saying to TED THOMPSON and his successful reign as the Leader of the PACK.

As anyone who follows the PACKERS and/or the NFL Draft  knows THOMPSON, also know affectionately around the League as WHITEY, subscribes to the theory that you build your franchise through the Draft Process and then hang on to your good players. Once upon a time, say 2006, WHITEY also supplemented his roster by signing a couple of significant VFA by the names of WOODSON & PICKETT. Those 2 players helped solidify the Green Bay roster and contributed significantly to their 2010 season SUPER BOWL run. For some unknown reason THOMPSON has been reluctant to take the plunge and fish in those waters again. WOODSON is gone, and PICKETT is a roster question mark from this point on, in his mid-thirties.

The main point of this diatribe is to point out that even though I agree with THOMPSON in principle I feel like injuries exposed how little experienced depth the PACKERS roster currently has. Many will defend the organizational philosophy by pointing out that the 2013 team was decimated by injuries. The PACK were indeed near the head of the injury bug epidemic list, no matter what criteria you use. Officially, the team lost 70 games by starters to injury. The key players involved were AARON RODGERS (7 games), RANDALL COBB (10), JERMICHAEL FINLEY (10) & BRYAN BULAGA (16). CLAY MATTHEWS also missed games twice because of his wrist woes. There were also multiple games lost by non-starters as well. But as the injuries mounted it became clear that the depth on the team was lacking and too many players plugged into the breach were not of sufficient NFL caliber and/or experience to hold down the fort over the short or long term.

As I tried to track down the base root of these issues I always came back to looking at how little the team has to show for the NFL Draft process of 2011. Coincidentally, that is the Draft immediately following the LOMBARDI Trophy returning to Titletown, USA. Remember please, that when I talk about the Draft process I am not limiting the discussion to Draft Picks. You need to also look at the Undrafted Rookie Free Agents (URFA) from a given year as well.  It seems to be a well kept secret the average NFL team that lives primarily through the Draft process, and keeping their own, must also consistently find URFA to help build their roster in addition to the 7-8 Draftees each year.

In looking at that 2011 Draft year the PACKERS of today look to have relatively little to show for their efforts.  And that lack of volume/quality has created some roster holes at a time when 3 year vets should be a significant part of their roster. Right now is a particularly questionable time to look at an NFL roster because the next two-plus months will see a significant amount of personnel shuffling as teams struggle to free up $ under the Salary Cap and prepare for the DRAFT in early May. But a roster is always a work in progress and I want to cover this topic now, well in advance of the 2014 DRAFT.

Let’s take a quick snapshot look at the 2011 Draft process vis-a-vis the current roster:

ROUND 1    DEREK SHERROD/OT    SHERROD was a talented developmental project who should be starting by now. A horrific broken leg and rehab complications have made him a non-factor for a team rebuilding its OL. He’s about to be an ex-Packer if he can’t get on the field in earnest when Training Camp opens.

ROUND 2    RANDALL COBB/WR//RS    He’s one of their top offensive weapons, and has been reasonably healthy for his size until 2013.

ROUND 3    ALEX GREEN/RB    He was a surprise pick in the Top 100, and did not pan out. He was waived last Fall.

ROUND 4    DAVON HOUSE/CB    Has shown some athleticism, but has been benched by nagging nicks & bruises and shown a lack of want-to as a tackler. Could also be on the roster bubble unless the team loses both SHIELDS & WILLIAMS in Free Agency.

ROUND 5    D.J. WILLIAMS/TE/H-B    He was a hybrid player, who could catch but do little else coming out of college. As a pro who dropped way too many balls and was cut in 2013.

ROUND 6    CALEB SCHLAUDERAFF/G/C    He was decent in Training Camp as a Rookie, but was dispatched to the JETS for a late future Draft Pick by what appeared to be excellent OL depth in 2011.

ROUND 6    D.J. SMITH/ILB    The college tackling machine impressed early, but after a 2012 knee injury was sent packing last year. He was a catcher, more than a striker.

ROUND 6    RICKY ELMORE/DE    He was too small to play DE and too slow-footed to stand up at LB. Many of us scratched our heads at his selection that draft. He was gone quickly.

ROUND 7    RYAN TAYLOR/TE    He’s a Special Teams ace and can contribute in a pinch from scrimmage. For a 7th Rounder an OK pick.

ROUND 7    LAWRENCE GUY/DE    A long DL who was too slow footed to pay outside and too long inside.

So what we have is a Draft Class of 10 guys, with only 4 still on the roster and only COBB as a starter. That’s a disturbingly low number only 3 years after the Draft. If SHERROD can’t win a starting job in 2013 this is pretty much going to a bust of a Draft year and the kind of bad experience that really cuts into your roster over the long haul.

But it gets even uglier when we look at the 2011 group of URFA that were harvested. As of last week the PACKERS roster of 79 total players listed 37 total URFA. That’s above the NFL average but not out of whack for a team that builds through the Draft process. But what is ugly, is the fact that only 5 are from 2011, and only 2 (JENNINGS & LATTIMORE) were originally signed by the PACK.

So in essence on the current roster of 79 only 9 players were acquired from the Draft Class of 2011. The standard line is that it takes 3-4 years to look back and evaluate a Draft Class. In this case the frosting is pretty much on the cake (with SHEROD the big ?) and it neither tastes nor looks very good overall. Every team has a bad year and this was it for the PACKERS. The real worry is that the 2011Draft process leaves the team with very little wiggle room for mistakes in this process for the foreseeable future.

He who lives by the Draft,  can die by the Draft. WHITEY, it may be time for another plunge into VFA like in 2006, in order to bolster the roster, while AARON RODGERS  is in his prime. And as always this next Draft is going to be critical to making legit Super Bowl runs in the coming years.

Editor’s Note: Our friend Pigskin Paul, born and raised in Wisconsin, has a long history of “DraftNikism” and studying the ways of Packers’ GMs. You can read more from Paul at his website, Pigskin Paul’s Place.

35 Responses to “Live By the Draft, Die By the Draft – Pigskin Paul”

  1. Savage57 says:

    As I look at this, the quandary that exists is this: Suppose that 2011 had yielded a harvest of talent. Suppose that 6 of those picks had developed into every down starters or reliable back ups, who are going into their contract year looking for big paydays.

    There’s already pressure points on the cap with The Blob, Sheilds, JJ, FinMe, EDS, Starks and Quarless this year as well as possible early re-ups for Jordy and Randy. Add say Sherrod in lieu of Barclay, and then plug in 3 or 4 of these guys as backups you want to keep, and the cap pressure just increases.

    It just seems to reinforce the idea that in D&D, you can’t miss in ANY year. You have to be that good as a GM. Because when 2 guys account for 20% of your cap, you just don’t have enough bank to keep your guys. It has to be constant churn.

    Or is it a reality that to be TRULY a D&D team, you also have to include the QB in that mix? Perhaps the philosophy doesn’t allow you to retain a foundation QB with a top 3 contract AND have a reasonable level of quality across the roster due to the relentless need to always ‘beat the house’ every year and the limits of the cap.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

    • David says:

      I think TT uses a D&D philosophy, but I think that philosophy doesn’t preclude signing free agents, case-in-point the ’06 year.

      A team is hurt equally having a busted draft year whether they are running the D&D philosophy or the opposite. The opposite happens to have a track record of being an extremely unreliable way to build a franchise from year to year.

      TT is not against signing FA players, he just isn’t visibly active in the free agent market because he wants to avoid busts to our cap.

      I don’t believe he’s as rigid as you paint him to be.

      If we were to run the opposite and we signed a bust FA player, I think THAT would hurt our salary cap more.

      TT simply realizes that he can evaluate talent in-house better than he can evaluate FA talent.

      I would think any philosophy of a team with a top 3 contracted QB must “beat the house” every year in player acquisitions. If they aren’t “beating the house” in the draft, then they darn well better be “beating the house” on their FA acquisitions! Busts that route are quite expensive.

      With any philosophy, having a top 3 contract QB necessitates you “beat the house” each year!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  2. Pete Kliman says:

    I still believe it’s the best way to build a team. Especially, since there were no FAs that fit our team recently. However, get me a veteran safety and a defensive lineman this year. They are available and we have the cap space this year.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    • JimR_in_DC says:

      I agree about draft & develop, but only if you have an above average front office that drafts well, and a coaching staff that develops well. Our drafts these past few years haven’t been above average, and I question the quality of some of our coaching staff (OL, D, ST, and strength & conditioning) to develop the players.

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  3. DAN says:

    As the other NFL teams continue to raid our front office for GM positions our drafts have declined in quality. You will notice that since John Schneider left for Seattle, their drafts have greatly exceeded ours in the mid / later rounds in particular, where we used to find hidden gems on a regular basis. He also has done an exceptional job adding free agent contributors at the right time & price. It could be argued however, that he & Carroll combined for a perfect fit. It would appear that TT is only as good as the talent around him, talent which has not been adequately replaced, much like the state of our team. Although the jury is still out, the 2012 draft has the potential to be worse than 2011. Half the class is already gone, and although Hayward & Daniels look to be solid contributors, Perry & Worthy have yet to play to their draft status, injuries or not.

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    • Pigskin Paul says:

      The real hope has to be that 1)the front office exodus is over for now 2) the guys Ted now has in-house R growing into their positions quickly.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    • David says:

      Interesting theory. I would think the organizational philosophy of the front office is similar to the D&D philosophy of building a roster.

      The main difference being that they can pay the talent in the front office whatever they want!

      Hopefully John Schneider works his was back to De Pere succeeding TT!

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  4. Ed Schoenfeld says:

    It’s a good article, but I think we know the reason (or reasons) TT has not gone into UFA the way he did in 2006.

    First, its hard to do contracts for UFA when you you are looking at having to do two monster contracts (Rodgers and Matthews) to keep players you have developed. Those guys need to fit under the cap before you do *anything* else.

    The second reason is that in 2013/14 most teams have finally figured out that you need to keep your own before they become UFA, so the market has been thin for a team that doesn’t want to overpay.

    Pickett was something like the 4th or 5th rated DL in 2006, you no longer get 5 good DL making it to UFA. Cutting Woodson was a mistake by a management that was riding its team (the Raiders) into the ground at the time. There used to be about a half-dozrn teams like that in any given year, these days the only franchise that brain-dead seems to be the Browns.

    But targeting the issue as lack of *depth* from the 2011 draft is correct. It’s not so much that Sherrod has been hurt (failure at the top of the draft) as the fact that no starters have developed in the 3rd round and after, including UDFA (IMO MDjennings was a stopgap, not a real starting quality player).

    There is not much from 2012 either. So the Packers need to try to patch in UFA now that the biggest contracts are done.
    There are fewer big spenders this year (Dallas is 25 million *over* the cap), so maybe there is a chance. Otherwise, we need to draft really well to dig out of the hole.

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  5. Since'61 says:

    Very good article! This article makes 2 points clear; 1. The draft is a crapshoot, which we already know and 2.It’s about more than just TT. It would have been helpful to review the needs that the Packers were trying to fill at the time as the reasoning behind some of the picks. Another way to look at it is, if Sherrod does not get hurt 3 of the first 4 picks are contributing to the team. Green did not work out but most RBs don’t last more than 2-3 seasons. From round 5 on we have 1 ST player and might still have Smith if not for injuries. You can’t predict injuries and after round 4 the odds for a player to make it increase significantly over time. The 2011 draft was not a very good one looking back, but the Packers have made the playoffs in ’11, ’12, and ’13. Also, with the possible exception of Smith, none of those players would have helped us at Safety and ILB, which are the Packers biggest needs at this time. The question now is to get the help we need for 2014. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ’61

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    • Stroh says:

      Its also helpful to remember that our need positions on D correspond directly w career ending injuries to Collins and Bishop. Losing those playmakers along w another due to age/salary took the teeth out of the Packers D.

      Where eould seattle be if they lost sherman thomas and wagner? Replacing starters is one thing, Replacing playmakers ismuch more difficult!

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

      • Since '61 says:

        Agreed! TT and scouts can’t predict or prevent in juries. Thanks< Since '61

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      • Ed Schoenfeld says:

        I’ve been thinking of Collins that way for a while (since he got hurt actually — I never expected him back), but haven’t been thinking that way about Bishop. Thanks for pointing it out.

        So basically we are -2 guys on defense after using our drafts in 2010 and 2011 to fix the OL with guys who didn’t play last year due to injury.

        Hard to overcome, but we’ve still won the division a few years running.

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        • Anonymous says:

          In his 2 years as the Packers starting ILB Bishop had 8 sacks and 5 forced turnovers along w/ a TD scored and over 100 tackles. He also had a physical presence that the Packers has been missing. He wasn’t a playmaker on the level of Collins and Woodson but those are quite a few big plays for an ILB.

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  6. GBPDAN says:

    TT definitely layed a egg with the 2011 draft. I too fear that the 2012 Draft may not be much better, but I’m keeping hope that it gets better. So if TT is not drafting well without his top player personal executives on board , what does that say about TT as a player evaluator?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

  7. GBPDAN says:

    Where would TT be if Rodgers didn’t fall to him in the Draft? Definitely not a consistent playoff team. At least TT didn’t blunder that no Brainer opportunity and took the best player available when Rodgers fell to him.

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    • Badger Bob says:

      I hate this idea that there are “no brainer” draft picks. The fact that 23 teams passed on possibly the best QB in the league shows it was not a “no brainer.” The GM gets ripped for bad picks and should get full credit for home runs like AR and CM. Miami picking Dan Marino at 28 in 1983 was the closest thing to the TT picking AR in 2005.

      There is one draft pick I can think of that might have been a “no brainer”, meaning probably all teams would have them rated as the best player and that is Andrew Luck. I almost included Elway, but Shula insists he had Marino rated #1 that year. Some might say ‘how about Manning’, but I remember some draft experts projecting Leaf to having the better career.

      Got to give credit where credit is due.

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    • Nick Perry says:

      I think we saw exactly where the Packers are if Rodgers didn’t fall in his lap last year. TT had a hell of a draft last year IMO. Lacy, Hyde, Bakhtiari, Franklin and Jones were all excellent picks. But the 2011 and 12 drafts have really hurt the Packers, especially 2011. Now if Perry could actually make it through a season without breaking a bone, Hayward comes back and plays like his rookie season, and Worthy is able to come in and be the player they thought they were drafting, then those drafts look better. That’s a lot of if’s though.

      Collins name has been brought up again and again. It’s been 50 games since he was hurt, FIFTY! TT has had ample time to replace Collins, but the fact of the matter is he’s dropped the ball. M.D. Jennings has no business being a starting Safety in the NFL and the number of passes defensed last year shows just how pathetic he was, ZERO.

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  8. GBPDAN says:

    Additionally, to have a GM that is basically not open minded enough ,or just to stubborn ,to dabble a little bit into free agency to help fill holes is troubling to me. TT had a good opportunity to do this before Rodgers and Mathews got new deals, but now it’s going to be harder.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

    • Since '61 says:

      Dan – If TT had signed FAs during 2011 and 2012 as you suggest, then he may not have had the cap room to sign and lock up Rodgers and Matthews, then where would we be and how much criticism would be heaped upon him for signing FAs but losing AR and CM3 in the process. With the current cap rules it’s virtually impossible to have it both ways. You csn sign FAs but then you lose picks and you may not be able to resign your own players. Look at Jacksonville, Oakland and now Dallas for what happens to your team when the cap is mis managed. You also need to realize that the league does not weant dynasties. This is a deliberate effort on the league’s part to prevent one or two teams from creating rosters with all of the best players. Over the next 2 years you will see what happens in SF and Seattle as their players reach their big paydays. BTW, the players don’t care about dynasties either. They ant their ring and then they want their big payday and they don’t care where it comes from. Do you think Rodgers stays in GB if TT doesn’t come up with the big $$$. He would have left for the highest bidder faster than you could say MVP. It’s all and only about the money and the league and the players know that. Thanks, Since ’61

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  9. Razer says:

    I have no problem with the D&D approach to building and maintaining a franchise. In this day of cap management, it is vital to have a steady source of cheap, young talent. Swing and a miss in the draft is a lot better than missing on a Mario Williams or Albert Haynesworth.

    Picking on the 2011 draft is not entirely fair as an assessment of Ted’s D&D reliance. We picked at the bottom and we had the crazy injury of Sherrod. Perhaps the writer should try to make the case using the 2010 draft. If anything, TT needs to ensure that his scouting and management talent is kept at the top. Our vulnerability comes when everything is on Ted’s shoulders and he doesn’t have good eyes in the field. If you are going to rely on the draft, then you better have the best scouting.

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    • Razer says:

      I should add that a great, teaching coaching staff is the other end of this deal. Young talent needs great coaching to develop. It is the second “D” in this formula

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    • Since '61 says:

      Razer – excellent points!!!
      Thanks, Since ’61

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  10. Tarynfor12 Tarynfor12 says:

    The draft this year is said to be the deepest in talent over all with DL(bigs only) being the lone anemic.

    If would be fair then to accept,more so the rumblings about Thompson not being the guru of drafting and remorse more for those who have left the front offices..As goes the adage that it takes three(3) years to evaluate a draft class,the same should be true of the ability of the guru.

    The winning of the Division and the subsequent entries into the playoffs should be applauded with zeal…not for the what many believe is a great offense,nor in spite of a defensive lacking…but much like the Patriots in their own division of teams who simply cannot get out of their own ways…year after year.

    In NE,Brady has now been for the last seven(7) years nothing more than an annual rerun…training camp,play season,win division,make playoffs,go home because of the constant blundering of the division (ahem) rivals.It seems that the Packers could perform the same feat with Rodgers if Thompson once again fails to obtain the defensive talent for the ‘whatever scheme’ being used after the ‘tweaking’ is performed that has been spoken from the coaching staff.

    The return of Rodgers was a blessing and a curse,in that for those who felt the season would reap more awards by getting a much needed higher draft pick to install in a talent depleted defense via he(Rodgers) be IR’ed and the opposed who feel that mere entry to the playoffs is the yearly goal while waving the banner with ‘You got to be in it to win it’. Though some have been awarded the lotto winning smiles,the probables are numbing.

    I had and hoped Rodgers to be Ir’ed for this very reason(high draft pick of dire need) but like any fan cheered when his return was official and immediately bought the lottery tickets in hopes of obtaining the ‘smile’.

    The lottery tickets purchased of late by Thompson on defense were it appears for drawings already passed,which has the same possibles of winning as his picks of players to succeed in the 3-4 scheme.

    It would be a shame to see yet another QB of true ‘Elite’ status to not hold high the Lombardi Trophy after the young age 30 as two others have already been subjected.

    This draft is crucial to the success that fans deserve and to silence any qualms of Thompsons ability to draft.

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  11. Pacfan459 says:

    TT hit it out of the park with that draft. We picked 32nd and we still ended up with Cobb in the second round. Before you start looking at the Packer players that failed in that draft you need to look at the overall draft class, it wasn’t very impressive. A lot of those players aren’t around anymore. Seriously pull it up and look at it, not a lot of names you will recognize as starters after round 1 and a few in round 2. The majority of this draft class was weak.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

    • Pigskin Paul says:

      I must disagree with the premise that 1 really good player makes a Draft successful. COBB alone doesn’t fill a roster.That’s an infield single not a HR,IMO. All teams make mistakes, but they have 2 B few & far between to maintain success year in and year out. In a deep Draft year WHITEY needs to really pick up some big contributors in 2014.

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      • David says:

        Cobb alone may not make a draft, but look at the drafts of the other teams. Did TT draft better than the other GM’s in that year?

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      • Pacfan459 says:

        My point is you can only draft talent when talent is available. In 2011 there wasn’t much talent available in the draft and we were picking last every round. Tell me the teams that drafted well near the bottom in 2011. Take the teams drafting 22-32 every round and then compare our draft to theirs in 2011. We did pretty well compared to the other teams.
        http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/draft/rounds/_/year/2011

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        • Ed Schoenfeld says:

          This is a little like being told to be happy your investment only lost 20% when the market lost 40%. It’s true, but the loss still hurts, aina?

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  12. GBPDAN says:

    I wasn’t saying break the bank, just add one middle of the road FA here and there. For example, last year we could have picked up a average safety at a decent price, which would have been 100 times better than MD Jennings or McMillan

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    • Ed Schoenfeld says:

      In March last year they thought they had 2 guys who could develop. Bringing in a UFA to start would have stunted that. As it turned out, neither MacMillan or Jennings stepped up enough. Yes, it turned out to be a mistake, but how do you (or TT) see that before it happens, and what was the cost of brining in any UFA clearly better than the two of them? To be clear, I’m asking for the *name* of a 2013 UFA Safety who signed for a reasonable contract and had a better season than Jennings. I’m not claiming guys like that didn’t exist, I’m just asking for a name or two for the sake of discussion.

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  13. Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

    Really good discussion here guys – and without hurling insults! See, it can be done!

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    • Ed Schoenfeld says:

      It’s why I keep reading, Al. Thanks for running a high quality site, and to everyone else who posts for having both brains and manners

      :-)

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  14. GBPDAN says:

    Your point is valid Ed, and it is
    why TT didn’t bring in a safety. The problem I’m having is that I just didn’t see either Jennings or McMillan as the complete safety this team needed in 2012. One flashed skills playing close to the line and as a decent tackler but bad in coverage, the other looked better in coverage, but showed no physical game, and neither did any part of their game particularly well. What I’m getting at is when you have players that don’t show the skills to be a instant starter, at a very important position like saftey, it’s better to have these players trickle on the field in spurts , behind and veteran, to develop their skills. Smith (the rookie the vikings drafted) showed enough overall skills to put on the field full time and let him define his craft. Smith was not a liability as a rookie. McMillan and Jennings were both complete liabilities and should not have been on the field full time. I, amongst others, we’re all wanting a safety before last season because we all knew we had a problem. I thought we would get one in the saftey heavy Draft last year, but we didn’t. Bringing in some type of middle tier guy with experience, that was just partially a liability , would have been better than what happened. I know you can’t have everything in the NFL today, and that this is more complicated than I’m making it out to be. This is a great point to this article, that you live and die by Draft and development. We just happened to die at the safety position, and other positions latley.

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