There are great debates currently raging with Packer fans and sports writers on the 2020 Packers draft. Did the Packers secure an All-Pro quarterback for the foreseeable future? Did they forfeit winning another Super Bowl with Aaron Rogers by focusing on future needs and leaving holes in the current roster? Long term impacts will take years to resolve. The short term impact will play out on Lambeau Field in 2020.
General Managers in the NFL have a limited number of draft picks and salary cap space. Each team has different strengths and GM’s must prioritize team needs. Each plan includes a certain amount of risk that must be balanced with potential long term and short term rewards. When plans to fill team needs succeed, teams win. When they fail, teams lose.
Packer fans are hoping history will repeat itself and Love will understudy for three or more years with a healthy and a dominant Rogers continuing to lead championship caliber teams. Ultimately, the dream could come true if Love becomes another 15 year starter and Super Bowl winner. But history has a way of being reviewed with rose colored glasses. To truly analyze the potential impact of this draft an in-depth review of the 2005 Packer draft and Ted Thompson’s surrounding free agency decisions may help. Ted Thompson’s initial successes and failures had real on field on off field impacts on the 2005 Packers. His 2005 draft success brought an eventual Super Bowl. His failures in 2005 also led to a 4 win season in 2005, staff firings, and the Packers missing the playoffs in two consecutive seasons.
The 2004 Packers won the NFC North Division and made it to the playoffs as a wild card team with a 10-6 record. The Packers lost that playoff game to the Minnesota Vikings, only the second playoff loss in Packer history at Lambeau field.
The 2005 playoff loss was the end of the road for Mike Sherman as general manager of the Packers. Ted Thompson was hired and was in control of the Packer offseason, including the NFL draft. Before the draft, the Packers had two quality starting guards that were up for contract extensions. Marco Rivera and Mike Wahl were allowed to depart in free agency. They signed with Dallas and Carolina, respectively. The loss of two key offensive lineman made this position the key team need in 2005. To replace these two All-Pro caliber guards, Thompson signed low cost journeyman, Adrian Klemm and Matt O’Dwyer.
The Packers also had needs on defense. Reggie White had retired after the 1998 Season and the interior of the Packer defense was struggling to hang on with Grady Jackson and Cleditus Hunt starting on the defensive line. The Packers best defensive back, Darryl Sharper, was released by Thompson after refusing to take a pay cut. This clearly made safety and defensive line priority needs. While wide receiver Javon Walker was making contract demands, the Packers still had Walker, Donald Driver, Antonio Chapman and Robert Ferguson under contract.
In 2005, the Packers eleven draft picks included: one first round pick (24); two second round picks (51 and 58); two fourth round picks; (115 and 125); and two picks in the 5th, 6th, and seventh round.
The first pick, Aaron Rogers, is the one every Packer fan remembers. A review of players still available at the time Rogers was picked included guard Logan Mankins. Mankins stepped in as a rookie for New England. He was voted to seven pro bowls. Mankins was taken in round 1, eight picks behind Rogers. Taken between Mankins and Rogers were pro bowl players Roddy White (WR) and Heath Miller (TE). At the time the Packers best tight end was Bubba Franks, known more for his blocking than his route running.
Another All-Pro guard was also available in this draft. Evan Mathis was taken in the third round at pick number 79, by the Panthers. Thompson elected not to address the guard position until round five. His pick, Junius Coston, would never prove to be a reliable starter for the Packers. Two picks behind Coston the Eagles picked Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole. Thompson also picked another guard with his last pick in the seventh round, Will Witticker, who also failed as a starter when forced into action his rookie season.
With his second pick in the second round, Thompson drafted wide receiver Terrence Murphy. Still available to draft were Mathis and defensive tackle Justin Tuck, who like Mathis would also be taken in the third round. While wide receiver became a need in 2005 due to injuries to Javon Walker and Robert Furguson, Murphy never had the chance to show the potential of an NFL star as he was quickly out of the league due to a neck injury.
While Thompson hit big with Aaron Rogers and hit again with safety Nick Collins in the second round which was a crucial need of the Packers, his plan to go with low level free agency replacements at guard and to wait until late in the draft to try and find future replacements failed miserably and had drastic repercussions. The 2005 Packers missed the playoffs and would not return for three years. The number of sacks allowed doubled from 2004 even though Farve remained relatively healthy as compared to an injury ridden 2004. Every Packer running back who began the season on the team suffered an injury. The team record at season end stood at 4-12.
The fallout was swift. Coaches were fired at the end of the season. Three of the four guards that comprised Thompson’s replacement plan were gone after that year.
The similarities of the 2005 and 2020 draft bring both hope and concern for the 2020 Packers. Both QB (Rogers) and WR (Murphy) were long term potential picks that did not focus on current critical needs. If Thompson had drafted his first four picks focused on short term, critical team needs, his draft in 2005 could have landed two All-Pro guards, an All Pro safety and an All Pro defensive end. Thompson’s draft is still judged a success because of the Super Bowl winning former league MVP quarterback Thompson drafted. But, it can be argued that Thompson and the 2005 draft did not meet the urgent needs of the team for 2005 and Packers staff, fans and team paid a real and immediate price for the failure to find two quality guards for the 2005 team. Blatant hindsight accepted, if Thompson had drafted Mathis with the teams 58th selections, instead of Murphy, and Tuck in the 5th instead of Coston, the 2005 Packers may have been able to compete for their division in 2005.
This year the Packers let former All-Pro right tackle Brian Bulaga walk in free agency and are trying to replace him with a low priced free agent with a mediocre performance and medical history. As in 2005, the Packers also failed to address this critical need early in the draft. Although one could argue the Packers addressed offensive tackle in the 5th round with Jon Runyon, he is already being discussed as a guard. If Runyon is a guard, then the Packers have failed to address this crucial need with any pick in the 2020 draft.
It will indeed be interesting to see if in years to come the Packers will hit the Jackpot with their first round QB pick. Fans must hope that the failure to address the offensive tackle position in the early rounds of the 2020 draft does not impact the Packers 2020 team as Thompson’s failings did in 2005.