The Green Bay Packers watched Thursday night as some of their primary rivals in the NFC tripped all over themselves in the first round of the NFL draft while trying to keep up with the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Meanwhile, Packers General Manager Ted Thompson stood pat, waited until the final pick of the round at No. 32, and chose the best player available, offensive tackle Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State.
Both the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints gambled away high draft picks in a desperate effort to stay within striking distance of the Packers.
You can bet the Packers’ resounding 48-21 NFC divisional playoff victory over Atlanta three months ago was still fresh in the minds of the Falcons. Their response was to trade up to the No. 6 overall pick and grab dynamic Alabama receiver Julio Jones, who will give quarterback Matt Ryan another dangerous target besides Roddy White.
But the cost of that move was staggering. The Falcons parted with first-, second- and fourth-round picks this year and first- and fourth-rounders next season for the right to draft Jones. Talk about sticker shock. The Falcons essentially mortgaged their future for a chance to make a Super Bowl run in 2011.
In the process, they neglected their defense, which could be problematic. The Falcons got torched by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the playoffs and could use some reinforcements on that side of the ball, but trading away multiple picks isn’t going to help them accomplish that.
The Saints followed the Falcons’ lead when they traded a second-round pick this season and a first-rounder next year to New England for the right to select Alabama running back Mark Ingram at No. 28. Like the Falcons, the Saints bolstered their offense but did nothing to aid their defense, which got lit up by the Seattle Seahawks in a first-round playoff defeat last season.
In contrast to the Falcons’ and Saints’ frenzied efforts, there was Thompson, one cool draft customer who has stocked the Packers’ roster so well that there was no need to climb the draft board or trade away precious picks for need.
“We were comfortable sitting and watching,” Thompson said. “We felt the board was deep enough to do that.”
Last year, Thompson watched as tackle Bryan Bulaga fell to the Packers at No. 23, and the same thing happened this time around with Sherrod. Just like that, the Packers have a pair of young offensive tackles that could serve as bookends for the next decade.
Any opportunity Thompson gets to keep Rodgers healthy and happy is a move in the right direction.
The best part is that in neither case did Thompson draft one of his future tackles out of desperation. Bulaga eased his way into the Packers’ starting lineup as a rookie when Mark Tauscher was lost for the year. As long as veteran Chad Clifton stays healthy, there is no need to rush Sherrod into starting status.
That’s a luxury the Packers have because of Thompson’s steady approach to the draft. Over the years he has coveted draft picks and has refused to reach for prospects. On occasion, he has traded up to select a player he really likes.
That’s also the reason Thompson’s NFC rivals are scrambling to keep pace.
Mike Vandermause is sports editor of the Press-Gazette.