Green Bay Packers running back Johnathan Franklin runs drills during Friday's training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field. Franklin and fellow running back Eddie Lacy are mentioned by players as additions that can help the team immediately. / Evan Siegle / Press-Gazette Media
Las Vegas’ Super Bowl odds tell plenty about the NFC’s offseason.
The four conference teams with the best odds of winning the Super Bowl are the same four that advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs: The San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.
But according to Bovada.lv, the best odds go to the two that were most aggressive in the offseason: the 49ers, listed at 6-to-1, and the Seattle Seahawks, listed at 17-to-2.
And what about the Packers, who have the NFC’s third-best odds at 12-to-1?
General manager Ted Thompson remained true to building almost exclusively through the draft and improving from within. Thompson’s faith in that system has produced a Super Bowl win and championship contender in four of the last six years. But will it be enough to keep up with the 49ers and Seahawks this year?
“We have a lot of very good football players in this room,” tackle Bryan Bulaga said Friday after the Packers’ first practice of training camp. “I don’t think anyone in here looks at it as keeping up with the Joneses and signing a bunch of free agents. That’s just not how they operate here. I think everyone’s confident with the guys we have in the locker room. I know I’m confident with all the guys we have in the locker room.”
The history of free agency has shown that teams that win the offseason rarely win the real season. But it was hard not to think the Seahawks and 49ers helped themselves after last season, when they found franchise quarterbacks in dynamic first-year starters, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, respectively.
The Seahawks were by far the most aggressive of the contenders.
General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll made one of the biggest moves of the NFL offseason by trading for dynamic but mercurial receiver Percy Harvin. The Seahawks spent three draft picks (first- and seventh-rounders this year, and a third-rounder next year) and big money (a six-year, $67 million contract that included $25 million guaranteed) to give Wilson the big-play receiving threat he lacked last year.
The Seahawks spent another $15 million over two years on free-agent defensive end Cliff Avril (29 sacks the last three years for Detroit) and $5 million on a one-year deal for defensive end Michael Bennett (nine sacks for Tampa Bay last season).
The 49ers didn’t spend as freely but still made big news, adding two well-known though aging veterans at a cost of $7.5 million combined this season. They traded a sixth-round pick to acquire receiver Anquan Boldin ($6 million this year) and signed cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (one year, $1.5 million) as a free agent.
The Packers, on the other hand, made no trades and signed only one unrestricted free agent, backup tight end Matthew Mulligan for $820,000.
“We’ve seen what happens on ESPN, what comes across the message boards,” Packers receiver Randall Cobb said.
Still, there are no givens for how well the moves will pay off.
Harvin, for instance, is a game-changing talent but failed his physical for the start of training camp because of a hip injury. If he needs surgery, which appears to be a possibility, he could miss most or all of the season, which would be a huge loss for Seattle’s offense.
Boldin (32) and Asomugha (31) are former standouts, but they’re aging players who might end up being bigger names than performers. If their play doesn’t drop much if at all, they could help the 49ers significantly. But if the decline is big, which is possible at their ages and positions, one or both could be money and hope wasted.
“(They’re) good players,” said cornerback Jarrett Bush of the Seahawks’ and 49ers’ additions, “but I feel like we have some good players, too. Not just one player is going to be beat us, a whole team is going to beat us. We’ve got top-notch players, too. We’ve got Randall (Cobb), I feel like he’s just like Harvin. We have Jordy (Nelson), we have James (Jones), and we have running backs, so I’m definitely confident in our team. We just have to play in between the lines. I look forward to showing that to the world.”
The Packers’ hopes for getting back to the Super Bowl rest first with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is at his prime at age 29 and among the premier players in the game, along with help from this year’s draft. Several players mentioned running backs Eddie Lacy (second round) and Johnathan Franklin (fourth round) as additions that can help the team immediately.
“We know we have good football players in this room,” Bulaga said, “and we know we’ve played good football in the past, have won a lot of games. That’s great, but this is a new season, a new team, and we’ll find out Week 1.”
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