A quick look at each of Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson's first-round NFL draft picks. (April 14, 2017)
Last weekend’s NFL draft was a great reminder for anyone who follows the Green Bay Packers.
It had nothing to do with general manager Ted Thompson’s picks. It had everything to do with the big move by NFC North rival Chicago.
If you’ve been following the Packers since only the early 1990s, you have no clue what life is like in most NFL cities. During that time, the Packers have had only two quarterbacks, and they’re two of the all-time best: Brett Favre, who’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Aaron Rodgers, who will be there five years after he retires.
That’s rarer than rare. The Cleveland and Los Angeles Rams had a combined 13-year run (1945-57) with Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin, Hall of Famers both. The San Francisco 49ers had Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young as their starting quarterbacks from 1981-98. And Indianapolis will join that list if Peyton Manning’s successor, Andrew Luck, pans out like early signs suggest.
When you have quarterbacks like that, you’re what, 80 percent of the way there?
Most franchises are lucky to get one Hall of Famer at the game’s key position, let alone back-to-back. A handful have one right now.
Everyone else is either hoping, looking or making do. And plenty get stuck on that merry-go-round for years and years.
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So there were the Bears, with the third pick overall last weekend, trading three draft picks (a third-rounder, a fourth and a 2018 third) to move up only one spot for quarterback Mitch Trubisky. It was a stunner.
“I thought if they really wanted him they still could have gotten him where they were,” said a high-ranking pro scout with another NFL team.
Bears GM Ryan Pace had to suspect that too, yet he made the deal. And he did it knowing that history says there’s a 50-50 shot Trubisky won’t cut it. In the five drafts from 2008-12, for instance, 10 quarterbacks went in the top-10 picks. Four (Luck, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan) are keepers; the other six range from marginal-but-still-to-be-determined (Ryan Tannehill, Sam Bradford) to outright busts (Robert Griffin III, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Mark Sanchez).
Yet it’s hard to blame Pace. The Bears have been in a terrible cycle of searching for a real quarterback for 30 years – you might even argue since Sid Luckman retired after the 1950 season. How else besides desperation do you explain their sticking with fatally flawed Jay Cutler for seven years?
Problem is, there’s only one way out of the cycle, and that usually means taking chances. Ron Wolf freed the Packers by trading a first-round pick for Favre, who was a third-stringer in Atlanta. A lot of people thought he was crazy at the time.
So it is for Pace and the Bears. Sounds like the deal didn’t go over well in Chicago or nationally. Pace didn’t have to trade up. Trubisky, a one-year starter in college, doesn’t have the track record to justify taking him that high. Both very well could be true.
But if you have an especially good feeling about a guy, you do what you must to get him. If that fails, you (or your successor) tries again. And so on. It’s a brutal cycle, but what choice is there?
Do nothing? That was Cleveland last year. The Browns traded out of the second spot after the Rams gave up four top-100 picks to take Jared Goff at No. 1 overall. The Browns could have had Carson Wentz but went instead for a haul of extra picks. Early signs suggest Wentz might be really good. If that’s how it goes, I don’t care how many picks Cleveland got, the mistake was huge.
So Pace swung big, and the question for the Packers and the rest of the NFC North is whether the Bears finally have found their man.
Trubisky probably will sit a year with Mike Glennon on hand. That should help his chances long term. But he was a one-year starter, and that’s always a worry. Why didn’t he start earlier? What might we know if he’d played more?
I spoke this week with a scout for a team that was looking for a quarterback in this draft. He wouldn’t say where Trubisky ranked on his board, but he thought the quarterback might have the “it” factor despite his inexperience as a starter.
“He can make throws and carry his team,” the scout said. “He’s got that type of ability and that persona where guys will believe in him, and he’ll help win games that way. As opposed to being a piece of the puzzle, he’s got a chance to be the first piece.”
We’ll know in three, maybe four years. If it works, the Bears will be in business. If not, it’s back on the merry-go-round. All the while, Rodgers probably still will be leading the Packers.