Posted Sat Feb 26th by Kris Burke
If anyone read my introductory article, you will notice that I disclosed the fact that I have dual loyalties when it comes to NFL fandom: the Denver Broncos as well as the Green Bay Packers.
As you likely know (and if you don’t, you live under a rock), the Green Bay Packers recently won Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 31-25. The Denver Broncos, meanwhile, finished 4-12 and hold the number two overall pick in the NFL Draft this coming April.
Since one of my teams is currently at the top of the NFL and the other is dangerously close to the cellar, I figured that now would be a good time to ask:
What can the Denver Broncos learn from the Green Bay Packers?
1. Draft and develop
If there’s one thing Packers general manager Ted Thompson is famous for (aside from trading that Favre guy) it’s his knack of finding talent players in the draft. While Thompson has stuck by this philosophy every year since he took over as GM in 2005, no one really paid much attention to it until the Packers made their Super Bowl run this year with an insane amount of injuries.
John Elway and Brian Xanders would be wise to adopt the same approach. While free agency has its uses, the policy of developing from within pays dividends down the road and can set the team up for the long run as the Packers are. There may be growing pains for a year or two, but faith in the players you have instead of looking outside the organization will pay off down the road.
Yes, Charles Woodson was the lone “big name” free agent he signed, but he has stuck by and large to his draft philosophy. Thompson has been criticized in the past for sticking so stubbornly to that concept, but no one is arguing with him now that he has a ring.
2. Appreciate your fans, but don’t let them dictate your decisions
If Thompson had followed what the fans wanted, Brett Favre would have remained a Packer in 2008 and Aaron Rodgers would now be slinging touchdowns for another club (perhaps the Raiders? *shudder*). The Packers also would have endured the soap opera that is Randy Moss while players like Jermichael Finley and maybe even Greg Jennings and Donald Driver would be in other uniforms.
Fans are key role in any organization. Hell, fans of the Packers actually OWN the team due to its unique ownership structure. The fans bring in the money every year and deserve to be treated with the utmost respect. That all said, there are a lot of armchair general managers out there who think they can do better than the actual regime and will call for firings until they turn blue.
Elway and Xanders need to develop thick skin for their jobs. Elway in particular is used to being adored by fans but his new responsibilities will inevitably lead to a time when he is going to have to make a decision that, while correct, may not sit well with a good chunk of the Broncos fan base.
Their decision regarding the team’s starting quarterback could be that decision. While fans by a large majority back Tim Tebow, Kyle Orton may give the Broncos their best chance to win at this point in time.
Elway and coach John Fox must make the right decision here, not necessarily the popular one. Remember, Aaron Rodgers sat for three years and look how much good that ended up doing.
3. Pick your quarterback and stick to him
Speaking of the quarterback decision, once it is made the Broncos need to stand firm behind whichever player they choose.
After Favre’s initial retirement in March 2008, the Packers named Rodgers their starter and stood by him even when Favre began to waffle about coming back or staying retired. While the Broncos situation is a bit different, they will still need to give the starter their full support unless he either A) gets hurt or B) really stinks up the joint.
Playing musical quarterbacks does no team any good (one could argue the Raiders may have made the playoffs last season if they stuck by ONE quarterback) so once Fox decides on his starter for 2011, he needs to abide by that decision.
If it’s Tebow, then get rid of Orton quickly so that he doesn’t become a distraction. If it’s Orton, then make sure Tebow is clear that he isn’t ready and should Orton perform at a high level, prepare to get high value for one of the two.
Pick your quarterback of the future this season so you don’t have to endure these questions every year.
4. Don’t show your hand
Around Wisconsin, Thompson’s press conferences are notorious for being a whole lot of nothing. Like Bill Belichick, Thompson is a master of saying something while saying nothing. He never tips his hand as to what his personnel moves are going to be and that keeps other teams guessing during draft time and free agency.
Elway swore he would usher in a new era of transparency between the organization and its fans and has lived up to that promise by tweeting breaking news, scooping all the local beat writers in the process. While that is all well and good, secrecy from time to time is a good thing. Finding good NFL players is a chess match and announcing your thoughts before making a move can be a fatal flaw.
Elway needs to keep that in mind moving forward.
Now this isn’t to say the Packers are the perfect example of an NFL franchise, but the Lombardi Trophy they just won should speak volumes. No longer can NFL teams use the “injury excuse” as a reason for falling short of expectations.
With 15 players on injured reserve, the Packers were able to lean on their depth and were still able to win the Super Bowl. They have set the example for teams going forward on how to deal with injuries and still get where you want to be at the end of the year.
The Broncos hopefully took notes during the playoffs. With Elway having such little experience, he would be wise to learn from watching the Packers win the Super Bowl with what amounts to 25% of an active roster on injured reserve.
If a team that decimated can do it, so can the Broncos.