Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Packers Should Sign Steven Jackson

Earlier this week, the Patriots restructured Tom Brady's deal in order to free up cap space this season and next. This move was lauded because Tom Brady was supposedly being selfless (Deadspin and Steve have debunked that), and more importantly for my purposes, because it gave the Patriots the ability to pick up the one player through free agency that they've seemingly lacked the last few seasons. The Patriots consistently make and lose in the playoffs. They lose, in my opinion, because teams have been able to exploit a glaring weakness caused by the lack of one specific player (in previous years it was a shutdown corner post-Asante Samuel and these past two years it has been a receiver capable of stretching the field, clearing valuable space for their bread and butter underneath routes). Tom Brady is 36 now and it is pretty obvious that the Patriots are going to make all possible efforts to ensure that they don't fall one player short of a 4th Super Bowl. Instead of filling their holes with castoffs like Aqib Talib or over-the-hill former stars like Brandon Lloyd and Chad Ochocinco, the word is that they will go after a top-flight player like Mike Wallace.

This brings me to the Packers, my favorite team, and an organization that has landed two of the greatest defensive free agents ever (Reverend Reggie White and Heisman Trophy winner/badass Charles Woodson). The past two seasons, and basically since Ryan Grant went down with an ankle injury in week 1 of the 2010 season, they've hindered Aaron Rodgers's ability to succeed because they don't have a running back that defenses respect. During the Packers' Super Bowl run, James Starks gave the Packers a good enough running game that teams had to respect play action and the Packers were able to get into manageable second down situations. However, in the past two seasons, the Packers have trotted out all kinds of shit behind the league's best quarterback and hoped that they could win a championship despite this weakness. It obviously didn't work. To me, a league-average running game is the Packers' biggest need. That's why they should sign Steven Jackson.

Steven Jackson is a thirty-year-old running back, which obviously raises a huge red flag, but he's been durable (15 or more games the past 4 seasons) and he's managed to average over 4 yards per carry despite basically being the Rams' entire offense. He voided his deal with St. Louis and there is speculation that Atlanta will use him to replace Michael Turner, and other teams including the Packers, Lions, Steelers, and Colts have been floated as potential destinations for the nine-year veteran.

I'm strongly in favor of getting Jackson because I've watched the Colts and Patriots fail to make every possible effort to win during the prime of their quarterbacks. Tom Brady hasn't won a title since 2004 and Peyton Manning since 2006 largely because their teams have been one player short. Their owners were basically content (with the exception of the Moss/Brady 2007 Patriots) to take teams with a good but not overwhelming chance of winning the Super Bowl and hope that they catch enough breaks to win three or four playoff games.

The issue I have with this is that football isn't baseball, where you just have to make the dance and hope to get hot at the right moment. Playing your best at the right moment is certainly an important component of winning the Super Bowl, but I believe that the teams that have won in recent years did so because they lacked a single glaring weakness. The 2012 Ravens could run and throw and defend the run and pass. The 2007 and 2011 Giants were also multi-dimensional and their biggest weakness (secondary) was irrelevant because of their biggest strength (pass rushing beasts).

The Packers are hoping that their ability to pass can overcome their weakness in the running game. However, we've seen the past three seasons that defensive ends are just sprinting up the field, pooh-poohing any chance of a successful draw and sacking the Packers' franchise player repeatedly. Aaron Rodgers succeeds in spite of his line and running game due to his athleticism and smart decision-making (seriously, imagine if Manning or Brady had to run for their life on half of their dropbacks. This is why, to me, he's the best quarterback in the league). This strategy gives the Packers a good chance to win the Super Bowl every year, and once in the past three years they've gotten the breaks necessary to win it all, but the Packers have the best quarterback in his prime. Having a good chance isn't enough.

Signing or alternatively drafting a running back that gives the Packers an average run game can elevate a great offense into an unstoppable offense. Rolling the dice with a big free agent or a high draft pick might not be the Packers' typical philosophy, which is generally advisable, but the pieces are in place to win now. I don't want to look back at Rodgers when he's 36 and say, if only he'd had a running game, how many championships we'd have won.

Sign Steven Jackson or Law Firm or whoever else, Ted Thompson. But refusing to spend the money and hoping to catch the breaks in the playoffs is a losing strategy. The Packers have the ability to be the best team in the NFL by far with just a little bit of balls. If they can improve their chances of winning from 15% to 25-30% with a league-average running game (and I believe they can), then they should do it. Rodgers is in his prime, the older generation of Brees, Manning, and Brady are aging, and the next wave of Luck, RGIII, Newton, and Kapernick (fuck you Russell Wilson you aren't making my list) aren't ready yet. The time is ripe for the Packers to make a bold move and win now--I'm just hoping Ted Thompson realizes this before it is too late.

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