Youth Movement Begins Anew
by Mike Conklin
February 17, 2013
It seemed like just another press conference at the time. After the Packers wrapped up their rookie minicamp last May, Mike McCarthy stood in front of the podium and was asked about what kind of impact could be expected from the newest additions to the team. In light of recent events the past two weeks it is worth revisiting his answer, which seemed innocuous enough at the time.
"I think the way our program is designed tells you how we feel about young players," McCarthy said. "We've been a draft-and-development program going on year seven right now. It’s a young man’s league in my opinion...no disrespect to the older players. I think that’s a trend that’s only potentially going to pick up."
Now a year later, it becomes clear that no truer words have ever been spoken.
Over the course of nine days, the Packers said goodbye to Donald Driver and Charles Woodson. And although there has been no formal farewell, it seems a foregone conclusion that Greg Jennings will be playing for another team next season. Jennings will turn 30 in September.
"No disrespect to the older players..."
Although it always grabs headlines when a team moves on without some of its beloved players, none of these stories should really come as a shock. Driver chose to walk away, as he would likely be little more than a role player next season even if he latched on elsewhere. Woodson is only two years removed from playing a leading role in the championship run in 2010, but has also suffered two broken collar bones since then and has switched from cornerback to safety. If he remained on the team, he would have commanded $10 million even though he turns 37 in October. As for Jennings, we predicted last May that 2012 would likely be his last with the Packers, so this should come as no surprise.
These personnel decisions serve as yet another illustration of the philosophy espoused by Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy. Discounting Jeff Saturday (who has yet to file his retirement papers), only two players over the age of 30 are under contract with the Packers next year. John Kuhn reached that milestone last season, and Ryan Pickett is the elder statesman of the team at 33. Based on the team's track record (coupled with McCarthy's comments above), it seems very unlikely that they would sign another age 30-plus player in free agency.
These facts could be making A.J. Hawk feel uneasy these days. Hawk is 29 years old, and with a salary cap hit north of $5 million it seems like he could be a casualty if the Packers feel the need to prune some more salary and make way for more youth. Desmond Bishop should return to his role and D.J. Smith may be able to fill Hawk's place in the defense. Hawk is a consummate professional and embodies "Packer People," but once players hit a certain age that only goes so far (unless your name is Donald Driver).
When the dust settled after the final training camp cuts last August, the Packers had surprisingly kept ten rookies to fill out their opening day roster. As they are likely to gain another compensatory pick or two since Matt Flynn and Scott Wells signed elsewhere during last year's free agency period, they will have plenty of ammunition to add more youth to the roster this time around as well.
After all, it's a young man's game. Just ask Mike McCarthy.
Photo Credit: USA Today