Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We Need a Running Back

It's now 10 days since Ryan Grant blew out his ankle and went on IR, and the silence from the Packers' front office about making any sort of trade at running back is deafening.  Last Sunday, for me, confirmed that our running game is going to be anemic at best relying on Brandon Jackson to carry the load.  It's not that I have anything against Jackson -- I just think he's a better third-down, change-of-pace guy rather than a work-horse kind of guy.  Is Dimitri Nance really all Ted Thompson intends to do to try to back fill our backfield?

Comrade Dimitri
I'll admit I'm abnormally hung up on the Dimitri thing.  Particularly his name -- it's just not a football name.  If I want to hack a computer mainframe, give me a Dimitri.  If I'm casting villains for the next Iron Man movie, double down on Dimitri and throw in a Boris.  If I need to invade a failed state in Central Asia to take over their oil reserves, give me an army of Dimitris.  If I'm setting up a Brezhnev-era puppet dictatorship a la Cuba, Comrade Dimitri would make perfect sense.  But I'm having a hard time getting comfortable with a Dimitri as our running back.  I am secretly hoping that by mercilessly satirizing the guy that he will make me eat crow and turn out to be a stud, just like Ryan Grant turned out to be when we picked him up off the Giants' practice squad.  But the likelihood of that is low.

Even if the guy eventually develops into a great player, we need someone who can make an impact now.  Hasn't Thompson read the newspapers?  It's the Packers manifest destiny to go to the Super Bowl this season, and he's going to let it slip away because he won't pony up for a legit running back??  Thompson is great at scouting young talent, but he is obviously inept at doing trades.  In his 5 years as GM, Thompson has been crazy stingy with the trades.  Besides Ryan Grant (acquired in a trade with the Giants for a 6th-round pick in 2007) the only player Thompson has traded for who is still on the Packers' roster is safety Derrick Martin, who, by the way, is riding the bench.

Greg Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel posted a recent column about former Packers official Andrew Brandt's account of the organization's attempts to sign Randy Moss back in 2007.  It gives a pretty interesting window into Thompson's mindset, and makes me less optimistic about him engineering a trade than a box of Krispy Kremes at a Weight Watchers meeting.  Thompson seems to just myopically focus on building the team through youth -- the more raw and inexperienced the better.  He's probably at a Texas junior high right now scouting players for the 2018 team.

The Packers' front office has also been stingy on salaries.  Last year, the Packers had the fourth-lowest median salary in the league.  This is, in part, because of the team's proclivity for young players, who don't cost much.  We draft them, we develop them, and then they sign with the Vikings.  Let's break out some of that stock-piled cash and sign ourselves a legitimate running back!

Meanwhile, in terms of trade bait, the two names I've heard suggested most are A.J. Hawk, particularly after his public disgruntlement over not playing last week, and Donald Lee.  The Buffalo News speculated about a possible Hawk-Lynch deal now that the teams have faced each other.  I happen to like both those guys a lot, but we have depth at both linebacker and tight end.  So I would probably deal either of them for an impact guy at running back.  My preference would be to do a deal in exchange for future draft picks, but Ted holds onto those tighter than a Vikings fan gripping a deep-fried Twinkie.  So I don't see that happening.

My best guess is that Thompson is taking a "wait and see" approach -- hoping that the Jackson-Kuhn tandem will be effective enough, or, perhaps, gambling that injured rookie James Starks will make a difference when he returns from the PUP on October 18.  The risk in that philosophy is that any running back worth trading for will already be gone.  As happens most seasons, the injuries are mounting around the league, and a lot of teams will be shopping for running backs.  Consider:

  • Saints have lost Reggie Bush for at least 6 weeks and are reportedly working out free-agent running back Ladell Betts.
  • Patriots' Kevin Faulk tore his ACL and will likely be put on IR.
  • Falcons' back-up running back Jerious Norwood has a torn ACL and is on IR.
  • Giants' Brandon Jacobs is throwing temper tantrums and throwing his helmet into the stands.  Wouldn't be surprised to see the Giants look for a new back.

These teams and more who are just underwhelmed with their starters or are looking to add depth will all be on the market for any potential trade at running back.  Regardless, the clock is ticking, with the October 19 trade deadline looming.  Bottom line, I hope someone at Packers' headquarters has something up their sleeve, or we could look back at this season as the one that got away.

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