On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: MurphyTakes5@packers.com.
The annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is widely viewed as the unofficial start of the new league year. The main purpose of the combine is to evaluate draft-eligible players. There are really three main ways that the prospective players are evaluated — medical examinations, physical testing (including events such as the 40-yard dash and the bench press) and interviews. The interviews are used to get to know the players better, to find out about their character and how important football is to them. Each team can interview 60 players. These tend to be fairly formal, and include reviews of film from their games. These sessions can be helpful in determining how well they know the game. There are also more informal sessions that take place in the train station in Indianapolis.
The combine is always important for the Packers, but I think it is especially important for us this year. First, with Brian Gutekunst taking over as GM, it will be an important time for him to start to finalize his thoughts on the players he would like to draft or sign as undrafted free agents. With 12 draft picks this year, we have a great opportunity to really improve our team. The combine also provides an opportunity for Brian and Russ Ball to talk with agents for our players and to start planning what free agents we may want to sign.
The combine has become a big media event, and, for the past two years, a spectator event. At its core, though, it is still a job interview. Hopefully, we will use this process to make the right choices to improve our team.
Now, on to your questions….
Jason from Howard, WI
How is the new structure within football working out?
Thanks, Jason. I think it is working well so far, but it is still early in the offseason. We are meeting on a regular basis, and I believe it has improved communication. I’m hopeful that the improved communication will lead to better decision making. Like anything else in life, time will tell, but I have been encouraged in the early stages. I’ve been asked by many fans this offseason, since I will be more involved in football, if I will be making decisions such as what players to draft. While I will be more involved in our football operations, I will not be making football decisions. We have good people in place to make those decisions.
Bill from Phoenix, AZ
I was disappointed to see that the arbitrator ruled against the Packers in the Martellus Bennett case. Do we have an option to appeal?
I was also disappointed to see the arbitrator’s decision, Bill (and probably even more disappointed than you!). I really can’t get into the details, but we think the decision was flawed and plan to appeal. The appeals go to a panel of three arbitrators.
Joan from Nassau, NY
I’m very concerned about the future of the NFL, and football generally, because of concussions. I know that many parents are reluctant to let their sons play football, and I think the TV ratings are down because people don’t want to see the players get injured. What is the NFL doing to reduce concussions in the game?
Great question, Joan. I’ve noted here in the past that concussions are, without question, the biggest issue facing the league. We’ve taken a number of steps in recent years to reduce concussions (including rules changes and limits on contact in practice), but last year there were a total of 291 concussions in the league (in practices and games), the most ever. Also, concussions are now the most common injury in the game. So, we obviously have more work to do. The NFL hired Dr. Allen Sills last year as the league’s first ever chief medical officer. I’ve been very impressed with Allen, and the plan he’s put together to make a difference in this area. It is based on improving enforcement, education and engineering. Specifically, Allen thinks we can significantly reduce concussions by working with coaches to reduce preseason practice concussions (which went up 73 percent last year), by encouraging players to wear better-performing helmets (studies show that there is a direct relationship between the better-performing helmets in testing and fewer concussions) and by educating players about the risks involved with hitting while lowering and leading with the head. The helmet was designed to be protective, but, over time, players have shown that they have no fear in leading with and using the helmet as a weapon. We have a lot of work to do, but it is crucial to the future of the league. It is also imperative that we work closely with the NCAA, as well as high schools and youth football, on this key issue.
Tom from St. Paul, MN
Treating everyone kindly and with respect is always necessary, but sometimes we worry about infringing on the privacy of “celebrities” like yourself, coaches, players and others in the Packers organization. Are there some good “rules of thumb” when approaching a Packer in public?
First, I don’t consider myself a “celebrity,” so I’m glad you put celebrity in quotations. My experience in Green Bay with fans has been very positive. I think people typically are very respectful of my privacy. Obviously, each person within the organization will view this issue differently, and our players are the most impacted by fans. I would say the most important thing is to be cognizant of the location. For instance, when a player is eating with his family at a restaurant, it is not a good time to approach him. I’ve been approached by fans in the bathroom. Again, not a good idea. I know a lot of players are sensitive about signing autographs if they think the requester is a collector and will look to sell the autograph. For this reason, I think Bart Starr personalizes every autograph he signs. My experience is that most players are flattered to be recognized in public and are happy to sign autographs, especially if the autograph is for a child. The reality is that the average player only plays three years, and they will be extremely excited to be recognized when their playing days are over.
Scott from Johnston, IA
I often wonder if being the president of the Packers, a public entity, is a disadvantage when dealing with the rest of the wealthy and powerful NFL team owners. Do they treat you as a peer and with an equal voice? Are there topics and/or matters that you have to deal with differently because of the uniqueness of the Packers organization? Look forward to your response, and Go Pack Go!!
Very interesting question, Scott. Overall, as I’ve mentioned here in the past, I think our ownership structure is an advantage. Our fans have a much stronger tie to the team than most fans, and this helps us in terms of support at Lambeau Field and on the road as well as in areas like our Pro Shop and website. For the most part, I would say that I am treated as a peer by the owners, although there is certainly an awareness that we are different. As a president and not an owner, I don’t have any skin or investment in the team. I’ve found that on football and business issues, though, the Packers are respected across the league due to the success we’ve achieved on and off the field – especially in terms of our revenue generation, where we ranked eighth last year despite the fact that we are by far the smallest market in the league. With regard to topics that we deal with differently, I think the biggest area would be the ownership issues of the other teams. For instance, issues related to the sale of equity in a team or the sale of a team. We just don’t deal with these types of issues.