GREEN BAY—General Manager Ted Thompson isn’t one to overdramatize, but the pregnant pause during his football report to the team’s shareholders on Wednesday at Lambeau Field sounded a bit intentional.
“2012 was a good season,” Thompson began his annual review, “but …”
That three-letter word hung there for a moment the same way a three-digit number, 579, hangs over the Packers’ last game. Both represent the playoff loss in San Francisco and a second straight postseason exit in the divisional round following the franchise’s 13th world championship three seasons ago.
Last year, the Packers joined the Patriots as the only two teams in the league with at least 10 regular-season wins each of the last four years. They also became the only team in the NFC to qualify for the playoffs each of the last four years, extending a modern run of success to 15 playoff appearances in the last 20 years, but …
“We’re never quite satisfied,” Thompson continued. “There are very high standards here with the Green Bay Packers. We understand that, and we understand there was disappointment in the end.”
With that, Thompson stopped looking back and started looking forward.
Without mentioning anyone by name, he acknowledged that this year’s team won’t have some “good players, good Packers” who departed during the offseason, as Donald Driver retired, Charles Woodson and Desmond Bishop were released and Greg Jennings left via free agency, among other transactions.
Thompson then rattled off the names of the 2013 draft class, with first-round pick Datone Jones and running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin receiving the loudest applause from the roughly 13,000 in attendance, an audience augmented by 11,500 online viewers.
Throughout his address, Thompson reiterated a couple of his mantras, one being that while the rookies will be asked to “pitch in and help this team win,” the veterans “will determine our success.” Had he specifically noted those veterans, the list no doubt would have begun with Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, who received two of the largest contracts in franchise history in the offseason.
Related to Thompson’s reliance on veteran leadership is his belief that the bulk of the team’s improvement will come from within, under Mike McCarthy and a coaching staff that’s returning intact.
“I thank God every day that he’s the Green Bay Packers head coach,” Thompson said of McCarthy, whom he hired 7 ½ years ago.
“The NFL is a tough business. It’s all about getting ready for what’s next – the next play, the next game, the next season. We feel good about this team and we’re looking forward to the journey in 2013.”
To many fans, that journey will begin in the same place the last one ended, in San Francisco on Sept. 8. For those in football operations, it begins with the start of training camp this week, with the first practice slated for Friday morning.
Speaking to reporters immediately after the roughly 90-minute meeting, President/CEO Mark Murphy called the excitement of starting anew “palpable” around Lambeau Field.
Everything from the new south end zone to the latest phase of stadium development at the Oneida Nation gate to the opening of Cabela’s as the “gateway” to the forthcoming Titletown district is helping to build that excitement, Murphy said.
If there’s anything tempering it, it’s the league-wide emphasis on health and safety issues Murphy touched on during his President’s address to the shareholders. The NFL continues to make rule changes that aren’t always popular – the latest being the “crown of the helmet” rule this year – while litigating the concussion lawsuit brought by hundreds of former players.
Both from the perspective of the game’s talent and fan bases, the potential negative long-term impact on the game can’t be denied, Murphy said, if concussions and other health and safety issues aren’t addressed. Some were with the practice and contact limitations in the current collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union, but there’s more to be dealt with on the game field.
“I’m not saying the world is ending, I’m not Chicken Little, but it’s a real concern, particularly concussions,” Murphy told reporters. “When I was playing, you never thought that having a concussion would create problems down the road. It was just never a thought.
“Now, there’s so much written about problems players are having, and is it related to concussions. I think it’s a real concern.”
Murphy pointed to the sport of boxing as a cautionary tale.
“You think back to the ’50s and ’60s and how popular boxing was, and it just got to a point where the injuries and the health problems of the sport were just so bad that it turned off fans,” he said. “I think that’s the concern that we all have.
“The popularity of the NFL may not have ever been at a higher level in terms or ratings and attendance, but it can change quickly, so I think we have to be – I wouldn’t say overly aggressive – but we have to be willing to really look at the game and make changes that will make it safer.”
Murphy, who is on the league’s competition committee, wouldn’t speculate as to what those changes might be, but he spoke generally of an effort to “change the culture” with perhaps more new rules but also staunch enforcement of current ones.
“We want to get the shoulder back in the game,” he said. “When you watch film clips from the Lombardi era and even before that, players tackled differently. It was wrapping up and tackling. You don’t see the kill shots and going for the knockouts with the helmets.
“It’s a little bit of a balancing act. Part of what makes the game so popular is it’s fast and it’s physical, but we need to be really careful because if it continues to get worse in terms of concussions and injuries, you could be risking the future of the game.” Additional coverage - Shareholders meeting