NFC North: Brian Gutekunst

Ted ThompsonAP Photo/Mike RoemerUnder the direction of general manager Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers have maintained stability in the front office.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A month ago, Ted Thompson looked –- and sounded –- worn out.

In his annual pre-draft session with reporters, his speech was slower and more deliberate than usual, prompting whispers about his health and questions about how much longer he might continue as the Green Bay Packers' general manager.

Even Bob Harlan, the former Packers president and the man who hired Thompson in 2005, noticed a difference.

"I did see him on TV a couple of times where he seemed down, and I don't know if it was just exhaustion from the preparation for [the draft] and all the travel that he goes through because he just grinds all the time," Harlan said. "He's either in that room looking at video, or he's on the road."

At age 61, could Thompson have been showing signs that he was nearing the end of a successful run as general manager that has included one Super Bowl title?

Those close to him did not think so at the time, even when Thompson was forced to miss the NFL annual meetings in March because of an undisclosed personal matter. And they do not think so now, especially after he appeared energized following the draft.

So when Thompson joked a week after the draft that he’s "just getting started," the Packers should hope there is more than just a shred of truth to his typically dry humor.

In many ways, Thompson is the key to keeping the Packers' successful leadership team intact.

Consider what happened when Thompson's mentor, Ron Wolf, retired in 2001: The Packers had a coach in Mike Sherman they wanted to keep. Harlan feared that if he went outside for a general manager, he might lose Sherman, so he added the GM role to Sherman's responsibilities. Four years later, it had become apparent it was too much for him, prompting Harlan to bring back Thompson, who had followed Mike Holmgren to Seattle and was the Seahawks' director of player personnel. Thompson and Sherman worked together for one season before Thompson fired him and hired coach Mike McCarthy.

All the while, some of quarterback Brett Favre's prime years passed without even reaching another NFC Championship Game during Sherman's tenure (2000-05).

It's not unreasonable to think the same problems could befall McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers if Thompson were to walk away anytime soon.

"That poses a problem; there's no doubt about it," Harlan said. "I guess because I saw it happen twice –- when Ron came in and Lindy [Infante] was here [as the coach] and with Ted, who tried very hard to make it work with Mike Sherman –- I know it can go downhill in a hurry. It is very difficult if the general manager cannot select his own coach."

No doubt, that's why current Packers president Mark Murphy indicated earlier this month that before any contract extension will be done for McCarthy, Thompson’s situation will be taken care of first.

Like McCarthy, Thompson has two more years left on a contract he signed after the Packers won Super Bowl XLV. Thompson would not say how much longer he intends to work but added that he "wouldn't anticipate doing anything different."

When Harlan hired Thompson, he received no assurances of how long Thompson would stay on in the role, but Harlan considered Thompson -- who has never been married and does not have children – to be all football, all the time.

"I had watched him for all of those years when he was working for Ron in Green Bay, and his life was just football then as I'm sure it was in Seattle, too," Harlan said. "Ron was 53 when I hired him [in 1991], and I was shocked when he wanted to leave so early, but I understood. Frankly, what I was trying to do was make the move on Ted before it was time for me to go so that I could be sure football was good hands."

And Harlan's last major act as president did just that. Of the 53 players on the Packers’ roster for Super Bowl XLV, 49 of them were acquired by Thompson, whose draft-and-develop philosophy has kept the Packers competitive on an annual basis.

If Murphy has a succession plan in mind for the GM job, he has not shared it. Perhaps he could try to lure former Packers scouts-turned-general managers John Schneider or John Dorsey back to town, but it might be tough to get Schneider out of Seattle or Dorsey out of Kansas City, where both have strong support from their owners.

It's possible he could maintain continuity by promoting vice president of player finance Russ Ball or one of Thompson's chief scouts –- Brian Gutekunst, Alonzo Highsmith or Eliot Wolf.

Some believe Murphy might hire a search firm -– as he has done with several other key front-office positions -– to identify candidates.

Or maybe, if the Packers are fortunate, Thompson will keep going strong.

One person close to him said recently that he does not see Thompson leaving anytime soon, unless the Packers win another Super Bowl, and that all the recent talk about him retiring "got him going."

When told of that, Harlan said, "I would think he'd at least go to 65, and then I think probably what he's going to do is become an area scout. He told me a long time ago that someday he might just go back to Texas and just be an area scout.

"Maybe he'd do it for the Packers. I would be surprised if he didn't work until at least 65. His health is good, and this is everything for him."
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A wrap-up of the Green Bay Packers' draft. Click here for a full list of Packers draftees.

[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Jared Abbrederis is the first Wisconsin player drafted by the Packers since guard Bill Ferrario (fourth round) in 2001.
Best move: Even though much of the pre-draft focus was on improving the defense -- something general manager Ted Thompson did by taking Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round (No. 21 overall) -- he did not ignore the other side of the ball. He wisely added depth to the receiving core with the highly productive Davante Adams of Fresno State in the second round (No. 53) and later local product Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin in the fifth round (No. 176), and the small-school Jeff Janis from Saginaw Valley State in the seventh (No. 236). He then took a shot with developmental tight end Richard Rodgers of Cal in the third round (No. 98) and brought in competition for the starting center job with Corey Linsley of Ohio State in the fifth round (No. 161).

Riskiest move: Defensive tackle Khyri Thornton. Taking him in the third round (No. 85 overall) seemed too high. Even he didn't think he would be drafted on Day 2. "Khyri was an interesting one, kind of came up later in the process," said Packers director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst. "But he had so much twitch, so much upside, it was something we couldn't pass on. The way he's able to run, a 4.9 guy for a 312-pound man, the kid can run. He's got a lot of upside. We felt fortunate to get him." You could also call Baylor cornerback Demetri Goodson a risk, although it's less of one in the sixth round (No. 197). Goodson will turn 25 years old next month and was out of football for five years. He played three seasons of basketball at Gonzaga before he transferred to Baylor in 2011 and played three years of football.

Most surprising move: For the first time in 10 drafts as the Packers general manager, Thompson did not make a single trade. He picked at his spot all nine times. By the time the draft reached the fifth round, it became clear this was going to be a different draft strategy for Thompson. He had never before made it that far into a draft without making a trade. Perhaps equally surprising was the fact that he picked a player from the University of Wisconsin -- and it wasn't linebacker Chris Borland, a player many thought might interest the Packers. Instead, he took Abbrederis, making him the first UW player drafted by the Packers since guard Bill Ferrario (fourth round) in 2001.

File it away: Next year, when Thompson tells you he doesn't draft for need, remember this: Among his first six picks were a safety (Clinton-Dix), a receiver (Adams), a tight end (Rodgers) and a center (Linsley). Not coincidentally, the Packers had an opening for a starting free safety, lost a receiver (James Jones) and a center (Evan Dietrich-Smith) in free agency, and have not re-signed last year’s starting tight end (Jermichael Finley).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Lately, it seems like whenever a team goes looking for a general manager, their eyes turn toward the Packers.

In the last four years, three teams have plucked members of the Packers' personnel staff for GM hires. In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks hired John Schneider. In 2012, the Oakland Raiders hired Reggie McKenzie. And last year, the Kansas City Chiefs hired John Dorsey.

Could there be a fourth this year?

According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Packers senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith is on the radar of two teams, the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, looking for new leadership in their scouting departments.

Highsmith is a Florida native and a University of Miami graduate. He has been with the Packers since 1999, when he was hired as an area scout. He was promoted to his current position in May 2012.

According to people around the league, it would not be surprising to see Highsmith or any of the other top-level scouts in the Packers' personnel department eventually get a chance at a general manager job. Director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst and director of pro personnel Eliot Wolf are also viewed as eventual GM candidates.

In case you missed it on
  • Packers coach Mike McCarthy revealed that he thought this past season might have been his best team with the Packers had injuries not derailed it.
  • With the season in the rear-view mirror, it’s not too early to look at the positions of greatest need in the upcoming draft.
  • Kevin Greene was named one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Although he never played for the Packers, were he to be inducted it would have some meaning around these parts because he coaches Green Bay’s outside linebackers.
  • Here’s No. 7 on our list of the top-10 plays that shaped the Packers’ season. No. 6 will be posted later on Friday. The top five will appear next week.
Best of the rest:
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Weston Hodkiewicz looked at what the Packers might do with their center position going forward.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne wrote that it wasn’t the fact that the Packers’ safeties failed to intercept one pass this season that bothered position coach Darren Perry, but rather it was the overall quality of play from that position that wasn’t good enough.
Our annual draft analysis includes a category entitled "File it Away." I used it this year to discuss the Detroit Lions' failure to draft a receiver or an offensive tackle, but I want to follow up with a second scenario that could have more lasting impact in the NFC North.

Recall that the Green Bay Packers' original second-round pick was originally the No. 55 overall selection. As it approached, many of us were wondering if the Packers planned to draft a running back, and as it turned out, they would have had their choice between Alabama's Eddie Lacy and Wisconsin's Montee Ball, among others.

But the Packers traded out of the position, moving to the No. 61 overall pick in exchange for an additional sixth-round draft pick from the San Francisco 49ers. The Denver Broncos drafted Ball at No. 58, leaving the Packers to select Lacy at No. 61.

We might never learn whether the Packers preferred Ball or Lacy if given a choice. Brian Gutekunst, the Packers' director of college scouting, told reporters only that the Packers knew there would be a player they liked at No. 61. But it's worth noting that the Broncos chose Ball because of concerns over Lacy's injury history.

"It was a close call, no question," John Elway, the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations, told reporters. "You're talking about two great backs. The bottom line is, we looked at the medical. It came down to the medical side."

Lacy had toe surgery following the 2011 season, forcing him to miss spring practice in 2012. He dealt with an ankle sprain during the 2012 season and was limited during predraft workouts because of a hamstring injury.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell at No. 48 overall because of Lacy's toe injury. The report suggested the injury was more serious than some realized and that it required a fusion of bones.

Dozens of similar scenarios occur in every draft, but it will be worth monitoring how those decisions work out for the Steelers, Broncos and Packers. Did the Steelers and Broncos miss out on a more talented player because of unrealized concerns? Or did the Packers' tradedown leave them with a less desired prospect? We'll file this one away.

If this video tells you nothing else, you'll realize that ESPN analyst Todd McShay is a big fan of the Green Bay Packers' draft and running back Eddie Lacy in particular.

McShay cited "great draft management" as the Packers maneuvered to get Lacy in the second round while drafting "a better football player" ahead of him in defensive end Datone Jones. And in naming Lacy as the draft's most likely candidate for instant impact, McShay noted a secondary but importat attribute: advanced pass-blocking skills.

The Packers aren't going to play a running back they don't trust to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and here's what director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst told reporters about Lacy: "He's 230 pounds. He's able to step in there and stop people when they're coming at him, so we feel really good about that, especially with some of things we do."

Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

December, 31, 2012
After the Green Bay Packers' 37-34 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Free Head Exam
    I spent most of Sunday chronicling Adrian Peterson's pursuit of history and the Vikings' surprising run to the playoffs. Frankly, I didn't think the Packers' loss revealed to us any unknown weaknesses. Nor did it set back what has the potential to be a deep playoff run. The Packers made multiple charges to get back into a game against a desperate team that was riding the wave of Peterson's performance as well as a frenzied crowd. If there is anything to be concerned about, as we noted Sunday, it's the Packers' total inability to slow down Peterson this season. He has rushed for 409 yards against them in two games, including 230 after contact.
  2. Overshadowed by the commotion of Sunday's events was a strong season-ending performance by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He lost a fumble on one of the five sacks he took, but otherwise he was laser-sharp in the second half. He completed 70 percent of his passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns overall. On the season, Rodgers led the NFL in passer rating (108.0) for the second consecutive season. His threw its second-most touchdown passes (39), compiled the third-highest completion percentage (67.2), had the fourth-fewest interceptions (eight) and ranked No. 8 in yardage (4,295). Not bad for a "down" year. According to statistics compiled by the Packers, Rodgers' combined passer rating of 114.9 since the start of the 2011 season is the highest two-year rating in NFL history.
  3. At this point on Black Monday, there are five vacancies for general managers in the NFL. A few more jobs could open up in the coming days. It would be short-sighted of the league's owners not to at least scour the Packers' front office roster for candidates who have been trained in an approach that remains the envy of the league. General manager Ted Thompson recently has sent two assistants off into general manager jobs, John Schneider to the Seattle Seahawks and Reggie McKenzie to the Oakland Raiders, and his current group deserves its share of the credit for the NFC North title. I'm not sure if any of those assistants are ready to become general managers, but owners would be foolish if they didn't at least seek out conversations with members of a group that includes John Dorsey (football operations), Eliot Wolf (pro personnel), Brian Gutekunst (college scouting) and Alonzo Highsmith (senior executive).
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Is place-kicker Mason Crosby fixed? Both of his attempts Sunday, from 51 and 40 yards, were clean. That's the good news. The bad news: Crosby finished the season ranked a distant last among 31 qualified kickers with a conversion percentage of 63.6. Seven of his 12 misses came from outside of 50 yards, a figure that should placate some concerns. But at this point in Crosby's career, you wonder if he is just a streaky kicker. This isn't the first time he has had extended struggles during a season (see 2009), and his career conversion rate since joining the Packers in 2007 is 76.8. That ranks Crosby last among all place-kickers with at least 100 attempts over that span. If you're hoping to see Crosby turn into a lights-out and consistent place-kicker, it's just not in his history.
We spent some time earlier this month discussing the Green Bay Packers' remarkable two-decade process of developing and dispersing front office talent. Four teams are now led by general managers who worked under the Packers' Ron Wolf in the early 1990's, and on Wednesday the Packers formalized their next generation of up-and-comers.

The key points from this perspective:
  • John Dorsey, the Packers' longtime director of college scouting, is now the team's second-highest ranking executive after general manager Ted Thompson. Dorsey's new title is Director -- Football Operations and is entering his 22nd season with the Packers.
  • Eliot Wolf, Ron's son, is the new director of Pro Personnel. He has been with the Packers for nine years.
  • Brian Gutekunst is the new director of college scouting. He has spent 14 years with the organization.

Based on history, at least one of those men will secure a general manager job in the NFL in the next few years.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Good Monday morning to everyone. The Minnesota Vikings are hoping that Monday afternoon and evening are good to them as well.

Yes, the first floor vote of the Vikings' stadium bill is scheduled to take place Monday in the state House of Representatives. If it passes, the state Senate likely will schedule a vote on its version of the stadium bill later this week. If it fails in the house, the bill almost certainly is dead for this 2012 legislative session and the situation will take a closer step toward Armageddon.

This issue is so hotly contested that debate could extend well into the evening and late night, so there is no way to know when we'll have any news to report. We'll of course be monitoring it while also keeping an eye on what is expected to be a large contingent of Vikings fans essentially tailgating at the State Capitol in a uniquely football lobbying campaign.

Catching up on weekend news from around the division: