NFL combine: Packers seek playmakers   « Back

by Pete Dougherty

Feb. 25, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS No matter how you look at it, the Green Bay Packers had problems getting the ball into the end zone last season.

They ranked ninth in yards yet were 22nd in points. Their red-zone efficiency the percentage of times they scored touchdowns once inside their opponent's 20-yard line was second-to-last in the NFL at 32.7 percent, behind only Oakland.

Entering 2007, the Packers will face a problem of age among their best offensive playmakers. Quarterback Brett Favre is 37, receiver Donald Driver turned 32 this month and halfback Ahman Green turned 30 just more than a week ago.

So, while they have a promising receiver in second-year pro Greg Jennings and a young and improving offensive line, the Packers need an influx of offensive playmakers.

Coach Mike McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson spent a good portion of their news conferences at the NFL scouting combine on Friday talking about improvement from within and taking advantage of the offseason workout program.

Somehow, though, the Packers need to find players with the talent to score from all over the field.

"I would like to have as many playmakers as possible," McCarthy said, "and if the playmakers (from the draft or elsewhere) are better than the ones we have, that's great. That's what you're trying to create. You want as competitive an environment that you can possibly put together.

"If there's playmakers out there, whether it's through the draft or free agency, fitting what we're doing in Green Bay, I'm all for it."

The problem, of course, is those players are hard to find, and when teams get them, they generally don't let them get away.

For instance, in free agency, there's nothing approaching an outstanding receiver on the market, though Philadelphia's Donte Stallworth is perhaps the most intriguing player because of his speed. St. Louis' Kevin Curtis is another receiver who can stretch the field, and Tennessee's Drew Bennett is a big target who's become productive.

Stallworth was drafted by New Orleans when McCarthy was the Saints' offensive coordinator. Stallworth, 26, might be young enough to appeal to Thompson's and McCarthy's rebuilding plans, but in a weak free-agent market in which 22 teams have at least $10 million in salary-cap room, he might come at a price that's too inflated to bear for Thompson, who has proven cautious to operating in the higher-stakes free-agent market.

Another possibility that has come up is the availability of Oakland receiver Randy Moss, who for the first six or seven years of his career was the most feared weapon in the NFL. With Moss reportedly blowing off new coach Lane Kiffin on a phone call, and Kiffin reportedly patching up the Raiders' problems with receiver Jerry Porter, it appears the Raiders are eager to trade Moss, who has been a major disappointment in two seasons in Oakland.

Favre has told the Packers he'd welcome Moss, but that's hardly enough to make such a deal happen, and at this stage a trade looks highly unlikely though still not unthinkable.

There are questions about what the Raiders would want in return, whether Moss remains an elite player at 30 and whether his new team would be able to work out a new contract.

The compensation is a major factor because of Moss' recent production and locker-room baggage. Last season, he caught only 42 passes for 553 yards and three touchdowns, and in 2005 he had 60 catches for 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns. That's a significant drop from the feared player who had 90 touchdown catches and terrorized teams in his first seven seasons.

It's hard to envision the draft-oriented Thompson giving up even a third-round draft pick for Moss.

One report had Jacksonville considering trading quarterback Byron Leftwich for Moss, though there were no indications how true that was. If it's not, Moss' value probably isn't high, and the longer he stays with the Raiders, the more the asking price could drop.

His contract calls for Oakland to pay him $9.75 million this year and $11.25 million next year, so it's likely the Raiders will trade or cut him rather than spend that much on a player who wants out and hasn't performed to expectations.

A new team likely will have to get Moss to agree to a new deal, presumably at a much lower price with perhaps incentives to make up some of the difference, before a trade can be finished.

Then there's the question of whether he's worth the trouble. For all his playmaking talents on downfield throws, he has a bad reputation for taking too many plays off, not running hard when he's the primary receiver, and giving up when things don't go well.

The Press-Gazette asked three longtime NFL coaches and scouts if they'd consider acquiring Moss, and all three dismissed him.

"I wouldn't touch him," said the general manager for one team.

Said an assistant coach for another team who used to coach with the Packers: "On paper, yes, but in person, no. It always looks like the right move, but guys don't change their stripes."

Added a longtime scout for another team: "He's a front-runner. To me, he's a huge problem. If you aren't throwing him the ball, he ain't playing. If you aren't throwing him the ball, he's (complaining). He won't block anybody, he won't run routes if he's not the primary receiver. I would stay away. He's getting too old."

Neither McCarthy nor Thompson would talk about Moss, because he's under contract with another team. No doubt the two and other members of the coaching and scouting staffs have discussed the possibility of a deal, but there are no signs the Raiders' asking price has been low enough for the Packers' internal discussions to get too serious.

Without addressing Moss specifically, however, McCarthy said he's open at least to considering acquiring players who have reputations for being a problem.

"I don't ever look at a guy just based on reputation," he said. "I like to dig down deep (into his background), and frankly we have more resources than most people, and that's something we factor into it."
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