The Green Bay Packers blueprint to bring the Lombardi Trophy back home

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 25: Jordy Nelson
GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 25: Jordy Nelson /

Careful planning is required for the Green Bay Packers to build a Super Bowl champion. A common mistake dooms many franchises.

Five years ago, the Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson made a huge mistake costing the team dearly. They have paid for his transgression ever since. Hopefully, new General Manager Brian Gutekunst will avoid the same pitfall.

With the season-ending fiasco in Pittsburgh surrounding the Steelers, there has been plenty of buzz throughout NFL fan bases dreaming of their team making a move to acquire wide receiver Antonio Brown. His on-field accomplishments cannot be denied. He has made seven Pro Bowls and been voted All-Pro four times. Over the last six seasons, he has averaged 114 catches, 1,524 yards, and 11 touchdowns.

Those numbers are staggering but any team truly interested in winning a Super Bowl would be well advised to pass on giving him one of their uniforms. The secondary reasons for avoiding him certainly include his ongoing selfish antics, a massive contract, and the fact he will be 31 years old next season. But only one primary reason needs to be considered, winning. And that is why the best General Managers in the NFL avoid paying big money to talented wide receivers.

In July 2014, Ted Thompson signed wide receiver Jordy Nelson to a four-year, $39 million extension. The following offseason he ponied up another four-year $40 million deal for Randall Cobb. Packer fans rejoiced. They should have demanded his resignation. For a team lacking in so many critical areas, he wasted $80 million on arguably the least important position on a football team. Thompson was making every key decision for one of 32 franchises in a multi-billion-dollar industry. Yet he failed to see the obvious. Winning Super Bowls requires spending money on positions that matter, and wide receivers don’t matter.

In the four seasons since Thompson signed Nelson and Cobb, the Packers have won just 33 of their 64 games. They won only three playoff games and haven’t made a realistic run at the Lombardi Trophy. Their defense ranked 15th or worse each season (twice outside the top 20). Worse, the big money spent on these wide receivers failed to help the offense. Their best finish was a modest eighth in 2016.  In 2015 and 2017 their offense ranked 23rd and 26th respectively.

The facts are clear. Super Bowl champions don’t need top-tier wide receivers. Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles hoisted the Lombardi trophy with Nelson Agholor (62 catches) and Alshon Jeffrey (57 catches) as their top two wide receivers. Neither cracked the 800-yard mark. That wasn’t an exception. It’s the norm.

Since 2002, only two Super Bowl champions have had a Pro Bowl wide receiver on their team (2006 Indianapolis Colts and 2010 Packers). And the Colts were the lone team with an All-Pro wide receiver. None of the other 15 Super Bowl champions have had an elite wide receiver on their roster. These champions were led by the likes of Golden Tate, David Givens, Deion Branch, Qadry Ismail, Julian Edelman, Marques Colston, and Plaxico Burress.

The top wide receiver for nine of the previous 17 Super Bowl champions caught 70 passes or less. Six of them were led by a wide receiver who caught 65 passes or less. Furthermore, eight of the last 17 champions saw their leading wide receiver fail to reach 1,000 yards.

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Elite wide receivers win fantasy football championships, not Super Bowls.  Whether its Brown or someone else, the Packers can longer afford to invest money in the wrong position. Ted Thompson can probably win a fantasy league with his friends. Packer Nation is relying on Gutekunst to accomplish much more.