Packers Missed Last, Best Chance
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2004; 11:09 AM
The Green Bay Packers could have been in the NFC title game. They should have been in the NFC title game. But their season fell apart when they allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to convert a fourth-and-26 miracle into a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation in their NFC semifinal game. Then, the Eagles intercepted quarterback Brett Favre's up-for-grabs pass, setting up the winning field goal in overtime.
The result was a 20-17 loss that Packers fans have second-guessed ever since the kick cleared the crossbar Jan. 11. The loss gave them plenty to chew on: Coach Mike Sherman's decision to punt on fourth down and less than a yard from the Eagles' 41-yard line with 21/2 minutes left in regulation, to the fourth-and-26 defensive play-calling, to Favre's decision to loft a high, long pass on Green Bay's first offensive play of overtime that floated to Eagles safety Brian Dawkins.
Sherman fired defensive coordinator Ed Donatell in a move he said wasn't based on one play, but few around the league believed that. It was the first time during his Packers tenure that Sherman had fired an assistant (he dismissed tight ends coach Jeff Jagodzinski the same day). He promoted Bob Slowik from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator.
Last season might end up being remembered as Favre's last, best chance to return to a Super Bowl. He turns 35 in October and reportedly plans to play one to three more seasons.
The angst over the playoff loss to the Eagles might have led Sherman to shake up his coaching staff, but it did not produce an extensive offseason roster overhaul. The Packers will take another shot at getting Favre to a Super Bowl with essentially the same key players.
They kept left tackle Chad Clifton off the free-agent market by making him their franchise player, then signed him to a six-year, $32.35-million contract that included an $11-million signing bonus. They swapped safeties in free agency, losing Antuan Edwards to the Miami Dolphins and signing Mark Roman from the Cincinnati Bengals, and they released defensive tackle Gilbert Brown. But mostly the Packers' offseason has been about ongoing dramas involving cornerback Mike McKenzie and quarterback Tim Couch.
McKenzie, apparently unhappy about his contract and some moves made by the organization, has demanded to be traded. The Packers have not accommodated him, at least not yet, but prepared for his possible departure by using their first two draft choices on cornerbacks, first-rounder Ahmad Carroll of Arkansas and third-rounder Joey Thomas of Montana State.
Green Bay, meantime, has been trying for weeks to reach agreement on a new contract with Couch and his agent, Tom Condon, as a precursor to a trade in which the Packers would obtain the former top overall draft choice from the Cleveland Browns. The Packers want Couch to serve as Favre's backup and future successor.
But talks have stalled, with Couch and Condon apparently wanting a one-year deal that would enable Couch to be an unrestricted free agent next offseason, while the Packers want the contract to be for at least two years. The Packers hosted free-agent quarterback Damon Huard this week, but that might have been a ploy to gain leverage in the Couch negotiations. Green Bay still appears to be the most likely landing spot for Couch, and the Browns could end up releasing him sometime before the season if they're unable to trade him. The Packers have re-signed veteran quarterback Doug Pederson, Favre's backup the past three seasons.
Tailback Ahman Green, the centerpiece of the Green Bay offense, is in the prime of his career, at 27 and the other pieces remain in place. But the Packers basically have stood still this offseason while their NFC North rivals -- the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions -- have made significant upgrades, and the path to another Super Bowl isn't getting any easier for Favre as his career winds down.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Free-agent quarterback Kerry Collins visited the Oakland Raiders Wednesday and could visit the San Francisco 49ers while he's in the Bay Area. The Raiders apparently remain the team most likely to sign Collins, who was released by the New York Giants after refusing to rework his contract in the aftermath of the club's draft-day trade for top overall pick Eli Manning. Terry Donahue, the 49ers' general manager, said Wednesday that the team had not yet decided whether to sign a veteran quarterback to compensate for the loss of starter Tim Rattay, who underwent surgery this week for a torn groin muscle but is scheduled to return by the regular season.
Ogunleye, Dolphins Working on Deal
Dolphins officials have told agent Drew Rosenhaus that they plan to offer a multi-year contract to defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. The reigning AFC sack champion is threatening to hold out into next season if he doesn't sign a deal more lucrative than the one-year, $1.824-million contract that the Dolphins tendered him in restricted free agency.
Ogunleye was one of three restricted free agents around the league given that top tender. The other two have re-signed with their teams. St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger signed the tender offer, then a three-year extension for a four-year package worth about $19.1 million (including a $9-million signing bonus). Bengals tailback Rudi Johnson signed a one-year, $1.824-million contract but plans to continue negotiating a long-term deal with Cincinnati.
Steelers Negotiating With Maddox
The Pittsburgh Steelers have opened contract negotiations with quarterback Tommy Maddox. The Steelers are vowing to make good on their pre-draft pledge to Maddox that they would give him a raise on his $750,000 salary for the upcoming season, even after using their first-round selection on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and putting the starting job up for grabs. But the Steelers won't have salary-cap space to give Maddox a new deal until they release linebacker Jason Gildon next month.
Cowboys to Release Hambrick
Dallas Cowboys officials said the team will release tailback Troy Hambrick today. Hambrick led the Cowboys with 972 rushing yards last season, but the club plans to make second-round draft choice Julius Jones its starting tailback and was unable to trade Hambrick, 27. He had signed a one-year, $628,000 contract with Dallas after failing to sign an offer sheet with another team in restricted free agency.
© 2004 washingtonpost.com