When Packers halfback Ryan Grant(notes) went to the sidelines after an 18-yard run in the second quarter of last Sunday's season-opening victory over the Eagles in Philadelphia, it was clear that something was very wrong with the 28-year-old runner's right ankle.
Within seconds, Grant was hopping on his good foot toward the locker room, moving faster on one leg than any man I'd ever seen. If Grant was in a hurry to get treatment, he needn't have been: We learned on Tuesday that he'll require season-ending ankle surgery, making the Packers' "Super Bowl Or Die" push feel that much more in need of a 911 call.
In fact, I hope that Packers general manager Ted Thompson picked up the phone Tuesday and placed a call to Buddy Nix, his counterpart in Buffalo — and not just to talk about the Bills' arrival in Wisconsin for Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. Instead, Thompson should have been asking Nix precisely what it will take to get Marshawn Lynch(notes) to stay in Green Bay at weekend's end.
Trading for Lynch, a versatile and physical running back ideal for head coach Mike McCarthy's version of the West Coast offense, makes sense in so many ways. He's a skilled inside runner who hits the hole quickly and specializes in gaining yards after contact. He has pass-catching skills and is exceptional in the red zone, where he has been known to enter "Beast Mode."
For all of his off-the-field issues and feelings of displacement in Buffalo, the Oakland native might be a great fit in Green Bay. He's a team-oriented player who played at Cal with Aaron Rodgers(notes), the most important player in the Packers' post-Favre universe, and who immensely enjoyed his predraft visit to Titletown in 2007, where by all indications he made a positive impression.
The Bills ended up taking Lynch 12th overall, four spots before the Packers' selection. Now Thompson has a chance to get his man after all, at a time when he needs him even more.
There are plenty of reasons why the Packers might not be able to swing a deal for Lynch, beginning with the Bills' stubbornness. Though Buffalo drafted former Clemson back C.J. Spiller(notes) with the ninth overall pick in April and got an unexpected 1,000-yard season from Fred Jackson(notes) in '09, a source familiar with the situation said the team resisted overtures from at least four teams (including the Seahawks and Texans) interested in trading for Lynch, a former Pro Bowl selection coming off a disappointing campaign. According to the source, one team called as recently as last week to inquire about trading for Lynch, and the Bills essentially treated them like unwelcome stalkers.
All of this makes me wonder what Nix and head coach Chan Gailey are possibly thinking. Unless they are delusional, they know they have a team that isn't close to contending for a championship, and the organization clearly is committed to Spiller as its running back of the future.
Judging from the Bills' 15-10 loss to the Dolphins in their season opener at home, Gailey's plan to use all three backs is a disaster: Spiller started and carried seven times for six yards while Jackson (four carries, 19 yards) and Lynch (three carries, 13 yards) saw spot duty. On a positive note, Spiller and Jackson combined to catch six passes; on a negative note, they gained a collective eight yards on those receptions.
The Bills may feel that Lynch, who has two years left on his rookie deal, is a relative bargain at a reported $885,000 for 2010 – and they'd be right. For that reason, it's tempting to keep him, at least for this season. But if Nix is thinking long term, he should get what he can in a trade while Lynch still has value and use the bounty to address other areas of need.
Before the draft, Buffalo turned down an offer of a third-round pick and a player for Lynch, according to the aforementioned source. Would a third-round selection get it done now? It wouldn't hurt to ask. If the answer is still no and I'm Thompson, I'd consider dealing a second-round pick for a first-round talent with a low base salary and a high level of motivation. (Rest assured, Lynch would be very, very happy to join the Packers, where he'd have a realistic chance of resurrecting his career.)
Because the Packers host the Bills on Sunday, Thompson has a few days to work on this and decide if he's really comfortable making a championship drive with Brandon Jackson(notes) as the team's marquee halfback – with no one else on the roster even remotely tested as a runner. Ideally, this could be one of those baseball-style trades that's announced on Sunday, with Lynch deactivated for the game and greeting his new teammates in the locker room afterward.
I sat down with Lynch in San Francisco in May, when he talked about putting aside his frustrations and working hard to make the best of his time in Buffalo. However, he also acknowledged that the NFL is a business and that every time he stepped on the field, it was an audition – "cause there's 32 teams in the league, and somebody is always looking."
Right now, the Packers should be looking, and they've got a chance to land a player they liked coming out of college who just might save their season. The Bills, meanwhile, should be looking to make a deal and move on with Spiller and Jackson as their halfbacks.
For both franchises, progress is only a phone call away.
While we wait for Thompson and Nix to do their thing, here's the long-awaited return of our quizzical, top-to-bottom trip through the league, beginning with the defending champs:
6. Tennessee Titans: If I'd told you a year ago that Vince Young would be the league's top-rated passer after Week 1 of the 2010 season, would you have assumed I was talking about the UFL?
17. Chicago Bears: Hey, all you Jay Cutler(notes) body-language experts – did you notice him walking off dispassionately after his game-winning touchdown pass to Matt Forte(notes)? If so, why do I get the feeling you didn't find it particularly bothersome?
23. Miami Dolphins: Is Tony Sparano playing the right Chad at quarterback?
25. Carolina Panthers: How long before "Less Is Moore" signs start appearing at Bank of America Stadium?
32. Oakland Raiders: When a team scores one offensive touchdown or less in 22 of a head coach's 29 games, is there any other NFL franchise that would continue to employ that coach?
- Ted Thompson
- the Packers