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Packers Offer Blueprint For Redskins’ Success

Based on the strategy of drafting and developing players, the Packers have won more than 10 games in each of their last four seasons – including Super Bowl XLV in 2011.

BY ZAC BOYER

ASHBURN – For years, Robert Griffin III has watched Aaron Rodgers with longing adoration. Ask him about quarterbacks and he discards comparisons to Cam Newton or Michael Vick; it’s Rodgers, with his pass-first, run-later approach to the game, that Griffin would prefer to be known for.

Shanahan

Of the most importance to Griffin, however, is Rodgers’ inclination toward winning. After taking over for Brett Favre as the starting quarterback in 2008, Rodgers has directed the Packers to four 10-win seasons in five years, including a victory in Super Bowl XLV in 2011.

Yet Rodgers’ achievements are, in many ways, a product of the Packers’ overall approach. As the Redskins head to Lambeau Field this afternoon, they’ll get a first-hand look at a program that has bypassed outsiders in favor of nurturing its own players – a strategy that Mike Shanahan has done his best to also embrace.

“I think it’s a great philosophy,” the Redskins’ head coach said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep that philosophy here for years to come.”

Ted Thompson took over as the Packers’ general manager before the 2005 season, and he hired Mike McCarthy as the head coach a year later. Together, they’ve placed a heavy emphasis on doing things their own way, rarely signing free agents, making trades or claiming players off waivers.

Of the 53 players on the active roster, the Packers have plucked 42 directly from the college ranks. Remarkably, all but three players have only appeared in a game for the Packers.

“It’s part of developing a program and not getting too far away from the basics of how we go about it,” McCarthy said. “It’s given us the opportunity to create some consistency. We’ve been consistent as a football team, but we’re like everybody else, we want to win a lot more games.”

Shanahan inherited a roster full of players ill-fit for his desired 3-4 defense and his zone-blocking scheme when he was hired before the start of the 2010 season. That forced the Redskins to rely heavily upon the free agent market, first by signing aging veterans to provide experience and later to find underused young players who could flourish in a greater role.

An $18 million salary cap penalty cramped the Redskins’ spending this past offseason, but they used their available money to retain 13 of their own players. Eventually, Shanahan envisions that strategy to become commonplace, with players the Redskins have drafted performing well enough to earn big-money, long-term contracts from the team when they become free agents.

“If you do have good drafts, usually you’re able to reward your players,” Shanahan said. “And you want to reward the players, because when they play at a certain level, you want to be able to take care of them rather than going out somewhere else and taking them from another team.”

It that situation, success can breed upon itself. A first-round pick by the Packers in 2003, inside linebacker Nick Barnett spent his first eight seasons in Green Bay. Now with the Redskins, Barnett said the Packers’ ability to win with their own developed players fostered a sense of obligation among recent draftees to maintain that standard.

“I think it’s been official – if you draft good players and you keep that group together, you create a chemistry, a vibe, kind of a tradition,” Barnett said. “As you get guys who are growing up together, they’re going through that, and then you get young guys that get in there and look up to those guys – they kind of just continue that cycle.”

Washington has kept 19 of the 27 players from Shanahan’s first three drafts, though only two of six from 2010, left tackle Trent Williams and inside linebacker Perry Riley, are still with the team. Adding tight end Logan Paulsen, undrafted that year, and the seven selected in April, over half of the players under contract to the Redskins began their careers with the team.

It will be years before Griffin’s future is determined, but Rodgers, a first-round pick in 2005, ascertained his in April when he signed a seven-year, $130.75 million contract.

Not surprisingly, Rodgers has become a firm believer in the Packers’ system.

“It’s been fun to get drafted and grow up in this system with one coach, which helps, and to get second and third contracts,” Rodgers said. “It’s been fun to see a lot of the guys get drafted and play and play well and get rewarded. That’s the way they have been doing things down here during Ted Thompson’s time here, and it seems to be working.”

A version of this story appears in Sunday’s edition of The Free Lance-Star.

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