Sherman compounding his mistakes by living with them
Posted: Sept. 22, 2004

Cliff Christl - JSOnline

Green Bay - Make no mistake about it, one of the reasons - if not the overriding reason - why the Green Bay Packers are carrying B.J. Sander on their active roster two weeks into the season is to save face.

Cutting a third-round draft choice in his first year, particularly one that also cost an extra pick in a draft-day trade, might be more embarrassing than giving up a first down on fourth-and-26.

But what's far more troubling is that the Packers are compounding their mistake by living with it.

In the National Football League, that type of stance has long been regarded as a cardinal sin by general managers and coaches in the know. It's one of the lessons Ron Wolf preached to Mike Sherman.

True, it's rare today for teams to cut high draft choices, but it's also rare for a high pick to be as big a flop as Sander was this summer. Punting in nearly ideal weather, he averaged a dismal 36 yards.

Even on the practice field at his best, Sander kicked the ball high and displayed a knack for placing it inside the 10-yard line, but rarely boomed the ball for distance. In time, he might become a competent NFL punter, but it might take three, four years or more. And, then again, he might never cut it.

Sherman has noted that the San Diego Chargers - to be sure, every other franchise's role model - kept two punters last year for much the same reason. At least, Mike Scifres, drafted by the Chargers in the fifth round in 2003, doubled as a kickoff specialist. But he's hardly paying dividends as a punter. Two weeks into this season, he ranks last in the AFC with a 39.1 average.

There's no reason to believe Sander will fare any better if he's the Packers' punter next season, assuming they aren't planning on carrying two for infinity.

What are the Packers risking by keeping Sander on their roster?

They have two rookies on their practice squad, center Scott Wells and fullback Vonta Leach, who showed more promise in camp than Sander and could be signed by another team at any time. Wells had at least three offers and Leach at least two to join the practice squads of other teams when they were released before the opener.

In the past, Sherman also has used the 53rd spot on his roster to audition free agents, something else he learned from Wolf. By taking that approach, just last year, the Packers added James Whitley, one of their best special teams players.

Sherman need not apologize for his performance as general manager.

The uninformed like to recite his mistakes from Joe Johnson to Sander to Tim Couch and a few less notables sprinkled in between, but there hasn't been a successful general manager in the history of the game that hasn't had his own laundry list of blunders.

The only fair way to judge them is by weighing both their hits and misses.

Sherman's first two No. 1 picks, Javon Walker and Nick Barnett, are likely to turn out better than any of Wolf's top choices. Yes, Sherman wasted money on Johnson, but he also acquired Grady Jackson on a waiver claim.

Even drafting Sander isn't something Sherman should get beat up over.

The late Mark Hatley, former vice president of football operations, and special teams coach John Bonamego misjudged Sander's ability when they went to his workout, but the draft is a hit-and-miss proposition.

The best organizations depend on their personnel people to voice strong opinions and convictions, knowing that they are often going to be wrong.

What shouldn't be excused is that in a moment of panic in the draft room, out of fear that another team was going to take Sander ahead of the Packers, Sherman was swayed by his special teams coaches to trade up for a punter, of all things.

That's something else Sherman should have learned at Wolf's knee: Let your coaches coach and let your personnel people run the draft.

Nor should Sherman be excused for refusing to admit his mistake.

Unlike the Joe Johnson fiasco, that's not something that draws headlines, but it sends up a bigger red flag, much like Sherman's decision to settle for mediocrity - or less - by playing Michael Hawthorne and Bhawoh Jue rather than two raw, but promising, young players, Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas.

That was another move that defied the league's prevailing school of thought.

In an organization where there are no true checks and balances when the coach and general manager are one and the same, it's those seemingly little things that can add up and take a toll.