Friday, August 20, 2004

What is going through the mind of CB Mike McKenzie? reported that New Orleans is still interested in McKenzie but apparently will not trade a 1st round pick for him. Nonetheless, the recent story made me reexamine why McKenzie will not report to the Packers.

Enough has been reported about McKenzie to give the impression that he is someone who frustrates other people. He averages about one agent per season, and his last agent quit once McKenzie's current disagreement with the Packers was made public. On the other hand, not one Packer has said anything negative about McKenzie, other than that he should honor his contract. FS Darren Sharper appears to be the closest friend McKenzie has on the team, although Sharper appears to be an outgoing man who makes friends with almost everyone on the team. Sharper has been willing to talk to the media about McKenzie, but all he can say is that this disagreement is not about money.

It is reasonable to assume that their disagreement is about money. McKenzie's current contract is less than he would be paid if he had been a free agent this past offseason. If this is a holdout for more money, then it is unlikely that the Packers will rework the contract (other than to guaranty some money that is currently unguaranteed) and McKenzie is likely to report once he starts missing game checks. It is easy to assume that this is a contract disagreement, because most holdouts are about money, unfortunately, this disagreement seems to be about something other than money. Assuming money is not the issue, as McKenzie has told people (including Sharper), then only three other issues have been suggested.

The first possibility is that he is engaged in a battle of pride and ego with Mike Sherman. Sherman had problems effectively communicating with some players in the past, such as the time last offseason when he created a misunderstanding that led to LB Na'il Diggs signing an offer sheet with Detroit, before the Packers matched it and Sherman worked it out with Diggs. Would someone risk their career because of pride and ego? It has happened many times in many different situations outside the NFL, but it would seem ridiculous to people who are not personally involved in such a dispute. This possibility seems the least likely scenario, because Sherman has a history of working out misunderstandings with his players and McKenzie has never showed much ego or been very outspoken in the press.

The second possibility is that he was upset with the 4th and 26 meltdown in the Philadelphia playoff game and how the season ended. It wasn't the first blown coverage in NFL history and these mistakes are correctable through better practice and coaching, unless this was somehow the final straw for McKenzie in a pattern of poor play and coaching. Did McKenzie tell the team "I told you so" regarding the bad defensive scheme and then in the offseason the Packers failed to acknowledge that he was correct?

The third possibility is that he was upset with the defensive coaching changes. It has been mentioned that McKenzie wanted assistant secondary coach Lionel Washington promoted to either defensive coordinator or secondary coach, although McKenzie has not made any such demand public himself. Maybe he was disappointed in the firing of Ed Donatell? Maybe he thinks former secondary coach and new defensive coordinator Bob Slovak was responsible for the 4th and 26 blunder, and the fact that he got promoted despite his blunder is ridiculous. Maybe he thinks poorly of new secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer, who he probably knows to some extent because Schottenheimer coached Detroit last season.

The third possibility seems the most likely situation at this point. If McKenzie thinks Slovak is part of the problem, Schottenheimer is not likely to help situation, and the Packers seemed headed in the wrong direction, then it is reasonably for someone to want to leave and start over with a new team. Such a situation would also make the problem impossible to correct. No amount of talking and listening can change the fact that the wrong men are in charge of the defense. This is not an attack on Slovak or Schottenheimer, because there is no way to know at this point whether they will coach the defense better than the Packers were coached in 2003 and McKenzie could be completely wrong in his assessment of both men, if McKenzie does in fact think they are the problem.

Another question is why has McKenzie drawn so little interest from teams around the NFL. Why isn't there a bidding war for him in trade? He's proven he can play at a high level, he's in his prime, and he's cheap. None of the cornerbacks drafted this past season are guaranteed to ever play as well as McKenzie has played in the past, and teams are just as likely to draft a bust with their first round pick as draft a talented contributor. If a situation like this occured in MLB, McKenzie would be traded within a week (see the meltdown between the Cleveland Indians and CF Milton Bradley for a comparable situation - and it wasn't just a salary dump because Cleveland acquired a legitimate and talented prospect in return for Bradley). Maybe it is because that there are so few trades in the NFL, few teams would ever consider trading for an established player under any circumstances.

This is all just speculation, because all the parties involved are keeping the whole story underwraps, which is probably the professional way to handle the situation. The Packers can have a good secondary in 2004 without McKenzie, but the secondary is probably better with McKenzie than without him. This situation cannot be compared with any player/coach dispute in recent history; it is not about money, contract, or playing time. It will be interesting to hear McKenzie's side of the story some day. Hopefully he and the Packers come to an understanding and McKenzie will play for the Packers in 2004.

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