Commentary

Favre -- yes, Favre -- aided Packers' run

QB's trade in 2008 set in motion events that brought Matthews to Green Bay

Originally Published: February 4, 2011
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Here is yet another sign of Brett Favre's vast powers: Even while he was playing with the Jets and then the Vikings, he still helped put the Packers back in the Super Bowl.

Please follow along: Back in 2008, the Packers traded Favre to the Jets for a conditional fourth-round pick that turned out to be a third-round pick.

The Packers then traded that third-round pick, along with their second- and third-round picks, to New England for the Patriots' first-round pick -- where Green Bay used the draft's 26th overall selection on USC linebacker Clay Matthews.

New England didn't fare badly in the deal, either. It used Green Bay's second-round pick on cornerback Darius Butler, traded one of the third-round picks to Jacksonville for more picks and used its other third-round pick on wide receiver Brandon Tate. But because of the extra third-round pick it received for Favre, Green Bay had the ammunition it needed to land a real prize.

This past regular season, when he might have been the NFL's most valuable defensive player, Matthews rang up 13.5 sacks. This postseason, he's had 3.5 more sacks. And now, Matthews is as important to the Packers' defense as safety Troy Polamalu is to the Steelers' defense. He represents the biggest threat to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' offense.

With one trade, Packers general manager Ted Thompson bolstered his reputation as a shrewd talent evaluator. But it is the ultimate irony of ironies.

As much as Favre detested Thompson, he inadvertently helped him construct the team that got Green Bay back to the Super Bowl.

On to the Super Bowl Sunday 10 Spot:

1. After the game, the contracts: Green Bay and Pittsburgh poured a lot into making it to Super Bowl XLV. It will take just as much work to return to Super Bowl XLVI or any beyond. Fifteen Packers have contracts that expire after Super Bowl XLV, and 21 Steelers do. Though the Steelers have more players with expiring contracts, the Packers have some of the more notable names. Included in Green Bay's upcoming free-agent class are wide receiver James Jones, running backs Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn, kicker Mason Crosby, defensive end Cullen Jenkins and safeties Charlie Peprah and Atari Bigby. The very depth that Green Bay groomed soon will be compensated by someone, if not the Packers. It will be difficult for Green Bay to re-sign all its own; there are just too many who will want too much money. The most notable Steelers free agent is linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who has 10 career postseason sacks in only six games yet has been unable to get the type of long-term extension he covets. Woodley is a prime candidate to be slapped with Pittsburgh's franchise tag, as much as he would dislike it. Other significant Steelers free agents include cornerback Ike Taylor, nose tackle Chris Hoke and offensive linemen Trai Essex and Willie Colon. Lots of talent and depth there. Players from both teams know that one of the rewards for a Super Bowl victory is increased prices for the free agents on winning teams. Through the years, other teams have paid a premium for players from Super Bowl winners  see Larry Brown, cornerback. Each of Sunday's winners will receive a Super Bowl ring. But the most fortunate also will get something else -- added leverage in upcoming contract talks.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Batch
Don McPeak/US PresswireBackup quarterback Charlie Batch helped fill in during Ben Roethlisberger's suspension and get Pittsburgh off to a winning start.
2. Don't forget the backups: As important as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and safety Troy Polamalu were to Pittsburgh's presence in Super Bowl XLV, do not discount the value of backup quarterbacks Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch. Without them, the Steelers might be home on Sunday. With Roethlisberger serving a four-game suspension, Dixon and Batch led Pittsburgh to a 3-1 record that was the foundation for the Steelers' season. Had Pittsburgh lost one more of those games, it could have been traveling to Baltimore for a playoff game rather than playing host to the Ravens. And that could have been the difference in Pittsburgh's come-from-behind victory. Although accolades continue to be showered on the Steelers' usual suspects, there are unsung ones that positioned Pittsburgh for its super season.

3. Roethlisberger trade debated? They can deny it now, it's easy enough to do. But last spring, just before the NFL draft, Pittsburgh debated trading Roethlisberger. The controversy swirling around him and the sexual assault accusations became too much for some within the conservative and honorable Steelers organization to stomach. No matter what they say now, the Steelers were ready to move on. At the time, there was at least one other AFC team whose coaching staff and ownership debated whether it should go ahead and act upon the trade that the Steelers would have been willing to make. Ultimately the team, and the owner, decided against it, and Pittsburgh could not find a trade partner for Roethlisberger. Fortunately for the Steelers, they were stuck with him. Time has made Pittsburgh look smart. Now Roethlisberger -- sporting an impressive 10-2 postseason record and the second-best postseason winning percentage of any quarterback in NFL history behind only Bart Starr -- is one win away from his third Super Bowl title in six seasons. And remember, Roethlisberger does not turn 29 until March 2.

4. And the key stat is … Rushing attempts and yards have proved to be even more important this postseason than turnovers. Teams that have had fewer turnovers this postseason are only 5-4, with one tie. Meanwhile, the winning team in each of the 10 games this postseason has had more rushing attempts and more rushing yards than its opponent. So if this postseason's games are used as a measuring stick, it might not be Polamalu or Packers cornerback Charles Woodson who decides Sunday's Super Bowl. It probably will be Packers running back James Starks or Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall.

5. Winning traditions: No Super Bowl could match two teams with more tradition, history and success than the Packers and Steelers. The Steelers have advanced to eight of the 45 Super Bowls (17.8 percent) and won six of them (13.6 percent) with the chance to raise the percentage Sunday. But even Pittsburgh's postseason success does not compare to some of sports' most storied franchises. In basketball, the Celtics have won 17 of 64 NBA Finals (26.6 percent). In hockey, the Canadiens have won 22 of 83 Stanley Cups (26.5 percent). And in baseball, the Yankees have won 27 of 106 World Series (25.5 percent). Pittsburgh might be the City of Champions, but it has not celebrated the number of championships that other cities have.

6. Steadying influence: Continuity and stability are at the soul of the Steelers. On Sunday, Pittsburgh will start seven players -- Roethlisberger, Polamalu, Taylor, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, Casey Hampton and James Farrior -- who started against Seattle in Super Bowl XL in Detroit. Pittsburgh will start 13 players who started against Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII -- the previous seven from Super Bowl XL, plus Woodley, Chris Kemoeatu, Brett Keisel, James Harrison, Ryan Clark and Bryant McFadden. So as much as other teams change coaches and players, Pittsburgh doesn't. It sticks with what works, season after season.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Brown
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireAntonio Brown's fourth-quarter catch against the Ravens helped propel Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl.
7. Receivers to watch: Two receivers have the chance to continue to distinguish themselves. Steelers rookie Antonio Brown has his team's two biggest catches this postseason, one coming late in the fourth quarter on a third-and-19 against the Ravens, the other coming late in the fourth quarter on a third-and-6 against the Jets. Brown has not played like a rookie. Meanwhile, Green Bay's Greg Jennings is making his mark this postseason and on Packers history. Jennings needs 70 receiving yards Sunday to pass Antonio Freeman and become the Green Bay player with the most receiving yards in a single postseason.

8. Postseason paydays: Not only has this postseason provided memorable moments for the Packers and Steelers, it also has provided straight cash, homey. Each player on the winning Super Bowl XLV team will make $83,000, and each player on the losing team will make a nice consolation of $42,000. This marks the end of a lucrative run. Each Green Bay player was awarded $21,000 for winning the wild-card game. Each Green Bay and Pittsburgh player made another $21,000 for the divisional playoff games. And each Green Bay and Pittsburgh player earned an additional $38,000 for its conference championship game win. So depending on who wins Sunday's Super Bowl, each Packer will make either an extra $163,000 or $122,000, while each Steeler will make an extra $142,000 or $101,000.

9. Future Ice Bowls? Texas knew how to make anyone from the Midwest or East Coast feel at home. Freezing temperatures. Snow showers. Sleet. Consider it good preparation for future Super Bowls. Now that the time in Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington (people get real touchy here if you don't mention their city) is coming to a close, it's worth looking ahead to the NFL's future lineup. The 2012 Super Bowl -- if there is a Super Bowl next season -- is scheduled for Indianapolis. The 2013 Super Bowl is scheduled for New Orleans. And the 2014 Super Bowl is scheduled for New Jersey/New York. The forecast for the next few Super Bowls is cold, with a chance of a hurricane or two.

10. To Whom It May Concern: And before we head into Super Bowl XLV and the offseason, please consider this open letter to the appropriate people.

[+] EnlargeDeMaurice Smith
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe NFL Players Association, led by DeMaurice Smith, and the league are still far apart on key issues.
Dear Billionaires and Millionaires:

So this is it, a farewell to the 2010 season, to the type of offseason that football fans have come to know and -- quite possibly -- to a lot more. Goodbye, to all of it.

Pete Rozelle, Wellington Mara, Dan Rooney and others would be mortified. The revenue sharing that they battled to build up and the labor peace that they fought to maintain is now listed, in injury report parlance, as questionable. At best.

NFL owners and the NFL Players Association cannot agree on the most basic issues, never mind the larger ones. Until they do, football and its fans are going to be held hostage.

Rather than wondering whether quarterback Carson Palmer will be traded, fans will wait to learn when owners will lock out players.

Rather than debating where cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha will sign, fans will have to hear whether the NFLPA will decertify.

No one knows when there will be football again, but we do know this: Don't bother getting your popcorn ready. This could take a while.

While everyone prepares for Sunday's super showdown, the more significant showdown has been building since the last collective bargaining agreement was rushed into existence in 2006.

Even back then, wise minds warned that potential problems awaited at the end of the current CBA. That CBA expires one month from today and the issues -- all centered on money -- look more complex and complicated than anyone anticipated.

Distribution of revenues. Expansion of regular-season schedule. Rookie salary cap. Players' health benefits. Issues, lots of them. Few seem to be in a bargaining mood.

Everyone knows the vast amount of money at stake, yet some seem to be losing sight of the dedication that is also at risk. No sport gets the support from its fans that football does. No sport inspires the loyalty that football does. For years, fans have transformed football into our country's national pastime while helping to line the pockets of billionaires and millionaires.

And football has helped usher this along -- no other sport has enjoyed labor peace for as long as football has. It would be nice for each side to give up a little -- and give back the game to the people who helped make it possible.

So many have so much at stake. NFL teams soon will slash salaries of employees -- if they haven't been laid off. Teams will start furloughing employees. People connected to the game in all walks of life -- sporting goods stores, sports bar employees, stadium parking lots attendants -- will take a hit. It is all unnecessary and unfortunate.

Sundays are supposed to be about delivering hits. If behaviors aren't altered and stances aren't changed, footballs fans and the sport itself are about to take one instead.

Unlike Rozelle and Mara and Rooney, many of the men now left to safeguard the game on both sides of the table think more of themselves than others.

These are some incredibly intelligent and wildly successful businessmen. More than most, they understand the value of the dollar. But they have lost sight of the value of peace.

The Schef's specialties

Game of the week: Steelers-Packers: The NFL's two best scoring defenses.

Player of the week: Packers RB James Starks: Backs have been this postseason's difference.

Upset of the week: Game could go either way, but Pack is the pick.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.