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ONE MAN knows exactly how Packers general manager Ted Thompson feels as he deals with the daily drama of Brett Favre's aborted retirement. This man is an aspiring California winemaker who'll forever be known in San Francisco as the G.M. who traded Joe Montana. ¶ "I can predict how Ted is feeling," Carmen Policy, the former 49ers exec who dealt a 36-year-old Montana to the Chiefs in 1993, said last Friday. "Every night it takes him longer to get to sleep. He can't eat. He's getting ugly phone calls and e-mails. He's thinking, I have no idea how this is going to end."
That's pretty close. Thompson was clearly struggling last week as he tried to figure out the right thing to do for the Packers and for Favre, who retired on March 6 but told the team on June 20 that he was determined to play again. "I wish someone would call me with the right answer," said Thompson.
With his first pick as Green Bay's G.M. in 2005, Thompson drafted quarterback Aaron Rodgers to be Favre's heir. After three years of grooming, Rodgers is like a 9 1/2-months-pregnant woman: He's ready. "To pull the rug out from Aaron Rodgers would be pretty tough," coach Mike McCarthy told Favre, after Favre said he wanted his old job back.
"This situation is both so familiar and so different," Policy said. "We had Steve Young on the team, with a good backup for him in Steve Bono. The Packers don't have anyone proven behind Favre. Plus, Joe went through two years of recurring [injuries]. Favre hasn't had anyone question whether he can still play. But they were both older quarterbacks, savvy veterans, absolutely beloved by their fans, and national icons."
A week before the 1993 draft, Policy was offered the Cardinals' first-round pick for Montana, but Montana didn't want to go to a perennial last-place team. Policy worked the phones "out of respect to Joe, to try to send him to a contender" and made a deal with the Chiefs, packaging Montana, journeyman safety David Whitmore and a third-round pick for Kansas City's first-round pick, the 18th overall. The deal worked out well. The Niners traded down, and with the 26th pick took Dana Stubblefield, who became a Pro Bowl defensive lineman. The Montana-led Chiefs went to the '93 AFC title game before losing to Buffalo.
At 38, Favre is coming off one of the best years of his career and should be worth at least a second-round pick. But Policy thinks Thompson should think twice before dealing him. "Look at his bench!" he says, referring to Rodgers's backup, rookie Brian Brohm. "I think he's got to find a way to keep [Favre]. They're so close [to a Super Bowl], and Favre's still got something left."
My take: A trade makes more sense. This is the third straight year Favre has flirted with retirement, and if he plays well in '08 the Pack would be held hostage to him again. The best thing Green Bay has done in three years with McCarthy and Thompson at the helm is develop young talent into a title contender. They should part honorably with Favre—say, to defending NFC South champ Tampa Bay, which uses a West Coast offense Favre knows and has a coach, Jon Gruden, who loves him—and put their trust in Rodgers. It's time.
A late-career switch of teams was embarrassing for Joe Namath (Jets to Rams) and Johnny Unitas (Colts to Chargers), but Brett Favre's continued good health and standout 2007 performance would seem to give him a shot at extended success if he leaves the Packers. Here are the best performances by quarterbacks who changed teams after turning 35, ranked by QB rating (minimum 12 games played).
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]