Everyone gather around and let me tell you a story:
In 2007 the story goes that Green Bay Packer franchise quarterback Brett Favre approached General Manager Ted Thompson about the possibility of signing wide receiver Randy Moss. Thompson took to the phones but unfortunately New England offered the best deal and Moss became a Patriot.
In 2011 the story goes that Green Bay Packer franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers approached General Manager Ted Thompson about the possibility of signing wide receiver James Jones. Thompson took to the phones and fortunately Green Bay offered the best deal and Jones remains a Packer.
Same story, different ending.
So what gives? Jason Wilde and Bill Johnson from Green and Gold Today on ESPN Milwaukee recently brought up this question, and after admitting they couldn’t figure out an explanation, they concluded that maybe it was because Aaron Rodgers is Thompson’s “guy”, maybe it was the familiarity with the offense, Randy Moss’ history as a locker room killer, the difference in talent between Moss and Jones, etc. All valid points to some extent, but it doesn’t answer what the difference was between Brett Favre asking for Randy Moss and Aaron Rodgers asking for James Jones.
The real story is that there was no difference.
Ted Thompson probably pays less attention to free agency than any other GM in the league. And when he does sign a free agent, it’s always on his terms.
Andrew Brandt has previously written about his time in the Packers front office and he has written a piece on the Packers’ attempt to net Randy Moss. Apparently, the deals that the Packers and Patriots offered Moss were very similar in terms of compensation to the Raiders and the contract offered. The only difference was that that the Packers wanted a 2-year deal minimum while the Patriots finally caved in and offered a 1-year deal.
The reasoning was pretty simple, Moss was willing to play at a discount for an opportunity to recoup the loss the next year; Moss’ stock had fallen drastically during his time with the Raiders and he was betting on hitting it big with a successful season. Of course the rest is history, Randy Moss had perhaps the finest season a wide receiver has ever seen in 2008, setting the single season record for touchdown receptions with 23 and a near perfect season (only to lose the New York Giants in the Super Bowl).
Ted Thompson on the other hand, wasn’t willing to take on Moss for only one year; from Thompson’s perspective if Moss had a dismal season then the trade was a failure, but if Moss had a stellar season then he would be on the open market again and Thompson would have to completely overpay to keep Moss on the team given his reputation (which the Patriots ultimately did to the tune of a 3-year, $27 million deal).
Obviously Thompson’s stubbornness blew up in his face a little, in my opinion even if Thompson had only manage to keep Moss on the roster for a year, that one year was probably value enough to warrant the deal. Of course, just because Moss succeeded with the Patriots doesn’t automatically mean he would have succeeded with the Packers. Would he have connected with Favre as well as he did with Brady? Would the locker room in Green Bay been strong enough to contain Moss like locker room in New England was able to? Who knows. But just in terms of production and scheme, Randy Moss was worth it in 2008.
In 2011 Thompson again stuck to his guns. During the offseason, everyone thought James Jones was as good as gone and that if Thompson wanted Jones back, he was going to have to outbid several teams for Jones’ services, which usually means shelling out a pretty penny. Many (including myself) assumed that teams would look over his deficiencies (most notably dropping passes at the most inopportune times) and overpay to get a young wide receiver with a ton of experience and talent. However, five days into free agency and there was no word from Jones.
Obviously something had gone very wrong. Free agents were being signed left and right, with many wide receivers in the range of Jones’ talent being picked up at all sorts of prices. In the end, news broke out that Jones had resigned with the Packers, but details about the deal were not made public.
That was the first sign that Thompson had gotten Jones on the cheap; everyone likes to brag and when a big contract gets signed, players and agents alike will triumphantly take to twitter and the like and announce the terms of the deal. The fact that Jones and his agent didn’t announce the deal meant that they were both forced to take an offer much lower than they had expected. In particular Jones’ agent definitely wanted to downplay the deal since it would hinder his chances of getting other wide receivers to hire him. In fact it took nearly a week for the terms of the deal to be leaked to the public, and they are unimpressive at best; a 3-year contract worth $9.3 million. At an average of $3.1 million per year, it puts Jones firmly as a tier 3 free agent wide receiver.
I can only imagine the disappointment in Jones’ camp when free agency turned a cold shoulder to him. I can also imagine that Jones considered the same route that Randy Moss took in 2007; play for a discount for one year and hope that you have a stellar season and get a better contract next year. But in the end, Jones chose to resign with the Packers on Ted Thompson’s terms, while the next three years definitely takes a sizable chunk out of Jones’ prime years, he will have the option of hitting the market one more time before he hits 30, when most teams begin to worry about a player’s age.
I think the big misconception Wilde and Johnson have is the true pushing power of a quarterback. Even with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, who both look like they’re on their way to Canton, Ted Thompson has proven he will stick to his guns, regardless of what other people want him to do. Arguably, if Thompson doesn’t get any feedback in terms of personnel from Head Coach Mike McCarthy (which is perhaps why the two work so well together), why would Thompson let a quarterback do his job?
At the combine, every GM will stand at the podium and espouse the advantages of draft and developing players in-house. The vast majority of them will then turn around and literally throw money at player’s feet once free agency starts. Ted Thompson has always walked the talk; people might not like it, but at least he’s true to his word.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.