How many of you were caught off guard with the Reggie Wells signing? How about the Cedric Benson signing? Me too. Now for all of us who think we know Ted Thompson, we’d naturally think that in response to the spate of injuries (which is also unusually high enough for a training camp that head coach Mike McCarthy has had to tone down and shorten practices just to keep his players fresh), Thompson would go and sign some young guy we’ve never heard of, probably from a school that we’ve never heard of and also probably with only a few, if any, years of experience in the NFL.
The “standard” Ted Thompson MO has so far been low-risk/high reward, meaning that by signing young unknown players, he is minimizing the risk of his investment (i.e. the contract) since young unproven players can be had for much lower costs. When Thompson hits he gets Tramon Williams, when he doesn’t he gets Maurice Simpkins (who?); either way the Packers can’t really lose.
So how about Wells and Benson, who are both players with 8 years plus playing experience in the NFL? I would argue that the entire league knows what you are getting with both players; Wells has a ton of experience and multiple positions on the offensive line and makes a good emergency swing offensive linemen but isn’t exactly starting material and Benson is the no-nonsense, straight ahead runner that the Packers love, but has a very long list of off the field problems as well as a penchant for putting the ball on the ground.
Both presumably signed the veteran minimum (also presumably with no guaranteed money) so basically the cost is about the same, so why not pick a player that’s younger and has a chance to factor long term into the Packers plans? Here are a couple reasons I’ve thought up, if you have any other ideas, please leave them in the comment section below.
- 90 man rosters have taken up all the young players with potential: With the new CBA increasing roster sizes from 80 to 90 players in training camp, there are 320 less players on the street this year than there were last year. When you add to that the fact that the NFL draft takes another 250+ players away from the pool and returns might be diminishing. We all like to say there are only so many people on this world who are capable of playing quarterback or have the physique of a star left tackle, but the same is true with NFL-caliber football players as a whole; there simply are only so many people in the world who are capable of playing in the NFL. It might be that all NFL teams are “scrapping the bottom of the barrel” when it comes to free agent signings at this period. If this is true, Thompson really isn’t changing his MO; it’s just that best low-risk/high-reward players at this point in the preseason are now veterans. Consider Cedric Benson’s contract: a 1-year, $825,000 minimum for a 8-year vested veteran, which includes a split clause where he only makes $393,000 if he ends up on IR (which is very unusual for a veteran player) and does not include any guaranteed money or performance incentives (which is a little unusual for a running back) means basically the Packers low-balled Benson hard, who presumably figured it was better to have a job in the preseason rather than waiting for injuries to happen in the regular season, and had to take it since there were no other suitors. This could also explain why they didn’t sign Ryan Grant, as I would assume most veteran running backs would try to get a little more than what Benson signed for. I would assume Benson represents very very-low risk/moderate reward for the Packers at the very worst.
- The Packers already have enough young players with potential: I’m not entirely sure I believe this, but it could be that Thompson is confident enough with the player he already has that he doesn’t want the team to be filled with all young players who are a couple years away from seriously contributing (at least not in 2012, because that was exactly what the team looked like in 2005, but he’s won a Super Bowl and gone 15-1 since then). At some point, someone has to play right now and a veteran who presumably already knows what to do would be more appropriate than another unproven player. It also comes down to an issue of reps; for instance if the Packers had brought in another unknown rookie free agent to play left tackle, then that player would have to compete for reps with both Derek Sherrod (presuming he gets healthy at some point) and Andrew Datko. Since the team doesn’t really know anything about either of these two players, you are actually making the situation worse by splitting the reps up even more instead of letting someone take the majority of the practice reps and letting the Packers front office know what kind of player they are.
- Wells and Benson are camp bodies: Wells and Benson might truly just be warm bodies to line up during the preseason while “Thompson’s guys” get rested up or recovered. It’s believed that Wells is currently on the 2nd or 3rd team offense as a left tackle, so it could be that Thompson and the front office just want someone steady who can manage against 2nd or 3rd team defenses and keep Graham Harrell/BJ Coleman healthy and upright. Furthermore, this helps the front office decide on other players when they don’t have to factor in poor left tackle/running back blitz pick-up play. For instance, during the last game it was hard to judge Graham Harrell’s play because he was under so much pressure because Herb Taylor wasn’t adequate as a left tackle (actually even Aaron Rodgers didn’t look very good with Herb Taylor at left tackle). Going further if the team can’t gauge Graham Harrell’s progress, it also becomes hard to gauge any of the receivers progress since they are all attempting to catch passes that are out of place and out of rhythm (due to quarterback pressure). Presumably Wells can manage a little better and might be able to let quarterbacks and receivers really show what they can do.
- Benson isn’t a fan/team favorite: Specifically in regards to Benson, he’s essentially a blank slate for Packers fans (or maybe a slight favorite as he essentially wasted the Bears 4th overall pick in 2005) so if Benson shows nothing during the preseason, then the Packers can cut him without much ruckus. On the other hand, if the Packers resigned Ryan Grant and then cut him, I’m sure fans and players would make news about it, and probably not positive headlines either (I guarantee Green and Gold Today would devote an entire episode to why the Packers shouldn’t have cut Grant since apparently Jason Wilde is married to Ryan Grant). While Ted Thompson might not care what fans or the media think (and he shouldn’t), he does have to care about what his players think and he doesn’t want to make unnecessary locker room discord if he doesn’t have to.
Ted Thompson has had a very weird year: first signing a known free agent in Jeff Saturday, then trading up in the draft and then finally signing a spate of veteran free agents before camp and now during camp. Is Thompson truly “evolving” as many people have wondered? I personally don’t think that Thompson is “evolving” and learning something new in the sense of giving more value to veteran free agents; he’s been in the business for 20 years and he’s won a Super Bowl and fielded a competitive team more often than not during his tenure so really there shouldn’t be much impetuous to change. What I really think is that in Ted Thompson’s mind, all these veteran free agent signings still follow his low-risk/high-reward strategy; I haven’t figure it out yet, but I’m sure it makes sense to Ted Thompson.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.