What’s Going On With Ted Thompson?

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Cedric Benson
Former Bears/Bengals running back Cedric Benson,

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.

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

 

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Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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  • Big T

    At this point an average player who isn’t injury prone trumps an excellant player that is never on the field…

    • Thomas Hobbes

      Agreed, but there are also healthy rookie undrafted free agents around that Thompson could have picked up instead of Wells and Benson. I’m not saying that this was the wrong move, just rather uncharacteristic of Thompson.

  • BubbaOne

    I’m surprised you’re surprised. This is the natural evolution of building a SB team. At first bring in plenty of players to build the roster talent and to find playmakers. Once you’re there as we are now you still bring in young players to keep the overall youth but if you need to you bring in plug and play vets to help win championships.

    • http://None Bearmeat

      ^ This

    • brauny

      Bubba1 nailed this one – and I’m surprised the author didn’t even mention. Seems obvious to me. TT has not changed – only the circumstances of the team have changed.

      It would have made no sense to bring in decent FAs when the Packers had lots of holes and little depth. Now, with lots of depth maybe not a bad deal to bring in a few here and there.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      I do find it interesting that even Ted Thompson admits that he’s M.O. has changed , at least publicly i.e. “not my father’s son anymore” and those sorts of comments. Furthermore, Thompson has always advocated planning several years in advance, so again it’s interesting he’s changed course.

  • steve cheez

    It’s kinda funny that for years people have been on TT’s case for not doing this. Now he’s doing it and (the same?) people are getting on his case for that. Not saying it’s wrong, just amusing.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      Like I’d said, I’m pretty sure in Ted Thompson’s mind he doing exactly the same thing as he was before, only the rest of us see it as completely different.

  • Pat Mc

    I agree with plug and play vets. TT also has Grant wanting big payday and if he brought him in for big bucks that messes up the payday for AR – who we have to have.

    Ryan Grant now see’s a 1st Round – number 4 in the draft, RB, that has a few 1,000 yard seasons the past few years sign for less than a million. That sends a message to RB’s – be available, be productive and know that there are other assets to take your place if you are not.

    • Oppy

      This is now the second time I’ve read a comment about Ryan Grant “Wanting big bucks”. Grant took a significant pay cut in 2011 just to stay on the roster. I don’t believe (i could be wrong) that the Russ Ball or any member of the Packers ever even talked to Grant’s agent about an extension during 2011, and I don’t think they ever called Grant after he became a free agent.

      I’ve seen no mention of Grant wanting big bucks anywhere. Is there something I missed? Or is this just speculation based on Grant’s hold-out from five years ago?

      • Thomas Hobbes

        I think the big issue isn’t “big bucks” but guaranteed money, especially against injury. At Grant’s age and injury history, he wants some assurances that the team won’t jettison him if he gets hurt or his production drops when he gets dinged. Benson bit the bullet and gave up those concessions, I’m willing to bet Grant is holding out.

  • Big T

    Was there any interest in Ryan Grant from other teams?

    • Chad Toporski

      I think I remember him getting some looks from other teams, the Lions being one of them, but the fact remains he’s still unsigned.

    • FireMMNow

      it sounds like ryan grant is not interested in signing for the veteran minimum. the pats brought ryan grant in as well i believe.

      • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

        I think that’s the key. Grant and his agent have decided to wait for some team’s running back to go down and then he can command more $$$

        • Oppy

          Per my comment above, is this stuff speculative, or is there basis for it?

          Are we assuming that teams not only kicked the tires, but also offered Grant a minimum contract that he declined? Or did they decide they would rather look at another model and walk away from the table?

          I’m honestly asking, here. I’ve heard nothing about supposed contract offers.

          • Thomas Hobbes

            I think it’s mostly speculation; to be honest I think the majority of time the only time you’ll hear of a contract is when the player signs it. I’m sure there are plenty of occasions where players have walked away from a contract and no one ever hears of it.

  • FireMMNow

    i think ted thompson right now is playing off of billy bean’s moneyball a little bit.

    billy bean found out that teams were over-valuing high school pitchers in the draft and started picking college pitchers instead. 5 years later the trend switched and he started picking high school pitchers.

    teams have realized that you need to build from within if you want to have long term success (and roster sizes is a great point as well), so teams are placing a higher value on younger cheaper players. guys like wells and especially benson would have commanded more money 5 years ago. remember the texans signing ahman green (similar age and production at that point in their careers). I think TT just sees some value in veteran cast offs at this point.

    • CSS

      I think Thompson and McCarthy see value in competition from veterans to spur internal growth in their young players and create a sense of urgency to step up. Nothing has really changed in their core philosophy, and they’re anything but desperate, but the 2nd and 3rd year players that have been in the system and certainly have the talent to make a difference in the NFL need to grow, or they go.

      A flat cap this year just seems to make this approach more feasible, especially for teams that have cap space and can generate risk free contracts with veterans like Benson, Muir (for example).

    • Charlie M

      The TT/Billy Beane comparison is very interesting. It is all about value for both guys. DJ Smith and Mike Daniels are prime examples of guys Billy Beane would love if he were an NFL GM. Both are guys who lack prototypical size but were huge producers in college.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      I do wonder if this has anything to do with Elliot Wolf moving up the ranks. Many have assumed that Thompson is grooming Wolf to be hi eventual replacement, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this is practice for Wolf.

  • Big T

    I would be willing to bet that Theodore has an ace up his sleeve he is not ready to reveal just yet….

    • Oppy

      …the masses are starting to warm up to your softer side, T ;)

  • toolkien

    I don’t know why this hard to figure out. Ted is “thrifty”. He will get a bunch of young guys and assume out of the bunch guys will emerge. If they don’t, the next step is to get veteran talent at bargain prices. A lot of guys have been tossed in the hopper and either due to injury or lack of progress step 2 is necessary.

    At no point do I see Thompson ever signing a blue-chip guy for twice his worth for the start of his downward arc of his career. It is unnerving a bit that he’s had to go to the free agent well a little more often as his guys are either hurt or not panning out. But if he can make up for sliding from a .550 “batting average” to a .500 batting average by getting veteran talent for a sticker friendly amount, then great. If overall potency declines regardless, then we’ve got a problem (i.e. Thompson slides to a .450 batting average).

    • Thomas Hobbes

      I don’t think anyone is concerned about Thompson’s financial commitment, it’s more about the age. The question is, why would you sign a veteran to the minimum when you can sign a rookie free agent for basically the same amount, but has the chance of being a good/great/star player for the team in the future? Is it just experience?