So here we are again in the midst of another free agency period in the NFL and the Green Bay Packers have been as active as a Koala bear in the dead of summer. General Manager Ted Thompson has forged this reputation for sitting idle while most every other team (the Packers are one of just two teams who have not signed a free agent that was not on its own roster the year prior) has added a new player or two.
We shouldn’t be surprised as this has been Thompson’s M.O. for most of his tenure in Green Bay, but judging by the fan response over the past week I’d have to say that many have allowed themselves to think that this offseason would be different.
Last offseason, the team added veteran center Jeff Saturday to replace the departed Scott Wells. They also brought in veteran running back Cedric Benson in the middle of training camp to give the offensive backfield a boost.
It felt like old times again and reminded us of the returns that Green Bay had gained from bringing in such well-known talent as Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett, to name a few. If nothing else it signaled, in the minds of many, that Thompson was “trying” and wanted to keep the Packers window open for another Super Bowl title.
Many fans, myself included, felt that this may be a changing of the tide in Green Bay. Maybe Thompson would change his stripes and start using free agency to plug the few holes that the Packers seem to have. After all, one of the best positions you can be in as an NFL team is to have just a few needs that can be filled with one or two key acquisitions and some draft picks sprinkled in.
Well, a year later, we can look back and say that neither Saturday nor Benson panned out. Neither will be on this year’s team and the Packers were, once again, eliminated in the Divisional round of the playoffs. It was a disappointing loss and I’m not implying that Saturday or Benson’s lack of production was the reason for it. Could some additional moves have made the difference and possibly gotten the Packers by the San Francisco 49ers? Probably not. Last year’s Packers team had many glaring deficiencies when it came to playing against some of the tougher and more sound teams in the league. Those deficiencies included both players who will return to the team this year and some who have departed.
So it begs the question: Is Ted Thompson allowing the Packers’ window of opportunity to close on competing for another championship with his lack of acquiring veteran free agents who can fill needs? It’s a valid question given that the Packers have nearly $25 million in cap space to work with.
Earlier I mentioned how the Packers have, in recent years, tended to have just a few positions of real need each offseason and ripe for a veteran acquisition to fill that hole. That was then and this is now. In addition to Saturday and Benson, Green Bay has let go of Woodson and also lost Greg Jennings and Tom Crabtree to free agency. They still haven’t replaced safety Nick Collins. There is no clear answer at running back and there are still questions on the offensive line. With this many need areas, the last thing that Thompson should be doing is breaking the bank to address each. Doing so would be fiscally irresponsible.
We have seen many examples of free agents who don’t pan out and, as a result, are overpaid. Yesterday on NFL Radio, New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft stated:
“…let me tell you what’s happened in the NFL this year: The top 25 (free-agent) players have received $700 million. How many Pro Bowls do any of you think cumulatively any of those players have gone to? Six…so that tells you the trend has gone to signing young, up-and-coming players.”
Yes, some of these players are budding stars and will likely be in a Pro Bowl soon, but there is a big risk element in paying a player for potential. Changing teams, as we know, is no guarantee that a player will flourish in that system. Many times has a GM plucked a player away from his old team and implanted them onto their team’s current system only to see the player flop around like a fish out of water.
Thompson’s restraint in free agency should be lauded. With the expiring contracts of key players such as Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, BJ Raji and James Jones, coming up soon, the Packers have made a statement as to where their priorities lie. Rodgers alone equates to wins for this team by himself. We can argue as to whether it’s two or ten. The point is, the team is set and will continue to be set at the most important position for several years to come. That will keep them in contention and will also get more out of the other players on the team.
While the Packers have stuck largely with their own hand-picked players for the past many years, they have also been successful enough to have a chance to win it all year after year. Just ask any Lions or Vikings fan if they would be happy with that. Or Jaguars, Titans, Chiefs, Raiders or Browns. The list could go on. While those teams try to add that player to get them over the hump, the Packers are already and once again favored to be playing into this next January.
At this point and with the cream of the free agent crop all signed, sealed and delivered, don’t look for Thompson to make any noise. He has already spoken loudest with his silence. Next month’s draft will become Thompson’s breeding ground to address this team’s needs. As I stated earlier, it’s more than just “a few”. The draft will give the Packers at least six or seven chances to address some of those positions and cost them rather modestly (thanks to the new CBA rookie salary cap). Minus round one, this lowers the risk and allows for a higher reward. I’d have to say that an executive in any business that can accomplish that scenario would be applauded.
It’s entirely possible that Thompson missed this year’s free agent golden egg and “shoulda woulda coulda” will be our mantra by season’s end. But based on what we know now, Thompson has avoided overspending at a time when the team can’t afford it. To lose some of their core because of a selfish reach could set this team back further than any of us want to think about.
Instead, think playoffs and remember the old saying that relates to playing the lottery: You can’t win (a Super Bowl) if you don’t play (get in).
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: