To Fix the Packers Defense, Is It Time For Ted Thompson To Tread Into The Free Agency Waters? All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Packers GM Ted Thompson
Free Agent Foray?

Sometimes, desperate times call for drastic action and the situation with the Green Bay Packers defense is starting to border on desperate after the unit was shredded in the 37-20 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the NFC playoffs.

Packers GM Ted Thompson knows he needs to fix his defense and fast. He has legend in the making under center in Aaron Rodgers and an offense on the whole that other head coaches would run over their own mothers to get.   The Packers have an open multiple year window to win more Lombardi Trophies to go with the one they won last year in Super Bowl XLV.

That said, until some of the issues are resolved with the defense, it’s going to be difficult to get back to the big game.  You can’t win a championship outscoring you opponent 45-41 every game.  The law of averages will catch up with you as they did with the Packers this season.

So, in order to make the move back to the top of the NFL mountain in 2012, Thompson may have to do something incredibly unorthodox for him.

He may have to make a move (or even more) in free agency.

As my colleague Zach Kruse recently wrote, the obvious move for Thompson would be to perhaps trade up to get a pass rusher that can contribute immediately.  As Zach notes, Thompson did that in 2009 and got Clay Matthews after already selecting BJ Raji in the first round.  It was a move that took both Packer Nation and NFL pundits by complete surprise as such aggressiveness was unusual for Thompson.

Perhaps even more unusual would be treading into free agency to get another defensive end or a linebacker to bring in some relief for Matthews.  This isn’t to say Thompson must go after the biggest name available.  Even though he hit the jackpot when he signed Charles Woodson, making big splashes in free agency are in no way a guarantee of success. Ask the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins.

Someone the Packers might look to bring on would be Jarrett Johnson from the Baltimore Ravens.   Overshadowed by Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs in the linebacking corps, Johnson has been part of a defense that has been one of the best in league every year regardless of who their defensive coordinator is.   He’s 31 years old however, and one has to wonder if Thompson won’t pass on him solely based on that.  Still, he’d be a good addition for the next 3-4 years.

Another possibility would be David Hawthorne from the Seahawks.  He’s younger than Johnson (27) and the Seahawks seemingly are not making re-signing him a top priority as the offseason gets underway.   He’s made seven interceptions in a four year career, showing he can play coverage as the Packers do in Dom Capers’ scheme, and has a knack for forcing fumbles.  His sack totals are not as high, but bringing him in could take some weight off Matthews and allow the Claymaker to hunt.

Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals would be another nice addition although all signs out of Arizona suggest the Cardinals won’t let him get away and are prepared to use the franchise tag on him.  If the stars should align a certain way and the Packers can grab him, he’d be a fantastic addition to the defensive line.  He would allow Raji to move back to nose tackle while opening things up along the line for Matthews and the linebackers to rush the quarterback.

These are just a few possibilities Thompson could target.  There’s always a diamond in the rough or two in every free agent class and the Packers very well could find it.  Free agency is more of a crapshoot than the draft which is one big reason why Thompson doesn’t tread into the waters too often.

However, there are enough decent pass rushers available that Thompson would be wise to at least bring a few people in to talk.  That alone would be a change from the Packers’ usual way of bypassing free agency altogether.  Thompson’s “draft and develop” practice has paid dividends for the Packers so far and there is little reason to veer too far off course from that.

One or two quick strikes in free agency can still make a big difference to the defense.  With a pass rush that was practically non-existent in 2011, the Packers need help quickly if they want to win another Super Bowl.  Sitting around and waiting for a draft pick to develop isn’t ideal when you may not have the core of your team together for the long term.  The Packers are too deep in too many positions to hang onto everyone forever, so Thompson should make a move now.

Of course, I’m no NFL GM.   As Packer fans have been saying for a while now, “In TT We Trust.” Despite some misses like every NFL GM has, Thompson has been money in the moves that count.   The fan base trusts him and he won’t make any moves without thoroughly weighing the risks versus the rewards.

It’s anyone’s guess as to what Thompson will do.  We can all speculate and say what WE would do if we were running the show but in the end only one person’s opinion matters and that’s Ted Thompson’s.

It’s your time of year, Ted. Time to do what you do best.


Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and


28 thoughts on “To Fix the Packers Defense, Is It Time For Ted Thompson To Tread Into The Free Agency Waters?

  1. I’m not sure if the Packers are in the same situation as they were in 2009. A lot of folks are comparing this years draft to 2009 and the need for TT to be aggressive. People discuss TT’s aggressiveness when he got Raji and Matthews but forget that was the year the Packers switched to the 3-4 (at least it seems like people are forgetting to me). TT had to be aggressive in the 2009 draft since we didn’t quite have the players for the 3-4.

    IMHO, I don’t feel like we are so desperate this year that TT changes his MO. He will pick BPA and trade back a few times in the draft and look for bargains in FA, if there are any. If not, it will be continued FA silence. Great article and it is always fun to speculate too! 🙂

    1. Ditto…
      …and almost all teams suffer a letdown after winning a championship. On D one could argue CM3 had a more well rounded season and Morgan Burnett was better b/c he played the whole season. But of the other 9 positions every one was worse in 2011 than 2010. I feel Raji, Tramon et al will come back w/ a fire in the belly and improve over last year’s performance and “drastic action” will be not be needed. Let’s also not forget that some of the guys on PS (including IR Guy) may step up as well.

  2. It’s not unthinkable that TT will go to FA… but it just doesn’t seem his style. Not only that he doesn’t go to FA often but also the panicked frenzy that everyone is in to fix the D just doesn’t suit TT (and even you mentioned this as a desperate situation which I’m inclined to agree. I just don’t think TT sees it that way). He drafts players he has confidence in regardless of immediate team needs and he only goes to FA with players that are unbelievable talents under the condition that they fit his concept of how they play their position and I don’t think he’ll sign anyone out of desperation. He would sooner live with a weakness than take a guy that he doesn’t think will do the job that he wants done at that position. Someone brought up that TT tends to draft talented players at positions that don’t have immediate needs, well that’s spot on. Even when all of us are chomping at the bit to develop a pass rush (even me, ESPECIALLY me) TT is sitting in his office cool calm and collected hopefully coming up with a strategy far beyond what any of us have offered… It would be slightly ammusing to me if he spends all of his early picks on completely unforseen and unmentioned prospects only to see the uproar of everyone blasting him for such idiocracy. I’ve had less than 7 WTF moments with TT that I stand by to this day out of the hundreds of decisions he’s made (and I offer anyone the challenge of coming up with more than that), but other than that he’s worked wonders and I trust him to continue to do so.

  3. We have the big play makers on D ,we just need some solid players at OLB & or DE.Someone that can get at least 8 sacks. TT might have to move up slightly to do his magic. I just think Ingram is out of the question as he is going to go too early.

  4. Many were chanting we ‘ll just outscore everyone.
    Many keep bringing up Woodson as verifivation that TT does FA…different situation.
    Trading up is based on the Raji and Matthews draft and again different situation as noted in the change of scheme to 3-4.
    I don’t think TT will trade this year nor will he take Konz if there as I think TT knows the DL/OLB is more nessessary than simply BPA no matter the position.
    As to taking part in the “pricey” FA market I warn all…this is like a Lays potato chip dare,bet you can’t just eat one.You lose the sense of satifaction and your is in the head and become like those who can’t stay away from what addicted you…then your just a loser.
    Ted Thompson…PUT DOWN THOSE CHIPS!!!

    1. Woodson was a different situation. A great CB and a proven talent that fit the packers mold very well in the prime of his career at that point. I don’t know of any LB’s or d linemen that fit that mold in FA so I’ll agree with you.

      CM3 and BJ Raji is definite validation that TT will trade up, have to disagree with you on that one. It depends on who’s available. I don’t think TT rules anything out… It’s not a matter of him being like, I won’t EVER pick anyone up from FA. I won’t EVER trade up in the draft. He weighs the pros and cons of every situation taking into account every aspect:

      The teams needs and how deep those needs are, What is the players skillset and does his playing style/ personality/ maturity fit the teams needs?
      etc. etc. etc.

      based on those answers he decides whether to take action. Most of the time the answer is no. don’t pick up the FA or trade up in the draft. He doesn’t make a habbit of doing those things, which is good, but don’t think that he doesn’t consider it and don’t think he won’t consider it this off season.

      1. Woodson was regarded as a washed-up has-been who was more interested in partying all saturday night than preparing for a football game… That’s the reason the Packers got the opportunity to pick him up.

        Literally, NOBODY else in the league was willing to take the risk. The Packers were the only team interested, and make no mistake about it, the Packers were indeed taking a risk on a guy who certainly was not a perfect fit in Green Bay.

        After a tumultuous first year or so, Charles and MM came understand one another, and Wood changed his ways and embraced GB and put football first. The rest is history.

        But he certainly was not being viewed the way you’ve portrayed him when the Packers picked him from FA.

        1. O.o Maybe I’m thinking of the way I viewed him. I didn’t know there was so much negativity toward him when we picked him up. I thought he had plenty of time left. Well obviously he wasn’t washed up… lol. He’s much closer to being so now. I still think he has 2 years left. Anything beyond that will be a surprise to me.

  5. wow,”your head is in the bag and become”
    proof I think way faster than I type wow was that off.

  6. FA doesn’t mean TT has to go after the high price guys on the downward path of their careers. Younger guys who are measurably better than the existing rightside defenders is what we need. In short, guys who can play consistent so DC can play aggressive once again.

    As one who worried about the D from game#1, it is obvious the fix must be accomplished NOW. 15-2 with a crappy defnse is great on the surface. Until you realize the only 2 losses were when AR and the O had a bad game. In MM’s philosophy of a 1 and 0 world, it’s not the number of losses it when you lose. KC who cares – NYG’s end of season. The defense was a serious problem that was never addressed. It must be addressed NOW by whatever means.

    1. I understand your passionate stance on acquiring quality right side pass rushers because I have that same sentiment. That feeling that your stomache is digesting itself every time you think of that frustrating, glaring weakness of our defense this year. But saying it “must be addressed now by any means” isn’t the approach of a dynasty worthy franchise. That’s what separates TT from other GM’s. Dynasties are built on careful foresight, not knee jerk reactions to a bad year in one aspect of a defense. I would hope we could address the issue this off season, it was the worst aspect of our defense this season… but not by any means. By any reasonable means is a much better attitude and is the approach that TT will take.

      1. Yes,that is a wise( no pun intended Taryn) attitude ,but not as patient as you. I learned that we have to strike while the iron is hot or we might never get that chance. We’re close, now we have to get that pass rusher even if it means mortgaging the future slightly. Move up in the draft about 7 steps and a mid level FA should do it.

      2. The weakness I discuss is a FATAL weakness. That weakness caused Dominic to adjust his whole defensive philosophy. Just think how many more times Aaron and the O would have had the ball. It would have virtually ensured a playoff win. If nothing is done to dramatically improve the performance of the D there will be more losses next season and many may have an impact on the trip to SB XLII. The yardage rankings collapsed by 28 to 31 spots in a year depending on the type and source of data. That is failure. I.e. – it must be fixed now!

        1. Get off the ledge Ron.

          TT gambled on Neal and lost. We all know Jenkins could have been resigned for a modest price, but TT has his preferences just like everyone else. For him, it’s the draft. I hope TT drafts a high impact DE/ROLB or two in April, and follows that up with some depth FA signings. But if he doesn’t, I’ll still trust him, because he’s proven he’s capable of delivering for both the long and short term. Think about it – how long has it been since GB made it to TWO NFCCG’s in one cycle of players? That would be 95-97.

          As Bob McGinn stated in his postseason chat:

          “GB’s window is still wide open. Thompson has set up the roster to be competitive for the next 5 years at least. What you want is a team that’s good enough to get into the playoffs, and hopefully peak at the right time. That’s the new model for success in the NFL.”

          IMO TT will not go ‘overboard’ in fixing this problem. GM’s that over react to events from a previous season don’t last long, because they aren’t long term planners. It’s probably not as bad as it looks right now. Just like it wasn’t as good as it looked after last year.

          A lot of what happens is luck too. NYG had everything break right for them at the end of last year. Just like GB in 10. Just like PIT in 08. Just like NY in 07.

  7. If TT gets a FA – it’ll be a younger role player. He’s not going to go after a big name.

    If anything, top end DE and OLB in the draft as well as mid level FA for depth is the best way to go. You need a solid DL rotation in this league to succeed. In 07,09,10 we did have that. 08 and 11 not so much, and you saw the result.

  8. FIRST, he’ll draft the players he wants in the draft, AND THEN he’ll “consider” picking up a free agent long after free agency period has begun, therefore picking up someone who’s extremely low profile and very cheap for hire.

  9. TT has a big hole left by not compensating for the loss of Johnny Jolly, Justin Harrell, and injuries to Mike Neal. Raji and Pickett are above average but C.J. Wilson maybe the best of the rest and is just pedesrian in performance. Lawrence Guy has potentially superior athletic skills but is still raw. They need to go after someone like Red Bryant from the Seahawks to stop the hemmorhaging in the running game. Losing Collins will hurt as well, he will be hard pressed to start again at a Pro Bowl level and probably should be encouraged to retire for his future health.
    TT can pull off something with Matt Flynn to get some compensation to help in the draft. Also the compensatory picks for College, Jackson and Jenkins should be in the range of 3 number 4 picks at least.

    1. The chance that TT can work a sign and trade for Flynn is more remote than him signing Mario Williams…ain’t happenin’. We’ll probably get a 3rd round comp pick in 2013.
      The latest I read re comp picks for Colledge and Jenkins is two 4th rounders maybe a 3rd and 5th. Bjax signed for much less (2yr $4.5M) so a 6th rounder is projected. And maybe a 6th for Hall, Spitz, Bigby, and A. Smith. We should also get a 7th for the Schlauderaff trade.

  10. The reason that TT doesn’t utilize FA to drag in top tier talent- the reason FA is a crap shoot- is simple.

    It’s because if a player’s talent is actually worth as much as the salary it will take to sign him via free agency, he probably wouldn’t make it to free agency to begin with.

    Sure, there’s teams that will allow certain players test FA to get a fair understanding of what their true value is on the market (much like the Packers have done in the past), and one of two things happens: A crazy bidding war for the player develops between teams, which usually inflates their value to ridiculous heights (which is not a good situation), or, the price remains accurate and fair and the “home” team has the advantage in retaining the player- he’s worth keeping and the market value is right.

    The only real scenarios where a player on the FA market may be worth your time are ones in which the player is still of value but has been usurped by a younger, more talented player (This is what the Packers attempt to do), or the player is let go due to a salary cap situation.

    In these rarer situations, now figure in that the player has to be a better option than what the Packers already have, or at least fill a role the Packers need filling.. AND they need to “fit in” with the very carefully cultivated Packers’ locker room mentality.

    That’s a very shallow pool to draw from when you really think about it.

    1. I suppose you could add in a scenario where the player has decided he simply will not resign with his team and has decided he will play WHERE HE WANTS, and while that sometimes works out for the best, that often, unfortunately, is a red flag that the player is difficult and disgruntled and a possible cancer in your locker room.

  11. You guys should look at a trade with a team like the Giants would have Osi on the trade block. I have been reading that your going to Tag the TE NY needs one. Trade player for player and have Ny throw in a 4th or 5th rounder.

  12. The obvious FA’s for me are a veteran offensive tackle for a year, to cover Sherrod as he gets back to 100% That could be Clifton, is he has anything left, (not sure he does), but if the Packers can get better than him for a year, they should. also a vet safety to shore up that position. I’d save the D line and OLB position for the draft.

  13. The defense MUST improve the pass rush and for God’s sake, let’s start tackling again. The entire defense must become stingy and relentless, just as they were in 1996 and many successful years before that. I truly believe a more balanced team makes for a championship season. Let’s do it in 2012.

  14. Good article Kris, I agree with your assessment. TT should not totally rely on the draft to try and fix all the holes on this D.

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