Imagine this scenario: you’re traveling with your family on a vacation. You mapped out the route you would take and foresaw smooth travels ahead. What actually happens, however, is road filled with bumps and potholes and you suffer some damage and keep getting detoured from your ultimate destination.
For Ted Thompson, with perhaps his legacy as general manager for the Green Bay Packers in the balance, such a moment is at hand.
Ever since the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, Thompson’s ultimate destination has been a return trip to the title game. Many, including Thompson himself, thought the Packers were in prime position for multiple Super Bowl runs and some even uttered the word “dynasty” when looking at Green Bay’s long term prognosis.
Instead, Thompson’s team has suffered through multiple injury plagued seasons while the defense continues to suffer blowout after blowout like a cheaply made tire on an RV. The offense is the engine that keeps the vehicle moving at a decent speed but what good does that do with consistently flat tires on defense?
Heading into the 2014 offseason, Thompson has to put solid rubber underneath the Packer vehicle in order to take some pressure off the offense and keep that engine from overheating. The defense must get better (and fast) if the Packers want any chance of returning to the Super Bowl.
Aaron Rodgers was dead on when he said one window has closed for the Packers and another has opened. The franchise quarterback is 30 and will turn 31 late in the upcoming season. The clock is ticking.
Thompson has relied heavily on drafting talent and developing it along to replace aging stars. This method has worked well in spots, the wide receiver position is a case in point.
It has been an utter disaster on defense. The Packers have yet to find a suitable replacement for Nick Collins and also haven’t fully replaced Cullen Jenkins either. After both these players left the team via injury and free agency, the performance of the Green Bay defense has gone into a tailspin.
That is why this off season is crucial for the Packers. The Packers managed to stay afloat without Rodgers for half of 2013 but they’d have been in even better shape had the defense even resembled competence. Thompson has not been the best in terms of drafting defensive talent and that was on display for all to see in 2013.
There have been reports the Packers will (finally) wade into the free agency waters to help improve the defense. Both Thompson and Mike McCarthy attempted to squash that rumor at the Scouting Combine and many fans seem to expect more of the same out of the Packers again. It’s hard to blame them, really.
That said, Thompson has no choice. Based on his aforementioned history drafting defensive players and the continual poor preformance of the unit as a whole, it’s time for Thompson to choose the road less traveled.
Call me crazy, but I think Thompson sees it the same way. Don’t fret when the Packers aren’t listed as one of the first teams some of these big name free agents plan to visit. Thompson will wait for values to drop before rushing and potentially severely overpaying a player. That is just good business sense.
This year’s free agent class is deep. That plays to the Packers’ advantage. They don’t need a Brian Orakpo or D’Qwell Jackson. It’d be nice, but the Packers don’t need a huge name to transform the defense. Even a decent safety would have been an improvement and thrown in a healthy Casey Hawyard alongside a resurgent Tramon Williams and a (hopefully) long-term locked up Sam Shields and the secondary becomes much stronger.
To get that safety does Thompson draft someone or does he take a free agent? The Packers need not one but TWO safeties and to think Thompson will hit on both in the draft is crazy looking at his history. Green Bay’s best bet would to bring in someone in the early rounds (not necessarily the first) and a veteran to balance the unit out.
That is just one of many decisions Thompson faces this offseason. The Packers are at a crossroads and each decision Thompson makes will have an effect on how smooth Green Bay’s travels are not just in 2014 but in the next several years to come.
Thompson has delivered one Super Bowl title on his journey as Green Bay Packers general manager. With his steady hand at the wheel, the Packers can continue to be amongst the NFL’s best for the next several years.
He is currently at a fork in the road however and whichever path he chooses will be felt for the next several years.
Choose wisely, Ted. The future of Green Bay’s fortunes is in your hand.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com 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 CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke