Ted Thompson Must Not Care Much About the Center Position

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Packers Center J.C. Tretter
Packers Center J.C. Tretter

It seemed to me to be a no-brainer. The Packers have no one on their roster with more than minimal NFL experience as  a center.  Before yesterday, there were 19 players on the NFL Free Agent Tracker listed at the center position. Surely Ted would be looking to bring in an inexpensive player with real experience at center in case the JC Tretter conversion doesn’t work out.

Well, Ted has done nothing yet and now there are 18 centers on the market, with arguably the best of the bunch now off the board.

The NFC  North Division rival Bears signed former Saints starting center Brian De La Puente on Sunday. De La Puente was a guy I had on my radar as the best target for Ted Thompson to bring in as cheap veteran insurance. Only I had no idea how cheap.

The Bears signed De La Puente for a veteran minimum contract ($735K for a player with 4 years experience) with a $65,000 signing bonus and only $100,00 in guaranteed money. That’s quite a bargain for a player ranked as the fifth best center in the NFL over the last three seasons, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Still young at only 28yrs old, De La Puente turned down the Lions and the Saints to join the Bears and his old offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. While that makes sense, it is odd that he joins a team where he is expected to be a backup, not a starter. Certainly a team like the Packers could have offered him a better opportunity to win a starting job.  But apparently, that offer never came.

With how inexpensively De La Puente came, one can’t say the Packers (Ted) were being cheap, a common refrain heard from many critics. So that leaves several other possibilities:

1) The Packers are dead-on convinced Tretter is their center of the present and the future.

2) The Packers are planning to draft a starting center.

2) Ted Thompson just doesn’t value the center position that highly.

Let’s take a look at the first option. I recently wrote about the state of the center position for WTMJonline.  Here’s an excerpt from that article:

Between Barclay and Tretter, I think it’s obvious who the Packers would like to win the job. Tretter has the smarts (29 on his Wonderlic score) and mobility (a former tight end).  The Packers would love to have those things at their disposal leading their offensive line. Barclay, on the other hand, would help the team much more on the bench. He would be invaluable to the Packers as a game day active backup at 4-5 positions on the offensive line…  The one problem with Tretter, of course, is that he’s never played a snap in the NFL yet. The Packers really liked what they saw of Tretter in practice over the last seven weeks of the season, but until they see him in game action in the preseason, they have to hedge their bets. Beyond the guys mentioned above, I expect there to be some other candidates on the Packers roster before too long. There currently are 19 players with experience at center on the free agent market, most of whom can be signed as inexpensive insurance. 

As I mention in that article, I believe the packers WANT Tretter to be the answer, but the fact they are open to Lang and even Sitton as other possible options, doesn’t sound like they’re SURE about it.

As for possibility #2, Ted Thompson has never drafted a true center. And unless you have a very high pick or are very willing to reach,  it’s difficult to have drafting a starter as a specific position on your draft day to-do list. There are too many unknowns to count on that as your primary strategy.

That brings us to possibility #3. This article was inspired by a twitter conversation between Ted Sundquist (a former Broncos NFL GM) and Ryan Riddle (Former NFL player and current writer for Bleacher Report).

Ryan_RiddleRyan_Riddle: I’d like to thank @Ted_Sundquist for providing highly valued insight into Why Offensive Linemen Are Valued Highly:http://t.co/B3Yd2K2PnV
Ted_SundquistTed_Sundquist: [email protected]Ryan_Riddle My pleasure! Have written some posts on OL myself at http://t.co/gYyMi77o5H. No great team can ever be w/o a solid unit.
Ryan_RiddleRyan_Riddle: @Ted_Sundquist I was mostly surprised about the value of having a great center. Thanks for alerting me to that tidbit of knowledge.
JerseyAlGBPJerseyAlGBP: @Ryan_Riddle @Ted_Sundquist To that, Ted Thompson says, center schmenter…
Ted_SundquistTed_Sundquist: [email protected]JerseyAlGBP @Ryan_Riddle Yep, some GM’s disagree. For me in my day, not so much.

In Riddle’s article, which is a really good read on offensive line topics in general, Sundquist professes his love for the center position:

“Center is the most important offensive line position.” says Sundquist. “The best units are generally anchored by a son-of-a-gun at center. Without a good center, you’re not going to have a good offensive line.”

One man’s opinion, of course, and one Riddle put to the test in his article. I won’t go into the specifics of the data Riddle used (you’ll have to read the article), but the results were that in 2012, four of the top eight centers were members of top ten offensive lines. In 2013, seven of the top eight were members of a top ten offensive line.

While I think the sample set is not large enough to give definitive results, it’s still interesting to see numbers corroborating Sundquist’s belief that the center makes the line. Sundquist is such a believer, he also said he would absolutely draft a center in the first round.

That brings us to Ted Thompson, who has never drafted a pure center in his time as Packers GM. There was Junius Coston and Jason Spitz, two guys who had played SOME center in college, but that’s as close as you can come.

As we stand now in 2014, the Packers will have their fourth different starting center over the last four years. During that time, Thompson has let two starting centers leave via free agency, Scott Wells and Evan Dietrich-Smith. Despite Aaron Rodgers’ protestations, it doesn’t seem like Thompson thinks continuity at center is all that important.

With the Packers current situation of not having an experienced center on their roster, and the best option to resolve that problem now gone (De La Puente), what will Thompson do? There are still some decent options sitting out there for him.

Kyle Cook, starter for the Bengals since 2009.

Jonathan Goodwin, starter since 2008 for New Orleans and San Francisco.

Samson Satele, starter since 2007 for Miami, Oakland and Indianapolis.

David Baas, starter for the Giants since 2005

Surely he’ll sign of these guys to a one year insurance contract as the Bears have just done with De La Puente, right? …right?

If not, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say Thompson just doesn’t care that much about the center position.

 

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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55 thoughts on “Ted Thompson Must Not Care Much About the Center Position

  1. Ted, like most good GMs, is trying to find places to save money. He knows that his QB, secondary, pass rushers, WR and maybe RBs will gobble up cap dollars. Based on both line play, my guess is that he is trying to save bucks in the trenches. It is not my preference but you need to devalue some positions in order to afford others. For the last years, TT has avoided putting money into the run game in favor of other positions. This approach has cost us until Eddie Lacy (still cheap) came along.

    Center is important, but is it as important as the tackle or guard? Apparently, Ted thinks NOT. If he strikes gold on Tretter, then he has cheap talent for 2 or 3 more years before he has to make a call. At that point, he may prefer to re-up his center and search for a cheap upgrade at right guard. The personnel and performance will drive that decision.

    In the big picture, Ted drafts left tackles and hopes that Campen can reprogram the player. Get athletic guys that can move and remold to your needs. It is lucky that Campen has been able to coach this cobbled line into a serviceable unit. I doubt that most Packer fans recognize just what a big job Campen has from year to year. Kudos to him.

    I won’t criticize TT for not throwing money at Wells or EDS. they were average at best, just like most of the guys that you cite. Tretter, unfortunately, followed the injury theme that hurt us on many fronts last year.

    1. It is UNIVERSALLY known that centers are almost completely replaceable. That’s why their average pay is less than other players in the OL. It’s also why you almost never hear of a blue chip center. Rarely does anyone gush over a center, unlike guards or tackles.

      I just grabbed the most expedient link off of a quick Google search, so these are 2012 numbers.

      http://www.sportscity.com/nfl-salaries-top-10-salaries-for-offensive-linemen/2012/07/05/

      But you’ll see that the top paid center in the league makes less than half of even the top paid guard, let alone tackle. There’s a reason that this is the case.

      There are still perfectly serviceable centers on the market, and there still will be after the draft. And after training camp. Now is literally the worst time to be signing centers, before the draft and training camp, before we know what the Packers will have on their roster.

      If you sign a veteran worth his salt, they’re going to want guaranteed money. If Tretter or a new draft pick work out, that’s 1-3 million on the salary cap that you’ve pissed away to satisfy trigger-happy fanalysts.

  2. I think they have been searching for the right guy, since 2008 they wanted more power run, so they move Spitz to center an put Sitton at RG but josh got hurt, then in 2009 they did the same but was jason who got hurt, they put Wells (undersized) he was a very good C but he asked for to much money, they tried and failed to develop McDonald and Draheim, I think they never really commited to EDS, and they seem to like Tretter a lot, we’ll see.

    1. Ted is still suffering the lingering symptoms of Jeff Saturday disease. Expected full recovery is early May 2014.

  3. Ted Thompson from what I can see is not a fan of ‘leftovers’,whether it be in the refrigerator or from another football locker room.

    It would appear that De La Puente has confidence concerns to take so much less to be with Kromer as a backup and that says a lot and perhaps TT felt this and didn’t waste time or money.

    Does anyone have the info as to how many Centers signed in FA went to another team and made that OL more successful in the last 5 years.

    With that,Peppers had best bring something to the table for TT this season or many Packers fans will be seeing even less in the ‘leftover’ department from other locker rooms and only get more of TT’s fresh handmade menu…..

      1. And there is the explanation. Most of the FA Centers available had a limitation like that. EDS had mad himself into a brainy player, but had athletic limitations, even in a ZBS running scheme (the Center has to make the reach block). When you add a power running game, the C also needs to power block on the 2nd level (i.e. get to the LBs) and/or pull.

        You need a better athlete. Tretter is a better athlete than EDS or LaPuente. Can he learn the job? Clearly Thompson thinks so and we have no real evidence against the idea.

        1. Completely agree. I gotta think the brain trust meeting involved MM and Campen telling TT they really see something in Tretter.

  4. Obvious answer IMO:

    “The Packers are dead-on convinced Tretter is their center of the present and the future.”

    Nothing else would make sense. And why wouldn’t they be? The kid’s got it all. I know, he still has to do in games before we can be 100% sure but when you think you have a stud, you don’t go out paying starter money to somebody you expect to be on the bench. Now, if TT is wrong and Tretter is no good, GB is in a bad position all over again. That makes me think they have somebody else besides Tretter they think could play C if Tretter fails to pan out. I am giving TT the benefit of the doubt but if I’m wrong, he should be fired for gross ineptitude. The only way I do what he is doing is:

    (1) I’m convinced Tretter is my guy; and,
    (2) if he isn’t, I have a Plan B I am happy to go with.

    People need to be sweating the acquisition of over-the-hill Peppers not the young stud with his entire future ahead of him. The Bears signed Houston to take Peppers’ place and got rid of Peppers. The Packers took the Bears leftovers. Did anyone watch the Bears DL last year? It was horrible and Peppers was part of the reason. That is what Packer fans should worry about. IMO.

    1. Archie, did you just say “I am giving TT the benefit of the doubt!” ……I almost fell out of my chair. I’m giving you a “like” for that one. I agree with you that they must be pretty confident that Tretter can do it(his college QB thinks he can do it). I guess the backup plan could be either Barclay or Lang. — Bears got rid of Peppers more because of money and cap hit, IMO. I think he is going to be part of a rotation here and thus will be fresher than he was in Chicago. GoPack!

    2. Archie, I’m in the Pro-Tretter camp, but let’s be real – what is it based on? Hope. No one has seen him play a down in the NFL. Much higher draft picks than he have been complete busts, never mind just not quite good enough. Unless you were attending Cornell games, you haven’t seen him play in college, either.

      Now, I surely hope he will be what the Packers want, but to say a 4th round pick you haven’t seen play “has got it all” is not being realistic.

      1. The thing that isn’t being considered is Centers are generally more important to the team they are on. That indicates that knowing the offense is more than 1/2 the battle. Tretter is Ivy League smart, and proved a quick study when practicing end of last year. It also says that a guy that’s been on the Packers PS (Gerhart) probably carries as high a grade as any of the FA Centers.

        I’m sure the Packers are very confident in Tretter, but I’m guessing they feel as confident in Gerhart to be about as good as any FA Center might.

        1. Sorry, can’t agree with that thought. I like Tretter, but can’t think it wise to rely on a guy who has never played a snap in the NFL. Now you suggest we should rely on a guy who has never even made the 53 man squad, much less the 46 man active list. I recall that you liked Gerhart (Hobbes’ 7/16/13 article) but thought Van Roten should make the team with Gerhart going to PS. Gerhart was considered fast, a ZBS type guy with little power and limited athleticism. Van Roten has been cut unceremoniously. de la Puente at least has proved that he can pass block in the NFL by starting for New Orleans, even if he can’t run block worth a darn. I assume that de la Puente could learn the playbook. As you noted yourself in discussing bringing in a Vet FA safety, de la Puente already knows the defensive formations of the NFL teams and knows many of their tendencies, which is half the battle.

          1. This isn’t a discussion of vet FA safeties. I consider each position differently and don’t consider each to need the same experience as a Safety. As I noted, at Center I think knowing your own offense is a lot more important than knowing the defense.

            Gerhart has been on the PS for parts of 2 years. He knows that playbook better than a vet would. As for Van Roten over Gerhart, it had more to do w/ positional versatility in him making it over Gerhart who is pretty much strictly a Center.

            Your welcome to disagree, but that’s how I feel.

            1. Okay, I can follow your logic. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned Van Roten, since that isn’t an apples to apples comparison, and should have simply focused on the merits of de la Puente and his contract. I am not anti-Gerhart either. I took enough interest in Gerhart to remember Hobbes’ article on him. Gerhart is eligible for PS (where he will make perhaps a tenth of what de la Puente’s contract called for). Gerhart can certainly be one of TT’s back up plans at center.

    3. Did you also notice the Bears were signing ANY DL to put on the field after all the injuries they had? O-Lines were able to focus and game plan on taking Peppers out of the game because they had no one else to fear. Not only that, there was $18 million reasons why Peppers was let go. Peppers is still costing the Bears about $7 million in dead cap $$$ too. Just think Archie, Peppers gets to beat the hell out of Cutler twice this year and still cost the Bears.

  5. What if Tretter is injury prone like the other half of the roster? Then what? Maybe TT is going to get Newhouse back and convert him to center. Hey TT, just because Peppers has elephant ears that does not make him an elephant…

  6. whats all the fuss they have said tretter would have most likely been the center last year before he got hurt. people tend to forget eds was not that great it took a vet to struggle before he became a starter. before we all say we are doomed why not give tretter a chance after all he was drafted to be our future center anyway

    1. I’m not saying the Packers are doomed, but people sure seem to have a lot of confidence in a guy who has never played a single snap in the NFL, and never played a snap at center in college.

      I think signing a veteran to compete with Tretter for the job would be a great idea.

      1. Why sign someone when they have Barclay and Lang to provide the competition already?

        Besides, like Al said, they can find a veteran C **after the draft**.

        1. Lang is our starting RG. I really hate to see us messing with that position in an attempt to band-aide the center position.

      2. where would the money come from everyone wanted shields back so much and him and peppers are why there is very little money after we pay cobb and nelson . people tend to forget the little thing called a salary cap. after we give cobb and nelson almost 8 mil a year each and resign flynn and probably jolly and pickett there will not be enough money to get the so called vet center.

          1. And if he gets cut he doesn’t make enough to even count towards the cap.

  7. It’s almost like the commenters above did not read your article, Al. de La Puente got $165K in signing bonus and guaranteed base salary. Moreover, its almost probably a qualifying contract, meaning the cap hit is less than the amount de la Puente receives (the tip off is the $65,000 signing bonus, the most allowed under the CBA. If de la Puente makes the team, his cap hit is about $633K. 165K in guarantee and well under $1 million in total pay is not “paying starters money” for the guy. He came cheap, cheap, cheap. And he could have been cut after training camp with only a $165,000 cap hit. GB would not “piss away $1-3 million” if Tretter works out. Its $165K if cut or less than $800K (less on the cap hit probably) if he is cut at the end of the preseason games.

    Maybe TT likes another FA center better. Possible. de la Puente was the starting center for New Orleans. He is very good at pass blocking, but he is downright bad at run blocking. A back up, but a good one. If GB wants a center who can help with the power running game as Omar suggests, then yes, Omar is right and de la Puente is not that guy. But you don’t have to help him on pass plays but might want to help him on run plays. Arod stays upright!

    TT is sure Tretter is the answer or plans to draft a center. Neither satisfies me. Stroh said that GB liked what they saw from Tretter for the 7 weeks he was at practice after coming off PUP. I read that too, and it’s probably so. Remember last year’s draft, the one full of quality safeties but TT passed on all of them? That was because after watching MD Jennings and more likely McMillan in all of training camp, 16 games, all the practices during the season, GB was confident McMillan would earn the starting safety job. But he bombed out. TT was wrong. It happens, but to put all your eggs in the Tretter basket, a guy who has yet to play an NFL snap, is simply very risky.

    Looks to me like TT doesn’t value center very highly. We’ll see if he signs some insurance cheap later, but on most lists de la Puente was the best FA center out there. The Chicago Tribune suggested that the Bears current center, Garza, is 35 years old, and might retire after this year, and de la Puente played for a bears coach. Maybe he didn’t want to come to GB. It’s possible TT made an offer we don’t know about. Well, we will see.

      1. Your welcome. I used a different computer so I came up as Anonymous instead of Thegreatreynoldo. And its not panic to sign an ultra cheap but decent veteran insurance. I am surprised Since 61 didn’t have more to say. Maybe TT will sign a vet later.

  8. You answered all your own questions. We have options with our current players, we can possibly draft a center, and or there are options on the free-agent market. TT doesn’t devalue the position. He clearly understands that there are plenty of options at this date and time. Yes, center is a question mark but let’ give it until at least draft day before we panic.

  9. The Bears signed De La Puente for a veteran minimum contract ($735K for a player with 4 years experience) with a $65,000 signing bonus and only $100,00 in guaranteed money. That’s quite a bargain for a player ranked as the fifth best center in the NFL over the last three seasons, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
    ===================================

    Or it is 32 professional GMs giving a rather scathing indictment of the Pro Football Focus ranking system.

    Either this guys is ranked way too high by PFF or 32 NFL GMs don’t know value. I’m going with the former, not the latter.

    Can we please stop using them as a source of valid information? The evidence they don’t know what they are doing is mounting…

    1. I trust their numbers on offensive line play. It’s not that difficult to determine an offensive lineman’s responsibilities on a particular play. Now try to do the same for cornerbacks and safeties, that’s a whole different ball game.

      1. The contract Da Le Puente received on the open market suggests your trust is misplaced, Al.

        I can’t say I have the first clue why PFF’s system produces garbage results in at least some cases. But it is clear that it does.

        1. If you believe that talent is the only factor that determines the value of a particular contract, then you would be right. However, there are many more factors and often ones we have no idea about that slants a contract to into the “surprising” category. I’m not here to defend PFF outright – I understand some of the issues with their numbers. But as I’ve said elsewhere, when it comes to offensive line play, it’s not that difficult to grade specific players on individual plays.

    2. Ding, ding, ding! Gold star for Hank.

      Nobody in the NFL was willing to sign this guy as a starter, but only as a backup at the veteran’s minimum. And this includes N.O., the team that knew him better than anyone.

  10. Hank – I agree with you on PFF. At best they provide a guide a guide for ranking player performance. But their approach to measuring player performance is spurious at best and unreliable in most circumstances. I am confident that GMs and other people who seriously evaluate NFL players pay no attention to PFF. However, PFF is good at getting susceptible fans to subscribe for their alleged services. Thanks, Since ’61

  11. I some tape of the no to wash de la puente and in the runig plays he dint look to good he was beter on pass plays just hope tt has a plan band dont do what he did last year with the safetys he did nothig no veteran and not drafting.

  12. Let’s see, so far we’ve established Ted doesn’t value the C position or S position. He and his evaluaters seem to think Hyde and Tretter, in spite of having little if any experience should be penciled in as startes and maybe, just maybe, he’ll unearth another MD Jennings or Jeff Saturday on the cheap…they worked out well. How about OLB or ILB? Doesn’t value those positions either? Back up qb? How about kick returner now that Hyde’s the starting S? He does value his franchise qb and apparently believes he can make up for all the glaring deficiencies. Old Ted needs to get real lucky in May, and that has not happened on draft day since AR and CM.

    1. Hmmmm, 2008 he moved back and still landed Jordy Nelson. Traded back was it 2 or 3 times in the 2nd round last year and still drafted Lacy. Got Cobb AND Hayward in the 2nd round. Lets not forget Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, he didn’t even use a choice on those guys.
      All I’m saying Bob Dylan is the more I’ve gotten into really following the draft and learning about all the players, the more I see that the whole thing is a crap shoot. Everybody hits, everybody misses.

  13. Very simple, draft USC’s Marcus Martin. He played guard 2012, center 2013. Then we would have competition,insurance ,and/or a backup guard.

  14. Nick, point I was trying to make was FA related and TT’s reluctance to address any specific needs year in an year out. Now we’re in a must fill thru draft mode. If Hyde and Tretter don’t work out, then what? Rookie, street FA?

    1. Well, yes.

      The question is, are a rookie and/or street FA Center and FS any worse than EDS and MDJennings?

      The answer is either choice is either the same or better.

      And I *liked* the idea of keeping EDS, but lets be realistic.

  15. I agree with Savage57…the Jeff Saturday reclamation effort is leaving TT a little gunshy when it comes to signing a free agent center.

    Tretter is intriguing. I hope Gerhart becomes a viable plan B. What I don’t want to see is a situation where MM starts shuffling his starters along the o-line. If Tretter and Gerhart don’t work/get injured, the Packers will be hurting if Barclay is plan C. His limited reps last training camp showed problems effectively snapping in the shotgun. Unless he’s improved substantially, Barclay doesn’t sound like a viable solution in any situation other than being a warm body.

    It seems a center will be drafted and/or signed as a UDFA.

  16. We won a Super Bowl with Scott Wells, a 7th round pick who spent time on the practice squad.

    If I’m a GM, and I know that I have finite resources in terms of draft picks and money, then some positions…like fullback and center….are never going to be anything near the priority of skill position players and defensive studs. I’ll find a guy who can snap the ball for minimum wage. I’m not going to spend a draft pick on a center that I could use to get a quality skill position guy or a defensive stud.

    It’s not that center doesn’t matter much; it’s that it doesn’t matter as much as other positions.

  17. Wonder if AR thinks a center is as insignificant as u do….all he does is snap the ball? Good thing you’re not a GM. They also have been known to block and make all the line calls from time to time.

  18. Well, based on the posts and the likes and dislikes, it looks like most of the commenters agree with TT’s approach, with just a few dissenters and some suggesting that TT will address it in the draft. So be it. I hope it works out.

  19. If De La Puente doesn’t beat out Garza, he will be cut by the Bears. Teams usually only “activate” one interior lineman on game day, who needs to be able to play both guard and center. Garza can play both, so he will be safe, even if he looses his starting Center job.

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