There is a saying regarding NFL Free Agency. I love the quote, although I don’t know its origin. “Teams that ‘win’ in March are rarely ‘winners’ in January”.
The system rewards players based on past performance, but mostly perceived future production, by teams who throw serious money their way in an effort to improve and appease the base.
Sometimes it works.
Remember the first big-money free agent Reggie White? The ’96 Green Bay Packers would probably not have been crowned Super Bowl Champions without him.
Despite that success, free agency mostly produces disappointment.
Although the evidence is anecdotal, consider the following. The big spenders in FA in 2014 were the Oakland Raiders ($91M) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($124M). In 2013 it was The Tennessee Titans ($97M). In 2012 the leader was the Miami Dolphins shelling out $124M. Without me spelling it out, you know the results.
The Packers on the other hand are one of the predominant draft-and-develop teams in the NFL.
It’s a smart system, even if it doesn’t look like it when your own free agents are fleeing in droves in March. But if you have patience, conviction, thick skin (to take criticism from fans and the press), a good quarterback, a smart front office and, finally, a coaching staff competent enough to develop the youth – you can win each and every year.
Admittedly that’s a lot to ask for. Yet, in the case of the Green Bay Packers, it works.
“If we wanted to be honest, we all have a tendency to drift toward that that you know better,” Thompson said back in 2013. “If you know Player A that’s been on your team or practice squad for X number of games as opposed to Player B who might have a chance to be better but you don’t know him as well, I think you have to weigh that.”
“That’s the conscious decision that you have to try to make. It’s my nature to be a little conservative.” Thompson added.
The residual effect of not adding veterans is why the Packers will always rank among the youngest teams in the NFL.
The Packers average players’ age from 2006 through 2014, in order, were 25.57, 25.74, 25.57, 25.70, 25.91, 25.70, 25.70, 25.66 and 25.75.
In Mike McCarthy’s first four years they were the very youngest in the league. Since then they ranked fifth, tied for third, sixth, ninth and tenth this past season.
2006 was a blow-up-the-team year where the roster was gutted – 18 new faces. Since then, the number of new faces on the 53, in order, has been 14, 12, 10, 12, 10, 14, 14 and 12 from 2014.
And here is another re-affirming fact from this past season. There were merely six players with time on another team’s 53-man roster; Kuhn, Guion, Peppers, Tolzien, Harris and Matt Flynn.
Although the 2015 compensatory draft picks won’t be announced until next week’s league meetings, the compensation for losing players to another team rewards the Packers each year. Since the compensation system started, overall the Baltimore Ravens have been awarded 41 of the extra picks, more than any other team in the league. Dallas and Green Bay are next with 33.
The moral of the story is simply this: Thompson and the Packers organization believe in how they do business. They have been successful doing it this way since 2006. It isn’t going to change and fans need to keep the faith and wait out the March free agent storm.
The history of how the Packers GM views the process for building a successful team may have started in Thompson’s own experiences as an end-of-the-roster player with the former Houston Oilers organization.
“That was me. I was a free agent” said Thompson. “I don’t necessarily act and make decisions based on what happened to me. But I do kind of understand their plight and I enjoy seeing success out of them.” In other words, stick to the guys you know – your guys.
History has shown us that it will all work out for the best for the Green Bay Packers.——————
Jeff Albrecht grew up just north of Green Bay and was lucky enough to attend some of the Lombardi Era classic games, like the 1962 championship and the Ice Bowl. Jeff went on to play HS football in the Green Bay area and College ball at UW - Stevens Point. Jeff is retired but still does some writing for his local paper. Jeff is a writer with AllGreenBayPackers.com and you can follow him on twitter at @pointerjeff .