Earlier today Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a compelling piece on how, despite the ire of Packers fans, Ted Thompson has stuck with his rigid draft-and-develop approach in replenishing the roster.
Thompson rarely signs big-name free agents. He doesn’t trade for veteran players when injuries diminish the depth chart. He holds on to his draft picks like they’re made of gold. His frugal, home-grown approach can be frustrating for fans seeking headline stories in March, but Thompson’s track record speaks for itself.
Dunne’s piece highlights Thompson’s choice in the offseason to address the running back position by selecting Eddie Lacy in the second round over dealing out big money to veteran free agent Steven Jackson. This decision only runs true to what we’ve seen from Thompson over the years.
In fact, the Packers’ general manager has had to make some tough decisions regarding personnel. Every offseason in Green Bay means more veteran players the Packers will let walk in free agency.
Thompson does this to not only save money, but also to give younger talent on the roster opportunity to grow and develop.
Look at last offseason, for example. Thompson held firm and wasn’t willing to outbid Minnesota for Greg Jennings in free agency. He would have been insane to. Jennings was asking for a big-time contract, and at age 30, the veteran receiver was overpricing himself out of Green Bay.
Jennings has had a pedestrian year at best this season. His 25 catches for 336 yards and two touchdowns in seven games is less than Randall Cobb‘s production in four games (29 receptions, 389 yards, and 2 TDs). Granted, the quarterback carousel in Minnesota hasn’t helped Jennings’ cause.
Even with the injuries at receiver for Green Bay, the Packers are still getting production at the position. Jordy Nelson‘s 39 receptions for 649 yards and seven touchdowns make Jennings’ departure affordable.
The Packers also released veteran defensive playmakers Charles Woodson and Desmond Bishop in the offseason. Woodson’s release had to do with the $8 million salary he was set to receive in 2013. This price was just too high to pay a 16-year veteran defensive back with diminishing cover skills. Woodson has had a down year in Oakland. He’s only been involved in two turnover plays this season, and it seems his career is coming to an end.
The Packers cut ties with Bishop because of his injury history, and halfway through this season, it seems Thompson made the right call. Not only is Green Bay getting good production from inside linebackers A.J. Hawk, Jamari Lattimore, and Brad Jones, but after only recording five tackles in a reserve role this season, Bishop tore his ACL in week five and was placed on IR.
It’s hard to argue that any of the other players Thompson let go prior to this season have been missed. Erik Walden has been a decent starter for Indianapolis this season, but he still has yet to record a sack. Plus, Nick Perry seems to be coming around and should pick up where he left when healthy.
Tom Crabtree has only played in three games for the Tamba Bay Buccaneers, recording two catches for 14 yards. D.J. Williams was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars after being released, and he has yet to record a single catch this season. Last year’s leading rusher Alex Green only has 35 yards rushing on 10 attempts for the New York Jets.
To put it bluntly, Thompson knows when to cut ties with players. He refuses to overpay veterans with diminishing skills, and he trusts the Packers personnel staff will continue to develop young talent on the roster.
In recent years, Thompson caught flack from fans for letting center Scott Wells hit the free agent market. Wells spent the majority of his first year with St. Louis on the team’s IR after tearing his ACL. There is no way a GM can foresee player injury, but the potential for injury definitely increases with veteran players and it’s something I’m sure Thompson considers when dealing out money to players.
Fans were also not happy when Thompson released starting inside linebacker Nick Barnett in 2011. Now, Barnett is a backup on a bad Washington Redskins team. Similar fates have occurred with other veteran players, like Al Harris and Cullen Jenkins. Players that are either now out of the league or playing reserve roles on their new teams.
Thompson simply knows when a player’s time is closely up. He sees the writing on the wall. He won’t overpay for declining players and sabotage his salary cap.
He knew when to let Aaron Kampman go and replace him with the emerging Clay Matthews, or not overpay the mediocre left guard Dary Colledge following the Packers’ Super Bowl run. You could argue T.J. Lang has been a better offensive lineman in his place.
As a fanbase, we must learn to trust the decisions Thompson makes regarding personnel. It’s tough to see some of our favorite players go, but it is the nature of the NFL. Now, the Packers have about a dozen players in their last year of their contract. Some of them notable contributors, like Sam Shields, Jermichael Finley, Evan Dietrich-Smith, and B.J. Raji.
It’s tough to know what Thompson will do with these players following the season. Some key players will be let go. But when we look at Thompsons’ track record, we can at least know that the Packers’ general manager has a plan.