Ted Thompson Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Green Bay Packers: Pros and Cons of ‘In Ted We Trust’

ted thompsonThe Season of Speculation is in full swing for the Green Bay Packers and the other 31 teams in the NFL.

The hot topics, of course, are the NFL Draft held in May of this coming spring and free agent player signings. The free agency period begins March 11, 4pm EST, but as Packers fans know, Ted Thompson probably won’t be in hot pursuit of many of the 2014 free agent class.

There is a continual debate in Packers Nation about whether or not Thompson should deviate from his precious draft and develop philosophy and dive into the murky waters of the pool of free agents. From the blogs I’ve read and conversations I’ve had, it seems fans are certainly in favor of bringing in free agents.

Many are questioning the “In Ted We Trust” mantra.

At face value it seems to make sense, bring aboard a proven veteran to fill a need. In theory a veteran player, in most cases can hit the ground running, whereas with a rookie it often takes some time, maybe a few seasons, for them to get up to speed and be a difference-making contributor. In the “win now” NFL time is of the essence.

Former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland

Former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland

This got me to thinking, how did the 2013 free agent class improve the teams they joined. I reviewed a list of the Top 100 free agents from 2013 and tallied the number of free agents signed by each team.

The Miami Dolphins clearly were the most eager to get out their checkbook, in doing so they signed 9 free agents (4 of 9 FA were previously under contract with the Dolphins). In 2012 the Dolphins finished 7-9, last season they finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

Although the Dolphins scenario leaves one thinking maybe Ted Thompson is on to something. In reality the Dolphins had a season of off the field drama due to the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin affair. It also could be that former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland is a poor evaluator of talent. Or the ‘fins are just generally a mess.

The next most active team in free agency was the Indianapolis Colts; they signed seven of the top 100 free agent players available (1 of 7 FA was previously under contract with the Colts). In 2012 the Colts finished 11-5, the same record they posted in 2013. Hmmm… I began to wonder about all the free agent hoopla.

Photo Courtesy of Sports Illustrated/CNN.com

Photo Courtesy of Sports Illustrated/CNN.com

Then of course came the outlier, the Super Bowl-bound Denver Broncos. During 2013 the Broncos signed six free agents, only one of which was previously under contract with the team. In both 2012 and 2013 the Broncos were successful, posting a 13-3 record in each respective season. This makes things a bit more interesting.

If signing free agents provided the Broncos an advantage, recalling that they were also active in 2012. What did the other three teams that advanced to the AFC and NFC Championship Game do to improve their squads via free agency?

Staying within the AFC, the New England Patriots signed four free agents; two were previously under contract with the team the other two of course were not.

In the NFC both the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers signed two free agents each. Seattle used free agency to make an immediate impact on their defensive line. Signing two defensive linemen, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, the numbers 3 and 4 ranked free agent prospects, respectively.

To make an honest judgment of the merits of signing free agents I think you need to study the free signings per team over a period of time. And then weigh that against a draft and develop strategy.

The Denver Broncos have certainly used free agency to bridge a discernible gap in the talent of their team. When they signed Peyton Manning they realized that their Super Bowl window was small and their in-house talent was not up to snuff. Remember the Broncos last winning season was in 2006 and prior to the 2012 signing of Manning; Tim Tebow was their starting quarterback. Free agency signings were a smart and aggressive tactic by their GM John Elway to accommodate a unique situation.

On the other hand, Seattle signed a quarterback in 2011 Packer fans know well, Matt Flynn. We know what happens next. They stumbled upon a diamond in the rough in selecting quarterback Russell Wilson in the 2011 draft. Which brings me to my next point, neither the Seahawks nor the 49ers are paying their quarterback true market value, as they are both yet on their rookie deals. Hence they can afford to bring in a free agent or two from time to time.

Each NFL team has their own distinct dilemmas.

The Packers have a lot of their money invested in arguably the best quarterback in the NFL and one of the elite outside linebackers in the game. Ted Thompson’s draft and develop strategy is brilliant until it fails. Provided he hits on his draft picks year in and year out the Packers can support their two star players with inexpensive, yet hungry talent.

The crux of the deal is if a few drafted players don’t work out, like the scenario the Packers currently have at the safety position or the outside linebacker adjacent to Clay Matthews III a lot of time is wasted and of course games lost. But money not spent on free agents is saved. And free agent signings are not a sure bet.

Since 2006 the Packers have had six winning season, six trips to the playoffs, played in two NFC Championship games and won one Super Bowl. Compared to the Denver Broncos or even the Seattle Seahawks over the same span Packers Nation has had a lot to celebrate.

If you’re still with me at this point you are probably muttering that I am a Ted Thompson apologist, which isn’t the case.

If there is a player or two that can fill holes and not submarine the team’s payroll over time I am all for signing free agents. But the idea of slogging through losing season after losing season all to blow the wad in free agency on a season or two of good times doesn’t sit well with me.

Thompson’s strategy gives the Packers a chance year in and year out without compromising the foundation. Knowing full well that hope sells.



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Tags: Green Bay Packers NFL Free Agency Ted Thompson

  • JaKa

    When Brett Favre was shuttled out of Packerland, I had the biggest hatchet for TT on both sides of the Mississippi. The team had a poor 1st year under A R, and I used that for “I told ya” so!”. My rant and raving continued the following year, and Green Bay was much better (W’s &L’s) the following year. I think it didn’t hit the news until the start of 12′s 3rd year, but the Favre Texting Saga was on. Only then did I figure TT most likely knew about the escapades ol’ Brett was getting off with. I thought, maybe this guy just has enough “class” not to go shove it in Brett’s face by putting it out in the media. After all, a good GM would hire private eyes on his players to make sure they were not in cahoots with other teams, selling plays, or running meth labs on their off time. The law of averages has TT finding out about things like that. Even construction workers are looked in on by their bosses, so on a larger scale the Packers must have some intel.

    From that point on, the team was winning, and got into a rythem, I think they did 15 wins that next year, and Ted was tops, like he should be. Not that my boy Brett was any less, I just feel the notoriety took him for a loop along with the how many millions he had to invest by then. I just loved the scrambling in his first few years, with Holmgran then putting the risk to an end for him, and keeping a good line in front of him, he made it for all those great years without missing a start. And then the TDs, 1st downs, yards per game, the Ring, the tears losing to Denver… a career made by a good drama writer, so it seemed. But the people sure turned on him, didn’t they? You could’t walk through a store without hearing everyone talking about that sick no good Favre just after the news hit the fan.

    And now we have a Packer team under MM & TT, that dropped the 12 & 13 win seasons, down to the final stop in the playoffs, going in for one game and out. Two years in a row. You’d think the fans got cheated worst than the poor souls following the Lions for the past 30 years with a handful of winning seasons at all. Forest Gregg never got treated like the whole State of Wisconsin is down on him, second guessing how he runs his winning show. He is right up there over the past decade with any team, including Denver or New England, the Giants or you name it, any team at all.

    Let me ask you guys one question and I’ll lay it to rest. How much money will it cost to bring in a seasoned pro vs a 1st year draft pick? With the graduated pay scale, it depends on the position and number of years played. This can go as high as a couple Million buck-a-roos for a 10 year quarterback, running back, receiver or other skilled positions, or even $700,000 for a good pass rusher of Offensive lineman. And we can bring a rookie in for a bottle of Ice Mountain and a steak? Okay, so I’m pushing it a little, but do you see the difference. Now, AR gets a bundle and so will Cobb or in a few years Lacy. Bring in a few extra draft picks who can fill in on positions or even if playing well enough start games, and how much did you save. It depends on how many new guys play, right? We have caps now too. this is the GENIUS of Ted Thompson, getting the best talent for his money. Keep that talent when outstanding play is found, and you will get maybe 6,7, or even 10 years out of them for a total much less than bringing in these free agents who didn’t pan out to begin with, or they would have been guarded from free agency. So, do you see now, how it’s not just for immediate concerns in filling talent, but the long run of the cash flow, under cap? That talent might pay out a million over 5 years, where it would have paid a mil. over two years with a couple free agents who were hiding this or that on their health, and only after being suited up and letting a sack put 12 out again, to know they were hurt (hypothetically).

    You Packer fans, don’t go 2nd guessing TT too much, or you will make yourself appear not so great. He didn’t get to the top of Ron Wolf, the greatest there ever was at making winners, from a GM’s standpoint, not to overshoot Vince Lombardi either, who was not into personnel for more than one or two years, if I remember. Ron Wold hand picked Ted T., remember? He also taught him the ropes to some degree. Wolf didn’t bring in garbage to Green Bay, did he? No sirree, he did not. It takes a while, but TT can be figured out. His best interests are set in doing his best for his team, and he sure has done so, just take a look back, instead of trying to figure the moves for the teams future, that’s his job.

    • billy

      all i’m asking is that he sharpens his game a bit with the drafting of defensive players who won’t take five years to mature….plus it seems Seattle didn’t fall apart once the great TT moved on…and i don’t care how hard you beat the drum for TT or MM or any of the current coaching staff, a couple more years of one and outs or not making it at all and you can kiss them goodbye and thats a fact, right or wrong…

      • Tom R.

        Bret was the best qb that Greenbay ever had. If I owned the pack, I would get rid of Rogers, Finley and players that don’t want to play. I broke my collarbone off completely and was ready to go after three weeks. Left one at that.
        The Pack should get rid of the whole coaching staff. You mean to tell me that you can’t find defensive players, open your eyes. You want to develop a player, what are you talking about, you know how to play or you don’t. What about Eddy Lacy, how are you going to develop him?
        Organizational decision or the money?

        • RyansDad

          Geez. Go find another team to back,

  • BuckyBadger

    TT is one of the best and I don’t worry about what the average fans is saying about him. Fans call for free agents because those are the only names they know. I promise you TT has done a little more analysis of the situation than reading a few bloggers talking about Byrd or TJ Ward.

    The teams that go big in free agency rarely have sustained success. Denver pushed all their chips in signing a bunch of guys but they lost Dummerville who would have helped them a lot this year and I don’t think they will be able to resign Decker this year. If they don’t win this year they won’t be in the future. The Packers are not in a position to go all in for one year. With our franchise QB we want him to have a good team for the next 8 years. You do that by keeping your cap healthy and spending correctly.

    Free agents are more times than not getting paid for what they did and have played their best football. The Packers don’t have many holes if they can get healthy. In Ted We Trust is the only way for the Packers to go forward.

    • RyansDad

      I’ll second that. Draft & develop is for the long term.

  • billy

    I’m more worried about him getting a first round draft choice that actually will make some sort of impact in his first year….we are going to draft and develop till Rodgers is gone and we have some mediocre QB with a noodle arm trying to run the show…hey, but maybe all these developmental guys will be ready by then..

  • Mike Brand

    the problem is not ted thompson its not free agents . the problem lies in dom capers and his unwillingness to play the players ted drafts. datone jones was drafted to stop the niners and yet dom rarely played him . dom has great schemes and great calls but he refuses to let the guys ted put there that were designed to be these kind of play makers play. i understand dom hates rookies i understand dom hates 2nd year players. i understand dom tolerates 3rd year players. but dom has got to get with the program. this team is never gonna be full of veteran players. if he wants that he needs to go to another team. if he would just play the guys ted drafted our defense would not be so bad. also for the record datone had 3.5 sacks 17 tackles in his limited time bj raji doms favorite no sacks and 20 tackles you do the math on that one

  • Peter Maiz

    You can’t avoid free agency completely, especially now where the defense is so weak. Better a few players with excellent, proven records than a rookie that may never make a splash. I definitely like the school of recruit and develop, but under an emergency, bring in a few good men that have been there, done that.