Free agency: Where any dream seems possible. Free agency: Where the grass is always far greener (sort of like the color of cash). Free agency: Where Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson is loathe to go.
Well, free agency starts today, and the clamor among Packers fans to spend, spend, spend has already begun. And once again this spring, I’d be absolutely jaw-to-the-floor shocked if Thompson makes more than a ripple in free agency.
I see it all over the InterWeb: Speculators wondering why the Packers wouldn’t take a stab at New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham; demanding we place a bid on safety Jairus Byrd of the Buffalo Bills. Why not reach out and make an offer to the Cincinnati Bengals’ Michael Johnson, too, while we’re at it?
Here’s why: Because that flies in the face of “draft and develop,” which is how things are done in PackerLand.
Here’s a perfect example: The Colts signed linebacker D’Qwell Jackson to a four-year, $22 million contract this week. Jackson is a solid player, but he turns 31 this year, and the deal is for four years with $11 million guaranteed. This is the same team that last year signed Erik Walden to a four-year, $16 million contract. For their trouble, they got 45 total tackles, three sacks and a fumble recovery. Hey, at least Walden was young.
Here is Rotoworld.com’s take on the Jackson signing: “In need of a steadying presence next to Jerrell Freeman, the Colts have overpaid for linebacker help in free agency once again. This time they add a leader and one of the game’s most prolific tacklers, but one that is entering his age-31 season, fits better in a 4-3 scheme, and has struggled badly against the run over the last two years.”
This is a prime example why it’s dangerous to give these kinds of contracts to guys past their primes.
I turn to Packers.com writer Vic Ketchman, who is the smartest guy I can think of when it comes to the legion of “why not?” fans in Green Bay. It’s relatively simple: The Packers build cap room to re-sign guys like Clay Matthews. And Aaron Rodgers. And, soon enough, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. It isn’t for taking risks on aging players whose best downs have already been played.
Think about it: Do you really want to sign Jairus Byrd to a huge contract and take a chance on letting those guys get away in next year’s free agency frenzy? Byrd would be a fantastic acquisition, to be sure, and Thompson would be foolish not to keep an eye on him, but he’s not going to overpay, and fans shouldn’t want him to. Let’s let our young defense develop, and add some fresh blood via the draft and through low-priced, under-the-radar free agents.
That said, I actually applaud Thompson for reportedly taking a good hard look at a guy like defensive end Lamarr Houston — he is someone the Packers could conceivably sign for an affordable price that would help fill a hole in the defensive line.
Ketchman also rightly cautions fans to wonder why a team is willing to let certain players walk, much like the Packers seem to be doing with James Jones and a number of other free agents. Why would the team let them test free agency? Either Thompson feels confident he can re-sign that player for a better price after the frenzy dies down, or they know something we don’t and are simply willing to let that player be someone else’s problem. (See: Bishop, Desmond.)
Bottom line: Fans who complain about the Packers’ quiet approach to free agency don’t get Thompson’s mindset.
“Fans are absolutely gaga about free agency,” Ketchman wrote in his column last week. “I’ll never understand it. Free agency is nothing more than a high-priced waiver wire, but fans revere it as though every player in free agency is a difference maker.”
He’s absolutely right. Why sign a guy like the Bears’ Charles Tillman to a big free-agent contract based on his impressive body of work, when it is obvious the bulk of that work is already behind him? Sure, you might get another good season or two out of him as a stop-gap, but what if you don’t? Then you’ve blown cap space that could have spent on a guy named Randall. Or Jordy.
“Free agency is a trap for fools, and everyone wants to be a fool,” Ketchman wrote.
Everyone, that is, except for Ted Thompson.