Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson speaks to the media in a press conference during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Free agent spending: Green Bay Packers' Thompson is no fool


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.

Tags: Green Bay Packers

  • Mike Brand

    i really understand us not getting free agents but we are not signing our own either . with our dline looking for other places we will looking at starting the season with 2nd year guys and rookies . not a good thing i might add. im sorry i usually support ted thompson but this one is to way out there for even the die hard fans. you have to have some guys on your dline that knows the system and with neal, raji, and pickett who could be leaving us who does that leave us with, worthy, datone jones and boyd are to young to step up for that kind of role. honestly i think ted was kidnapped by aliens on this one

    • Mike Brand

      lol come to think about it our defense cant get much worse maybe weeding out the old and the lazy and the ones that dont care and let our your hungry players play the defense might be better

  • billy

    Taking a good hard look at Houston…yah, but he started shaking and couldn’t pull the trigger now the guy is going to terrorize the Pack twice a year…and sing the praises of sarcastic Vic all ya want but please show me how this team is going to be better than last year…on blind hope that this “draft and develop” will actually work this year, DaTone and Perry gonna suddenly explode on the scene…i sure hope so…all the Packers had to be last year was mediocre to win the division that the Lions didn’t want, hopefully the injury bug doesn’t strike as bad this year, but that seems to be a constant with the Pack…hope things work out…don’t worry, second week in Ted will find this years Jeff Saturday….

  • billy

    Butter them up, maybe you’ll get a front office job…but if we don’t make some kind of a move, and theres time yet but i aint holding out hope, this same group on defense will suck again…Hawk and Jones and the other jones and Perry….wow, scary..

  • Whitney Bardell

    Just look forward to another year of mediocrity. The genius has done it again by doing nothing. All these reporters wrote the stories about how the packer need to fix there defense and this would be the year to go into free agency,then they come back and make excuses for TT. This whole origination is a joke and the media that follows this team. The media doesn’t ask any tough questions and if they do ask a question they don’t follow up on it. This team is going nowhere fast. This mad hasent proven that he can draft his way out of the holes on this team .how May years have they been trying to get a outside linebacker to pair with Mathews . I’ll end on that note

    • Mike Brand

      his drafting is good its his not getting help from free agency thats hurting us. we are always playing with the youngest roster in the nfl and sit on lots of money where we should spend some here and there. if he dont get our guys signed and dont get free agency we are screwed this year . we will have a front line of rookies to 3rd year guys and not many have played enough to understand the system

      • Phillip

        Look, we’re in agreeance, I completely agree with you on that, I did also agree with hoping Pryor is our 1st pick but I’m not gonna hold my breath on that cause by the way things are starting to really look is we’re gonna have a lot of holes to fill with the draft. I was really hoping TT would have looked to get some help up front, a guy like Houston, Jones or Joseph, things are even really looking like Raji wont be back n it seems theres no interest in getting Neal back either, same with EDS, I’m really kind of in disbelief on what I’m seeing TT do right now, not working to get any of our own back or bring in any immediate impact players. Looking at the FA list beyond the 1st round of guys that are going and I’m seeing a really bad group, aging veterans who’s on major decline and a lot of guys who aren’t anything but roster fillers. It seems with this extra cap space teams are scooping up more players than usual and now it looks like TT could possibly even have problems finding guys worth spending this 30 mil in cap space on, we’re gonna have to restructure some of our own n pay em more just to be in compliance with the CBA on the cap. I really don’t know what to think, its gonna be really upsetting if I gotta watch Raji, Neal, EDS n others sign other places n we do nothing, replace em with lesser talent or have to use the draft to fill out half a defensive roster, there’s no reason why TT shouldn’t be able to bring James Jones back now, Quarless and EDS, there’s 30 mil in the pocket n guys that are worth spending money on are falling to team quick, I just don’t understand how TT can sick back n just watch this after how bad we’ve been on defense the last 3 years, he’s acting like our D is already borderline top notch n we have the ability to sit back n do nothing, I feel like I’m almost watching a college football team.

  • billy

    julius Peppers?? come on man…

  • Matt Bauman

    Draft and develop is great as long as those who are drafted then develop. That strategy has worked to perfection at the wide receiver position, but almost a complete failure along the defensive line. How about when you suddenly lose a Nick Collins, who you have drafted and developed into a top tier player? You haven’t targeted a free safety for years in the draft due to his success, so you have nobody to adequately replace him. So what do you do? Leave a gaping hole in the secondary while you wait for a draft pick to develop, according to Thompson.

  • kenparrish53

    Super Bowl contender Denver Broncos are spending money in free agency and getter better on defense while the mediocre Packers just sit there like a deer in the headlights. Big news out of GB is interest in one of their own back up linebackers. Clearly, mediocrity is the new standard in GB. Well played, Ted, well played.

    • Phillip

      If things arent different on the field this season, if our D isn’t drastically improved its definitely time for a change, either in TT’s phylosiphy or in the actual GM. There’s no reason this team shouldnt win another SB or 2 in the Rodgers era, n if we aren’t improved on the defensive side this year there’s no way we can go through another offseason of the same old thing that keeps bringing us the same results. I’m gonna give the progression of our young guys a chance 1st though, with a solid draft n solid progression n health, there’s talent there to make a change, a great draft to find a safety and ILB that are gonna have a major impact day 1 is key to this D growing though. I’m not ready to start a lynch mob for TT’s head just yet, I do think this needs to be the make or break year for TT’s draft n develop only phylosiphy though, another year of bad D calls for some major changes, Rodgers and our offense is SB caliber year in year out n it will be for another handful of years but Rodgers isn’t getting any younger, there will have to be a sense of urgency to fix the D through all outlets next year if it isn’t fixed this season, just as the Broncos did this year, they’re well on their way back to the SB, hopefully it’ll be us playing em.

  • nnpucci

    I love Vic Ketchman but lets also look at the facts. Look at this team post 2010 (Superbowl Year). Still having play makers like Woodson and Collins for some of the 2011 season anyway, the Packers went on to a 15-1 record for due mostly in part to Aaron Rodgers’ phenomenal performance and MVP season. In the subsequent years however, that same team that let guys like Cullen Jenkins, Charles Woodson and Nick Collins walk (due to injury, age and money, yes, I know.) went on to acquire an 11-5 season with a one and done playoff stint. A loss I remind you, that landed directly on the poor play of the defense. Jump to 2013 and yes, everyone knows we had our fair share of injuries even at the most important positions, but that is where great teams rely on a solid defense to keep them in it. SOMEHOW, we dids stay alive, but nobody felt good about it. Finishing with an 8-7-1 record, once again, the Packers ended in a 1 and done playoff scenario against the Niners AGAIN, in Lambeau. Clearly, this defense can’t get it done in the playoffs, and our regular season record continues to get worse. This is concerning. What is most concerning though, is you have a $22 million per year, future hall of fame quarterback…that the Packers very well may be letting waste his prime while they continue to neglect defensive needs. Draft and develop is great, but when your MVP quarterback’s window gets smaller and smaller every season, the 1-2, maybe even 3 seasons at times it takes to develop these players just is not a good option if you want to win championships…

    If we don’t make a move this year in FA to get a play maker, and by chance, miss in the draft (see recent draft years, they haven’t been superb, trust me) this organization will be in serious trouble….

  • Issy

    Again and again…. the same small talk about TT, and draft and develop philosophy. FACT- Aaron Rodgers is in his prime. FACT #2- The packers where eliminated in the first or second round of the playoffs for the 3 years due to their defense. While the draft and develop philosophy is good, it has only worked if we win a Superbowl. With the best quarterback in the NFL we should have won more than 1 in the last four years. The reason we have not won is, because of TT stubbornness. For starters, we clearly need safety help, why on earth can every other major Superbowl contender go out and spend money to address their strong needs, and not the packers. The answer is simple. As good as TT is at drafting and developing, he is every bit as bad in addressing his teams strong needs in free agency. For NOW he still has Aaron Rodgers in his prime, I hope he doesn’t waste that opportunity due to his stubborness.

  • Joe

    If you put so much stock in Rotoworld, then how about what they had to say about the Sam Shield signing – “It’s a massive sum of money for a player that’s struggled with injuries each of the last two years, is a liability in run defense, and has been an inconsistent cover man”.

  • billy

    we’ll see….we’ll see….you think these comments are harsh on Ted now…just wait…if the Pack doesn’t make the playoffs or doesn’t advance in them, watch out…