The ones Ted Thompson didn’t want: Cullen Jenkins


Part 1 of a 3 part series

After the Packers-Chargers game, the leader of the Packers’ defense, Charles Woodson, implored Defense Coordinator Dom Capers to get Clay Matthews more involved in the pass rush. Could this plea (and the Packers’ 5th surrender of 400 plus yards) have been avoided?

Let’s put that question a different way, should Cullen Jenkins have been preparing for Minnesota Monday night rather than lining up for the Eagles against the Bears??

It’s a question that underlines the Packers’ approach to team-building. Put succinctly, even casual observers of the Packers know that when it comes to free agency, the Packers aren’t biting. This oft-criticized strategy was vindicated earlier this year with the arrival of the Lombardi trophy to Green Bay.

The Packers strategy in free agency is clear: They don’t do it.

Every general manager in the league is graded not only on draft picks, but free agency as well. The Packers’ strategy removes any kind of difficult free agency decisions for the Packers GM, Ted Thompson.

The Packers employ the philosophy of “draft and develop” (minor caveat – many Packers aren’t drafted – they’re rookie free agents). When it comes to dealing with free agency, this means that the difference between the Packers front office and every other team’s front office is a greater emphasis on what to do with the team’s own free agents.

What we can learn from Thompson’s past dealings with the Packers’ free agents is that he is terrified of paying for past performance and that he will not sacrifice the team’s long-term success for short-term gain.

Deals involving Greg Jennings and Tramon Williams were put in place way before they were to become unrestricted free agents. Especially with Jennings, the deal was shorter than what is a standard second contract. This was beneficial to both sides. Thompson didn’t want to be on the hook for millions in case Jennings could not sustain his current performance.

For Jennings, he now gets the opportunity for another contract during the prime of his career. Will it be the Packers that sign him again? That scenario is unlikely considering their handling of Cullen Jenkins (and the drafting of Randall Cobb).

A sixth-round draft choice who didn’t come on strong until just two years ago, Jenkins was a key to the Packers’ top-ranked scoring defense last year. This year, instead of helping Clay Matthews by drawing double-teams, Jenkins is doing the same for the Eagles and Jason Babin. The Packers, meanwhile, have no pass rush to speak off, leading to their highest blitz percentage since Dom Capers came aboard in 2009 and the aforementioned five, 400-plus-yard games.

Thompson obviously was not willing to pay the millions that Jenkins wanted, but it may not have been all about the price. It’s pretty much a given that if you’re a Packer and you don’t receive a contract extension at least a few months before your contract is up, you are unlikely to remain a Packer (save franchise tags and James Jones, to whom the market was not kind).

As we noted with Jennings, Thompson doesn’t want to get stuck with a guy whose performance doesn’t warrant a big money contract. In Jenkins’ case, he had two things working against him: his age and his injury history. Another long-term contract would have had Jenkins presumably playing for the Pack from ages 30-34, the wrong side of his prime performance years.

So while Jenkins has been relatively healthy in Philadelphia and has five sacks – more than any other Packer, it looks like Thompson decided not to take a risk for a short-term gain. The Packers could have a better defense right now if it had Jenkins, no question. Sure, Thompson cares about that, but he’s also paid to care about the defense next year and the year after.

We can assume that Thompson, he who always plans ahead, knew this day would come and tried to prepare for it.

Let’s go back two years: Thompson spent a second round pick on Mike Neal. Analysts say he “flashes” pass rush potential. At this point, if he could get healthy and “flash” that potential one or two times during a game, it would make a big difference. Right now, opposing teams know they don’t have to double-team C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn. He was also probably praying that Johnny Jolly would get his act together and be able to contribute at some point this season.

Those two options haven’t worked and the Packers are paying the price for it while Philadelphia’s defense continues to improve. Thompson’s strategy says that the Packers defense will be better and more consistent over the next couple of years despite the short-term troubles the Packers have run into this season. Let’s hope that Neal gets healthy in a hurry, because on Thanksgiving, the Packers’ secondary is going to need a pass rush to slow down Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions’ pass-first attack.

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