Green Bay Packers: Ted Thompson will make the team better in 2013


Green Bay Packers manager Ted Thompson has some tough decisions facing him this offseason.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers, like all National Football League teams, are facing the dreaded numbers, but fear not – Ted Thompson understands those numbers better than anyone and is working them to make the 2013 unit better.

He must … because of today’s number one number: Six.

Yes, the Packers play the sixth most difficult schedule in 2013.

In order to compete at that elite level, the Packers have to get better – and that requires battling all the numbers and making decisions at this time of year that will have huge ramifications six months from now.

Other figures Thompson must get his arms around are those surrounding the salary cap. He’s already added about $10 million to the team’s available cap with the release of 15-year veteran Charles Woodson, but there are many who say he won’t stop there. Adding that $10 million to the cap number the team already had available – $7 million – Woodson’s number puts the Packers at about $17 million. Add to that the $3.5 million the Packers gain from the retirement of Jeff Saturday, and the Packers are around $20 million.

Sounds like a nice round number, right?

Well, I don’t think Thompson is done yet. Next on the list is 29-year-old A.J. Hawk. Why Hawk, you ask? He had his best season last year.

You would be absolutely correct. He had 81 tackles, 39 assists, and three sacks while starting all 16 games and two playoff games. Those are good numbers. But the number staring Thompson in the face is the $5.45 million cap allowance for Hawk – a player who, at 29, will probably start to decline in production.

What to do with A.J. Hawk is a huge decision that will be made by Ted Thompson this offseason.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

However, doing this would be a risk. The Packers have two inside linebackers, D.J. Smith and Desmond Bishop, coming off of serious injuries. Whether they will be ready by the start of the regular season is a question mark at this time. We all know about injuries in Green Bay – how many players have been said to be ready to come back, but don’t meet the date expected? One of those was Charles Woodson, who was expected back in early December last year and didn’t get back until the playoffs. How much that issue played in the decision to release him we’ll never know, but Thompson is always one to go with the younger guys and he’s got a boatload of them in his defensive backfield with which to work.

In addition, Brad  Jones, who played well, but not great, is an unrestricted free agent. Thompson must decide what to do with him, keeping in mind that there are two young linebackers who haven’t seen much action, Terrell Manning and Jamari Lattimore, champing at the bit to get going. They might be good enough for Thompson to decide to go with them.

Whatever decisions Thompson makes, he has to consider the best way to deal with restricted free agents CB Sam Shields, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, tight end Tom Crabtree, outside linebacker Frank Zombo and inside linebacker Robert Francois. Most likely, Zombo will be gone, but it seems that Francois has stuck with the team for good reasons.

With all that on his mind, Thompson must also consider the draft – he’s got to find enough money to pay the incoming class of draft picks, one compensatory pick and any of the undrafted free agents he picks up off the street.

In addition to Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji is one of the key players whose contracts must be extended in the next year.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Most importantly, he’s got to juggle the books well enough to find the funds to extend the contracts of Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and B.J. Raji. However, that most likely will be a two-year project. I feel they will work first on Matthews and Raji and then do what they can in 2014 to extend Rodgers for at least another eight years at about $20 million-plus per year.

And there seems to be a wild card in all this, as well – Jermichael Finley. What to do with the mega-talented tight end who has shown flashes, but has lacked consistency? He is in the final year of a two-year contract, but was one of the best tight ends in the league down the stretch last year. By the way Mike McCarthy talked about him in his season-ending press conference, it sure sounded like he wanted him back. He counts $7.95 million against the Packers’ salary cap. He has been a distraction and annoyance in the locker room at times, but he has come up with some big plays at opportune times for the team. There are many fans who are done with him, many who love him.

I’m just glad it’s Ted Thompson making the call on this one. Freeing up nearly $8 million in cap space would go a long way in improving the team over the long haul, but keeping him on the roster gives the team that downfield threat over the middle that helps free up other receivers. Tough call on this one.

But to get back to that number one number, six, Ted Thompson has his work cut out for him. That’s why the offseason is so intriguing and why the Packers success in 2013 hinges so heavily on the decisions being made now and in the next month.

Stay tuned …

And in the meantime, here are some Jermichael Finley highlights …