Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has been oft-criticized for his team-building strategy. After yet another questionable free agency period that saw a half dozen well-established players leave the team, Thompson was under fire yet again. Then he went out and signed Martellus Bennett, the best tight end on the market, to a lucrative three-year deal. Packers fans may be somewhat accustomed to the single veteran free agent addition as in the cases with Charles Woodson, Julius Peppers, and Jared Cook. Thompson continued to explore the market and sign several other intriguing free agents that will prove as effective replacements to the free agents lost.
Ted Thompson Is Altering His Philosophy
After years of facing backlash and listening to pestering Packers fans, Thompson may actually be altering his approach, albeit at a slow level-headed pace. The moves made during the 2016 season coupled with the off-season thus far illustrate a much more aggressive approach than the Packers have seen from Thompson in recent memory.
Mid-season Additions a Rarity
Last season, injuries to the running back position prompted Thompson to move quickly and make a trade for Chiefs running back Knile Davis. Although Davis made little impact on the field, he provided depth at a time of need. Then in the final weeks of the regular season, Seattle cut ties with starting running back Christine Michael and Thompson swiftly scooped him up off waivers. Thompson may have somewhat been scrambling after neglecting the position in recent drafts, but he chose to sign a proven talent as opposed to another undrafted rookie with a learning curve as Packer fans have seen in the past. Michael was very inconsistent but showed enough playmaking ability to garner another contract this off-season. Although Green Bay hasn’t signed one of the blockbuster running backs such as Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles, Michael is still a veteran addition that at the least brings an experienced body to training camp. Thompson has seemingly always activated a rookie from the practice squad when injuries pile up, but the claim for a player outside the organization shows an aggressive style to win at this point in his career.
Free Agency Losses Create Roster Holes
The first week of free agency was a mixed bag for the Packers. After locking up Nick Perry to a lucrative five-year $59 million contract, Thompson and company watched Micah Hyde, J.C. Tretter, T.J. Lang, and Datone Jones leave town. Re-signing tackle David Bakhtiari before he could taste free agency was a smart move as he remains the sole player remaining from Thompson’s 2013 draft class. Thompson’s draft and develop strategy has been seriously strained this year as he didn’t sign many of the Packers impending free agents to second contracts. It would have been near impossible to replace the talent lost solely in the draft. Thompson had to choose to play the market more than in previous seasons.
He started with the Bennett signing but that proved to be insurance for the loss of Jared Cook. Shockingly, Bennett is one of the biggest names that Thompson has given a decent sized contract to who wasn’t cut by his former team, and will therefore count against the compensatory pick equation. Thompson loves his draft picks, but he apparently loved the idea of adding the monster tight end to Aaron Rodgers‘ arsenal more. The rest of Thompson’s free agent additions aren’t as exciting on the surface but provide quality depth and competition with the incoming draft class and other young players on the roster.
Veteran Depth Signings Key for 2017
Signing a second tight end in Lance Kendricks, adding defensive line depth with Ricky Jean-Francois, bringing back Davon House, and adding Justin McCray to the competition at guard are smart moves that help patch holes across the roster. These were very smart and somewhat unusual signings by Thompson and company. Kendricks completely alters the landscape of the Packers offense by providing another field-stretching tight end to pair with Bennett and incumbent Richard Rodgers. All three of these players could warrant a starting position in the league, so Mike McCarthy must find ways to get more tight ends on the field.
Jean-Francois provides depth to a defensive line full of unproven youngsters outside of Mike Daniels. Although he will most likely just be a rotational player, Thompson started filling out his defensive line depth in free agency rather than waiting until the draft. Ricky should allow Thompson to pursue other pressing needs in the early rounds before possibly adding more depth to the group later in the draft.
When Davon House was cut by the Jaguars, it made too much sense for Thompson to bring him in for a look. He had already played for the organization and won’t count against the Packers attaining more compensatory selections. Returning to Green Bay on a one-year prove-it deal, House may be the team’s starting boundary corner in week one. He definitely has some flaws and inconsistencies in his game, but he’s a big physical cornerback who had a career year just two seasons ago and the Packers were desperate for secondary help. House shouldn’t stop Thompson from targeting a cornerback early in the draft after last year’s abysmal effort.
Finally, Justin McCray who spent his first season on the Tennessee Titans practice squad is a nice addition to the competition at guard. He may not start or even make the team this season but it is imperative to bring in camp bodies to compete with Don Barclay, Lucas Patrick, and Kyle Murphy for the hole left by T.J. Lang. It would be incredible if any of these players were able to match the play of Lang last year, but, pipe dreams aside, Thompson shouldn’t need to target a guard on the draft’s first day due to the McCray signing.
End of an Era?
Thompson may be utilizing more resources and making bolder moves this off-season in particular because it seems his career is winding down. Several reports came out during the 2016 season that the Packers might be searching for Thompson’s replacement after the year. Obviously the general manager remains with the team, but after 15 seasons as a league executive, Thompson’s career should be nearing its end. Perhaps the reason for multiple trades, veteran signings, and overall ambitiousness is Thompson’s way of going all-in for a second title.
The upcoming draft seems more detrimental to the Packers this year as the roster has weaknesses at four key positions and Thompson closes in on retirement. His first pick as general manager was the legend to-be Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Now Thompson may be needing an equally impactful player in whoever may be his final first round draft selection.