Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson has earned a reputation as not being overly fond of spending money on free agents from other NFL teams. If you visit any free-agent tracker, you won't see much activity for Green Bay this offseason. That is how Thompson prefers to run his operation.
Thompson became Green Bay's general manager in 2005. The very first draft pick he made was quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While Rodgers plummeted down the big board, Thompson realized the Packers had a potential bargain on their hands and he took the leap of faith.
When Thompson felt it was time for Rodgers to take his turn, the GM held his ground. Brett Favre exited. They haven't looked back since.
Since Thompson is so reluctant to bring in outside help in free agency, is his policy really in Green Bay's best interest?
That question is up for debate, so we will explore the pros and cons of Thompson's stance towards free agency.
Many NFL teams are dealing with huge salary-cap issues that forced teams into releasing a number of previous starters because they simply can't afford their old contracts. The Oakland Raiders and New York Jets are two teams that come to mind.
Or, teams work out deals that help them compete in 2013, but they will be a mess in the next two to three years when back-loaded deals start to catch up with their books. Check back in 2015 or 2016 to see how well the Miami Dolphins are doing in free agency.
It is one thing for a general manager to avoid free agency and watch his team struggle to reach .500. The fanbase would deduce that the team isn't trying very hard to win, and they're only interested in lining the owner's pockets with more money.
Well, that wouldn't be the case in Green Bay, since its team ownership is so unique compared to the rest of the NFL.
But the Packers have been successful under Thompson, which gives him credibility to run things the way he believes is best for the Packers organization. Let's review some recent history.
Entering the 2013 season, the Packers are coming off a 11-5 season that qualified them for postseason play. They defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card Round, but were then run over by the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round 45-31.
The defense is still smarting from that game, since it gave up a whopping 579 yards of total offense to Colin Kaepernick and Co. It was shocking to see the 49ers go through the Packers defense so easily, since Green Bay had the No. 11 overall defense in the league. It allowed an average of 336.8 yards per game last year, but San Francisco added another 243 yards on top of that.
So, what has Thompson done since then to improve the defense for the 2013 season? The answer, unfortunately, is not very much. Since the offseason began, Thompson has re-signed two players from the defensive unit: LB Brad Jones and LB Rob Francois. That is it. Short and sweet.
Oops, spoke too soon. Word came out Tuesday evening thanks to a Twitter report from Howard Balzer that Green Bay had just signed CB Loyce Means to a deal. Means wasn't playing football in 2012, but he did happen to turn in a blazing time in a tryout (4.4 seconds in the 40). Timing is everything, right?
Howard Balzer @HBalzer721
Packers officially sign CB Loyce Means.2013-4-2 22:09:55
In other developments, Thompson released Pro Bowl DB Charles Woodson, and LB Erik Walden signed with Indianapolis. Woodson still remains without a team, but maybe things will start happening now that Nnamdi Asomugha signed with San Francisco on Tuesday. As for Walden, he is still trying to find where Kaepernick went.
Thompson hasn't reacted by signing any external free agents with starting experience to address the holes, because that just isn't how he operates. His strong preference is spelled out in this Twitter update by Zach Kruse, who covers the Packers for Bleacher Report and Cheesehead TV.
Zach Kruse @zachkruse2
The #Packers also still retain 26 of the 32 players (81 percent) they've drafted since 2009, or four total years. Draft and develop.2013-3-29 13:30:33
Think about that for a second, retaining 26 of the last 32 draft picks. That is a very high hit rate. The NFL draft is admittedly one of the biggest crapshoots going, but Thompson seems to have found a way to sift through the noise and agents' rhetoric. He has annually been able to consistently identify players that the Packers can believe in and mold.
That doesn't mean that they necessarily have to win a major role as a rookie. They join the team, learn the system, and fill whatever role they are initially asked to take. If you draft players that want to win, and are open to being coached, you can retool and compete year after year.
Why is Thompson so Reluctant to Pull the Trigger on Free Agents ?
Looking back at Packers history, the team has periodically enjoyed great success by bringing in players from other NFL teams. Two of the most famous free-agent signings in Green Bay franchise history are DL Reggie White and CB Charles Woodson.
Then there was the trade with the Atlanta Falcons for QB Brett Favre. Of the three transactions in question, Thompson was only personally responsible for the Woodson deal.
So, it's not like he hasn't struck gold in free agency, because he has. It just isn't very big on his list of priorities. Looking at the Packers free-agent tracker page, you won't be seeing players that are coming in from other teams.
Not every free-agent deal has been a home run. In 2012, the Packers brought in RB Cedric Benson off the street to try to beef up the running game. Benson failed to crack 250 yards on the year, and only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. The running game, which was ranked as No. 20 last year, still needs to add some new blood.
The Packers only averaged 3.9 yards per rush, which places more pressure on Rodgers to bail out the offense. That sometimes can be a real challenge, especially when the offensive line is giving up 51 sacks, the second-highest total allowed last year in the league.
Packers fans see other teams in the NFC improving and wants to know when Green Bay will correspond by making their own moves. Patience is the key, but that is much easier said than done.
According to this story by Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel, Thompson sees more value in holding on to the team's resources to re-sign key players like Rodgers, B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews. If you spend too much money on outside free agents, then you run the risk of seeing key contributors walking out the door every year that you really wanted to keep.
Take a look at the players that left contenders this offseason. Across the board, players are leaving playoff teams to make more money elsewhere. The Packers have been able to limit their losses, by saving up enough capital to keep their best core players in house.
How Will Thompson Take Care of the Packers' Weaknesses for 2013?
As things stand now, the Packers need to find help for their running game, improve the pass protection and shore up their defense against the run that was exposed by Kaepernick and Adrian Peterson.
There are also some issues with depth on the team, primarily at wide receiver with Donald Driver retiring and Jennings going to Minnesota. Finding more depth in the secondary would help as Woodson figures to be playing somewhere else in 2013.
Thompson will rely primarily on the draft along with the normal bevy of undrafted rookie free agents to see if they can find enough talent to come in and plug into the lineup. If OTA's determine that they still have holes that weren't properly filled, then free agency, the last resort, will have to be explored.
For the problems with the running game, the Packers may actually have to invest a fairly high draft pick in a back, as opposed to filling the position with an undrafted rookie free agent or players off their practice squad. Then again, Benson is still waiting for his phone to ring.
Thompson's Track Record Doesn't Warrant Any Additional Scrutiny
If you look at Green Bay's record since Thompson took over, he has been proving that his methods and philosophy works. When he assumed the job in 2005, the Packers were a team that needed upgrades in multiple areas. That would require time to do it right, and luckily for Thompson, he was granted the time he needed.
The Packers didn't make the playoffs in three of the first four years, as they couldn't top a .500 record in any of those failed seasons. They went a combined 18-30 in those years.
Green Bay has now reached the playoffs in four straight years, and 2013 should be more of the same. Their record in the regular season over the last four years was 47-17. The Packers have recorded double-digit wins in each of the last four seasons.
The lack of free-agency moves can be frustrating for Packers fans that aren't very big on patience. However, until the Packers start turning in consecutive losing seasons again, or missing the playoffs regularly, it appears that everybody needs to relax and let Thompson do what he does best.