Green Bay Packers Wise to Stay Away from Free Agency, Save Money for Stars
Under general manager Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers haven't been big players in free agency.
In fact, they've hardly been players at all.
2013 has been no different than previous offseasons, and given how badly the defense was exposed in last year's playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, that has some fans in Titletown a bit anxious.
Those fans need to settle down, at least according to one former personnel executive.
Patience is the edict passed along by Bill Polian, who told Tyler Dunne of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Thompson's reluctance to open the team's coffers is a move borne of wisdom, not frugality.
Fans in Green Bay should not go crazy...They should applaud Ted. The marketing people say, "We have to do something. We can't be perceived as not trying to win." Different GMs try different philosophies. Let's load up on midpriced free agents, we'll play money ball and hope we hit on a few. Others say, "We need that big, marquee signing. We're one or two players away." None of it really adds out.
It's hard to argue Polian's point here. More often than not, teams that go bananas in free agency end up overpaying, especially early. Those same teams then run into salary cap trouble a few years down the road, when the meat of the often-backloaded contracts hits the books.
The Miami Dolphins are going that route this year with big-name signings like wide receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, which can be possibly be attributed to the thin ice that general manager Jeff Ireland finds himself on. Time will tell how that works out.
The Buffalo Bills spent big money last year on their defensive line. The Philadelphia Eagles sunk a ton of coin into their secondary the year before. The first was a disappointment; the second was a disaster.
According to Dunne and Polian, that's because free agency is a crapshoot filled with fool's gold.
Over a six-year study, Polian determined that 50% of free-agent signings panned out. Or, as he put it, the same rate as (much) cheaper, smart NFL draft picks.
"First of all, keep in mind, that the vast majority of players on the market now are not 'A' players," Polian said. "The marquee players, the guys that got all the money in this year's free agency extravaganza, were really what we call 'A-minus' players. The 'A' players never get to free agency. They're either franchised or signed long term by their clubs. So this is the level below real difference-makers."
Thompson does most of his rebuilding for the Packers in the draft, and as Bleacher Report's own Zach Kruse recently pointed out, he's been remarkably effective at it.
The #Packers also still retain 26 of the 32 players (81 percent) they've drafted since 2009, or four total years. Draft and develop.— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) March 29, 2013
Over that same four-year stretch, the Packers have made the playoffs every season, winning five playoff games and a Super Bowl.
If it's not broken, why fix it?
Teams that are able to successfully identify, draft and develop young players have a huge advantage over those that try to build their team through free agency. That's especially true since the new collective bargaining agreement was signed. The new rookie wage scale locks players in for at least three years at affordable salaries.
Those affordable salaries come in handy when it's time to re-sign star players. That time is now for the Green Bay Packers. As Adam Schefter of ESPN reports, the team is negotiating with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews on contract extensions.
Matthews will reportedly receive more than $13 million a year. Rodgers is set to become the highest-paid player in the history of the NFL.
Not only can the Packers afford to re-up those players, but they can even do so without backloading the contracts to the point of lunacy, mortgaging the club's future for the sake of the present.
All because Thompson can resist the urge to make like Jerry Jones every time he sees something shiny.
That's not to say that Thompson is perfect. It might be nice at least to look at a couple of lower-priced free-agent defenders, especially in the secondary.
With that said, for all we know Thompson intends to do that. The more time that passes, the lower sticker prices get, and there's still some talent out there to be had.
At the end of the day, while it may seem odd that Thompson doesn't spend on free agents, you have to consider all the money he needs to save to re-sign players.
You know, the ones he's so good at drafting.
So give Ted Thompson the benefit of the doubt, relax and let the man do his job.
He's shown to be very good at it.
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