I have left many comments on Bleacher Report the last few seasons and Brent Wilbur suggested that I write an article critiquing Thompson’s performance as Green Bay Packer’s GM. Here is my critique of Ted Thompson’s performance as GM since he was hired in 2005.
Four Best Things Thompson has Done
1) Drafting QB Aaron Rodgers - Whom could the Packers have gotten of more quality at this pick other than Rodgers? The only three players that would be worth talking about are Atlanta Falcons WR Roddy White (27th), Seattle Seahawks MLB Lofa Tatupu (45) and S Nick Collins, who the Packers took with the 51st pick. Furthermore, Thompson could have taken QB Jason Campbell, who went to the Washington Redskins one pick later. Rodgers was by far the best available prospect at that spot and he helped the Packers transition from the Brett Favre era, a problem many teams have had over the years when looking to replace Hall of Fame signal callers.
2) Trading Javon Walker for a 2nd Round Pick - This was a brilliant move, perhaps the most brilliant of the Thompson era. Walker had 89 receptions for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2004 and wanted a new contract before his old one was completed. The Packers would not budge and Walker reluctantly reported to the Packers in 2005, only to blow out his ACL in Week One. He wanted a trade in 2006 and Thompson obliged, shipping him to the Denver Broncos for the 52nd pick in the draft. The Broncos signed Walker to a five-year $40.00 million dollar deal, while the Packers drafted WR Greg Jennings. Walker is now with the Oakland Raiders and in the four years since the trade has 1,567 yards and nine touchdowns, with 1,084 of those yards and eight of those touchdowns coming in 2006. The Packers ridded themselves of a headache and found a more talented franchise wide receiver in the process.
3) 2005 & 2006 NFL Draft - This was the mountaintop of Thompson’s reign as GM. Here are the players he found in these two drafts: Rodgers (24th), Collins (51st), LB Brady Poppinga (125), LB A.J. Hawk (5th), G/T Daryn Colledge (47th), WR Greg Jennings (52), G Jason Spitz (75th), KR Will Blackmon (115th) and DT Johnny Jolly (183rd). Eight players in that group have entered a season as a starter since they were drafted. Rodgers, Collins, and Jennings are all players that should be able to make multiple Pro Bowl appearances and be franchise level players at their positions. It is hard to ask for more value in two drafts than what Thompson got in those drafts.
4) Signing Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett in free agency in 2006 - The Packers made a seven-year, $52.7 million dollar investment in CB Charles Woodson in 2006 and that move has paid huge dividends. Woodson made the Pro Bowl and was an All-Pro Second Team selection in 2008. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, earning All-Pro First Team Honors. DT Ryan Pickett was also signed that year to a four-year $14.00 million dollar contract, and while he has not been selected to a Pro Bowl, he has played very well on their line. He was rewarded with a four year, $28.00 million dollar extension this off-season. Those were two great finds that have been solid investments for the Packers.
Best Season 2007: Mike Sherman was a decent head coach and a terrible GM. He inherited a team in decline from the Mike Holmgren years, who was able to turn that team that headed in the wrong direction under Ray Rhodes (8-8 in 1999) into four playoff appearances and three consecutive divisional titles. Sherman was also a big reason the Packers steadily declined in 2003 and 2004. Sherman made many bad free agent signings and his drafts steadily became worse. By 2005, the bottom fell out and he was rightfully let go.
However, for as bad of a job as he did, Sherman did make some good draft picks and acquired some good players. Ten starters from the 2007 team were holdovers from the Sherman era. They are as follows: Favre*, T Chad Clifton*, C Scott Wells, T Mark Tauscher, WR Donald Driver*, DE Aaron Kampman*, DT Corey Williams, DE Cullen Jenkins, MLB Nick Barnett, CB Al Harris.* The stars indicate those players went to the Pro Bowl that season, no Thompson players were selected in 2007.
When the Sherman holdovers were merged with the great young players Thompson added in the 2005 and 2006 draft, along with the two free agents he signed in 2006, the roster was turned over and a playoff contender was born out of that 4-12 mess in 2005. Ted Thompson did a great job in his first two years as GM. His ability to merge new talent with the holdovers from Sherman was a big reason the Packers went from 4-12 to 13-3 and the NFC Championship Game in two seasons.
Four Worst Things Thompson Has Done
1) Not fixing the Offensive Line - When Thompson arrived in Green Bay one of the biggest problems was an aging offensive line. The line was as follows, 28-year old Clifton, 27-year old G Mike Wahle, 31-year old C Mike Flanagan, 32-year old RG Marco Rivera, and 27-year old Tauscher. Thompson made the decision to let Rivera and Wahle go and stay with Tauscher and Clifton. To Thompson’s credit, Clifton and Tauscher are still starters with the Packers. Furthermore, C Scott Wells, who was on the roster in 2004, started 52 games from 2005 to 2008.
The best offensive line free agent the Packers signed in free agency since 2005 are G Matt O'Dwyer and G Adrian Klemm, neither of who made an impact for the Packers. The offensive lineman Thompson has drafted since he has been there from 2009 going back are as follows: T T.J. Lang (109th), T Jamon Meredith (162nd), T Josh Sitton (135th), T Breno Giacomini (150th), T Allen Barbre (119th), T Daryn Colledge (47th), G Jason Spitz (75th), T Tony Moll (165th), G Junius Coston (143rd), G Will Whitticker (246).
In the five years since Thompson took over the Packers have ranked 30th, 23rd, 21st, 17th and 14th in rushing yards, which means only one season in the top half of the league in rushing. In 2008, the Packers gave up 34 sacks and in 2009; they gave up a league leading 51 sacks. The only pick Thompson has devoted in the first or second round since he arrived in Green Bay was Colledge. The offensive line has been, and continues to be, a major weakness for the Packers. Thompson has made little to no effort to seriously address this position, unless you consider a fourth or fifth round pick a serious attempt.
2) Not trading for Randy Moss - A General Manager is not going to make the right call on every trade, but Thompson really gaffed on the Moss deal.
In March 2007, the Packers had a chance to trade a third round or fourth round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Moss, a five time Pro Bowler with three All-Pro First Team selections. He had some character issues playing in Oakland, which is among the worst run organization in the NFL. Favre lobbied heavily for the Packers to trade for Moss, but Thompson opted to keep his draft pick and selected WR James Jones, who has 99 receptions for 1,390 yards and eight touchdowns for his career. Moss had 98 receptions for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2007 alone.
Not trading for Moss was a huge blunder that could have been enough to put the 13-3 Packers over the top in 2007 and brought home a Lombardi Trophy. I can see not wanting to sign Moss to a $50.00 million dollar contract, but given Moss’s physical abilities and what he had accomplished in the NFL, and given the low price that Oakland was asking for, there was little risk in making this move. The Packers could have done what the Patriots did, make him prove he could be a model citizen before giving him a big contract. The trade should have been made and not making it proved to be very costly.
3) Sitting Out Free Agency 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 - I talked about Thompson doing a very good job in free agency in 2006. Since then, he has not really signed any relevant free agents. In 2007, the Packers only notable signing was CB Frank Walker and a sixth round pick that was traded to the New York Giants for then unknown RB Ryan Grant. In 2008, the only notable signing was LB Brandon Chillar. The last two years have not yielded significant signings or trades.
Thompson should be applauded for not falling for the trap of signing a $100.00 million free agent to please the fan base in March. However, he has not even attempted to add the mid level veteran players for $3.00 to $5.00 million a year that have been the heart and soul of New England's free agency, moves that have helped keep them at the top of the NFL. Thompson’s failure to build on his 2006 free agent successes is one reason why the Packers have been passed by the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North. While Minnesota has used free agency to acquire players like Favre, G Steve Hutchinson, RB Chester Taylor, as well as trading for DE Jared Allen; the Packers have not embraced free agency or trades for veteran players to upgrade the team since 2006. Since 2008, the result has been a 22-10 record for the Vikings with back-to-back NFC North titles and a 17-15 record for the Packers with a 0-1 playoff record.
4) 2007 & 2008 Drafts NFL Drafts – Here are the names of the players acquired in those two drafts: DT Justin Harrell (16th), RB Brandon Jackson (63rd), Jones (78th), S Aaron Rouse (89th), Barbre (119th), WR David Clowney (157th), LB Korey Hall (192nd), LB Desmond Bishop (193rd), K Mason Crosby (194), RB DeShawn Wynn (228), TE Clark Harris (243rd), WR Jordy Nelson (36th), QB Brian Brohm (56th), CB Patrick Lee (60th), TE Jermichael Finley (91st), DE Jeremy Thompson (102nd), Sitton (135th), Giacomini (150th), QB Matt Flynn (209th), WR Brett Swain (217th).
Meanwhile, the Vikings have drafted RB Adrian Peterson and WR Percy Harvin, both NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year selections and traded picks in their 2008 draft to acquire Allen. That is a big reason the Vikings are the best team in the division since 2008. The only Packer draft pick from 2007 or 2008 that has a realistic expectation of developing into a perennial Pro Bowl talent is Finley. Nelson and Jones are all solid role players that may blossom as replacements for Driver down the road, but you would really hope that they would have done better in the second and third rounds.
Particularly damaging was the players they missed in the 2008 draft. Instead of Nelson, how would Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson look in a Packer uniform, selected at 49? How about RB Ray Rice, who was selected by the Baltimore Ravens at pick 55? Instead of Brohm, the Packers could have selected current Miami Dolphins QB Chad Henne. New Orleans Saints CB Tracy Porter was taken in the second round of that draft at pick 40.
The Packers had three picks in the second round that could have taken their team to the next level. Brohm is no longer with the team, Lee has appeared in five games and Nelson has 686 yards receiving and four touchdowns in two seasons. Those picks in 2007 and 2008 were very light on impact players and are a big reason the Packers have not been able to win the division the last two years or seriously contend for a Super Bowl.
Worst Season 2008: Thompson supporters want to blame the 2008 season on the Favre retirement saga, costly injuries, and several losses by less than four points. Thompson deserves the majority of the blame for the lack of impact players he added in the 2007 and 2008 off-seasons. The Packers did not find enough impact players to build on their 2007 success.
The proof is in the picks. If you objectively look at the picks, it becomes obvious what happened in 2008. Other teams got better with their solid additions and the Packers regressed with their unimpressive selections. The margin for error in the NFL is very small and two poor drafts is the major reason that their record tailed off and why the Vikings have won the last two divisional titles. You cannot have two drafts like that in back-to-back years and not expect to suffer the consequences, especially when your main division rival is adding lots of good talent.
Ted Thompson's 5-year Grade: It is hard to grade a GM just on wins and losses, because he does not coach the team. On the other hand, he does hire the head coach and he is responsible for acquiring the talent that the coach puts on the field. Here is how the Packers stack up with the rest of the NFL in both regular season and postseason success since 2005.
a) Regular Season – The Packers are 42-38 in the regular season since 2005. There are 12 teams that have had a better regular season record in that time-span and are as follows: Indianapolis Colts (65-15), New England Patriots (59-21), San Diego Chargers (55-25), Dallas Cowboys (51-29), Pittsburgh Steelers (50-30), New York Giants (49-31), Chicago Bears (47-33), Carolina Panthers (46-34), Minnesota Vikings (45-35), Philadelphia Eagles (44-35-1), Baltimore Ravens (44-36) and the Tennessee Titans (43-37).
Furthermore, there are 13 teams that have won multiple division titles since 2005; something Thompson’s Packers have only done once. Both the Vikings and Bears have won two division titles since Thompson arrived in 2005.
b) Playoff Appearances - The Packers have qualified for the playoffs two out of Ted Thompson's five seasons. The following 10 teams have qualified for the playoffs at least three times or have made it two times and qualified for one Super Bowl in the last five years: Indianapolis Colts (5), New England Patriots (4), San Diego Chargers (4), New York Giants (3), Pittsburgh Steelers (3), Seattle Seahwawks (3), Baltimore Ravens (3), New Orleans (2), Arizona Cardinals (2), and Chicago Bears (2).
As far as playoff victories are concerned, these 14 teams have won more than one playoff game in the last five years: Pittsburgh Steelers (7), Indianapolis Colts (6), New England Patriots (5), New Orleans Saints (4), New York Giants (4), Seattle Seahawks (4), Arizona Cardinals (4), Baltimore Ravens (3), Dallas Cowboys (3), Philadelphia Eagles (3), San Diego Chargers (3), Chicago Bears (2), Carolina Panthers (2), and New York Jets (2).
This notion that Ted Thompson is a top five GM is laughable, considering what the other teams in the league have done compared to the Packers over the last five seasons. I give Thompson a B minus for his regular season effort and a C plus for his playoff effort, which I think averages out to a grade of C plus, because the playoffs are more important than the regular season. He is slightly above average, not one of the premier GMs in the NFL. His team’s performance on the field does not warrant such a lofty ranking.
2009 Review and 2010 Outlook: This is the last area to look at, because the most important part of the evaluation is what the Packers did last year and what they should be expected to do this year. While 2005-2008 should be taken into account when grading his overall job performance, the most important part of the evaluation process is where the Packers are right now. Even though I have been very critical and given Thompson a C plus grade, I did not think he should be fired after the 2009 team went 11-5. You do not fire a GM that helped transition the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and had the Packers defense ranked second in the league. Thompson rebounded from two horrible drafts to make some nice picks, especially LB Clay Matthews III. Rookie LB Brad Jones also recorded four sacks and the ninth overall pick, DT B.J. Raji should have more of an impact in his second season. He also made the right call purging the Packers of their defensive staff and bringing in defensive coordinator Dom Capers to head that defensive transition. Last year was the first good off-season Thompson had since 2006 and it showed in the Packers improvement. I was wrong about last off-season and their transition to the 3-4 defense and I am willing to admit that and say that Thompson should be given another year to reclaim the NFC North for the Packers.
What makes me upset is that there is a group of Packer fans that want to tout Ted Thompson as a top five GM and want the Packers to build a statue of him outside Lambeau Field. I want the Packers to have the goal of winning the division and competing in the playoffs every season, not being 42-38 for five years. I want Packer fans to be as critical of Thompson as they were of Sherman. I do not want the Packers to become the Chicago Cubs, where they blindly support the franchise and its management, regardless of the results on the field. I think Thompson’s good find of Rodgers is clouding some people’s ability to objectively grade the franchise. Anyone that criticizes Thompson is labeled a Favre fan and does not have the Packer’s best interests at heart. Somehow, the wins and losses no longer matter to many Thompson supporters.
Here is where the Packers are at heading into the draft. By not being in the Final Eight, they had no free agency restrictions placed upon them. They decided to use their free agency dollars to resign four key pieces from the 2008 team: Clifton, Tauscher, Pickett and Collins. To date, they have not added any free agent pieces, yet again. Restricted free agency has taken some of the luster out of free agency, so I am not as upset as I was in 2008 and 2009, but it still would have been nice to add a mid level veteran or two, especially to the offensive line or secondary. The New York Jets added CB Antonio Cromartie to their defense for a third round pick; it is the failure to make these types of moves that have held the Packers back in recent years.
I think in the upcoming draft, the Packers have a few areas they need to address. First and most importantly, they need to address the offensive line. It is the major failing of the Ted Thompson era and the Packers gave up 51 sacks in 2009, which led the NFL. They have to improve their line and so far, they have not added anyone new to the mix. Second, they need to address the secondary. In their four losses to Arizona, Pittsburgh and Minnesota (twice), the Packers gave up 1,397 yards passing, 15 touchdown passes and no picks. They have to be able to stop elite passing offenses. Third, they need to address the pass rush, as they failed to record a single sack against Favre and recorded one against Warner in the playoff game. Their secondary weaknesses really affected their ability to blitz, but they could still use another weapon there. Finally, they need to address special teams; both their coverage units and their punting game were terrible in 2009.
My expectation is that in the sixth year of any GM's tenure that a Super Bowl should be on the horizon. When Ron Wolf joined the Packers in 1992, they were a team that had won 10 or more games twice since 1968. The Packers were in the NFC Championship Game by 1995 and won the Super Bowl in 1996. The New Orleans Saints were a disaster after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Region. They committed themselves to winning a Super Bowl in 2006 by hiring head coach Sean Payton (Thompson passed on him for Mike McCarthy); by 2009, they won a Super Bowl. When the 49ers went with Steve Young over Joe Montana following Montana’s injury in the 1990 NFC Championship Game, the 49ers were back in the Championship Game by 1992 and won a Super Bowl in 1994.
No matter what you think of Sherman’s impact on the roster or you think of the Favre controversy, six years is enough time to bring a Super Bowl to Green Bay. Thompson had those expectations when he was hired in 2005; he sold the Packers organization and their fans on his five-year plan. Five years later, the Packers have one playoff win to show for his vision. For this season to be a success and the five year wait to have been worth it, the Packers need to win the NFC North and they need to win a playoff game, preferably after a first round bye. That would put them in the NFC Championship Game for the second time in four years and signal this team is headed in the right direction. If the Vikings win the division for a third consecutive year, it is a clear sign that the Packers are not headed in the right direction and that the Packers need to upgrade their front office to keep up with the Vikings.
Everyone recognizes the potential this team has with its young franchise quarterback, talented skill position players and new 3-4 defense that ranked second in the NFL in yards allowed. Everyone recognizes the problems that are holding them back as the offensive line and the secondary players not named Woodson and Collins. If Thompson is truly a top five GM, he will be able to fix those problems, this year. If the Packers lose the division to the Vikings in 2010, the season will be a failure. If they only qualify for the wild card and lose in the first round again or if they miss the playoffs all together; Thompson needs to be held accountable, not given another year to prove his five year plan will take shape in Year Seven. This is a make or break year for Ted Thompson and the Packers. It is time this team become the contender that Ted Thompson promised back in 2005.
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