In Defense of Ted Thompson, Green Bay Packers GM
As with all other Packers news, some people took the Brandon Underwood-Lake Delton controversy as an opportunity to call for general manager Ted Thompson’s head.
The logic went: Thompson failed to spend one of his seven picks on a cornerback—instead trusting in Jarrett Bush, Pat Lee, and Brandon Underwood to improve—and now Underwood’s misdeeds are making TT look like a fool.
For now, tragedy appears to have been averted as sexual assault charges are unlikely to be filed against Underwood in the seedy story of a strip joint named Chubby’s, two reputed prostitutes from the Milwaukee area, and theft.
Underwood may not be the most stand-up (or smartest) citizen, and he still could face felony charges for soliciting prostitution, but my money is that he will be in uniform for the Packers season opener unless Roger Goodell decides to step in and suspend him.
But nevertheless, Thompson simply cannot catch a break.
Whether it all stems from the acrimonious divorce with Brett Favre, or the perceived passive approach of Thompson in free agency, a large proportion of Packers nation have seen enough from Ron Wolf’s protégé.
However, I’ve got news for that broad swath of TT haters: Thompson has done, and continues to do, a more-than-respectable job as general manager.
Judging the work of a general manager isn’t really all that complicated.
The first and most important criterion is simply the product on the field—is the team winning games, performing as well as expected, and entertaining the fans?
The second is financial: is the GM spending money wisely on the free market and receiving quality returns on that money?
And lastly, there is the talent evaluation aspect.
Does the GM do a good job of finding talent in all facets of putting a roster together, and does he or she successfully blend talent together in a way that is conducive to productive team chemistry?
To me, looking at anything beyond these three factors— personality, friendliness, and accessibility—is nit-picking.
We all can agree TT is quite an icy SOB, but that really has no bearing on his job performance.
So, the next step in determining how well Thompson has done is to break down the roster and analyze his work.
The first thing to note here is that despite the early struggles during Thompson’s reign, the team finished 11-5 last year and made the playoffs.
And all indications point to that being the start of a sustained trend of success, not a high-water mark reached by fluke.
While the team finished 4-12 and 8-8 in Thompson’s first two seasons (as well as 6-10 in 2008), he was working with someone else’s material in ’05 and ’06, and the entire organization was reeling in the first post-Favre season.
Now, of the 87 players currently listed on the Green Bay roster, 42 have been added through the draft, 37 have been signed as undrafted free agents, three were unrestricted free agent signings, two were nabbed off waivers, and three players were added via trade.
More importantly, though, only seven players—Nick Barnett, Chad Clifton, Donald Driver, Al Harris, Cullen Jenkins, Mark Tauscher, and Scott Wells—remain from the pre-TT era (Driver, Clifton, and Tauscher were Ron Wolf draft picks, Barnett and Wells were Mike Sherman selections, Jenkins was a Sherman free agent pick-up, and Harris was a Sherman trade acquisition).
The rest of the roster is attributable to the handiwork of Thompson.
This means that, in other words, of the starters, three offensive linemen are from pre-TT times, one wide receiver, one defensive end, one linebacker, and one cornerback—68 percent of Packers starters were Ted Thompson additions.
Obviously, this all makes relative sense considering Thompson has now been around for five years, and the team has been the youngest on opening day for four years running.
But the takeaway point is that Thompson has retained what he needed to from the roster he inherited, while impressing his stamp on the rest of the team in a successful fashion.
The Favre Thing
Clearly, it is not possible to write about Thompson without touching on the Favre issue—it is the defining decision of his tenure.
And even two summers removed, reasonable arguments for both sides can still be made.
Yes, Favre demonstrated last year that he still has some juice (okay, a lot of juice) in that free-slinging arm.
It is also a legitimate stance to argue that Favre had earned his spot behind center through his 16 years of service to the franchise.
But the fact is, Thompson made a business decision in the long-term interest of the organization and he appears to have made a wise one.
Favre may have led the Packers to a title in 2008—we’ll never know.
What we can say with certainty is that Rodgers has now registered two MVP-caliber seasons, and he will be around for years to come, while Favre has continued his maybe-I-will, maybe-I-won’t game for two more seasons.
Personally, I’m glad Thompson did what he did just because I don’t think I could have handled the media circus, endless debates, and sleepless nights wondering what Brett Almighty would do (yes, I’m kidding about that last one).
Besides the Favre-Rodgers issue, though, Thompson has acquitted himself well.
Some people complain that Thompson, a)Doesn’t draft well, and, b)Isn’t aggressive enough in free agency.
I’ll take these one at a time.
Admittedly, Thompson and his scouts need some work on spotting offensive lineman.
It’s been a problem area for years now, and despite efforts to fill the holes, it remains one.
Apparently, Thompson’s strategy has been that those good offensive linemen are more or less moldable, so it isn’t imperative to go high to get a talented one.
He has been proven wrong, as the list of failed projects shows: Allen Barbre, Breno Giacomini, T.J. Lang, and Jason Spitz—as well as others no longer on the roster—all represent failed attempts at finding a diamond in the rough.
Outside of that, however, Thompson’s drafts have been stellar.
Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, B.J. Raji, A.J. Hawk and Clay Matthews are all Thompson-era draft picks, and they are all excellent players—some even All-Pros.
And this is not to mention the bevy of quality backups—such as Jordy Nelson and Desmond Bishop—that Thompson has added through the draft.
It is also quite possible that Bryan Bulaga, Morgan Burnett, and Mike Neal could soon join this list.
So don’t tell me that TT can’t draft.
This has been an area of frequent criticism from Thompson-bashers.
“He doesn’t spend any money—go out there and get someone damn it!”
Except that he has, if on a limited basis.
And when he has, it has been smartly executed.
Right now, the roster features three players acquired through free agency—Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, and Brandon Chillar—and all are key contributors to the Packers defensive corps, without being overpaid.
Personally, I prefer selective spending over doling out large contracts for high-risk players like Albert Haynesworth or Julius Peppers.
How’s that working out for Washington and Chicago?
Moreover, Thompson also traded for Ryan Grant (for a sixth-round pick), which, in retrospect, was a pretty nice deal.
And for comparison, let’s look at how some other successful franchises are constructed.
New England is comprised of 41 draft picks, 37 undrafted free agents, four unrestricted free agent signings, one waiver pick-up, and three trade acquisitions.
Indianapolis features 37 draftees, 47 undrafted players, one free agent signing, two waiver pick-ups, and zero trade acquisitions.
So it appears Thompson’s model is not so crazy after all.
Now, my point here is not to defend each and every move TT has made—he most definitely isn’t perfect.
All I’m arguing is that he often gets an unfair rap for reasons that elude me.
The draft is a hit-or-miss enterprise and Thompson’s done better than most.
Free-agent signings are risky and Thompson has spent wisely.
Choosing an unproven but ready Rodgers over an aging but effective Favre wasn’t easy, but it was the right choice.
Which is all to say: more often than not Thompson has made the right choice, and the resulting roster looks primed to make not just a Super Bowl run, but many.
So the next time you notice a shortcoming on the Packers roster—or when off-the-field idiocy puts a certain piece of the puzzle in jeopardy—ask yourself how much of the blame can be put on Thompson.
And as for his iciness, maybe he just needs a trip to Lake Delton.