If you read any amount of NFL literature, Green Bay is, in the eyes of many, a team that is a couple of steps away from making a serious run at the Super Bowl. Some analysts, Peter King among them, have tipped them to win the big one. And heading into Week 1 it was hard to make a case that they wouldn't be capable to make a deep run at the playoffs.
That may still be the case, but it's gotten a heck of a lot harder in recent week. The Pack's leading rusher is done for the season, their secondary is very thin due to injuries and the pass-rush is a Jekyll and Hyde group—it made life hell for Kevin Kolb and Jay Cutler, but made Shaun Hill look like Kurt Warner. In spite of all this the season is still very much alive and kicking and, with a couple of acquisitions and smart moves, a trip to Cowboys Stadium at the end of the season is a distinct possibility...
Yeah - that's where the argument falls down...Ted Thompson.
Let me say this before I descend into rant mode: I am a big advocate of Thompson's strategy of building via the draft. He's shown himself to be a shrewd operator who makes as much success with his picks as any general manager in the league.
On offense he's got a great nucleus of players through the draft with the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton—players that should be around for at least the best part of the next decade to lead a high-powered aerial attack. The defense has not necessarily been as successful, but the likes of Clay Matthews, BJ Raji and Nick Collins tell you he's certainly no slouch.
Thompson's a good evaluator of talent and whilst you may not necessarily agree with his formula of picking the best player available, a talented squad player is better than a guy drafted to fill a need who doesn't make the roster.
Building through the draft is certainly the safer way to long-term success as opposed to just throwing money at big-name veterans like next Sunday's opponents the Washington Redskins. Teams like the Redskins and arguably the Cowboys and, to an extent, the Bears run a greater risk with veterans who prove to be dead weight and then can't blood youngsters because there's a much barer cupboard because of a dearth of picks. Albert Haynesworth is the ultimate case in point of dead weight!
So I've got no problem with Ted's way of thinking in itself. Where my problems with him begin are in two areas. One is complimenting his good drafts with decent veterans to help the youth develop more quickly. The second is the way he builds the roster itself.
On the first point, the recent case of Marshawn Lynch being acquired by the Seahawks for a fourth-rounder in next April's draft and a conditional in 2012, which is likely to be a fifth or sixth-rounder illustrates the frustrations of many. Those like me who didn't think Lynch was worth the risk were of the belief that Thompson would have to trade a second-rounder and/or a defensive starter. That is too much for a guy without the character assets that the Green Bay front office covets. But are you telling me that Lynch was not worth a pick that's likely to be somewhere in the 120s when the draft comes around in April plus a late-rounder the year after?
Some bare stats: Lynch is 24. In his two starting years in the NFL, Lynch rushed for 2,151 yards at an average of 4.1 yards per carry; and that was in Buffalo. Green Bay's O-line is certainly not among the best in the league, but the Bills line is even more of a mess—Lynch could certainly do a job in the current Packers offense and is a similar fit to Ryan Grant with a similar skill set.
It's this kind of obstinate mindset that's hugely frustrating. Yes, picks are incredibly important, but the name of the game is to win Super Bowls and Lynch could be the missing piece on offense. For now we'll never know.
What makes it doubly irksome is that Thompson is good at picking up guys off the street when they're undrafted. The likes of Frank Zombo, Sam Shields and Ryan Grant are testament to the fact that he knows what he's doing when looking at players to add. Even his most recent veteran free-agent acquisition, Derrick Martin, has become a key special teams player. Are guys like Lynch or current free agent Adalius Thomas not worth a more serious look? Nobody's asking Ted to make the mega-bucks move like the Bears did for Julius Peppers, but surely there's value at the lower end of the market.
As mentioned before, the other frustration is that Thompson is truly an oddball when it comes to building a roster. I'm all for "best player available" when it comes to the draft, but three running backs, four tight ends and four healthy safeties to start the season? Thompson has consistently left himself thin at key positions so that the losses of Grant and Morgan Burnett will be felt much more keenly than in other franchises. Surely it would be worth seeing what you could get in a trade for somebody like a Donald Lee or Spencer Havner.
The case of Havner is a good one to highlight. Here was a guy who was a great red-zone target last year, can play both ways and looked decent as an emergency linebacker in the preseason. Havner was let go. In his stead—to the surprise of many—a fourth tight end was kept, Tom Crabtree. Crabtree may be a great player in the making but there was no preseason clamour about him. Thompson could have put him on the practice squad and traded Havner or Lee and got an extra pick or player and still have Crabtree to fall back on.
The whole organisation's thinking seems inconsistent at the moment. It's moves like the ones highlighted here that cause many around Wisconsin and the wider Packer nation to worry that a golden opportunity is being squandered because key individuals are unwilling to take any kind of worthwhile risk.
I'm not advocating going the Daniel Snyder approach or saying the Pack needs to go all in like Chicago, but a little step could go a long way to Green Bay winning now, rather than always looking to the future.