Ted Thompson: Making All the Right Moves

Gary ZContributor INovember 9, 2008

While the buzzword in Washington has been "change" this election year, that very same element has been implemented in Green Bay to help influence an unwilling fanbase.

The man who perpetuated this change is general manager Ted Thompson, now in his fourth year as Director of Football Operations for the Green Bay Packers.

Thompson's hiring came on the heels of the 2004 NFL season, when head coach and general manager Mike Sherman was relieved of his executive duties. This prompted Packers president Bob Harlan to turn to Thompson, who was the Vice President of Football Operations for the Seattle Seahawks at the time.

In Seattle, Thompson had helped assemble a team that a year after his departure would appear in Super Bowl XL.  This, after he served as an influential member of the Packer front office from 1992 to 1999.

In the Harlan era in Green Bay, people were brought into the front office because they were seen as "Packer people."  And Thompson fit the profile perfectly.

Ted Thompson's first challenge as general manager was to wade through the roster of veterans and young players alike to find the winning formula.  

With guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle up for a new contract, Thompson let both walk despite the fact that each had Pro Bowl-caliber seasons.  Before the new season began, Thompson cut All Pro safety Darren Sharper, only to see him go to the rival Minnesota Vikings.

And, as if Packer fans felt flustered enough by the onslaught of changes, Thompson drafted a quarterback in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft.  The heir-apparent to Brett Favre was the largest of many thumbprints the new general manager put upon this Packers team.

Thompson's headline move bore inauspicious results at the outset.

Partially due to Aaron Rodgers' injury-plagued rookie season, head coach Mike Sherman had trouble pushing the right buttons, and the Packers ended with a 4-12 record despite being outscored by only 46 points.

In yet another controversial move by Thompson, Sherman was fired the day after the final regular season game. The search for the next Packer head coach was underway.

In a search that included Wade Phillips, Sean Payton, and defensive coordinator Jim Bates, Thompson went with 42-year-old Mike McCarthy to lead his team.

Never one to tip his hand or give too much information to the press, Thompson was labeled abrasive and noncommittal regarding personnel moves.  To this day, press conferences with the general manager are short, do not reveal any new information, and frustrate those searching for answers about the team's future.

In reality, however, the general manager has to make tough calls.  And in an NFL where communication occurs at lightning-fast speed, a general manager who tips his hand to the media at the behest of fans will last as long as a quarterback without an offensive line.

Thompson has developed a core group of young players that is in the process of leading the Packers into the future.  Similar to the rise of every young team, there are growing pains, but the core group of Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant, Greg Jennings, A.J. Hawk, Tramon Williams, and Nick Collins has progressed well alongside grizzled veterans like Aaron Kampman, Donald Driver, and Charles Woodson.

Granted, no discussion about Ted Thompson will ever be complete from now until the end of time without mention of the Brett Favre saga.

As Brett Favre wallowed in his decision to unretire after his emotional press conference on March 5, 2007, general manager Ted Thompson removed Favre from consideration for starting quarterback the minute that Favre's retirement press conference had concluded.

Thompson, a man who made the Houston Oilers after going undrafted in the 1975 NFL Draft, fought his way onto the roster as a special teams player and backup linebacker. Thompson put up a stronghold on his position, holding down a linebacker spot for the next 10 years as a member of the Oilers.

Knowing exactly what it takes to make it in the NFL despite not being one of the top 442 players drafted (in 1975, there were 17 rounds in the NFL Draft), Thompson was not about to let Favre feel inclined to take back his old starting position simply because he had held it the past 16 years.

Phrases like "we've moved on" and "backup role" were then commonly whispered amongst the Packer front office under Thompson when discussing Favre. But regardless, the All Pro quarterback decided he wanted one more shot at playing quarterback in 2008.

With nowhere to turn, Thompson could not go against his ethics as a general manager and simply hand back Brett Favre his starting position.  He made the move that made the most sense to him—he offered Favre to the highest bidder.

Due to a high asking price and his extra baggage, the market for Favre became so thin that internal discussions were had about trading Favre to an NFC North team like the Minnesota Vikings.

Nevertheless, Thompson found himself a suitor in the New York Jets, and Brett Favre was sent out of town.  Since his trade, Favre has reportedly contacted the rival Detroit Lions to discuss the Packer offense in a move obviously full of anger towards the Packer front office.

While the Packers may be sitting at 4-5 and in third place in the NFC North after Week 10, they certainly made the best move for the organization by letting Favre go.  Having Rodgers sit for a fourth year would have been catastrophic for his development and would have set a bad precedent of entitlement for the NFL.

Like it or not, Ted Thompson is the best thing to happen to Green Bay since the iconic figure whom he chased out arrived.