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At Long Last, the Packers Seem to Understand That It's Evolve or Die in the NFL

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 1, 2017

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Across the NFL, many of the front-office executives who help shape their teams' drafts have always viewed Ted Thompson as almost a God-like figure. He is, by some, literally worshipped. 

They see the Packers general manager as an OG, a genius, a model for how to run a team. They look at Thompson the way Starfleet captains look at James Kirk. Thompson's intelligence, his draft picks, his common-sense approach and the way he refuses to publicly pat himself on the back for some of the best picks of all time—like Aaron Rodgers—are just some of the reasons why he's so cherished.

Yet over the past few years, the image of Thompson has changed. Quietly, his greatest admirers have been shaking their heads in confusion, and younger personnel men and scouts have mocked him as prehistoric, according to interviews with a half-dozen executives.

His almost stubborn refusal to dip into free agency has been viewed as archaic—as has his failure to do what a handful of contending teams, such as the New England Patriots or the Seattle Seahawks, do—surround his great quarterback with a skilled defense.

Bill Belichick always understood that if he could put a talented defense around Tom Brady, the Patriots would be nearly impossible to beat, and they have been. But even people within the sport who adore Thompson say he has failed Rodgers massively in this way.

One NFC assistant general manager, in a conversation with me, recently referred to Thompson as "Tyrannosaurus Ted."

But in one draft, capping off an unusually non-Thompson-like offseason, that all changed.

Perhaps the most compelling story of the weekend and the season to come, is the sudden transformation of Thompson and the Packers. In many ways, this is about Thompson himself, who essentially went from an old man on the lawn yelling about how today's rappers are no good to embracing Drake.

Cornerback Kevin King was the first selection in a Packers draft class one scout called was one of the best in the NFL.
Cornerback Kevin King was the first selection in a Packers draft class one scout called was one of the best in the NFL.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Thompson's embrace of a more modern, or at least current, way of doing things in the NFL has all but stunned his counterparts across the league. Six different team officials told me they were flabbergasted by the change in someone they believed had become too dogmatic and stubborn in his approach to a rapidly changing NFL world.

"How Ted got his groove back" is how one front office executive labeled the Packers' 2017 draft.

As described by Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Thompson's draft was the finishing touch on as dramatic a reconfiguration of the Packers as any engineered in more than a decade.

This year, Green Bay lost T.J. Lang, JC Tretter, Eddie Lacy, Julius Peppers and Datone Jones to free agency. In the recent years, Thompson would have dealt with the losses almost exclusively via the draft. That approach, of course, is a bit of a crapshoot. No one has a perfect draft. And those misses had left the Packers' roster thin and top-heavy, putting more pressure on Rodgers.

Rodgers will be happy with what Thompson has done now. In free agency, he added two tight ends in Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. (Some coaches I've spoken to think Bennett going to the Packers is the single best move of free agency.) He also spent to add some good veteran defensive pieces in tackle Ricky Jean Francois and cornerback Davon House.

Martellus Bennett is likely to be a prominent target for Aaron Rodgers this fall in Green Bay.
Martellus Bennett is likely to be a prominent target for Aaron Rodgers this fall in Green Bay.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

And though he entered this year's draft with eight selections, Thompson left with 10 players. More importantly, the draft added welcome elements of speed and athleticism to the roster, including defensive back Kevin King and safety Josh Jones. One scout told me the Packers' draft "is one of the top three or four best." 

"The good part," Thompson told reporters after the draft, "[is] we just added more players. … I felt like we needed to add … not only bodies, but football players and good people and all the things that make up an NFL team."

True, it's too early to tell if this draft will be as good as some think, but combined with his other moves this offseason, it's clear this is a new-age Ted Thompson running the Packers, and that should only help make one of the game's biggest stars that much scarier to face come fall.

Tyrannosaurus Ted is dead.

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