When it comes to the off-season free agent period and the draft, many fans and professional analysts believe The Green Bay Packers and their General Manager Ted Thompson have a “set-in-stone” way of operating.
We’ve all heard the different theories, the most popular of which is building though the draft, and even seen a few of the less successful variations like paying top dollar for big named talent such as the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, and in 2011 the Philadelphia Eagles have been known for.
But what if we dig deeper?
It’s easy to say that Ted Thompson prefers to build his team through the draft. Experts and fans would agree on that undoubtedly; but when we do dig deeper as analysts typically do, it becomes clear that some of the popular theories about how Ted Thompson and The Green Bay Packers operate are far from the actual truth.
Myth #1. Ted Thompson Doesn’t Sign Unrestricted Free Agents
Just as people were settling into the idea that at this point in the franchises’ development under Ted Thompson the signing of unrestricted free agents had become unnecessary, Thompson did the unthinkable and signed two well-known free agents and has pursued a few others.
Over the last two off-seasons The Packers had neglected to do anything more than re-sign their own unrestricted free agents, a stark contrast to this off-season where the signings of center Jeff Saturday and defensive end Anthony Hargrove are the biggest signings of note since Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett were signed as unrestricted free agents in 2006.
Truth: Ted Thompson doesn’t overpay football players.
If you’re not a fan of Thompson’s strategies it’s easy to close your eyes and imagine him at some big table snarling and turning his nose up to free agents that have been somehow tainted by other teams, but in reality that has nothing to do with why he does or does not sign free agents.
Now at the same time if you were to picture Thompson at some big table snarling and turning his nose up to a contract that didn’t match the value that a certain player would bring to the playing field, you’d be pretty close to the truth… although Ted seems too composed to ever snarl.
In 2010 and 2011 almost every free agent with talent was being overpaid. Thus, Thompson kept his wallet in his pocket and took comfort knowing the players he had lost to other teams would eventually be paid back to him through compensatory draft picks.
This off-season, however, with the two most notorious over-payers in handcuffs due to salary cap violations in 2010, Thompson has opened his wallet to fill one important need along the offensive line, and attempted to add competition and depth along the defensive line going towards the draft. (He might not be done either as Dave Tollefson who recorded five sacks in 2011 with the New York Giants is reportedly on the Packers’ radar.)
Myth #2. The Packers Draft Best Player Available
I’ve heard plenty of people suggest that the Packers always pick the best player available when they’re on the clock. Fans, players and analysts all for the most part agree that the Packers follow this strategy.
At first glance this makes sense, and maybe at times Thompson has selected the best player available. You could certainly argue that’s what happened in 2010 when they drafted Bryan Bulaga, and possibly again in 2011 with Derek Sherrod.
Truth: The Packers draft the player who offers the most long-term value to their team.
The whole idea that Thompson picks the best available player isn’t absurd, but the fact is that he doesn’t follow it to an absurd level.
In the background of every draft pick that was arguably the best player available is the fact that the Packers had reasonable needs at those positions. With the Aaron Rodgers pick in 2005, many expected Favre would retire in two years; Bj Raji in 2009 filled a big hole during a change in defensive schemes; and Bulaga and Sherrod were no doubt added to help replace the aging duo of Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher.
For example, in 2010 Thompson selected Bulaga in the first round when running back Jahvid Best was arguably the best player available. Thompson, however, knew that Bulaga’s talent combined with his team’s need at the position made him the more valuable long-term choice.
Myth #3. Ted Thompson Sits Back and Lets the Draft Come to Him.
Since Thompson took over as general manager of the Packers in 2005, he has been relatively inactive in draft day trades.
Most would attribute this to his seemingly laid-back demeanor, and the fact that it would seem he doesn’t like to take big risks in building his team. The general idea for too many is that Thompson and Co. are just sitting around on draft day until it’s their turn to send their pick to the podium.
Truth: Thompson moves when the price is right; he adapts to take advantage of different situations.
The obvious argument is that in 2009 Thompson elected to trade away a second round and two third round picks to move back into the first round and draft Clay Matthews III to aid Raji in strengthening the defensive front seven.
Another recent example was the following year when Thompson again moved up, this time higher in the third round in exchange for a fourth round pick so he could select Morgan Burnett to replace the oft-injured Atari Bigby; both moves were greatly successful.
The bottom line is that Thompson adapts and calmly reacts to each individual situation, which is often overlooked and also something other NFL general managers could learn from.