The life of a general manager of an NFL team may seem luxurious, but it’s actually one of the most demanding positions in all of professional sports.
No matter what they do, someone is yelling at them. If it’s not fans, it’s the media or it’s vice versa. The expectations of millions of fans, and usually a demanding owner, weighs on their shoulders as they decide who to draft, who to cut or who to trade. It’s a very tough job.
The man with the toughest job out of the 32 NFL GMs has no owner to answer to, however. Well, no SINGLE owner anyway. Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers already had his hands full in dealing with one of the league’s most passionate fan bases, many of whom also own stock in the team (thus making them owners).
When looking at his tenure so far in Green Bay and the decisions he has had to face, however, it’s clear as to why his job is the toughest in the NFL.
Go back to 2005 when former Packers president Bob Harlan hired Thompson to be the team’s new general manager. Harlan stripped head coach Mike Sherman of his duties as GM following the 2004 season and hired Thompson. That situation was awkward alone: Thompson would be the boss of the man who previously held his position.
It was clear early on that Thompson would be doing things differently than his predecessor. With his very first draft pick as Packers general manager, Thompson drafted a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers from California. Rodgers was expected to go much earlier in the draft and when he fell down the board, Thompson wasted no time in scooping him up.
This sparked another situation that made Thompson’s job even tougher. The Packers had three-time NFL MVP Brett Favre still at the helm of the offense. Favre was still playing well, but he was going to be 35 at the start of the 2005 season and Thompson decided it was time to start looking towards the future.
This did not sit well with Favre at all. Thompson was hired around the same time the quarterback began his annual “will he or won’t he” routine in regards to retirement. By selecting a quarterback in the first round, Thompson sent the signal that he was going to be ready for whenever Favre retired. Rodgers, in NFL Films’ “America’s Game” documentary about the 2010 Packers, said he thought Favre was “offended” by his selection.
Favre and Rodgers had a chilly relationship in 2005 and the team’s fortunes were just as cold. Green Bay finished 4-12 that season and Sherman was replaced by Mike McCarthy as head coach. With the uneasy relationship between Sherman and Thompson now over, the Packers GM could focus on building his team into a contender for the foreseeable future.
For 2006, Favre came back after a lengthy wait and Thompson drafted linebacker A.J. Hawk in the first round and wide receiver Greg Jennings in the second. Thompson also made the biggest free agent signing of his time in Green Bay by bringing in Charles Woodson.
The Packers missed the playoffs again, but they finished 8-8 and pieces were in place for the team to return to contention. Even Favre announced earlier than expected that he would return for the 2007 season.
In 2007, Thompson drafted the infamous Justin Harrell in the first round and is Thompson’s biggest draft blunder to date. Harrell couldn’t stay healthy and it’s a pick fans still dangle over Thompson’s head despite his overall success in the draft.
The team finished 13-3 that year and just missed going to Super Bowl XLII. The future looked bright and fans were beginning to warm up to Thompson.
Then came the Summer of Favre in 2008.
If there was one moment where Thompson’s job became the toughest in the NFL, this was it. Without recapping the events of that summer, Thompson’s decision to go all-in with Rodgers and trade Favre to the Jets earned him as much scorn as it did praise. Fans were stunned Thompson would let Favre walk while going with the then-unproven Rodgers as the Packers’ starting quarterback.
Almost five years and one Super Bowl title later, some fans still have not forgiven Thompson for that.
Rodgers’ play since taking over in 2008 has rendered much discussion over that decision moot. While the team struggled that year, Rodgers’ performance was stellar and he hasn’t looked back. He quickly became one of the league’s elite quarterbacks and was the NFL MVP in 2011, one year after leading Green Bay to a Super Bowl title.
Only two full seasons removed from winning Super Bowl XLV, one would think Thompson’s job would be a little less stressful and fans would be willing to trust him a little more.
Look at this current offseason. Green Bay is coming off an 11-5 season and won the NFC North yet fans seem to be clamoring for Thompson to be on the hot seat. With the release of Charles Woodson, retirement of Donald Driver and the departure of Greg Jennings and Tom Crabtree (amongst others) via free agency, the “I don’t trust Ted” faction is once again alive and well.
Thompson has done a masterful job building the Green Bay roster and has the team positioned for Super Bowl contention for several years. Apparently, this isn’t enough for some people. The Packers apparently are entitled to a Super Bowl title every year and anything short of that is an epic failure.
Fans are fed up with seeing these players leave and then have Thompson seemingly do nothing to replace them. The bemoan his unwillingness to go into free agency and tense up every time another team signs a “big name” player.
Thompson knows what he’s doing, but Green Bay’s passionate fan base is making his job one of the toughest in the NFL. Thanks to his adept roster building, some Packer fans have become spoiled. Fans have every right to expect the team to CONTEND for a Super Bowl, but to expect them to win it every year is delusional. It’s tough to win one in a row, let alone two or the yet-to-be-accomplished three.
For Thompson, his job is both a blessing and a curse. He has handled the pressure incredibly well and the fact that he doesn’t get sentimental or let emotion get to him serves both the team and its fans well.
Even if those fans are screaming at him.