Teams are spending more than ever in free agency in hopes of hitting the home run signing that lands them a Lombardi Trophy. Fans and analysts, alike, put on their general manager hats proclaiming the best trades, free agency moves, and draft picks their team must make to get over the hump. One team, however, remains true to their form and withdrew itself from free agency activity altogether.
To no one’s surprise, that team is the Green Bay Packers.
Ted Thompson is the one responsible for free agent transactions and the reason Green Bay goes dormant for most of the offseason. The man responsible for orchestrating a roster upholding the third-longest active streak of eight-win seasons is simultaneously driving a wedge between fans love for their Green & Gold and their perpetual obsession with more championships. Thompson not only constructed a championship team, he maintained a fanbase incomparably spoiled to almost any other organization existing in sports. Sky high expectations and seemingly narrowing opportunities at a title have fans on polar ends of the spectrum.
The best part? He does it by doing almost absolutely nothing.
While resistance in free agency is nothing new to Packers fans, there is added pressure each season Green Bay fails to win a Super Bowl as many see the window with an all-time great quarterback closing little by little. Each empty-handed campaign brings about a new flustered narrative. While Thompson’s name is always coincided with the team’s achievements and failures, it annually takes a backseat to more pressing issues at the time.
In 2013, Aaron Rodgers went down with a collarbone injury. Naturally, the pressure was on him to perform the following year for a Super Bowl berth.
In 2014, Rodgers earned a second MVP. Pressure the following year then transferred from Rodgers to head coach Mike McCarthy who wasn’t aggressive enough in the NFC Championship game and needed to focus on other aspects of the team besides offense.
In 2015, after coming in as NFC favorites, the team just flat out wasn’t good enough. While McCarthy took a lot of flack for misusing personnel and an inept offense, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Bob McGinn reported frustration from McCarthy regarding Ted Thompson’s lack of action to get the proper pieces in place. Whether the report is entirely true or not is null as the focus turns to Thompson.
Thompson has made his name for hitting home runs in the draft that include Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Nick Collins, and Josh Sitton. More often than not, he hits. But that strategy comes with risk. Foregoing roster needs in free agency for hopes of hitting the nail on the head in the draft has cost Thompson. Look no further than Justin Harrell and Derek Sherrod in the first round. Relying on the draft itself leaves little margin for error since there aren’t many options once the draft happens.
A lot of heat has been throw the way of Packers GM regarding his moves, or lack thereof, so far this offseason and the peanut gallery has something to say about it. Glaring holes at tight end and inside linebacker have many caused for concern. Additionally, these are needs that could be filled with a little initiative from the unbending head honcho of player acquisition.
Respectable deals to Ladarius Green (four years, $20 million), a promising tight end, and Danny Trevathan (four yeasr, $24.5 million), a sought-after inside linebacker who wished the Packers would have reached out to him, have some Packers fans up in arms regarding the pacifism of Thompson. The answers to Green Bay’s problems, some feel, could have been solved with the smallest push into the abyss Thompson recognizes as free agency. The burden is only weighing.
B.J. Raji just announced his hiatus from football leaving a much-needed filler on the defensive line, especially considering Mike Pennel’s four-game suspension. With many of the significant free agents gobbled up by hefty contracts, few contributors worth signing remain for Thompson to choose from. Known for being picky with his free agents and careful with his money, perhaps, that may be just how Thompson likes it as he scrapes the leftovers for the diamond in the rough. That is, if he decides to dip his toe in the water. Venting fans have ammunition to use if this season falls short of expectations. The players were there and the money was right to fill the needs but inaction took precedent over uncertainty.
Criticism is easy from the outside. Taking criticism, however, is anything but. Thompson has the courage of his convictions to continue the draft and develop strategy even while scrutiny against him increases. His plan of action is predictable, yet effective. Some call it hubris. Some call it stubbornness. While neither of those are inaccurate, most would call it successful.
Thirty-one teams come away disappointed after every season. Winning a Super Bowl is hard. It takes time, it takes skill, it takes luck. Truly, is a season unsuccessful if a team doesn’t win the Super Bowl? If success in the NFL is only defined as winning Super Bowls, then, okay, the team wasn’t successful. But realistically, a successful season for many teams in football is seen as making the playoffs. Or a division title. Or just finishing the season with a winning record.
Winning a Super Bowl is one feat, but Thompson has built something even more difficult to accomplish: sustaining greatness. Being blessed with back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks is a fortune in itself, but that didn’t happen by accident. Thompson made it happen and made it happen with his first ever draft pick, no less, taking Aaron Rodgers with the 24th pick in the 2005 draft. The silver fox knew what he was doing.
Following the selection, Thompson was quoted saying “I just think when you look back five years from now you’ll say, ‘This was a hell of a pick.'” That was, indeed, a hell of a pick.
Big contracts are enticing and the initial thought of getting what you paid for helps you sleep at night but the end result is often buyers remorse. Mind you, only four of the original 86 Pro Bowl selections were not on the same team the year before, per ProFootballTalk. Out of those four players, only two were acquired via free agency. Not only did the players not live up to expectations, the teams altogether do not get better as noted below.
Teams are built in the offseason, but games are not won in the offseason. Packers fans struggle embracing a passive front office while watching other teams make headlines indulging in superficial superstars. Winning cures all but a culture hindered on the name Titletown spells different remedy than just double-digit wins year in and year out. For better or worse, the man in charge of creating this culture dictates how the ailment is treated. Some fans embrace it, some fans loathe it. All – whether they like it or not – have come to accept it.
A cornerstone year is in the works as Thompson’s reign nears its end and another year trickles down Aaron Rodgers’ career hourglass. The outside noise is overwhelming but it falls upon deaf ears. Ted Thompson is putting his pride on the line as he confronts the teams issues head-on in the draft with no acknowledgement of input from self-made general managers. His lasting legacy will depend upon the finishing touches he applies to his well-oiled, antagonistic, draft-and-develop machine.
Photos courtesy of Jim Biever, packers.com