Could the Packers Actually Spend Big Money in Free Agency?

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

Multiple media outlets are reporting that the Packers plan to use some of their roughly $30 million in cap space to restock the defense. But are these reports realistic?

Ted Thompson's team-building philosophy is well established: maximize the amount of selections in the draft to bring in young, cheap talent and spend most of your cap space to retain the best of those players. Free agency occasionally contributes, but never at top-of-the-market cost. It's this approach that brought the Packers their first championship of the new millennium, and the one that has made them a playoff team each of the last five years and six of the past seven.

However, some NFL insiders are signaling that a departure from this philosophy may be on the horizon.

According to reports, the Packers plan to rebuild the defense with players better suited for Dom Capers' scheme and may utilize free agency to do so.

As part of their post-mortem self-scouting, the team acknowledged internally that the defense needs more athletic and versatile players along the defensive front. Adding more players fitting that mold would grant Capers the freedom to dial up more exotic blitzes -- something he's been known for but couldn't utilize last season -- and potentially return the defense to it's 2009-2010 levels.

The idea that the Packers would transition to a faster and more multiple defense makes sense. With nine defensive players set to hit free agency including mammoth defense linemen B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, Green Bay could quickly turn over their roster without incurring dead money penalties in the process. The change would also aid past first-round picks Nick Perry and Datone Jones, supremely athletic defenders who struggled to fit cleanly into the more rigid 3-4 scheme that the Packers ran last year.

What's less clear is whether this change implies a deviation from Thompson's philosophical approach to roster building. Under his direction, the Packers have signed only 17 veteran free agents, less than half of which made a 53-man roster and contributed meaningfully. The most notable free agent additions came in 2006 when Thompson landed Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett.

What distinguishes that pair from most free agents -- and what too many fail to identify -- is how they were signed. Most of the colossal overpayments in free agency occur within the first few days of the signing period when multiple teams fight over the same players. This naturally drives up the cost, and often results in bad contracts that haunt teams for many years. Woodson and Pickett were not signed during this period. Instead, they slipped through the first wave of free agency and had few if any bidders outside of Green Bay. Accordingly, Thompson secured both at below market prices, reducing risk and conserving resources for retaining his own players. This approach is the reason the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, and why they've contended for championships in every season since.

If these reports are to be believed, Thompson has apparently decided to forego this proven approach in favor of a win now and damn the future mentality.

And that's why observers should apply a fair amount of skepticism at these reports. Thompson has no track record of mortgaging the future for more immediate gains, and the idea clashes with everything he's preached in his nine years as general manager. While it's not inconceivable that the Packers invest more in free agency this season, don't expect Jairus Byrd to suddenly appear in a green and gold uniform. With several important Packers currently without a contract, and many more deals expiring after 2014, investing in big money free agents does not appear likely this offseason.

Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He also serves as the Editor-in-Chief for Hook'em Headlines. His work has previously appeared on Beats Per Minute, Lombardi Ave, and College Hoops Net.

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