It happens every season. It happened again this year.
Each March, when the new year begins for the National Football League, many teams race to sign that big free agent that they believe will carry them to a world championship. Large sums of money are promised to players in contracts that the teams who offer them hope results in the ultimate payday: a Vince Lombardi trophy.
Yet one man continues to avoid the fray. He has a plan and he’ll be darned if he wavers from it. It might be a boring plan, but it’s one that has kept his team near the top of the NFL for nearly one decade now.
That man is Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson.
Thompson’s almost stubborn refusal to change from his "draft and develop" strategy can and does drive many of the Packers’ most passionate and loyal fans absolutely crazy. On one side, you can’t really blame them especially after the "disappointment" of Green Bay’s 2015 season. Sure, the Packers came within a hair of a second straight appearance in the NFC title game, but the offense fell off a cliff. Jordy Nelson was out the whole season and Davante Adams couldn’t hang onto a football while Eddie Lacy couldn’t put down a cheeseburger.
Based on the team’s record, the Packers were in a decline and some fans wanted Thompson to get off his behind and JUST DO SOMETHING in free agency.
As per routine, crickets were heard from 1265 Lombardi when free agency opened. It’s a smart move as it seems more money is usually exchanged in the first few days of free agency than in a few days on Wall Street. Those big contracts are often a big roll of the dice and can cripple a franchise if it doesn’t work out. Take a look at the Miami Dolphins and the contract they signed Ndamukong Suh to last year. Talk about an albatross.
Thompson did emerge from hibernation and sign tight end Jared Cook to a one-year contract in early April. The Packers have been missing a dynamic tight end ever since Jermichael Finley was injured in 2013 and while Richard Rodgers is good in the red zone, he is not a threat for yards after a catch like Finley was. With Cook, Aaron Rodgers once again has a tight end that could stretch the field.
Will it work out? Well, if it does then Thompson looks like a genius. If it doesn’t, then Cook doesn’t return for 2017 and he leaves the Packers with no damage to the team’s salary cap situation.
This is the approach to free agency that works. Of course, having a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers helps. That way you aren’t like the Houston Texans and dishing out a ridiculous amount of money to a practically untested player like Brock Osweiler.
Of course, this approach is not always the most popular method among fans. It’s boring and it gives them little to discuss in March when the draft is still more than a month away. It can drive fans into an absolute frenzy.
Then there comes a trade like the one this week between the Tennessee Titans and the Los Angeles Rams to allow the Rams to move into the number one overall pick in this year’s draft. I guarantee you many Packer fans saw what the Rams gave up (the #15 pick this year, plus next year’s first round pick, two second round picks this year and a third round pick this year and next) and thought "Thank God for Ted Thompson."
Could you ever see Thompson giving up that ransom, even if the Packers didn’t have Rodgers and were stuck with a quarterback like Case Keenum or Nick Foles? No way.
Take a look at the Denver Broncos. That’s the DEFENDING WORLD CHAMPION Denver Broncos. John Elway went on a spending spree, but now has to jettison a good chunk of that talent because of the contracts he signed players too. Between DeMarcus Ware, Demaryius Thomas and soon Von Miller, he can’t bring in a quarterback. He was able to get Mark Sanchez in a trade, but Sanchez is being paid a backup’s salary. The Broncos couldn’t close the Kaepernick deal as quickly as they wanted due to financial concerns. That championship very well may hinder Denver’s chance to contend.
Thompson may be boring and he may be stubborn, but after the events of this week as well as free agency, Packer fans should be counting their blessings that they have him as their general manager. The team may not make headlines in the spring, but they do during the season and that’s when you want to be making headlines.
The Packers again will be contending in 2016. Most will say that even before the draft. Should Thompson nail another draft class, then the Packers will be in even better shape the next several years.
"In Ted We Trust" isn’t just a slogan to Packer fans. It’s a way of life.