“I think he is energized, and I thought, ‘I've seen Ted make a presentation,’ (and) I thought he showed more of his personality and humor with the fans today than I think I've ever seen.”
That was Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy’s assessment of General Manager Ted Thompson’s shareholders meeting report in July. After appearing aged and short of words (yes, more than normal) in prior press conferences, Thompson seemed much more calm and optimistic in front of the fans at Lambeau Field. And with the team he has assembled this offseason, he has a good reason to be.
The signing of Ahmad Brooks on Wednesday added to what has been an exceptionally surprising and intriguing span of seven months since the Packers’ crushing loss to Atlanta on January 22.
Initially, Thompson showed a startling “out with the old” philosophy. Rarely has Thompson allowed so many productive draft picks to leave after finishing their rookie deals. But that’s just what he did with the former Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy, defensive locker room leader Micah Hyde, and the promising but injury prone JC Tretter. He also let long-time veterans Julius Peppers, Jared Cook, and T.J. Lang walk, and gave up on former first round pick Datone Jones.
The GM wasn’t finished, cutting ties with cornerback Sam Shields, who believed he could still play in the NFL despite having lost the better half of two years to concussion injuries. James Starks then became the final veteran casualty, as Thompson decided he needed to re-tool the running back position. Throughout the offseason, Thompson notably did not incentivize “good, but not great” players with long-term deals or extend those with medical concerns.
In short, all signs indicated the general manager wasn’t satisfied with the makeup and reliability of his current roster and its potential to win a championship.
Then, for the first time since signing Peppers in 2014, Thompson dipped into the free agent pool and made a big splash. Unexpectedly, he wasn’t done. Four deals later, Green Bay had made multiple signings for the first time since attaining Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, and Marquand Manuel in 2006.
On March 10, the Packers faithful were shocked as Martellus Bennett signed with Green Bay. The move presented an all-around tight end upgrade with an established former Pro Bowler. When Green Bay signed Lance Kendricks the very next day, fans were yet again surprised by the flurry of noteworthy veteran signings. Thompson seemingly had used the free agency period to give Aaron Rodgers and the offense a pair of proven tight end weapons it didn’t have for the majority of last season.
In non-Ted fashion, the Packers then signed three one-year contracts over the next month. One-year veteran deals have been a key to the New England Patriots’ recent quests for titles, but this was the first time Thompson had utilized this philosophy to such an extent.
Acquiring Davon House, Ricky Jean-Francois, and Jahri Evans not only shored up positions lacking depth, but added leadership and experience to positions of extreme youth. In training camp, House and Evans especially earned rave reviews for their willingness to help teammates learn in addition to showing a mature work ethic to further improve themselves. Such leadership was a key to the Packers’ last Super Bowl run with players like Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and Nick Collins. With Mike McCarthy’s comments earlier this offseason about leadership being a difficult trait to find on a relatively young team, Thompson may have consciously filled that void while also temporarily filling roster holes.
The recent signing of Brooks as an insurance policy at rush linebacker further proves Thompson’s desire to put the team over the top. In previous seasons he may have waited to sign a free agent until he had seen the development of his younger players like Vince Biegel and Kyler Fackrell. But with Biegel’s foot injury and Fackrell struggling to make an impact again this preseason, Thompson made a deal with an aging, but productive player to minimize hiccups. Again, this sort of move is not typical for Ted.
The free agent activity this offseason not only fuels fans and coaches, but it also creates a positive energy for the players. It provides motivation that the front office unquestionably wants to win now and is willing to take some chances to make that happen. The offense has more weapons, the defense has more depth, and both units have increased experience to fall back on. Even better, Thompson has done all of this without compromising his spending values.
Who knows, perhaps Ted Thompson is nearing retirement; his spending habits suggest that he’s serious about bringing home another championship soon. If his unconventional offseason pans out, he could be riding off into the sunset as a winner by the end of next February.