Thompson also moving on from NFC Championship

The Scouting Combine is really the first step toward building the 2015 Packers. That was the indication given by head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson who on Thursday spoke for the first time publicly since the crushing NFC Championship loss 36 days ago.

The Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is really the first tangible sign of moving on to the next NFL season.

For the Green Bay Packers and their fans, that sign is a welcome development.

Though the Packers had one of their best seasons under coach Mike McCarthy, the sting of a crushing late-game collapse in the NFC Championship remains for some. While most of the chief personnel for the Packers have spoken and said their peace in the past weeks, one central figure had not been heard from until Thursday.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the season ended just over a month ago, general manager Ted Thompson was asked at the Combine about how he handled one of the worst postseason defeats in team history.

Quite expectedly, he was short with his answer, not wanting to revisit a nightmare.

“That’s a hard thing,” said Thompson, pausing to gather his thoughts. “It’s a hard thing for our players. It’s a hard thing for our organization. All that. But at the same time, we’re done with that. I appreciate the question, but we’re not going to lay in that too much longer. We’re moving on.”

It could have been worse for the Packers. It could have happened in the Super Bowl. Just ask Seahawks general manager John Schneider, whose team suffered a similarly crushing end at the hands of the New England Patriots in Arizona. Like McCarthy intimated in a private session with Packers beat reporters on Thursday, Schneider said some losses will always stick.

“I’m not over it. I think it’s always going to stay with you. That’s just part of life,” said Schneider of his team’s 28-24 loss in Super Bowl XLIX. “There’s a lot of big games that I’ve been a part of that don’t go your way. You can go all the way back to high school if you want.

“But I think it drives you. You know, it’s just one of those things, where ‘Hey, just like the coaching staff trusts us with acquisitions and managing departments that touch all the coaches, we trust those guys and the job they do.’ And they’ve been doing a great job. We always talk about no finish line and we’re just moving forward. We had started our process for the offseason down in Arizona so we were moving towards next year already about a month before the game ended.”

Thompson has had plenty on his plate, as well. Besides preparations for the NFL Draft, the Packers’ front office was in negotiations for a long-term extension with Letroy Guion before the Packers nose tackle was arrested in Florida. There are 16 other free agents to consider, including high-priority players Bryan Bulaga and Randall Cobb, who could go fast on the open market past the March 10 deadline.

Fortunately, the Packers have managed their salary cap well and are in good position to make competitive offers and set their agenda.

“We feel like we understand what the cap means,” said Thompson. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to roll over money every year and it doesn’t mean we’re going to spend everything up until the last penny. We’re going to run our business the way we think it should be run. We’d like to get ourselves in a position, and I’ve said this before, that we make football decisions and we don’t really even make any economic decisions. They’re all football decisions.”

The Packers have about $30.45 million in cap space following Friday’s release of Brad Jones and the NFLPA projection of a salary cap of $143 million.

The Packers added Guion in free agency last offseason and signed Julius Peppers to a lucrative deal when the Chicago Bears released him. Peppers had a huge effect on and off the field and, without him, the Packers may have been one-and-done in the playoffs. Had he not forced a DeMarco Murray fumble in the divisional playoff at Lambeau Field, Murray may have been on his way to a 59-yard touchdown run and a 21-10 Cowboys lead in the third quarter. Instead, the Packers converted the turnover into a 30-yard Mason Crosby field goal and fought until the end for a 26-21 victory.

The impact of acquiring other teams’ players, like Peppers and Guion, will have little effect, however, on Thompson’s approach this offseason.

“We do what we do,” said Thompson. “We’re going to try to use this draft class to add some youth and vitality and energy to our group. We’re also, if we can, going to try to hang on to our veterans and, if we can, add some veteran leadership from outside the organization.” In any case, neither Thompson nor McCarthy is anticipating any hangover from the NFC Championship. That was crystal clear on Thursday, if not before.

“I think every year is different,” said McCarthy. “(The Combine) is kind of a little bit of a kickoff for that because you shift gears. I know as a coach when you come down to Indianapolis, but every year is a new year. You’re foolish not to look at it that way even if you’re the one who gets to walk off with the Lombardi Trophy. I know when we had the opportunity to win the Super Bowl we didn’t feel like, ‘Hey, let’s not change anything and keep going.’ I’ve seen it happen in the past. I’ve been part of that situation. I think you have to take each and every year and start over.”

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