Grading the Packers: Ted Thompson

Let's cut to the chase: You're not going to like the grade we gave to general manager Ted Thompson following the Packers' 10-6 season.

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson drafted 10 players in 2011. Only receiver Randall Cobb remains. He drafted eight more in 2012. By the time the dust settles in free agency, maybe only defensive tackle Mike Daniels will remain. Those two bad drafts left an enormous black hole on a roster that Thompson builds primarily (and secondarily) through the draft.

He’s made up for it the last two years. Thompson drafted four starters in 2014 and fortified that list in 2015. While only two emerged as regular starters as rookies, five could be starting next year with cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, receiver Ty Montgomery, linebacker Jake Ryan and fullback Aaron Ripkowski. In a quarterback-starved league, what could Brett Hundley fetch in a trade in another year or two? He only led the NFL in passer rating last summer. That’s an “A” draft if there ever was one.

In free agency, Thompson gambled and won by letting cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House depart for a combined 2015 cap figure of $13 million. Thompson kept the offense intact by re-signing Cobb and right tackle Bryan Bulaga — though Cobb had a down year without Jordy Nelson and the injury bug again struck Bulaga — and he got quality play at a discount price from defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion. Late in the season, he wisely locked up Daniels to a lucrative extension. About the only free-agent misstep was matching the offer sheet for safety Sean Richardson, who got a guaranteed $2.55 million.

And, again, Thompson watched as other teams bellied up to the free-agent trough.

Whether it’s money, losing compensatory draft picks or both, Thompson simply won’t dabble in unrestricted free agency. As a high-ranking AFC personnel executive who’s never worked with Thompson told us long ago, “For every free agent you sign, that’s one less of your own you can keep.” From that perspective, Thompson’s strategy is at least understandable. Never mind this free-agent class, which is led by kicker Mason Crosby and Raji. With left tackle David Bakhtiari and guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, three-fifths of the starting offensive line is slated to hit free agency after the 2016 season.

So, you can look at that $7 million of unused cap space as a wasted opportunity. Or as a shrewd investment in the future. Reasonable minds can disagree.

Fans clamored for a move to be made at tight end. Before the season, it was Jermaine Gresham. During the season, it was Vernon Davis. Yawn. Gresham caught 18 passes for Arizona, including zero in the playoffs. In the Broncos’ last five games, Davis caught one pass for 5 yards. One veteran beat writer wondered why the Packers didn’t sign linebacker Mason Foster. Foster was released in early September by the Bears, who were coming off the two worst scoring seasons in franchise history. So, no, that’s not an upgrade, either.

Looking at the Super Bowl teams, neither club made the type of free-agent splash that should have Thompson rethinking his way of doing business.

During the offseason, Denver lost far more talent (five starters — tight end Julius Thomas, guard Orlando Franklin, linebacker Nate Irving, nose tackle Terrance Knighton and safety Rahim Moore) than it acquired (two starters — tight end Owen Daniels and safety Darian Stewart — plus rotational defensive linemen Vance Walker and Antonio Smith). NFL.com listed the Broncos as one of its “biggest free agency losers.” Carolina had a shrug-of-the-shoulders offseason. It signed a journeyman safety who had a big year (Kurt Coleman) and a 34-year-old cornerback who’s on injured reservice for the third consecutive season (Charles Tillman), and ridded itself of defensive end Greg Hardy.

Where there’s a difference is the willingness to add a veteran to fill a need. The signing of James Jones is the exception, not the rule, under Thompson. In late August, the Broncos signed standout guard Evan Mathis. In December, Carolina went to the scrap heap to find cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain to replace the injured duo of Tillman and Bene Benwikere. Both teams made in-season trades for veterans, with Denver getting Davis and Carolina adding defensive end Jared Allen, though neither move pushed those teams over the top.

Should Thompson be more open-minded in building and fortifying his roster? Probably. But the Packers and Patriots are the only teams in the NFL to make the playoffs seven consecutive seasons. That shouldn’t be tossed aside just because the past five seasons have fallen short of the Super Bowl. This season, 13 quarterbacks had a salary-cap charge of more than $14 million. Only the Packers, Broncos, Steelers and Chiefs reached the postseason. It’s hard to build a winning team. It’s harder to keep winning because you eventually have to pay the talent responsible for winning all of those games.

That’s not to say Thompson goes without blame for what happened this season, though little of it has anything to do with what he did or didn’t do in 2015. Whether it’s receiver, running back or tight end, he’s built a roster that’s badly lacking in speed on offense. As a scout said about tight end Richard Rodgers before the 2014 draft, in a race with a pregnant woman, he’d finish third. This year’s addition, Montgomery, might become an excellent player but he isn’t going to change that dynamic. Thompson needed to take the lead in getting Lacy in shape. Perhaps he should have pushed (or pushed harder) for McCarthy to rethink his play-calling decision.

Still, this is a very good team, which he’s been able to keep intact by mostly steering clear of free agents. If Nelson returns to form and Thompson makes it three consecutive strong draft classes by landing one instant-impact player on each side of the ball, this team will be ready to make a charge to the Super Bowl.

Grade: B.


Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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