INDIANAPOLIS – “We might shock you this year.”
That’s what Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of the team’s outlook in free agency, a phase of personnel acquisition that his boss, general manager Ted Thompson, has tended to steer far, far clear from during his tenure.
Now, before you fall out of your chair daydreaming about the Packers signing Von Miller to sack the quarterback, Josh Norman to serve as the team’s first lockdown cornerback since Charles Woodson and Brandon Marshall to fill Clay Matthews’ spot at inside linebacker, McCarthy said those six words with a smirk on his face.
No, the Packers probably are not going to be active in free agency, even with a projected $21.8 million of cap space at their disposal. Thompson said as much while talking to reporters after his Scouting Combine press conference.
Simply, it’s not Thompson’s way. It hasn’t been his way. And it’s not going to change now. After all, there’s a reason why the Packers are a projected $21.8 million under the cap. He’s done it by not signing other teams’ free agents. And while he deprives himself of ways to bolster his roster with proven talent, he also gives himself the capability to re-sign their targeted free agents.
“I think you have a philosophy and I think you stick with that philosophy,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. Everybody is talking about how we’ve been in position to be fairly successful for some time. You can’t do that if you’re changing all the time. I don’t necessarily ascribe to the theory that we’re one-sided and the only thing we do is try to draft. I’m a big believer in trying to help our team in free agency, as well.”
For Thompson, “free agency” typically has been limited to re-signing his own unrestricted free agents and the occasional dive into street free agency, with the additions of Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion in 2014. After the season, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that McCarthy had grown at least a little frustrated with Thompson’s personnel approach. Both Thompson and McCarthy downplayed that on Thursday, however, with McCarthy saying, “You can’t sell the farm out” in trying to win in 2016 at the expense of 2017 and beyond.
“I look at his job as no different than my job,” McCarthy said. “It’s no different than calling defenses. Everybody wants something. A position coach comes in, he wants to run these plays in the red zone. He thinks you should do this, this and this. Being the key decision-maker, whether it’s player acquisition or player instruction, someone has to say ‘no.’ That’s why they have a chain of command, that’s why you have responsibilities. Someone has to be the bad guy. You guys who have kids, you know what I’m talking about.”
Based on history, Thompson figures to play the role of “bad guy” once again. While $21.8 million seems like a lot of money, it ranks only 12th on the list of available cap space, according to OverTheCap.com. That pile of money won’t last long should the Packers re-sign kicker Mason Crosby, defensive tackle B.J. Raji and a few others. Plus, three members of the starting offensive line are scheduled to be free agents next offseason, including left tackle David Bakhtiari, who is going to get a huge raise from this 2016 cap charge of $1.76 million. So, all personnel decisions have to be made with one eye on this season and the other eye on future seasons.
“It’s not just what are you going to do next week when free agency starts and spend X amount of dollars,” Thompson said. “You have to counter that with, ‘What are you going to do with that? What’s your draft going to look like this year? Not only this year, but next year. What’s free agency going to look like next year? What is your draft and develop going to be doing all this time?’ You have to think about what you’re doing.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.