INDIANAPOLIS -- The Green Bay Packers got to the NFC Championship Game, thanks to a dominating finish to the season.
However, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, it was the Packers who were dominated by the Atlanta Falcons.
So are the Packers close to getting back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010? Or is there a significant gulf to overcome?
“We start out every year the same, and this is kind of the start of it, getting ready for the draft, getting ready for free agency, the whole thing,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said when asked that question – one he termed “nasty” at the Scouting Combine on Wednesday.
“We’re getting ready for one thing and it’s to try to get to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl. We don’t try for anything else,” he continued. “Every year that’s exactly what we’re going to do every time is try to win the Super Bowl. And we understand it’s hard to do. We understand that there’s twists and turns on the road. It’s unbelievable how difficult that is, but we try to do it every single year. We’ve come up short a few times but we’ve also done some battling, and it’s not an easy thing to walk away from. It wasn’t easy for any of us, and certainly our players, to walk away from Atlanta because it’s too much heartache, too much pain that’s gone into trying to do something. And this is something special that people are trying to do.”
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There are significant hurdles to be overcome if Thompson, coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers are to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in their careers. The running, jumping and interviewing of the draft prospects at the Scouting Combine will be at the forefront of all of that. So, too, will be the conversations with the agents of free agents. The Packers have a significant group of free agents for Thompson to consider, including outside linebacker Nick Perry, guard T.J. Lang, defensive back Micah Hyde and tight end Jared Cook.
“That’s our intention and it’s our intention every year. I stand on this podium every year and say the same thing,” Thompson said of retaining those players. “Our best intentions would be to sign as many of our own players as we can and keep it together.”
Free agency starts on March 9 – though other teams can start negotiating with the Packers’ free agents beginning on March 7 – so the clock is ticking for Thompson to keep his prioritized players off the market.
“It’s an artificial deadline,” Thompson said. “Not that free agency’s not going to start at a certain time, it’s just once you get to this particular point, there’s very little risk of the player getting injured, so there’s not a push on the side of the player to hurry up to get a deal done. But, at the same time, sometimes they’d prefer to stay and deals get done earlier than we think. It’s worked both ways, as you guys know. Over the years, we’ve signed several right at the start of free agency and my guess is that’s what’s going to happen this year.”
Thompson has the Packers armed with about $40 million of salary cap space, based on a reported 2017 salary cap of $167 million. That ranks 13th in the league, according to OverTheCap.com, meaning the Packers have the war chest to go shopping – as does most of the league, with a total of 18 teams having at least $32 million of cap space.
Will Thompson break from his long-standing track record and participate in unrestricted free agency? Will he do something approximating “all in,” as Rodgers suggested was necessary after the season? With Thompson’s career winding down – and Rodgers on the back nine of his career – will Thompson change his approach?
Thompson, as expected, wouldn’t divulge his offseason strategy.
“It doesn’t matter how old we are, we’re going to try to do the exact same thing every year,” Thompson said. “We’re going to try to get to the Super Bowl and win it. And that’s what we’re going to try to do again this year.”
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