I was going to lead off this commentary by answering this critical question:
Who is Ricky Jean Francois?
But first, I pose a more interesting question:
Who is Ted Thompson?
The Packers general manager who used to go by that name was Mr. Draft and Develop.
The Packers general manager who goes by that name today let seven key players slip out the door in free agency.
The Packers general manager who used to go by that name used to treat free agency as if it were a telemarketing phone call.
The Packers general manager who goes by that name today has signed four free agents with starting experience this year. Four! Thompson signed four free agents with at least one career start in the four previous offseasons combined.
Just who is this man? And what’s next? Thompson on Twitter? Thompson holding court with the media 320 days a year, like Jerry Jones? Thompson hosting a vulgarity-laced sitcom on HBO?
To be sure, Thompson hasn’t gone “all in,” as was recommended by his quarterback. In fact, it’s almost impossible to argue the Packers are better today than when they were trounced at Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game two months and two days ago.
But at least Thompson has taken a step out of his roster-building comfort zone. Over the previous four offseasons, Thompson signed tight end Jared Cook (2016), defensive tackle Letroy Guion and outside linebacker Julius Peppers (2014), and tight end Matthew Mulligan (2013). This offseason, he’s signed tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, cornerback Davon House and the aforementioned Jean Francois, a defensive lineman. Bennett is the team’s first unrestricted free agent signing since 2012.
There’s a lot of work to be done on both sides of the ball. A defense that ranked 21st in scoring is being rebuilt on the fly. Will House and Jean Francois be that unit’s salvation? No, but they should be valuable pieces to the puzzle.
After starting only 14 games in four seasons with the Packers, House jumped to Jacksonville with a four-year, $24.5 million contract in free agency in 2015. He rewarded the Jaguars instantly. His 23 passes defensed ranked third in the NFL and he grabbed four interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus, House allowed a passer rating of 78.9, which ranked 23rd out of 118 corners who played at least 276 snaps. Obviously, if the Packers get that kind of production, their defense will be upgraded significantly.
Jean Francois fills a void that was exacerbated by Letroy Guion’s season-opening suspension. This will be a quietly good addition. According to Pro Football Focus, Guion had no sacks and four pressures in 238 pass-rushing snaps. That’s one pressure for every 59.5 snaps. Jean Francois had one sack and nine total pressures in 213 pass-rushing snaps. That’s one pressure for every 23.7 snaps.
Guion was the better player against the run but not by a drastic margin. Pro Football Focus has a stat called run stops, which essentially are impact tackles. Guion had 16 stops in 196 run-defending snaps, a rate of 8.2 percent. Jean Francois had 15 stops in 207 run-defending snaps, a rate of 7.2 percent.
However, here’s a statistical comparison worth noting: According to league data, the Redskins allowed 0.31 yards less per running play when Jean Francois was on the field. The Packers allowed 0.34 yards more per running play when Guion was on the field.
House won’t single-handedly cure the secondary. A lackluster pass rush hasn’t been addressed. But at least Thompson’s rebuilding of the defense doesn’t seem as unlikely as joining him for a pregame chat on Periscope.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.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.