GM makes right calls on Kampman, Longwell

Give Ted Thompson a break. Please. To read some of the e-mails, you'd think Thompson's goal is to drive the Packers' salary-cap figure into the negative, so the players would have to pay the team for the right to play.

Just because Thompson didn't re-sign Mike Wahle last off-season, and just because Thompson didn't put the franchise or transition tags on defensive end Aaron Kampman and kicker Ryan Longwell doesn't mean Thompson is "content to let everyone and anyone walk away," as one e-mailer wrote.

The cost of putting a transition tag on Kampman would have been the average salary of the 10 highest-paid defensive ends in the league, or $7.075 million. The cost of putting the franchise tag on Kampman would have been the average salary of the five highest-paid defensive ends in the league, or $8.332 million.

Everyone loves Kampman. He's a good player who's stout against the run while providing a decent pass rush. He's a hard worker and a good guy. He's entering the prime of his career. He was arguably the Packers' best defensive player last season. With all of that said, if you think he deserves to be paid among the 10 highest DEs (or five highest, if you wanted Thompson to franchise him), you're crazy.

Last week, Kyle Vanden Bosch re-signed with the Tennessee Titans for four years and about $22 million. That's less money per year than what Kampman would have received under either designation, even though Vanden Bosch ranked fourth in the league with 12.5 sacks. Last year, the best of his career, Kampman had only 6.5 sacks.

Thompson will make every effort to bring back Kampman, but to throw franchise- or transition-player money had him would have been fiscally irresponsible, even though the Packers will enter the NFL's 2006 fiscal-year more than $19 million under the salary cap.

The decision on Longwell probably was a bit harder for Thompson.

Franchise and transition money for a kicker isn't that much — $2.468 million and $2.045 million, respectively — and it can be argued Longwell is one of the league's better kickers. Sure, Longwell struggled in 2005, making only 20 of 27 field-goal attempts, but I find it easier to believe that limp-footed punter B.J. Sander's holds were a bigger problem than the sure-footed Longwell's kicks.

The interest in Longwell on the open market will range from luke warm to cool, depending on what happens in the coming days. Free agency starts March 3, so teams have almost a week to re-sign their players. Among the kickers who could hit free agency are New England's clutch Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis' Mike Vanderjagt and San Francisco's Joe Nedney.

Even if all three re-sign and Longwell is the top kicker on the market, it's debatable how much interest the rest of the league will show. Longwell will be 32 when the season starts, so it's hard to imagine teams throwing a long-term contract at him. Some might see last year's 74.1 percent accuracy being a harbinger of things to come for a kicker with a career mark of 81.6 percent. Plus, his kickoffs have never been anything special, even during the balmy months, er, month of September.

If Kampman and Longwell reach free agency next week and wind up leaving Green Bay, then criticism of Thompson will be justified. But let's keep in mind that Thompson's so-called miserly ways have cleaned up the Packers' salary-cap mess in just one year. This off-season should go a long way toward showing us whether Thompson is cheap or just fiscally responsible.

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