Thompson will dive into free agency

OK, with free agency under way at 11:01 p.m. Friday, it's time to clear up one popular misconception. Ted Thompson doesn't treat free agency like it's an infectious disease.

Let's review, from Thompson's introductory news conference about 14 months ago.

"In terms of free agency, my philosophy is one that you have to be very careful in that because sometimes the grass is a little bit greener," Thompson said. "You have to be careful about overevaluating other people's players and underevaluating your own sometimes."

All Thompson meant is he isn't going to emulate the repeatedly disastrous team-building formula espoused by the likes of Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Thompson isn't going to treat the Packers as if they're a fantasy-football team.

In one year, Thompson cleaned up the Mike Sherman-created salary-cap mess and has the team about $35 million under the new cap of $102 million. That's the best figure in the league, but that's not the number Thompson cares about.

It's a bottom-line business, and while the fiscal bottom line is important, Thompson won't be here for long if he doesn't improve the number in the "W" column in the standings.

That means Thompson — especially with only five draft picks at his disposal — is going to be active in free agency. Why else would he have created all that salary-cap space?

With that said, don't look for Thompson to scroll through the list of available free agents and sign all the sexiest names available.

The Packers need a cornerback, but Thompson isn't going to open the wallet for a serviceable but past-his-prime Ty Law, or an underachieving Charles Woodson. A better choice: Andre Dyson, a big-play corner who started his career with Tennessee and played last season for Seattle.

The Packers could use a linebacker, but Thompson isn't going to open the vault for underachieving and oft-injured LaVar Arrington. Better choices: Carolina's Will Witherspoon or San Francisco's Julian Peterson, both young and versatile players. They will carry lofty price tags, though. A cheaper option: Seattle's Jamie Sharper, the brother of former Packers safety Darren Sharper. An interesting option: New York Giant Nick Greisen, a University of Wisconsin graduate and a Northeast Wisconsin native, who is strong against the run and would come cheap because he's not a pass rusher.

With Javon Walker making waves and coming off a knee injury and Robert Ferguson looking more and more like a bust, the Packers could use a wide receiver. Thompson isn't going to gamble on talented but troubled Koren Robinson. The popular choice would be Pittsburgh's Antwaan Randle El. He'd solve the Packers' kick-return woes, but he's never been an every-down receiver and he's going to carry a hefty price tag. An intriguing choice in a weak group of receivers: Buffalo's Josh Reed, an underachieving second-round pick in 2002 who could blossom with a real quarterback. Plus, he'd come cheap.

The Packers could use a safety, especially one with some attitude. Lawyer Milloy would be a nice one-year fix, but he's not the type of long-term solution Thompson would prefer to sign. The perfect choice: Hard-hitting Pittsburgh Steeler Chris Hope.

Then there's the interior positions on the offensive and defensive lines. Will Thompson want to break the bank on a center like New Orleans' LeCharles Bentley or a defensive tackle like Seattle's Rocky Bernard? Or will Thompson give Scott Wells a chance to win the center job and bring back aging Grady Jackson?

Thompson is about to embark on the most important six weeks of his tenure with the Packers. Last year, because of the cap mess, Thompson could only be an innocent bystander during free agency. This year, with tons of money — not to mention a No. 5 pick in the first round that could land an impact player or be turned into several picks — Thompson is in position to sew the seeds of the Packers' turnaround. Or the seeds of his demise.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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