Green Bay: The NFL's Siberia?

That the Arizona Cardinals have made an infinitely bigger splash into NFL free agency than the Green Bay Packers should be a major concern to Ted Thompson and Co.

The Cardinals on Sunday signed superstar running back Edgerrin James away from the Indianapolis Colts. The Green Bay Packers, meanwhile, signed Marquand Manuel away from the Seattle Seahawks.

Cardinals fans - all 14 of them - no doubt are raising their arms in celebration. Packers fans no doubt are scratching their heads in bewilderment, and asking who in the heck Marquand Manuel is (Answer: He has exactly zero interceptions in 59 regular season games.) and why their team isn't signing any of the marquee players.

Maybe Thompson has a plan. Or maybe Thompson was too busy watching the college basketball conference tournaments so he'd be better prepared to compete in the office NCAA Tournament pool.

Either way, Thompson came to Green Bay with the reputation of being reluctant to use free agency as a tool to build a team. Still, the only reasonable assumption when the Packers entered free agency some $35 million under the salary cap was Thompson built all that cap space for the sole purpose of being active participants in the free-agent meat market and greatly improving the team.

Well, that hasn't happened. Which leaves us with one of two possibilities.

Either Thompson is so unbelievably cheap that he'd rather lead the league in wasted salary-cap space than lead the league in something more important, say, wins. Or, and this is the scary notion, the Packers are once again becoming the NFL's version of Siberia.

In the last two years, Mike McKenzie has demanded a trade and bullied his way out of town. Grady Jackson has gone through various moments of grumpiness with the franchise. Javon Walker raised a ruckus last fall and is doing so again, going so far as to say he'll retire before he suits up in the green and gold again. Kicker Ryan Longwell seemed downright giddy to leave Green Bay and sign with rival Minnesota, just like Darren Sharper a year ago. No quality free agents signed last year, and the top guys seem to be avoiding Green Bay like it's Chernobyl this year.

Maybe Thompson is purposely steering clear of the big-game free agents and plans to swoop in for low-priced but able leftovers. If several players are on the market next week and Thompson can stockpile quality players, then he'll get a reprieve.

If not, and the Packers wind up settling for bottom-rung guys who might be modest upgrades, at best, or simply special-teams guys, then it becomes a fair question: Are Thompson and the Packers cheap, or is Green Bay an undesirable locale?

For crying out loud, if the Cardinals - a franchise that has posted two winning records since 1976 and hasn't won a playoff game since claiming the NFL championship following the 1947 season - can land a dominant player simply by waving wads of cash at him, why can't the Packers do the same?

If the Minnesota Vikings - a club in tumult that is about to ship away its franchise quarterback and plays in perhaps the league's worst stadium - can again add several marquee players to its roster, then why can't the Packers do the same?

It's an interesting question, and it's up to Thompson to prove that the first handful of days in free agency are only a mirage.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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