Thompson has made a lot of good decisions, just as Ron Wolf did. Wolf was Thompson's mentor by the way. First, his drafts have been very good. Secondly, he hired the right guy to coach the Packers in Mike McCarthy. Third, although he rarely utilizes the free agent market, he has struck gold when he did. Finally, although he doesn't make many trades, the transactions thus far have paid off handsomely.
Has Thompson made mistakes? Sure, who doesn't? He probably should have been more aggressive in acquiring Randy Moss earlier this year. But the Packers have been just fine with their receivers thanks to his drafts and free agent acquisitions. He also made a mistake in trying to offset the losses of guard Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle three years back, when he opted for marginal free agents to step in. It was one of the reasons the team played so badly in 2005. However, Thompson realized his mistake and drafted three offensive linemen in 2006.
Thompson clearly didn't see eye to eye with Mike Sherman in 2005. Sherman after all, was General Manager up until the time Thompson was hired. Still, Thompson gave Sherman a contract extension. But the Packers suffered through a 4-12 season and Thompson knew that their were several issues regarding the team. One issue was the communication skills of Sherman and another was Sherman's lack of expertise as a General Manager before Thompson came along. Favre had his worst season ever, and there was clearly a lack of communication between Favre and the coaching staff.
After Sherman was let go, Thompson interviewed many candidates. The favorite to get the head coaching gig in Green Bay was Sherman's defensive coordinator Jim Bates. Bates had a very good interview. But just like Mike Holmgren blew away Ron Wolf during his interview, so did Mike McCarthy in his with Thompson. Communication skills is one of McCarthy's biggest strengths.
McCarthy has also helped Favre by letting him be part of the game plans. It is very apparent that Favre is having not only a great season in 2007, but is also having the time of his life. There is no talk of retirement, instead some speculate that Favre could maybe play for a couple more years. Winning can do that to a person. Having fun can do that for a person. Being on the same page with everyone else can do that for a person.
McCarthy started out 4-8 in his rookie season as he had the youngest team in the NFL. But the Packers won their last four games of 2006 to finish 8-8 and almost make the playoffs. The team has started 8-1 in 2007 and there is talk of bigger things to come. The 2007 team is also the youngest team in the NFL. But it's led by veterans like Favre, Donald Driver, Al Harris and Charles Woodson.
Thompson has built this team. Thompson knew that Favre had plenty of football left in him when he took over. And his choice of McCarthy has helped immensely. Favre first knew McCarthy when McCarthy was QB coach in 1999. It's obvious that there is a strong line of communication there. And Thompson has helped out getting Favre more talent.
Thompson has drafted Greg Jennings and James Jones the last two years. Both have been mature beyond their young age. Jennings looked great in 2006 before an ankle injury and has looked electric in 2007 since coming back from an early hamstring injury. Jones has been very steady, even after a couple of costly fumbles against the Bears in the Packers only loss. And of course, Favre still has the dynamic Driver, who still is the dangerous receiver who sees double teams.
Add to that, Thompson picked up Koren Robinson from the waiver wire last year, and after a year's suspension, Robinson appears to be well grounded as an individual and also is already becoming a receiving threat for Favre. Plus, you also have Ruvell Martin who Thompson signed in early 2006 and is coming off a two TD game against the Minnesota Vikings.
The draft has been a key element for Thompson. His first draft in 2005 brought QB Aaron Rodgers, who is looking like he could be Favre's heir apparent after a great 2007 pre-season. That draft also brought two defensive starters in S Nick Collins and LB Brady Poppinga, plus OL Junius Coston, who has started a few games in 2007 before he was injured. Thompson also drafted DE Mike Montgomery, who is in the defensive line rotation.
The 2006 draft brought gold. A lot of the treasure was helped out because of the Javon Walker trade to Denver for a second round pick that turned into more draft transactions. The result, three of Thompson's draft picks were on the all-rookie team ... LB A.J. Hawk, G Daryn Colledge and Jennings. Also drafted were two additional linemen in starter Jason Spitz and occasional starter Tony Moll, plus DT Johnny Jolly, who is having an outstanding 2007 season. DB Will Blackmon was also drafted, along with LB Abdul Hodge. However, both have had injury issues, although Blackmon is expected back at some point this season after breaking his foot again, while Hodge is on injured reserve with knee problems.
The 2007 draft brought the Packers six starters at one point. Both Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn have started at RB. Korey Hall is the starter at FB. Jones started at WR while Jennings was hurt earlier in the year. Mason Crosby has done a fine job at kicker, as he is fourth in the NFL in scoring with 78 points. And Aaron Rouse is starting at S right now while Collins is injured.
Number one pick DT Justin Harrell has been hampered by an ankle injury lately, but he has shown some ability to get into the deep defensive tackle rotation. The Packers hope that Harrell will have a similar transition next year like Jolly did this year in his second year. The Packers also added LB Desmond Bishop and OL Allen Barbre in this year's draft as well.
But Thompson has done well in the free agent pool as well by adding Woodson to the defense last year along with DT Ryan Pickett. Both have been exceptional. Woodson has become a big play cornerback, who has already gotten into the end zone twice this year. Plus, he is a sure handed punt returner. Pickett is very stout against the run and has helped linebacker's Nick Barnett, Hawk and Poppinga to run to the football. Thompson made only one free agent acquisition in 2007, by acquiring DB Frank Walker. Walker is solid on special teams and he has helped to fill the void while Blackmon has been injured.
Thompson is not known as Trader Ted, but he has made a couple of good trades. First, he had the Walker trade that helped him get additional picks in the 2006 draft. He also acquired RB Vernand Morency for RB Samkon Gado from the Houston Texans. The Texans released Gado earlier this year, while Morency is in the RB rotation on third down, after having a knee injury on the first day of training camp.
But Thompson's biggest trade might be getting RB Ryan Grant for a 6th round pick from the New York Giants just before the season began. Grant has taken over for the injured Wynn at HB, and has looked very good in three starts. Grant has rushed for 305 yards and a 4.2 per yard rushing average. Right now he looks like the perfect back for the Packers zone-blocking running scheme as he has the ability to see holes quickly and hit the hole hard.
Yes, all appears quiet on the message boards and letters to the editor regarding Thompson. A lot of his doubters are now believers. Certainly Ron Wolf and Bob Harlan believed in him. And Thompson added McCarthy as coach, along with building a young, but talented roster. People in the NFL have noticed as well, as the Packers are getting a lot of attention recently. Some say Favre deserves MVP consideration. Some say McCarthy is a viable coach of the year candidate. I agree with both of those assertions. But Thompson also deserves consideration as General Manager of the year. Count me as a believer.
Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.