If Thompson is ‘cheap,' here's why

PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence explains why the Packers have been typically quiet during the offseason, from a weak free-agent class, to need for new contracts for likes of Jennings and Rodgers, to fear of an uncapped season.

Ted Thompson is cheap.

That seems to be, if not the consensus, at least the opinion of a boisterous minority concerning the Packers' general manager. The Packers are $25 million under the salary cap (about $35 million once Brett Favre submits his retirement papers), yet Thompson clutches the money as if he fears it's going to fall into the hands of troubled brokerage Bear Stearns.

It's easy to get aggravated. The Packers almost went to the Super Bowl. They've got money to spend. And with Favre's retirement, the Packers clearly need to get better at other positions to remain an elite team.

So, what has Thompson done this offseason? Nothing, until signing linebacker Brandon Chillar earlier this week to a modest two-year, $5.4 million deal.

What gives?

Here are five possibilities.

1. Thompson is cheap. I don't put much credence into this one. It's not like Thompson is paying guys out of his own pocket.

2. Weak crop of free agents. With most teams flush with money — the Packers, for all of their cap space, ranked only in the middle of the league at the start of the offseason — few quality players reached the open market. Making matters worse, teams used the franchise tag on 11 of the top players, further weakening the free-agent class.

Oakland re-signed defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to a seven-year deal worth $50.5 million. Raise your hand if you heard of Kelly before free agency started. Nothing describes the lunacy of the 2008 free-agent period better than that signing, with pedestrian players being paid like future Hall of Famers.

Certainly, guard Mike Wahle would have improved Green Bay's offensive line. But Wahle signed in Seattle, where he knows coach Mike Holmgren. Several of Wahle's family members also live in the Seattle area.

3. Big contracts for young players. The good thing about having a young roster is young players equal cheap players. At some point, though, those young players will need to get paid.

Ryan Grant's agent already is hinting the young running back isn't going to play for the league-minimum $370,000.

A handful of talented youngsters who are under contract through 2009 could be in line for lucrative contract extensions before the end of this season. That list includes, in order of importance, Greg Jennings, Aaron Rodgers, Johnny Jolly, Atari Bigby, Jason Spitz and Nick Collins. Jennings is on pace for a huge payday. Assuming Rodgers doesn't flop, starting quarterbacks cost a lot of money. Thompson dealt Corey Williams because the Packers think so highly of Jolly.

The contracts for Mark Tauscher and Brady Poppinga expire after this season, and Chad Clifton, Donald Driver, Aaron Kampman and Ryan Pickett are among those whose contracts expire after 2009.

That's a lot of money Thompson's going to have to spend to keep this team intact.

4. Saving money for something big. The big prize would be Miami defensive end Jason Taylor. The Dolphins say they're not trading him, but Taylor doesn't fit in their new 3-4 defensive scheme and he could fetch a draft pick or two for a rebuilding team. For his part, Taylor will be 34 when the season kicks off. If he's going to win a Super Bowl, the career clock is ticking.

Without Favre, the Packers will have to rely on their defense to win games. Taylor, the NFL's 2006 defensive player of the year, had 11 sacks last season and has 117 for his career. He could be the missing piece, if Thompson can pry him loose.

5. Fear of an uncapped season. The owners aren't happy with the NFL's collective-bargaining agreement. There's a good chance they opt out of the deal, which could mean 2010 would be an uncapped season. It might be nothing more than bargaining bluster, but NFLPA chief Gene Upshaw has warned that if the salary cap goes away it will never come back.

Perhaps Thompson is under orders to save money so the team can remain competitive should the cap disappear for a year or more.

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.

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