The Packers' way and the other ways

As the Packers sit on the sideline, the Redskins and Jets have managed to make budget-busting signings, and the Broncos have signed an astonishing 10 players. Packer Report, with help from two respected experts, examines the contrasting styles taken to free agency by Green Bay and those other teams.

As the adage goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

There's more than one way to treat free agency, as all Packers fans are well aware. So, while the Packers sit on the sideline and consider some third-tier players, it's instructive to contrast Ted Thompson's style with what other teams around the league are doing.

The thoughts here are mine, but were backed up by two highly regarded NFL front-office people who I insured would be left anonymous for this analysis.

The Packers Method

Thompson, the Packers' general manager, has brought in only one player, safety Mike Adams — and he would be anything but a lock to even start. The Packers also are interested in Dallas linebacker Keith Burnett, but he's in talks with San Diego and Oakland.

So, even at about $30.5 million under the salary cap to start free agency — the fifth-most money of any team in the league — the Packers haven't done a thing during free agency.

It's not surprising. It's been Thompson's standard operating procedure since he arrived (with the exception of Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett in 2006). Plus, with top-notch players like Greg Jennings, Nick Collins, Aaron Kampman and most of the 2006 draft class up for contracts after 2009, Thompson no doubt would like to keep ample cap space to sign at least a couple of those players to front-loaded contracts this year.

"I think we react in free agency if we think there's value there, we think it's something we will add something to our team then we're going to try to pursue it," Thompson told reporters at the Scouting Combine last month. "And we are cognizant of the fact that if you make an investment in free agency, then that comes with a cost. There's going to be a player or two players or something within a year from now that you won't have because you made that investment. Now, if it's worth it, it's worth it. But everything comes at a cost."

Nonetheless, unless he and new defensive coordinator Dom Capers know something that we don't know, it's puzzling that the Packers haven't made a push to sign anyone.

"I'm surprised but not surprised," one insider said. "Making such a drastic change requires bodies, but maybe he's hoping to get someone like (the Chargers' Igor) Olshansky for less if a market doesn't develop. I guess Ted wants to save the money to sign Jennings and Kampman. Hard to argue with that."

The Washington Method

The Redskins always push their cap to the max, yet they somehow managed to sign defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and guard Derrick Dockery to contracts with $71 million in guaranteed money.


For example, they renegotiated contracts for defensive end Andre Carter and receiver Antwaan Randle El to save cap space this year. As part of those deals, Carter has a $7.25 million bonus in 2010 and Randle El has a $6.25 million bonus in 2010.

If both options kick in, they'll be under contract through 2015, when Carter and Randle El will both be 37 and, presumably, well past their prime. If the Redskins elect to release both players to save the bonus money, they will count $9.5 million in dead cap money.

The Redskins are gambling that the collective bargaining agreement will break down and there will be no salary cap next season or for following seasons. It's a possibility, but if labor peace is restored, the Redskins are going to be in big trouble in 2010 and beyond. As it is now, they'll have to make a move or two just to sign their draft picks.

The New York Jets Method

The Jets would have been just $4 million under the cap salary cap had Brett Favre not retired.

So, if the Jets win it all this year, maybe Favre should win MVP, anyway.

With that money, New York signed Bart Scott away from Baltimore for six years and $48 million, with $22 million guaranteed. Then, they traded for Philadelphia cornerback Lito Sheppard and gave him a four-year, $27 million extension. That deal, which includes a $10 million signing bonus, begins next year. Finally, the Jets signed safety Jim Leonhard away from the Ravens, though that three-year, $9 million contract is small fry in comparison.

"It's a lot like the Redskins. They must have a good accountant," one source said.

The Denver Method

The Broncos and Packers make an interesting comparison.

Both have star young quarterbacks. Both were underachievers last season. Both blew up their defensive schemes and are going to the 3-4.

But, while the Packers are sitting on the sidelines, the Broncos have signed 10 players since Friday. That's 10 out of the 39 signings league-wide, an incredible figure.

Taken individually, running backs Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan, cornerbacks Andre Goodman and Renaldo Hill, safety Brian Dawkins, nose tackle Ronald Fields, defensive end Darrell Reid, linebacker Andre Davis, receiver Jabar Gaffney and long snapper Lonie Paxson aren't budget-busters. Taken together, though, the Broncos have shelled out $90 million worth of contracts, with somewhere between $25 million and $30 million guaranteed.

That's a lot of money, a feat accomplished by the Broncos getting rid of six players before the start of free agency, which freed up about $22 million in cap space. They also got rid of cornerback Dre Bly, who received a $10 million signing bonus last year. Because of a new rule tied to the CBA entering its last year, all of that money is dumped on this year's cap. So, Bly's cap figure will be $9.45 million even though he's not on the team.

As one insider said of the players who were released, "That might have helped the cap, but they paid a lot of bonus money to those guys. They just laid off people over there. Doesn't seem like good business in this economy."

Finally, as has been written here before, championships are not won by who spends the most money in February and March. The Jets were the big spenders last year, and they failed to make the playoffs. The Cowboys, Redskins and Vikings never are shy about spending, but they haven't won anything in years, either.

On the other side, the Patriots were renowned for being frugal as they won three Super Bowls. The Steelers hardly ever delve into free agency, and they're the model franchise today. Another model franchise, Indianapolis, never is active in signing other teams' free agents.

Clearly, there should be a middle ground between spending and not spending. Thompson hit home runs with Pickett and Woodson, after all. At the end, it's who you spend the money on, not how much money is spent.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.

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