It's not quite like the Detroit Lions going 0-16 last season, but the Green Bay Packers are the only team in the NFL with a big fat "zero" in one offseason category: Free agent signings.
The Packers are the only one of the NFL's 32 teams to have not signed a free agent. Not one of their own and not one from somebody else.
Fire up those "I hate Ted Thompson" e-mails now, people!
Actually, hold off on those for a minute.
After looking at the official list, the Packers are one of eight teams who have not acquired a free agent from another team. And once you dispatch Oakland from the list, it's a pretty impressive group of names: Atlanta, Carolina, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and San Diego. All six of those teams made the playoffs by winning a combined 65 games.
Now, there's two ways of looking at this. The first is to point out that the Packers didn't make the playoffs last season and need to upgrade their talent base.
That would be a fair observation, especially in light of last year's defensive breakdowns and this offseason's change in schemes. It's fine to hope that players like Cullen Jenkins, Nick Barnett, Atari Bigby and Justin Harrell will be healthy and able to contribute over the 16-game league haul. But the Packers' defense wasn't exactly the Steel Curtain even when Jenkins, Barnett and Bigby were on the field, and Harrell's history shouldn't be reason for optimism.
Maybe Dom Capers can turn chicken feathers into chicken soup. He certainly has a track record. But if he can turn the status-quo group of Jenkins, Johnny Jolly, Harrell, Ryan Pickett and a nose tackle-to-be-named later into an above-average defensive line, Capers should skip ahead of Mother Teresa on the road to sainthood. Because that would be a bonafied miracle.
The second way of looking at things is to examine the track records of two of the teams on that list: Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. Along with New England, they are considered the NFL's model franchises.
What do the Colts and Steelers have in common? Big-name free agency is a foreign concept. They sign their own players first — but have no second-thoughts about letting go of someone who is on the downside of his career or simply getting or being offered too much money. The Patriots were that way, too, en route to winning three Super Bowls. It was only when they started buying players like Randy Moss and Junior Seau that they slipped just a notch on the NFL pecking order.
Look at lists of last year's supposed free agent winners and losers.
The consensus of a few lists I looked at had Cleveland, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Philadelphia, New Orleans, the Jets and Buffalo as the winners.
Boy, that turned out well. The Browns and Jaguars went from a combined 21 wins to a combined nine. The Jets, who spent more than anyone — and that was before signing Brett Favre — fell on their face in December. All seven "winners" wound up being regular-season underachievers, and only Philadelphia won a playoff game.
Along with Kansas City and Oakland, who were faulted for spending their money stupidly, other consensus losers included New England, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and the Giants.
The rudderless Chiefs and Raiders were awful, but the Patriots won 11 games even without Tom Brady, the Titans went 13-3 and were the top seeds in the AFC and the Giants went 12-4 and were the top seeds in the NFC. Pittsburgh didn't sign anyone of note and lost All-Pro guard Alan Faneca, but overcame one of the toughest schedules in league history to win the Super Bowl.
Similarly, in 2007, the Giants were criticized for sitting on the sideline in free agency. They won the Super Bowl. The Colts were similarly panned in 2006 after not signing anyone and losing Edgerrin James and a couple of defensive linemen, and they won the Super Bowl.
Linking success on the field to what's gained or lost in free agency is foolish, in both directions. Did the Browns and Jaguars stink because they were active in free agency? Of course not. Did the Steelers, Titans and Giants win a bunch of games because they were inactive? Of course not.
Free agency is just one part of the puzzle. Plenty can be gained through the right free agent, as Thompson and the Packers know with Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett. Where would the Falcons have been had they not signed Michael Turner away from the Falcons?
"People don't know what we were doing," Thompson, in defending himself, told the Wisconsin State Journal while he was in Madison for the Badgers' pro day this week. "Just because we didn't get a deal doesn't mean we weren't active. But that's part of free agency.
"We don't want to sign a guy just so we can say, ‘Look!' or just to put another guy on the pile. We want a guy who can come in and fill a particular role. It doesn't have to be a starter, doesn't have to be all that. If a guy can do something to help our team and give us a better chance in the fall, that's what we'll do."
This free agent season is 1 week old. And with all of the aforementioned said, there are players who can help the Packers, and Thompson would be wise to add some beef to the defensive line — if it's at a realistic price.
At the end of the day, though, Thompson is following the proven path of building a champion. It might not garner much fanfare in March — and it makes it incumbent on Thompson to draft the right players and for those players to receive top-notch coaching (a topic for another day) — but history proves it's the right way.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.