None of us should be surprised at what didn’t happen when free agency kicked off on Thursday afternoon.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson has used the free agency period to sit on his hands and aside from signing outside linebacker Nick Perry to a hefty $12 million deal that is conveniently backloaded, the phones at 1265 Lombardi Ave. remained silent.
And then the news got worse. On Friday morning, news leaked out that Jared Cook had broke off talks with the Packers and was going to negotiate with other teams. This was seen as a huge blow because Cook, despite dealing with a high ankle sprain last season, made the Packers’ offense churn. The Packers averaged 28.4 points and were 8-2 when Cook played; 24.6 and 2-4 when he didn’t.
People were wondering what was happening. And Thompsons being Thompson sat back for about 10 hours before signing Martellus Bennett to a three-year, $18.45 million deal. The most amazing thing is that contract was less than what they were going to give Cook.
Thompson knows value and talent and when those two elements intersect he pounces. Bennett is a solid addition. The ‘Black Unicorn’ had his highest catch percentage at 75.3 last season and with Rob Gronkowski sidelined for eight games, Bennett was third on the Patriots in targets — contributing to 20 percent of New England’s completions.
But all is not well just yet. Even though Thompson can do a jig because he used his ½ off coupon on Bennett, you have to wonder the effect of losing Cook. Aaron Rodgers was comfortable with him. That wasn’t more apparent than the NFC Divisional Playoffs. He trusted Cook to make a once-in-a-generation catch that ultimately led the Packers to get within one game of the Super Bowl.
So Thompson gave Rodgers another weapon, but the defense largely remains the same. It likely gets worse, because Micah Hyde — who oddly, wasn’t even offered a contract by the Packers — will probably get replaced by a rookie. Yet, Thompson can still beef up the defense. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower is the highest ranked player available that plays on the front seven. And the two best cornerbacks left are Terence Newman and Morris Claiborne. Both of those two are questionable. Newman will be 39 this season and Claiborne has been marginal for 4½ seasons.
T.J. Lang is the best available free agent offensive lineman. But with Kevin Zeitler setting the market at a five-year, $60 million deal, it doesn’t look like Lang is coming back to Green Bay.
Thompson is tough to understand at times. Rodgers is 33, but Thompson has said that he doesn’t believe in ‘windows.’ So either Thompson is arrogant or has blind faith that Rodgers can remain at a top level a lot longer than the rest of us are anticipating.
A lot more pressure is on Rodgers and the coaching staff to continue to overhaul the roster with rookies and short-term free agents. Rodgers will enter camp in late July with his fourth No. 1 tight end since 2013. That has to be frustrating and at some point a veterans worth extends beyond stats and cap space. Does Rodgers make that throw in Dallas to a rookie? Highly unlikely.
Free agency is about enhancing your team. Trying to add a piece here and there in an effort to get your team over the next hurdle. That could mean a playoff berth for Tampa Bay or an AFC Championship appearance for Houston.
The Packers have been knocking on the Super Bowl door since 2014, but they’ve never added the core pieces needed to get over the hump.
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