In the wake of playoff losses in three consecutive years, there’s been an outcry from Packers fans on social media and otherwise for the team to get involved in free agency, signing a player or multiple players from outside the organization.
There are those that want to see a return to the days when general manager Ted Thompson went out and acquired Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett, two key pieces that helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV.
The calls have only intensified in the days following the most recent Super Bowl after seeing former Packers executive John Schneider take a different approach to team-building as general manager of the Seattle Seahawks, not afraid to get involved in free agency or make a big-time trade.
That stands in stark contrast to Thompson, who is hesitant to absorb a contract that could hurt the salary-cap situation in the long run or take a chance on a player that may not fit the draft-and-develop mindset that pervades the franchise from players to the coaching staff to the front office.
Those that argue the Packers G.M. is too conservative might have a legitimate beef. I believe one of the biggest mistakes the team made this past season was its failure to sign a veteran safety post-draft, one that wouldn’t have killed the salary cap and one that even could have been cut if things didn’t pan out. Signing a player like Kerry Rhodes or Michael Huff would have hardly qualified as going out on a limb.
But I don’t necessarily blame Thompson for not getting heavily involved in free agency. He was, after all, the architect of a Super Bowl winning team just three Roman numeral Is ago. Some people seem to have short memories, forgetting that his philosophy worked.
While the Packers could still use a veteran safety to fill the void, going out an signing a top-notch player like a Jairus Byrd or a T.J. Ward may not be in the budget.
And if the Packers are faced with signing a second-tier safety like Chris Clemons or addressing the position in the draft, they could arguably get a similar talent at a fraction of the cost by taking the latter route.
That doesn’t leave Thompson off the hook entirely. Where he does need to improve is hitting on more players in the draft, particularly in the first round and on the defensive side of the football.
Some may argue that Thompson has drafted several first-round busts in recent seasons, and while Justin Harrell certainly qualifies, I’m not willing to make such declarations on players like Bryan Bulaga, Derek Sherrod, Nick Perry or Datone Jones.
I’ll allow that his recent first round draft picks have arguably been slow to develop, and that’s not helping matters, although injuries––no doubt––have played a role as well.
Thompson’s track record of players selected on the defensive side of the football, particularly of late, has also been worthy of criticism.
From the 2011 draft class, just three seasons ago, the only defensive contributor of that group is cornerback Davon House, and he’s plausibly fifth on the depth chart at the position.
Then there’s the 2012 draft class from just two years ago, of which the first six picks were all defensive players. Among the six, Jerron McMillian and Terrell Manning have already been released by the club, Perry, Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward have been hurt more often than not, and only Mike Daniels has really established himself as an up-and-coming force to be reckoned with.
It’s the draft where Thompson has to have more hits than misses, finding impact players who are ready to make meaningful contributions: the earlier, the better.
That’s not to say the Packers should ignore free agency entirely. Maybe the correct approach is to become the Bob Barker of NFL, doing so only when the “price is right.”
But the Packers also can’t be afraid to do so either. Striking a balance in personnel procurement will be challenge this upcoming offseason, a year in which Green Bay has 17 unrestricted free agents to decide whether to re-sign or not.
It’s true the Packers might have some of the most salary cap space in the entire NFL, but it’s going to be swallowed up quickly after signing the 2014 draft class, tendering restricted free agents, extending the contracts of those currently in tow, and re-signing several of those expected to hit unrestricted free agency.
Finding talent in the NFL draft is priority No. 1, and looking for help in free agency still isn’t priority No. 1A. It’s a distant No. 2.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email email@example.com.